Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. MLBPipeline.com will be visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the Colorado Rockies.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Remember when the concept of homegrown pitching development and the Colorado Rockies seemed to be in direct conflict with each other? The Rockies think it's a thing of the past, too.
Three-fifths of last year's big league rotation was actually drafted, signed and developed by the Rockies. Jon Gray, Chad Bettis and Tyler Anderson all showed they can compete in Coors Field and around Major League Baseball.
"It's definitely been a focus over the last few years," Rockies senior director of player development Zach Wilson said about developing pitching. "I think the addition of Mark Wiley, our director of pitching operations, has been substantial in terms of the next steps in our development process. I think the pitching-coaching staff we have put togeteher, their attention to detail, their passion, their energy behind what they've done, has been a big step in the process. But certainly, at the end of the day, the players have to take ownership of what's going on."
What's been going on has been an effort to no longer make pitching in Coors Field seem like the insurmountable obstacle it once was. It's a psychological hurdle, no doubt, but one that the successes of last year's staff certainly helps make possible to step over.
"You don't hear about the elevation anymore," Wilson said. "It's not something that we talk about because nobody in that clubhouse cares. Nobody in the front office cares.
"We understand it's a part of our reality. But part of who we are, if you have the right mentality, if you climb up the back of that mound with a certain amount of fearlessness and intent, it doesn't matter where you're pitching, whether it's Coors Field or Petco Park or anywhere else. That is the mindset these big league pitchers have right now. That is the mindset that is going through our minor league system as well."
There is a definitely a trickle-down effect. Jeff Hoffman, the organization's No. 2 prospect, got up to the big leagues last year and knows what it takes to compete there. So did No. 4 prospect German Marquez. Kyle Freeland should get his first crack at it this season, and he's learning from the others in big league camp this spring. It filters all the way down to 2016 first-rounder Riley Pint, who's been in Arizona for months getting ready for his first full season.
"When they get a true meaning of pitching for us, and not just the things they hear from the outside, when they hear it from us, when they hear it from guys like Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson, guys who have had success here now, and they hear from us what's important from a pitching development standpoint, they get it," Wilson said. "They know through that process they're going to be able to succeed three, four, five years down the line when they're pitching in Denver."
Rodgers continues work on versatility
When Brendan Rodgers was taken No. 3 overall in the 2015 Draft, some felt he'd eventually have to move off of shortstop. But most thought the move would be to third, as he would outgrow shortstop, his position in high school and during his pro debut.
Instead, Rodgers shifted over to play second base, along with getting reps at short, during his first full season that saw the No. 15 overall prospect hit .281/.342/.480 with 19 homers and 73 RBIs. But the move wasn't because he can't handle short anymore. It's by design and something the Rockies have clearly done before.
"Brendan is such a natural, instinctual athlete and baseball player, people knew he could move over to that side of the diamond and pick it up pretty easily," Wilson said, adding that it's a more natural move to second for a shortstop than to third initially. "But increasing versatility for him is going to be an important part of his career. As he gets close to the Major League level, you never know where the opportunities are going to be. It's no different than what we did with Trevor Story."
Story had seen time at second, short and third in the Minors and it turned out the first opportunity for him to stick in the big leagues was at his original position. Look for Rodgers to follow a similar path and be ready for any spot based on the need once he is ready.
In many ways, Ryan McMahon's 2016 season seemed like a lost one. He struck out more than 160 times, hit just .242 and saw his OPS drop by nearly 170 points with his move to Double-A. But the Rockies see it as a learning experience -- particularly dealing with the oddity of Hartford being on the road for the entire season -- one that will help the club's No. 8 prospect bounce back in 2017.
"I look at 2016 as a huge success and I'll tell you why," Wilson said. "He played every day on the road. When you don't have a good sleep pattern, you don't have consistent eating habits, you don't have consistent workouts, that's not easy to deal with. On top of that, he was 21 years old in the Eastern League where the average age I think is 24. On top of that, he was learning a new position at first base. Three pretty heavy factors for a young kid playing in Double-A to have to deal with.
"Even with all that, there was enough power, and it's going to continue to come. There were a lot of extra base hits involved. He also had the same amount of RBIs he had in 2015. He drove in runs, which is something he'll have to do at the Major League level."
Another breakout candidate from that Hartford club is right-hander Rayan Gonzalez, No. 22 on the list. After a subpar 2015 that included time on the disabled list, he bounced back with a strong year out of the Hartford bullpen in 2016, then pitched very well in the Arizona Fall League to earn a spot on the 40-man roster. He looks poised to take another big step forward, as he has been dealing in big league camp. Keep an eye on him as a bullpen arm that could help out in Denver this season.