The challenges of pitching in the high altitude in Denver, with the mammoth gaps and enormous outfield real estate, can't be overstated.
Left-handed pitcher Christian Friedrich, 24, and right-handed Alex White, 23, are two young pitchers faced with solving the unique circumstances of their home park while still learning how to pitch against the highest quality hitters. For some, it would be a daunting task. I think both will adjust. Learning to locate their pitches is the key to their development. They have to step it up, and both can.
Friedrich grew up in Evanston, Ill., and went to Loyola Academy in Wilmette. I spoke with his pitching coach there, Bill San Hamel, about Friedrich's senior year.
The coach indicated that Friedrich has the type of engaging personality that draws people to him.
"Once he crossed the white line, there was no playing around," said San Hamel. "He had intense focus."
San Hamel said Friedrich was consistently able to locate his fastball and curve. Friedrich set a school record of 105 strikeouts in his senior year. The record still stands. He threw 71 innings and yielded only 40 hits.
Using a 92-94 mph fastball, Friedrich hopes to get sink on his pitches. He tries to locate in the lower part of the hitting zone. At times he gets too much of the plate. His sharp slider sits at around 87-88 MPH, and the pitch helps change the eye level and balance of the hitter.
As he showed in high school, Friedrich's curve ball is an effective pitch. The velocity is in the high 70s with a sharp 12-to-6 break. It may be the best pitch in his arsenal. I have seen him throw a changeup, but I don't think his arm action on the pitch is as advanced as it will become. The changeup looks like an occasional fourth pitch to provide the hitter with something else to consider.
In Coors especially, Friedrich will be very dependent upon hitting spots and locating pitches out of the hitting path. He doesn't have any one dominant pitch that will overwhelm the hitter as a definitive "out" pitch. Rather, he will have to mix and match and keep hitter's guessing about what is coming next.
Friedrich was selected with the 25th overall selection in the 2008 First-Year Player after having attended Eastern Kentucky University.
Solidly built at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Friedrich is athletic and strong. He has the temperament and overall makeup to thrive. While he doesn't get rattled on the mound, it is evident he is passionate about his work. Changing speeds on his fastball and mixing in quality breaking pitches reflects well on his future ability to adapt to good hitting.
Friedrich has a mature approach on the mound. His mechanics are sound. He has outstanding potential and a bright future as a starting pitcher.
White was part of the deal that sent Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland. Along with White, the Rockies also recieved Drew Pomeranz, Matt McBride and Joe Gardner in the trade.
White had a nice career as a starting pitcher for the University of North Carolina. That followed being named the 2006 North Carolina High School Player of the Year while pitching for D. H. Conley High in Greenville, N.C. He also played shortstop in high school, so he has an appreciation for infield defense.
White has a solid repertoire of pitches, including both a four-seam and a sinking two-seam fastball, a slider and a splitter. I think his split is an effective "out" pitch. It is one he uses with confidence at any point in the count, but particularly with two strikes.
Like Friedrich, White has to locate his pitches or he will give up the big hit. He can be rolling along, get ahead in counts, have hitters baffled and then get too much of the plate with a hanging slider.
White's fastball isn't overpowering, but he has enough movement on his pitches to get swings and misses. Usually sitting between 92-94 mph on the four-seamer, White can change speeds from pitch to pitch by locating the slider and then drop in the sinker/split as the finisher. His pitch sequencing is solid.
When the 6-foot-3, 215-pound White is at his best, hitters will beat the ball into the ground. That's what will make him effective at Coors. The greater the sink and downward movement of his pitches, the greater the chance he can induce groundball outs.
My greatest concern for White, beyond the occasional elevation of his pitches, is the use of his slider. The pitch takes a great toll on the elbow and it has to be used in moderation. In the games I have seen, White has used the pitch according to the hitting trends, success rate and scouting reports of the opposing hitters. Spotting the slider and relying more on his variety of fastballs may keep him healthy. However, the slider is an important component of his repertoire.
White is a good athlete. He's a smart pitcher with an ability to repeat his delivery and control the game from the pitcher's mound.
Friedrich and White are among a promising nucleus of starters in Colorado. Pomeranz and Tyler Chatwood are working hard to improve their command and control in preparation for their arrival to the Major League club. Jhoulys Chacin, Juan Nicasio and Jorge De La Rosa are currently injured. Ultimately, the Rockies should have a number of healthy and experienced quality starting pitchers to lead the pitching staff to improved results.
Rockies fans are hungry for success. Friedrich and White show promise in the team's quest to deliver an effective starting staff that can manage the challenges of Coors Field.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.