Rockies' injuries prompt prospect debuts
Colorado forced to call up three starting pitchers in span of six days
DENVER -- Rockies senior director of player development Jeff Bridich had a simple answer to what's next up the organizational pipeline: "They're all here."
By "here," Bridich means on Colorado's Major League roster. By "they," he means the Rockies have already called up MLB.com's No. 2-ranked team prospect, right-hander Eddie Butler, and their No. 12-ranked prospect, left-hander Tyler Matzek, to make their Major League debuts over the past week. Right-hander Christian Bergman also made his debut in between those two, making the Rockies the first team to have three starting pitchers debut in a span of six or less days since the 1986 Padres.
Bridich "had a feeling" this trio of young arms would make their Rockies debuts sometime this year, but a rash of injuries caused it to be sooner than he ever imagined. Still, he knows the young pitchers are ready and just looks at this as the next stage of their development.
"Each young player, at some point, needs to get acquainted to what life is like on the big league level," said Bridich. "You can tell them, you can try to show them in the Minor Leagues, but there's just certain elements about facing the best hitters in the world that's tough to replicate."
Before Butler's and Matzek's arrivals, the only homegrown first-round picks on the Rockies' roster were left-hander Rex Brothers and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Jon Gray, the third overall selection in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft and Colorado's top-ranked prospect, could up that number to five if his big league club is in contention late in the pennant race.
Gray has struck out 61 batters in 69 innings in Double-A in what is his first full season in the Rockies' system this year. Gray has only walked 18 batters in 13 starts this season, but Colorado remains hesitant to push him too quickly.
"He had a quick baptism by fire in professional baseball, and he went boom, boom, boom all the way up to [Class A Advanced] Modesto," Bridich said of Gray's 2013 campaign. "He hasn't truly felt what it is to go through a full professional 140 games, that grind of pitching every fifth day for that long."
At his current innings progression, it might be tough for Gray to pitch deep into September, Bridich said. The organization has been limiting Gray, whose fastball regularly hits 100 mph, to 90-100 pitches per start, and they aren't even sure they'll increase that count before the year is over. But Bridich said there is "an outside chance" Gray could make it to the Majors in 2014 if his innings are reasonable and the Rockies are in the hunt for the playoffs.
Another player who could make the Butler-esque leap from Double-A is the Rockies' No. 10-ranked prospect, Tyler Anderson. Anderson, the 20th overall selection by Colorado in 2011, has battled through injuries in the Minors, including a stress fracture to his elbow and some recent shoulder soreness. Bridich believes the left-hander isn't too far away if he stays healthy.
"In theory, talent-wise and pitchability-wise, he could [make that jump to the Majors]," said Bridich. "It's a matter of can he still healthily put together the innings and games in sequence enough to make us take a look and say, 'OK, he can actually help us on the big league level.'"
Health seems to be a common factor in projecting the Rockies' top prospects.
The Rockies' No. 3 prospect, outfielder David Dahl, followed up his Pioneer League MVP debut campaign of 2012 by missing all of last season with a right hamstring tear. Left-hander Christian Friedrich, Colorado's 25th overall selection from 2008, exceeded his rookie limits during the 2012 season but was limited to just 14 2/3 innings in the Minors last season due to chronic back problems.
While Friedrich (7.89 ERA across 67 1/3 innings) is still finding his rhythm and Dahl (45 runs, six triples in 62 games) hasn't moved above Class A ball in three seasons, both are finally healthy. At the moment, Bridich is in no hurry to rush them.
"It's unrealistic to expect these guys just get back up on the horse and ride it a hundred miles an hour and not miss a beat," said Bridich. "There's a level of patience we have to have, as well as a level of urgency."
The Rockies aren't tinkering with Friedrich's role to find a home for him, and they plan to keep him the starting track. The same can't be said for Colorado's No. 6 prospect, outfielder Kyle Parker.
The Rockies have had Parker, their first-round pick from 2010, learning the nuances of first base in an apparent effort to groom him as Justin Morneau's successor. Although Morneau's contract isn't up until 2015, Bridich is confident Parker, who he calls "a powerful athlete," will work his way up either this year or next.
"Kyle is one of those guys, at the end of the year if he's healthy, you're going to look up and see production," said Bridich. "I think he's got a chance to be a corner bat that has impact power … he's a very viable option for us to bring up if and when we need him."
Parker currently leads Triple-A Colorado Springs in doubles and is second in RBI. As for his defense, Bridich believes there's still room to grow, but he has little doubt Parker will maintain his steady progress.
"I think his work ethic has even gotten better over the past 12 months," said Bridich. "It's not just one easy thing where you wake up one day and you're a first baseman … To his credit, I think he knows that he's still learning about the first base position."
Just in case, Bridich is making sure Parker and all the rest of his fellow pipeline partners are ready to roll if the Rockies' recent rash of injuries continues to snowball.
"This is why we try to incur and develop as much depth as we can," Bridich said. "It takes village to get through a season, it's not just the first-round Draft picks and high-profile guys."
Cody Ulm is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.