August 2, 2013
The Situation: The Rockies optioned Jeff Francis to Triple-A on Thursday in order to give 2010 second rounder (and 77th overall selection) Chad Bettis the opportunity to make his first major league start.
Background: Bettis split time between the rotation and the closer role during his three years at Texas Tech, drawing mixed projections from scouts due to his big fastball/breaking ball combo being paired with a shorter stature, inconsistent command, and fringy third offering. The Rockies pegged him as a starter and have given him every opportunity to stick in that role as he worked through the developmental system.
Through his first 230-plus innings over 39 starts, Bettis dominated Class A ball at all three levels, missing bats, limiting walks, and allowing just 11 homers. His 2011 campaign at High-A Modesto was sadly cut short due to shoulder soreness, and he ended up missing all of 2012 after undergoing surgery.
His return to action in 2013 has been nothing shy of a rousing success. Bettis stepped right into the Double-A Tulsa rotation and shoved it over 12 starts. Through his 63 innings this summer, Bettis has notched 9.7 strikeouts per nine to go with a 1.10 WHIP. The former Red Raider is also producing 50 percent more groundouts than air outs, though he has been much more homer prone in the Texas League, and has been knocked around a bit with opponents batting .255 against him.
The Scouting: Bettis’s bread and butter is a three-way fastball that includes a cutter, a two-seamer with arm-side life, and a harder and straighter four-seamer. He tiers his velocity well with each variation, and the differing action across the three pitches can make the heater difficult to square in spite of the lack of downhill plane. Bettis can reach the upper-90s with the four-seamer, and operates comfortably in the low- to mid-90s.
His best secondary offering is a sharp, tilted slider that comes with hard bite and low- to mid-80s velocity. It’s a solid plus offering that can flash plus-plus and should provide Bettis with a second swing-and-miss offering at the highest level. His changeup has its moments, matching his two-seamer trajectory with arm-side action, but he is still working to implement the pitch as a consistent third weapon.
While Bettis is somewhat undersized, limiting the plane he is able to create, he has the in-game and start-to-start durability to stick in a rotation. The utility of his arsenal will determine whether he can regularly turn over major league lineups or if he will shift to the pen, where his fastball and slider could both play to plus-plus. He’ll likely need to pound the lower-U of the zone and continue to grow the off-speed in order to effectively navigate the highest level.
Impact: The Rockies have the luxury of allowing Bettis time to feel his way as a starter, as the club finds itself well back in the wild card race with less than two months remaining in the season. He has the stuff to succeed early and often at the major league level, but the margin for error is thin, and he could run into trouble (as he did in his five-walk, five-run debut) if he is unable to work the quadrants effectively with the fastball and southeast/southwest with the change-up. There is mid-rotation upside here, with a nice fallback as a late-inning power arm. —Nick J. Faleris
As noted by Nick above, Bettis’ hard stuff can play at any level. This means strikeouts no matter what else Bettis’ line looks like. If you are looking for a high-whiff play with no concern for your ERA/WHIP, Bettis is a must add. Although his secondary stuff still needs refinement, Bettis could be one of those pitchers who has some success his first time through the league while hitters adjust to the hard stuff (although the Braves didn’t have trouble hitting him on Thurday).
In keeper leagues, Bettis is a better add for contenders than for teams playing for next year, since his future might be as a reliever. Playing the waiver wire for closers-in-waiting is generally a fool’s errand, and while Bettis could be a closer someday, that someday could be one year or four years from now.
The high home run rate at Double-A is a bit of a concern, although Tulsa has been a homer-friendly environment in 2013. Moving to Coors doesn’t do anything to alleviate those concerns, but Bettis is a must add in NL-only and an immediate streaming consideration in deeper mixed. In standard mixed, I would wait and see whether he has more to offer than he did last night. —Mike Gianella
Nick J. Faleris is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @NickJFaleris