The Situation: Coors Field is an unceasing, Kakfaesque nightmare for pitchers. It has the same gravitational resistance to big flies as the surface of Ganymede. You might as well be trying to grip a snooker ball when you break off a curve. But somebody has to take two-fifths of these starts.
The Background: Freeland was the eighth overall pick in the 2014 draft out of the University of Evansville, and used his advanced four-pitch repertoire to move quickly through the minors despite missing time in 2015 shoulder fatigue and bone chips in his elbow. Freeland wasn’t as dominant in the minors as you’d expect a pitching prospect of his pedigree, but he also didn’t encounter any real bumps in the road—on the field at least.
Senzatela was signed as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela for $250,000 as part of the Rockies 2011 July 2nd class. He jumped onto prospect radars—and our Rockies Top Ten list—with a strong season in the Cal League in 2015. He looked poised to take another leap in 2016 in Double-A, but vague shoulder issues limited him to just 34 innings, although they were effective ones. The assumption was he would head back to Hartford to get stretched back out and maybe see Colorado late in 2017, but a strong Spring performance moved his major league timetable up to Opening Day.
Scouting Report: Freeland offers four pitches that have the potential to be average or better at the major league level. He works off of a low-90s fastball he commands well and can sink and run. The slider is his best secondary offering, featuring, late, hard cutting action in the upper 80s. There’s a fringy-at-present curve and change here as well. The medical history and general effort in his delivery will lead to questions about how durable he will be in a 180-inning role, but the stuff is major-league-ready, if not eye-popping.
Freeland was healthy and through 160 innings in the upper minors last year, which is more than you can say for Senzatela. He made 8 starts last year in Double-A, while dealing with vague shoulder soreness, but he showed a major league quality fastball when he was on the mound. Senzatela can dial it up to 97 and sits comfortably in the plus velocity band. The pitch doesn’t get a ton of plane due to his stature, but his delivery is deceptive and the heater will show some east-west movement down in the zone. Senzatela’s slider usurped his curve by the time he got to Double-A, and it will flash above-average with good two-plane break, although it can get slurvy at times. His changeup can be a bit firm and act too much like the fastball, although there is enough velocity separation to make it at least useable. The curve is a clear fourth pitch and he tends to cast it and it can bleed into the slider. He pitches uphill, and his delivery can be a bit stiff and high effort, and he bled off velocity in the starts I saw last year (though how much of that you want to attribute to the shoulder issues is up to you). The delivery also doesn’t portend an above-average command profile. So like Freeland, there will be questions about Senzatela’s long-term future in a rotation until he dispels them. Also like Freeland, the Rockies seem quite content to give him a chance to do that in 2017.
Immediate Big League Future: Like the Reds rookie starters, this Colorado twosome will have pretty good pitching prospects breathing down their neck if they have any early struggles in the majors. German Marquez is lurking in the bullpen, and Jeff Hoffman is just a phone call away in the Pacific Coast League. Both have enough stuff to get major-league hitters out, but Freeland may not have enough fastball— and Senzatela enough command—to do it multiple times through a lineup and multiple times through the league. Both could also potentially slot in as no. 3/4 types, but they will also be pitching their home games in Coors Field and well…see above.
Fantasy Impact: Avert thine eyes, for inexperienced Rockies starters are not to be looked up in fantasy. The default position here is one ranging from skepticism to abject fear, and that should be where we stand on both of these pitchers until either forces our hand. Senzatela’s smaller for a right-hander, but he has an excellent fastball. He had it when I saw him two years ago, and he had it when Jeff saw him in a couple of the dude’s handful of starts last year. That last point is, I think, the biggest point here with Senzatela: he was raw if effective pitching off his fastball in both High- and Double-A stints, but he lost all but 34 innings of critical development time last season – time he really needed to be working on his work-in-progress secondaries – to shoulder trouble. To say that his breaking camp in Colorado’s rotation is a surprise is…a polite way to describe it.
Freeland, for his part, has also dealt with a bout of shoulder trouble in the recent history, and an elbow thing to boot. Both those issues cropped up in 2015, before he zoomed from metaphoric zero to literal 160-plus innings last year. And they were pretty good innings? For the most part? His DRAs hung right around league-average at Double and Triple A, and the “good command” tag on a guy with a deep arsenal demands some theoretical optimism for his future ceiling. But this is a similarly meteoric rise for the young lefty, to where he’d likely be a stretch to recommend for the here and the now even in a favorable home park.
So to recap, in Senzatela’s case we’ve got a borderline-sized righty with good gas, questionable secondaries, a recent history of shoulder woes, and a home in Coors Field. And in Freeland we’ve got a four-pitch lefty with command of decent-if-not-quite-developed stuff, a fairly recent history of shoulder and elbow woes, and a home in Coors Field.