- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
A new success model for the Rockies?
The Colorado Rockies have participated in 24 drafts and in 18 of those, they used their first pick to take a pitcher, from John Burke to Doug Million to Christian Friedrich, and while some of those arms had decent success along the way, like Jeff Francis, all of them had one thing in common.
Not one of them had sustained success with the Colorado Rockies.
Only two pitchers in the history of the Rockies have accumulated more than 1,000 innings for that team -- Aaron Cook, with 1,312 1/3 innings, and Francis, with 1,066. After so many draft-pick investments, after millions invested in the likes of Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle.
Some of the failure could be cases of scouting mistakes, or some trial and error in philosophy, or maybe some bad luck with injury. But the sample size -- nearly a quarter of a century of pitchers drafted, hundreds and hundreds taken from the first to the last rounds -- is large enough to wonder: Are the Rockies simply unable to develop pitching the way other teams can? Because the Rockies play at elevation in Denver and at their Triple-A affiliate (Colorado Springs for 21 years, and Albuquerque for the first time this year), pitchers face far greater challenges to physically recover after oxygen-diminished outings, as well as coping with a heightened degree of box-score failure.
If that's the case, if the odds of them drafting and developing pitching are simply not as good as other teams, then maybe the best thing is to follow Oakland's recent model of targeting major league-ready players from other organizations in trades -- and focus their resources in doing well what they know they can do, in stockpiling and fostering great hitters.
The trade of the team's signature star, Troy Tulowitzki, is worthy of the headlines today, and the inclusion of Jose Reyes for the Rockies will get the most attention in Colorado. But the most important pieces for the Rockies in what seems to be an outstanding trade for them are Miguel Castro and Jeff Hoffman, two high-end arms well along in their professional journey. The 20-year-old Castro opened the season in the majors, before being sent down, and Hoffman recently reached Double-A as he recovers from Tommy John surgery and would seem to be candidate for the big leagues next spring.
Maybe what we've seen this year is a sign of things to come for the Rockies, who picked a shortstop with their first choice in the draft, selecting high school shortstop Brendan Rodgers No. 3 overall. Maybe they'll continue to take hitters high in the draft, build them up, keep the best ones and flip others for the high volume of pitching that the Rockies apparently will always need to sustain success. Maybe Hoffman and Castro will help Colorado for a few years, followed by a wave of others.