The Rockies don’t have a starting pitcher listed for Friday’s game against the Rangers yet, as the team’s rotation has been decimated by injuries through the first quarter of the season. MLB.com’s Thomas Harding tweets that 25-year-old righty Karl Kauffmann was scratched from his most recent Triple-A start, however, and is expected to make his big league debut Friday. He’d need to be added to the 40-man roster, though the Rockies could easily accommodate that by moving German Marquez to the 60-day injured list.
Colorado entered the 2023 season with one of the weakest starting pitching groups in all of baseball, and they’ve quickly been stretched even thinner. Marquez is done for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Antonio Senzatela returned from last year’s ACL tear but pitched just 7 2/3 innings before heading back to the IL with an elbow strain. The Rox are also without Ryan Feltner, who suffered a concussion and small fracture in his skull over the weekend when he was hit in the head by a comebacker. Righty Noah Davis is on the shelf with elbow inflammation, and the Rockies already released one member of their Opening Day rotation, Jose Urena, after a dismal start to the season.
That sequence has already prompted the Rockies to claim Chase Anderson following his DFA with the Rays — Anderson was excellent in last night’s team debut — and it’ll now ostensibly set the stage for Kauffmann’s MLB debut. He’ll join Anderson, Kyle Freeland, Austin Gomber and Connor Seabold if he indeed is called up and given a legitimate run in the rotation.
Kauffmann was the Rockies’ Competitive Balance (Round B) pick in the 2019 draft, coming off the board with the No. 77 overall selection. The right-hander had a decent showing in Double-A last year, posting a 4.06 ERA with more impressive strikeout and ground-ball rates (25.6% and 46.3%, respectively), but he’s been hit hard since moving up to Triple-A midway through that ’22 campaign. In 101 Triple-A frames dating back to last year, Kauffmann has a 6.68 ERA with an 18% strikeout rate against an 11.9% walk rate. The Rockies’ Albuquerque affiliate plays in a notoriously hitter-friendly setting, but it’s still been a rough showing.
That said, Kauffmann’s most recent start was sharp (six innings, seven hits, two runs, no walks, five punchouts), and the Rockies are thin on alternatives. General manager Bill Schmidt recently told Danielle Allentuck of the Denver Gazette that the team tried to add more rotation depth throughout the offseason but was generally unsuccessful in those pursuits. Pitching at Coors Field, of course, is no pitcher’s first choice, and even minor league depth options might bristle at the notion of playing home games in Albuquerque (and the Pacific Coast League at large).
The Rockies could soon have some reinforcement on the way, as left-hander Ryan Rolison embarked on a rehab assignment this week and tossed three shutout innings with three strikeouts and a walk for the Rockies’ Class-A affiliate. While the 25-year-old Rolison has never pitched in the Majors, he climbed to Triple-A in 2021 and likely would’ve been an option in 2022 had it not been for a torn labrum that required surgery and wiped out his entire season.
Rolison was the Rockies’ first-round pick back in 2018, going with the No. 22 overall selection. He’s been limited to just 234 2/3 professional innings thanks primarily to the canceled 2020 minor league season and last year’s shoulder surgery. In that time, he’s pitched to a 4.30 ERA with more encouraging ratios: 24.8% strikeout rate, 7.2% walk rate, 45% ground-ball rate.
Baseball America ranked Rolison second, third and fourth among Rockies prospects from 2020-22, respectively, calling him a potential “steady, reliable starter at the back of the rotation” in their 2022 report. How Rolison recovers from last year’s surgery is an open question, and his workload will likely be monitored this year — but that’s precisely the type of arm the Rockies could use with their starting staff currently in shambles. One would imagine that Rolison could be an option before too long if he can avoid any setbacks in his recovery.
In the meantime, it seems the Rockies will continue to give Anderson opportunities in the rotation, which is no surprise after he blanked the Reds — who traded him to the Rays for cash last month — and allowed just one hit through five innings in his team debut. Anderson told Allentuck that the Rockies “want me to start here” and added that he’s grateful for the opportunity to step back into a big league rotation. Interestingly, Anderson told Harding that both the Rockies and Reds hoped to claim him following his DFA with the Rays, but the Rockies had higher priority given their inferior record. At least for the time being, it seems the 35-year-old veteran will be leaned on to stabilize the starting staff.