Rox need Pomeranz, White to live up to billing
Young hurlers can swing Ubaldo trade permanently in Colorado's favor
DENVER -- Left-handed pitcher Drew Pomeranz and righty Alex White have had more than a year to make the Rockies winners in one of the biggest trades in club history. The fact they didn't move through the wide-open door to swinging the deal in Colorado's favor was one of the frustrations of 2012.
Pomeranz and White, recent first-round Draft picks of the Indians, were the key figures among the four players the Rockies received when they sent onetime All-Star Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland. Jimenez is 13-21 with a 5.32 ERA in 42 starts for the Indians since the 2011 Trade Deadline deal, and is coming off a 2012 in which he led the American League in losses with 17 and wild pitches with 16, and there even has been debate among Indians fans whether the team should exercise its $5.75 million club option for 2013.
But while Jimenez has not been the staff leader the Indians expected, Pomeranz and White haven't made their marks in the Majors. Pomeranz went 2-9 with a 4.43 ERA in 22 Major League starts this past season and is 4-10 in 26 Major League starts. White also went 2-9 this season in 23 games (20 starts) and is 4-13 in 30 games, 27 starts, for Colorado. Pomeranz made 10 Minor League starts and White 11 in 2012.
Pomeranz and White receive most of the attention from the Jimenez trade. The deal also gave the Rockies utility man Matt McBride, who made his Major League debut this season and hit .205 with two home runs and 11 RBIs in 31 games, and right-handed pitcher Joe Gardner, who went 8-8 with a 3.97 ERA in 28 games (23 starts) at Double-A Tulsa.
So the Indians haven't been taken to the cleaners.
"I think we're over that at this point," White said. "To be honest, both ends of that trade haven't been real good."
Both need to make forward steps next season.
Like in 2012, they'll be competing for rotation spots. The Rockies, however, expect to have more strong candidates. With veteran lefty Jorge De La Rosa recovering from elbow surgery last spring and other young pitchers not stepping up, Pomeranz, whom the Rockies admitted was not ready, and 49-year-old Jamie Moyer held two of the five spots.
Should the Rockies re-sign lefty Jeff Francis, who wants to come back, he, righty Jhoulys Chacin and De La Rosa should be the staff's leaders. After that, competitors are righties Juan Nicasio, who missed much of 2012 with a left knee injury, and Tyler Chatwood, who was arguably the most consistent of the young pitchers.
But the young pair must produce like the stars that their Draft positions suggested they'd be -- especially Pomeranz, whom the Indians selected fifth overall out of Ole Miss in 2010.
"I think I can be," Pomeranz said. "I'll put in a lot of work this offseason in a lot of different areas. They want me to come back and be the guy the team needs."
Despite a long history of seeing young starters struggle at altitude, the Rockies might have asked for too quick a return, especially in Pomeranz's case. He debuted in 2011 during his first pro season, and joined the rotation in April after just 21 Minor League starts. White was in the Majors in his second pro season. By comparison, Francis, who became the ace of the 2007 team that played in the World Series, had 59 Minor League starts before his 2004 debut.
"You can't complain about being up here, about being given the opportunity to learn the game up here," Pomeranz said. "I pretty much got just as much time up here as I did in the Minor Leagues last year, maybe a little more. It's a pretty good opportunity I got here. Not everyone gets to learn up here."
But whether it's because of the unpredictability of pitchers in their prime being able to adjust to Coors Field, the club's lack of willingness to go big in salary offers to free agents or the free agents' reluctance to sign with the Rockies, the Rockies have to win with youth, not hide behind it.
"Me and Drew are real young, but that's certainly not an excuse for us," said White, chosen 15th overall in 2009 out of North Carolina. "We're trying to pitch well and we're trying to win. We have the stuff, the ability and the talent. It's just putting everything together."
Pomeranz offered glimpses in his final two starts. He held the Cubs scoreless on three hits in five innings in a 6-0 Rockies victory at Coors Field, and gave up two runs and three hits, and struck out seven, in five innings of a no-decision against the D-backs in his final start.
Whether it was the trade itself, working with a new organization, or a bout with appendicitis just before his Major League debut last September, Pomeranz lost his throwing motion and, therefore, some of the power that made him special. Before a demotion to the Minors in May, the Rockies showed Pomeranz tapes of himself before the trade and worked with him to match the motion.
Pomeranz found himself and seemed to find an effective curveball before the season ended.
"I finally figured it out a little more toward the end -- it's something to build on for the offseason," said Pomeranz, who turns 24 next month. "I was locating on both sides of the plate. I didn't throw that many curveballs the last time. I threw some offspeed the time before.
"I just need to develop my pitches a little more at this level. It was a learning experience for me this year about pitching to hitters at this level. I've learned these teams a little bit. Maybe I'll develop other pitches and see what it turns into."
Then-Rockies manager Jim Tracy put White in the bullpen during the latter stages of the season, partly to force him to become more efficient with his pitches. Before being drafted, some scouts thought White's future was in relief. But that's not his aspiration.
"I think they saw me in a role that I could help out the 'pen early in the year," White said. "That's why the move was made in camp. But I feel like I'm a starter. I feel I'm going to be a lot more consistent, a lot better for this team as a starter. But when it comes down to it, I'll try to do what I can to help us win and prepare for both roles."
"There are a lot of improvements that need to be made. I had an up-and-down year, and I had to do a lot of different things, different roles. I just need to be prepared next year to hopefully start and be ready to take on 150-160 innings."
Neither pitcher flourished under the Rockies' edict in June to go to a four-man rotation and limit starters to two times through the opponent's order, which translated to a limit of around 75 pitches. The Rockies will go back to five starters, although the pitch limit figures to at least begin in the 90 range -- not the 100-plus that many teams are willing to give starters.
The Rockies saw it as a way of teaching pitchers, especially young ones, efficiency.
"I don't know what it did," Pomeranz said. "Honestly, I would have liked to have had more pitches. But there's really not much to say. It's over and done with. There's not much to say about it now."
"As a pitcher, my goal is to get guys out without giving up the lead, without getting our team out of the ballgame," White said. "I'm trying to do everything I can to win games. Whether I throw 110 pitches through five innings and help us win, or 75 through five innings, both to me are the same. The efficiency thing is hard to describe, hard to define."
What's required of Rockies pitchers should soon become clear.
The Rockies soon are expected to hire former Major League pitching coach Mark Wiley as director of pitching operations. Wiley will be in charge of every aspect of pitching, from setting plans and policies for the Majors and Minors to helping determine what the club is seeking while scouting college and high school hurlers.
Pomeranz said at season's end he was beginning to formulate his plan for next season. White is confident both can achieve.
"We saw it from Drew in his last couple of starts -- he was really good," White said. "I'd love to get back in the starting role and be able to produce for this team."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.