Starting pitcher Antonio Senzatela is being heralded as one key performer out of a core group that will lead the Colorado Rockies to contender status. Thus far in his very young career, it's easy to see the hope he engenders in long-suffering Rockies fans.
Signed at age 16 out of Venezuela for $250,000 by the Rockies in 2011, he went to the Dominican Summer League the next season. He had little difficulty in his short time there, advancing to short-season in 2013 with the Tri-City Dust Devils in the Northwest League. While he didn't set the league on fire, he certainly acquitted himself well, posting a 3.83 ERA over 42 1/3 innings, walking 13 and striking out 20 in eight starts. He's been a starter exclusively since he turned pro, excepting one game in his first season.
Heading to full-season Class-A Asheville in 2014, the 19-year-old put on a clinic over 26 starts for the Tourists. Senzatela posted a sterling 15-2 record with a 3.12 ERA in his 144 1/3 innings of work, striking out 89, walking only 36 and allowing only 11 home runs. Nearly three years younger on average than his opponents, Senzatela proved himself ready to jump to a new level for 2015.
His fourth season in the pros found him in Modesto with the Nuts, of the High-A California League. Still quite young for the league, Senzatela managed to improve on his outstanding 2014 performance. He bumped up his K/9 by almost three (2014: 5.5 vs. 2015: 8.4), somehow managed to walk even fewer batters (33 walks in 154 IP) and posted a 2.51 ERA.
Opponents batted a measly .229 against him. His boost in strikeouts was likely due to Senzatela's decision to work with a slider instead of what had been an inconsistent curve. His changeup was also showing signs of becoming a reliable third pitch, and thus the idea of Senzatela finding a spot in the Colorado rotation became very real, indeed.
Then came 2016, and it was on to the Hartford Yard Goats in the Double-A Eastern League. This was when Senzatela hit the first speed bump in his time as a pro. First came the shoulder pain. He started to feel it in his second start of the year, and it cost him six weeks on the DL. Still, he showed no ill effects when he returned, managing another five spectacular starts (1.01 ERA in 26 2/3 IP, 21 K) before he had to be shut down again. Each time, it was merely referred to as “shoulder soreness”, and no surgery was ordered for it.
While dealing with this first true adversity in his pro career, he received news from home that his mother was going in for stomach surgery. She had cancer, and didn't want to trouble her son with the news that she wasn't doing well. By the time she had surgery, it was too late. She passed away on August 24th. Senzatela endured both recurring physical pain and the emotional pain of the loss of his mother, and the game became a much-needed refuge for him.
Coming out of spring training this season, Senzatela made the Rockies rotation. Thus far, the shoulder inflammation which plagued him last year has not returned (so far as we know), and he was able to make his 1st MLB start on April 6th at Milwaukee.
He pitched very well, allowing only two hits in five shutout innings, walking three and striking out six in what ended up a no-decision for him. Senzatela did pick up his 1st MLB win in his second start, at home vs the San Diego Padres. He gave up two runs on five hits over seven strong innings, walking only one and striking out five.
It was the first of three wins in a row to begin his career when he gave up three runs on seven hits in seven innings at San Francisco, then held the Giants to only one run on four hits in another seven-inning effort. He would lose at home to the Washington Nationals in his fifth start (6 IP, 4 R, 7 H, 3 BB, 1 K), then pick up win #4 at Petco Park vs the Padres after giving up three runs (two earned) on six scattered hits over six innings, walking only one and striking out two.
On the mound, Senzatela utilizes simple, easily-repeatable mechanics to deliver a four-seamer that sits around 92-93, but can top out at 96 when he needs a little extra. His arsenal is built on that fastball, which he throws 75% of the time, so establishing that heat early in the game is key to his success.
Senzatela mixes in a solid, late-breaking slider at 82-84 as his secondary offering. The slider has good lateral tilt, but he gets more downward movement out of it when he keeps it low and stays on top of the pitch. It is a true swing-and-miss pitch at its best vs. right-handed batters.
He also throws a changeup that could become at least an MLB-average offering. He seems to have good feel for the pitch, but at the moment it lacks consistency and comes in straight as an arrow at times. Still at 83-86, it's a good look to give hitters after pouring fastballs into the zone. He will need to get more comfortable with it, or scrap it and go to a different third pitch, like a splitter.
Physically, he matured early and is likely has no projectability left. There are lingering concerns that his shoulder issues could return, and working as a starter could make it more likely that they will. Combined with the fact that he is basically a two-pitch pitcher at the moment, his future could lay in the bullpen, where his velocity would likely increase as a short reliever.
If he can continue to handle the workload of a starter, as well as refine his changeup or work out a replacement for it, he could become one of the key men in Colorado's rotation and perhaps a regular 15-game winner, even in Denver's rarefied air.
Whichever route he goes, Senzatela is among a number of young talents who will lead this team back into contention.