Rockies take lefty Freeland with first pick
DENVER — If the trend the past two years holds true, Grand Junction Rockies fans can expect to see a Colorado boy take the mound this summer.
The Colorado Rockies selected Thomas Jefferson High School graduate Kyle Freeland with the No. 8 overall pick Thursday in the Major League Baseball amateur draft.
The 6-foot-4 left-handed pitcher previously was drafted out of high school by Philadelphia, which passed on him Thursday one pick before the Rockies sent the hometown boy, his family and friends who had gathered at his home in Denver into a frenzy when his name was called.
“Leading up to it, it was running through my mind, and I didn’t know how I was going to react,” Freeland said on a conference call Thursday just as the Rockies were starting their game against Arizona. “It was a roller coaster of emotions. When they called my name, I just had to grab my dad and give him a hug.”
As everyone around him screamed as his name was called, Freeland, seated on a couch between his parents, buried his head in his father’s chest in a long bear hug.
Freeland, who just finished his junior year at the University of Evansville (Indiana), said he expects to be at Coors Field on Saturday, when he could sign his contract and put on the jersey he’s grown up with, this one with his name on the back.
“I can’t even count the amount of Rockies games I’ve been to,” he said. “Now to have the potential to go up there and put on one of those jerseys for my hometown team, it’s an unbelievable feeling for me.”
The past two years, the Rockies have sent their first-round draft picks to Grand Junction to play Rookie ball: center fielder David Dahl and pitcher Eddie Butler in 2012, and pitcher Jon Gray in 2013.
Butler makes his first start for Colorado tonight. Dahl is playing in Class A Asheville after missing most of last season with a torn hamstring, and Gray is now in Double-A Tulsa. The Rockies also sent their second-round pick last season, third baseman Ryan McMahon, to Grand Junction. McMahon is also at Asheville.
Strangely enough, for a pitcher who grew up watching the Rockies, Freeland didn’t mention pitchers when asked about his favorite Rockies.
“All time? Larry Walker,” he said. “Currently? Troy Tulowitzki.”
When reminded he’s about to become a Rockies pitcher, Freeland said he doesn’t tend to watch big-league pitchers.
“I don’t have a whole lot of favorites,” he said. “I don’t follow pitchers in the bigs, it’s just not my style.”
Although he’s been in the Midwest the past three years in college and threw in the Cape Cod League with Hyannis last summer, where he led the league with 48 strikeouts and a 48/4 strikeout/walk ratio, he understands what it’s like to pitch at altitude. Should he start his pro career in Grand Junction, he’ll actually come down some from the mile-high altitude in Denver to Grand Junction’s 4,600 feet of elevation, depending on where you are in town.
“I think it will be an advantage having pitched here when I was younger,” he said. “I’ll have to fine-tune them at the next level, but I feel like I have an advantage knowing how to pitch at high altitude.”
He seemed to turn the corner last summer in the top collegiate summer league, going from a pitcher who was 8-13 with a 4.44 ERA his first two seasons to going 10-2 this past season with a 1.90 ERA. He struck out 123 and walked only 13, and last week he was selected as one of 21 semifinalists for the Golden Spikes Award, which goes to the top amateur player in the U.S.
He throws a four-seam fastball consistently in the low 90s, with a good slider in the low 80s. He also throws a change-up and curve, calling his fastball and slider his out pitches.
He credits his time in the Cape Cod League for his improvement this season.
“Cape Cod helped me accelerate so much with my maturity as a person and my maturity as a player,” he said. “It helped so much facing elite hitters and elite teams every single start, and I knew I had to be at the top of my game.”
After taking a college pitcher with their first pick, the Rockies dipped into the high school ranks for their second two picks. With the 35th pick (a competitive balance first-round pick), Colorado selected Orangewood Christian (Florida) second baseman Forrest Wall. According to scouts, the left-handed swinging Wall makes consistent contact and has decent power.
With their second-round pick, the Rockies took Brophy Jesuit Prep (Arizona) pitcher Ryan Castellani, a 6-foot-4, 195-pound right-hander who possesses a heavy sinking fastball that will be good for the altitude in Colorado.