The long — nearly unbroken — line of Colorado Springs players in the major leagues may not be snapped this year even as two of the area’s best step aside.
Pitcher Brandon McCarthy (Cheyenne Mountain) has retired after a 13-year career beset by injuries. He is now a special assistant to Rangers general manager Jon Daniels.
Chase Headley (Fountain-Fort Carson) also appears to be finished. Nobody picked up the 34-year-old former MVP candidate after the Padres released him after 27 games last year in which he hit just .115.
Dating back to Rich “Goose” Gossage’s debut to his Hall of Fame career April 16, 1972, the area has produced a steady stream of big leaguers. Gossage (Wasson) pitched through 1994, as his career overlapped with Rampart’s Jeff King (1989-98). Dave Mlicki (Cheyenne Mountain) pitched from 1995-2002.
That left only 2003 and 2004 without Colorado Springs representation at the highest level before McCarthy debuted in 2005, with Headley following in 2007.
Fountain-Fort Carson’s Nick Green has a chance to continue that string. The Diamondbacks selected the right-handed pitcher in the Rule 5 Draft last month out of the Yankees’ system.
The aim of the Rule 5 Draft is to prevent teams from burying players in their minor league system when others would be willing to give them a chance. Players who have logged qualifying time and are not included on their team’s 40-man roster are eligible to be taken in the draft for $100,000. But the caveat is that they must remain on the new team’s active 25-man roster throughout the entire season or be offered back to their original club for $50,000.
This has worked many times, with notable recent examples including Jose Bautista, Shane Victorino and Joakim Soria. Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Hack Wilson were also once Rule 5 picks.
A full season in the major leagues would be a sizable jump for Green, 23, who spent most of last year in Class A Advanced, where he posted a 3.28 ERA over 20 starts and made the league’s all-star team. He then made three Double-A starts, where he went 1-2 with a 3.63 ERA.
“He’s got a good cutter, good curveball, he’s up to 93-94 (mph),” Arizona general manager Mike Hazen told MLB.com.
“We’ve liked him in trade discussions in the past. It’s a little bit of a flier, given that he only has three starts in Double-A, but he’s going to be 24 years old [in March] and we like a lot of things that he can do.”
If Green does open the season with Arizona, it would almost certainly be as a part of the bullpen.
Beyond Green, there is little immediate hope for a Colorado Springs product to play in the major leagues this year.
Cheyenne Mountain graduate Bret Helton struggled in Double-A last year in the Pirates’ system, finishing with a 6.12 ERA and 45 strikeouts against 38 walks in 60 1/3 innings.
Air Force graduate Griffin Jax would seem to be the next candidate on the horizon, as he threw 21 innings in the prestigious Arizona Fall League with a 3.86 ERA. But Jax, still on active duty and competing as part of the World Class Athlete Program, has pitched only 87 2/3 professional innings and is still likely at least a year away from gaining serious consideration for a promotion to the Twins. Jax is from Englewood.
As a side note, isn’t it interesting that so many players with Colorado ties tend be pitchers? Gossage, the late Roy Halladay of Arvada (who was voted into the Hall of Fame this past week), Rockies’ ace Kyle Freeland of Denver’s Thomas Jefferson High School along with Mlicki, McCarthy, Green, Helton and Jax all learned their craft up here in the thin Rocky Mountain air that is so notoriously hard on pitchers.
Major league training camps open in the second week of February when pitchers and catchers report.