DENVER -- The Rockies have been lauding left-hander Drew Pomeranz as an important figure in their future from the day they acquired him from the Indians in the deal that sent star pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland. Turns out Pomeranz doesn't necessarily need to be praised to produce. "Last year I went to Indians Spring Training, and the first day they sat me down and said, 'Oh, you're not competing for a spot,'" Pomeranz said. "That fired me up a little bit. I was like, 'Oh, really? I'm not?' I went out and didn't give up a hit the whole big league camp."
The Indians certainly had nothing anything against Pomeranz, their top Draft pick in 2010, it was just his first spring camp. But Pomeranz's performance in 2011 -- a dominant year in the Minors and some encouraging late-season outings for the Rockies, even though he was coming off an August appendectomy -- has led to accelerated expectations, and this week MLB.com tabbed him as the 24th-best prospect in baseball. "This time it's a different kind of excitement, just to know that I can actually be there this time," Pomeranz said. "I'll find a way to get fired up. You don't have to worry about that." At 23, Pomeranz is young by Major League standards, but he's right in line with the Rockies in their current state. The Jimenez trade, which also brought in 23-year-old Alex White, was the start of a stockpiling of young power pitchers. The Rockies also have traded with the Angels for Tyler Chatwood, 21, and with the Athletics for Guillermo Moscoso, a comparatively ancient 28, and Josh Outman, 27. Those pitchers are being added to potential ace Jhoulys Chacin, 24; an experienced righty in Jason Hammel, 29; and a set of prospects from within the organization in Juan Nicasio, 25, and Esmil Rogers, 26. Even though Pomeranz has made four starts in the bigs (2-1, 5.40 ERA), he enters 2012 an unknown at the Major League level, mainly because he was pitching with his timing and health compromised. The trade with the Indians was on July 30, but Major League Baseball rules prohibit a player from being traded until a calendar year after he signs his first pro contract. Thus Pomeranz was essentially frozen until Aug. 17. Then, three days after his debut at Double-A Tulsa, in which he took a perfect game into the seventh inning and gave up two hits in seven innings, Pomeranz was undergoing an emergency appendectomy. He recovered quickly enough to throw three innings in Tulsa's final game and join the big club. Pomeranz threw five scoreless innings in his debut, a Sept. 11 home win over the Reds, and pitched well in every game but one, giving up six hits and seven runs in two innings at Houston. But at no point did he display the high-end velocity, or much else, that had marked his strong Spring Training with the Indians. "I didn't really have my curveball," he said. "My changeup was all right. I didn't have my best fastball. Surely, I learned a lot from the pitching side of it, having to go out there and pitch when I didn't have my best stuff. "Last year is the first year that I had a ball that was running a little bit and cutting. I was still throwing a lot of fastballs, but they weren't straight. That helped me out." Now, not only is Pomeranz healthy, he reports that the movement his fastball had at the end of last year returned with his first bullpen session this offseason at Ole Miss, where he pitched in college. The Rockies hope that he can combine his best fastball with the lessons he learned when he didn't have it. "I was very impressed with what I saw," manager Jim Tracy said, "but what can he become? He has a chance to become pretty special. It's going to be pretty interesting to watch it evolve."
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.