Rockies Prospect Ashton Goudeau, Coming Off An Improbable 2019, Could Have An Even Bigger 2020

In November 2018, Chris Forbes, the Rockies’ assistant director of player development, spearheaded the signing of Ashton Goudeau to a minor league contract.

That transaction ideally was going to address a short-term need in the high minors for the Rockies. They were getting a right-handed starting pitcher, who threw strikes but had toiled in the minor leagues for seven seasons, going 26-45 with a 5.25 ERA. That bottom line seemed that of a journeyman and certainly not someone about to transform himself into a mound force and earn a spot on their 40-man roster.

“He just sort of freed up everything he was doing,” Rockies player development director Zach Wilson said. “He freed up his body. He freed up his mind, found out everything worked just a little bit better.”

The Rockies didn’t have an inkling any of this would happen when they brought the right-handed Goudeau into their organization. They weren’t looking too far ahead. As they eyed the 2019 season, they lacked pitching depth at Double-A Hartford.

The Rockies had good reports on Goudeau from pro scout Ty Coslow, who had seen Goudeau in 2016 and 2017 and ever so briefly in 2018. Goudeau’s name had appeared on a list of minor league free agents after the 2018 season. Digging into that list and trying to fill needs at the upper levels of the minor league system is a developmental task that occupies Forbes shortly after the World Series ends.

It’s necessary work and comes with the reality that the survival-of-the-fittest nature of the minor leagues means most players get weeded out. On November 16, 2018, Goudeau signed a minor league contract with the Rockies. Forbes’ hopes for Goudeau were understandably modest.

“This could be a good upper-level depth piece, not thinking he would take any type of step that he did,” Forbes said. “Very quickly he went from a guy I thought we were going to have for the year and not worry about much after that to being an absolute dominant force in the Eastern League, which is not an easy league to pitch in.”

After scrapping his slider and concentrating on his curveball, Goudeau went 3-3 with a 2.07 ERA for the Hartford Yard Goats with 12 walks and 91 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings and a .919 WHIP.

And because Goudeau missed just over two months after freakishly breaking his pitching hand, the Rockies sent him to the Arizona Fall League to get more innings and have him face better hitters.

What happened there almost defies belief. In six games, all in relief, Goudeau went 1-0 while pitching 13 scoreless innings. He gave up four hits and no walks with 18 strikeouts and registered an absurd .308 WHIP. He threw 167 pitches, 126 strikes, and averaged a mere 12.8 pitches per inning.

Coslow saw three of Goudeau’s Fall League outings. It was a most enjoyable experience and not just because of how Goudeau pitched. Coslow sat with scouts from other organizations, good friends who wondered how the Rockies got Goudeau.

“He looked like he didn’t even belong in the Fall League,” Coslow said. “You know when you go to a minor league game and see a big leaguer on rehab, they just stand out because they’re not challenged. He was just dominating with the commanded fastball and the curveball he was throwing at any time he wanted. It was like, ‘Wow, this guy’s really kind of just come into his own.’ ”

After eight years in the minors, Goudeau, 27, whom the Royals drafted in the 27th round in 2012, will come to big league spring training for the first time in February.

Considering his only Triple-A experience was brief in 2018, it seems likely Goudeau would begin next season at Triple-A Albuquerque, where he could gain experience pitching at altitude before dealing with challenges inherent in Coors Field. But then again. ...

The Rockies are coming off a 91-loss season and must improve their rotation. The starters went 45-62 with a 5.87 ERA, the second highest in franchise history. The Rockies can count on Jon Gray and German Marquez to begin next season in their rotation, hopefully with Kyle Freeland, his 2019 troubles behind him. Chi Chi Rodriguez, coming off an impressive September and further out from his Tommy John surgery in July 2017, is a rotation candidate. And so are Peter Lambert, Jeff Hoffman, Antonio Senzatela and Ryan Castellani.

And Goudeau, improbable as it seemed a year ago, will be in the mix for a spot in the Opening Day rotation. Regardless, he has a good chance to join the Rockies and make his major league debut early next season. So he’ll spend this offseason home in Bossier City, La., with an anticipation for the upcoming season unlike anything he has experienced.

“It’s super exciting,” Goudeau said, “not that in previous years there wasn’t something to look forward to. But definitely this year, it’s like going to push you a little harder to go into 2020 in better shape than you have been and just really try to make a statement.”

Coslow first saw Goudeau in 2016 when he was pitching for Double-A Northwest Arkansas, a Royals affiliate. Goudeau’s curveball and his feel for that pitch caught Coslow’s attention. He said the report he wrote “wasn’t glowing” but stated his interest in Goudeau should the Rockies and Royals ever make a deal. In 2017, Coslow again saw Goudeau at Northwest Arkansas where he was on his way to finishing 3-7 with a 5.37 ERA in 21 games (seven starts).

“I still liked him,” Coslow said. “His numbers weren’t good. I saw a start and went back and looked at my notes and very similar, he was a guy that always seemed to have the one (bad) inning. There was always one inning in every start that just seemed to blow things out of whack.

“He always had a good arm. I can remember writing in the reports, this guy has a legitimate out pitch, and he doesn’t throw it enough. It was a power curveball, but it wasn’t one that guys can’t control; they can use it for a strikeout. He actually had a really good feel for it.”

Late in 2018 spring training, the Royals traded Goudeau and another minor league pitcher to the Mariners for cash considerations. He began the year at Triple-A Tacoma, making all but two of 20 appearances out of the bullpen while going 1-5 with an 8.20 ERA. Coslow happened to see Goudeau in one relief outing.

In early July, the Mariners sent Goudeau to High Class A Modesto where he made three starts, because the Mariners wanted to convert him back to that role and build up his pitch count. He threw 90 pitches in his third start, and toward the end of July, Goudeau moved up to Double-A Arkansas.

He made nine starts there to complete the season and went 4-5 with a 4.38 ERA but did go 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA in his final three outings with five walks and 16 strikeouts in 18 innings.

It wasn’t long before the Rockies reached out to Goudeau. When Forbes called him with an offer, it registered as a missed call on Goudeau’s phone. His reception was understandably poor, because Goudeau was “just out in the middle of nowhere” sitting in a tree stand deer hunting on a friend’s property outside Owensville, Mo.

“I didn’t have enough service to take the call,” Goudeau said. “I had to wait a few hours until I got back (to my friend’s) home. I got out a little bit early just to call (Forbes) and tell him where I was.”

Goudeau reported to Colorado’s minor league spring training and initially was placed in Albuquerque’s work group before joining Hartford’s. There he was reunited with Steve Merriman, who was Hartford’s pitching coach last year before being promoted after the 2019 season to the Rockies’ pitching coordinator at the upper levels.

Merriman and Goudeau were together in the Royals’ organization. Merriman was the pitching coach at Short-Season Class A Idaho Falls in 2013, which was Goudeau’s first full professional season, and the pitching coach in 2014 at Low Class A Lexington where Goudeau spent the final month of that season.

Goudeau did not pitch particularly well last spring, his first in the Rockies’ organization. And toward the end of spring training, Goudeau, whose slider had been inconsistent, said he asked Merriman his opinion about getting rid of that pitch, since his curveball was a far better breaking pitch.

Goudeau’s debut in the Rockies organization came for Hartford in an April 9 start. It was at Harrisburg and wasn’t good. Goudeau allowed eight hits and five runs (four earned) in 3 2/3 innings and lost 7-3. He was still throwing his slider, which very soon would be relegated to his pitching past.

Hours before Hartford’s home opener two days later, Goudeau met with Merriman, player development director Wilson and Darryl Scott, now Colorado’s bullpen coach but then their upper level pitching coordinator. What Goudeau had discussed a couple weeks earlier with Merriman in spring training became official: he would stop throwing his slider and instead throw his curveball, his best pitch, more often. The whole idea was how to get Goudeau to best utilize his stuff.

Wilson, when describing Goudeau’s rise, is quick to credit Merriman, who did the daily work with Goudeau. They made one small change with Goudeau’s right hand. It was tilted more toward 2 o’clock on his fastball, and Merriman wanted Goudeau’s fingers to be between 12:30 and 1:30. The result was a little more downhill angle with the fastball, more carry and a slight rise in velocity along with more deception.

“So his fastball played up,” Wilson said. “And then all of a sudden, his changeup played up. The separator for him with his changeup is it comes out of that same slot as his fastball, and it’s got that downhill action to it. So it looks exactly like a fastball.”

Goudeau’s four-seam fastball sits at 93-94 mph, touches 95 mph and has reached 96 mph. His curveball is 78-82 mph, and his changeup is 82-84 mph.

Goudeau’s curve has a classic 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock break. He’s comfortable throwing it in any count and will throw it two or even three times in succession. He can change the break on the pitch as well as the speed, throwing it with less velocity early in the count and harder late. It’s the pitch that first caught pro scout Coslow’s eye in 2016. In the Fall League, Goudeau, working in relief and, hence, throwing fewer changeups, found he was able to better sequence his fastball and a curveball that had improved because he threw it more after abandoning the slider.

“It’s not one of these pitches that when you see it, it makes you come to the edge of your seat,” Coslow said. “He can kind of make it do what he wants. It’s not the pitch that is going to knock your socks off. But guys don’t see it real good, and it’s always got subtle variances to it.”

Goudeau was still throwing his slider, a sweepy pitch that didn’t have much bite, in his poor initial start at Harrisburg. When he quit throwing it after that outing, Goudeau immediately soared. He allowed two or fewer runs in nine of his next 10 starts and three runs in the other. He threw six hitless innings on 70 pitches May 18 against New Hampshire but had to be lifted so Chris Rusin, who was on a rehab assignment, could work two innings.

In a June 5 start against Trenton, Goudeau gave up a single and double to open the fourth, struck out the next two batters, issued a walk to load the bases but escaped with an inning-ending strikeout. Goudeau came into the dugout and was discussing the inning with catcher Brian Serven.

“I was a little frustrated and made just kind of a backhand swinging motion and was not paying attention to where I was,” Goudeau said. “And I just caught the top part of the bench on the back of my hand. It kind of cracked my hand and got a little red, and I really didn’t think anything of it. It was a little sore. I continued to pitch, and I never would’ve guessed it was broken because the velocity stayed the same and all my offspeed (pitches) stayed the same. It just was a little sore.”

Goudeau pitched two more innings, twice retiring the side in order. When he woke the next morning, Goudeau’s “entire hand was about twice the size that it should’ve been, and my entire palm was black and blue.”

The hand was broken, and it would be Aug. 14 before Goudeau again pitched for Hartford. That hiatus resulted in Goudeau pitching in the Arizona Fall League for Salt River and allowing four baserunners in 13 scoreless innings. And for good measure, Goudeau was the winning pitcher in the Fall League championship game, giving up one hit in 2 2/3 innings with no walks and three strikeouts in a 26-pitch outing that included 19 strikes.

Salt River’s pitching coach was from the Rays’ organization. There was no one like Merriman, who worked regularly with Goudeau during the season, knew him well and could make any needed suggestions. The dynamic in the Fall League was simply different.

“Everything that was going on in the Fall League was on me,” Goudeau said. “So being able to apply what I was doing in Hartford against better competition and sort of do it on my own, so to speak, that was definitely like a big boost to my confidence and I guess like verification in what I was doing right.”

It was August when Coslow first saw Hartford play, and Goudeau, who is listed at 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds, was still recovering from his broken thumb. After “hearing rave reports” all season on Goudeau, all Coslow was able to see in person was Goudeau throw a bullpen session. Finally, in the Fall League, Coslow had the chance to watch Goudeau pitch.

“What I saw in the Fall League, it was like a kid where the light bulb went off,” Coslow said. “He’s so calm. I was sitting there chuckling because it’s not overpowering and it’s not a physical presence. He’s a tall kid (but lean). And he’s just so casual. You can see the confidence. He’s comfortable pitching. He’s not trying to knock the bat out of your hands.”

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I have written about major league baseball regularly since 1982, beginning at the Kansas City Star through 1992 before moving Denver to work for the Rocky Mountain News ...