On a 2012 Lansing Lugnuts roster that boasts a three-headed monster of Justin Nicolino, Noah Syndergaard and Aaron Sanchez, there’s another left-hander in the starting rotation that should not get overlooked, and his name his David Rollins.
A 24th-round pick by the Blue Jays in last year’s draft and ranked No. 50 on our top 50 prospects list, Rollins signed quickly and put up good numbers in stints with rookie-level Bluefield and short season-A Vancouver in 2011. He was considered one of Toronto’s biggest steals in the 2011 draft, and after watching him pitch last night, it’s easy to see why.
After issuing a four-pitch walk to open the game, Rollins settled down and dominated the South Bend Silver Hawks for 4 and 1/3 innings. Throwing pitches similar in location to his first four, the 22-year-old induced a groundout and flyout in the first inning before getting a swinging strikeout on a high, low-90’s fastball.
Needing just eight pitches to retire the side in the top of the second inning, Rollins benefited from a double play ball that erased a leadoff single before striking out South Bend first baseman Bobby Stone on four pitches. After taking the first pitch for strike one, Stone, a left-handed batter, whiffed on a nasty changeup and took a high fastball for ball one before swinging right over the top of another changeup low and inside for strike three.
If he’s ever behind in the count, Rollins becomes more aggressive and goes right after the hitter, which is something I noticed after he missed high for ball one against Silver Hawks leadoff man Fidel Pena in the top of the third. After getting a swinging strike and three foul balls, not to mention firing a tough-to-lay-off slider low and inside for a ball, Rollins went back to his changeup for his third swinging strikeout of the night. After fouling off pitches to stay alive in a 1-2 count, South Bend shortstop Nick Gallego legged out an infield single in the next at-bat, which gave me the opportunity to pay closer attention to how Rollins pitches out of the stretch and how he works with a runner on base.
After throwing to first to check Gallego with the count 1-1, Rollins seemed to ignore him after that and focused solely on retiring Ender Inciarte at the plate. His delivery also seemed to imply that, as it was no different or quicker with a runner on than when the bases were empty — easy for baserunners to time. After Inciarte fouled off two pitches, Rollins used his changeup once again to register another swinging strikeout and strand the runner.
Rollins fell behind 3-0 to the next batter, Silver Hawks left fielder Tom Belza, and battled back to a full count with a pair of strikes low and inside, but Belza managed to rope a single to left field to put runners on first and second, prompting a mound visit from Lugnuts pitching coach Vince Horsman. Rollins escaped the inning unscathed, though, after fielding a comebacker to the mound and throwing to first for the final out.
Facing Helm once again in the top of the fourth, Rollins got ahead 1-2 on two swinging strikes, and after running the count full, he got Helm to ground out. Facing Canadian Marc Bourgeois next, Rollins threw strikes on the outside corner before getting him to chase a high fastball for the swinging strikeout. After retiring Bourgeois, a left-handed hitter, Rollins retired Roidany Aguila, a right-handed hitter, after that with yet another swinging strikeout.
Leading off the top of the fifth, Rollins worked himself into a full count on Bobby Stone before retiring him on a low and inside changeup for the second time. The next batter, Fidel Pena, also worked a full count, but managed to crank a single to center field. With a right-handed hitter on deck, Lugnuts manager John Tamargo headed to the mound, marking the end of Rollins’ night. Rollins finished with a line of 4.1 IP/4H/0R/1BB/7K.
In what was easily the most impressive start of his professional career, Rollins racked up a career-high seven strikeouts. Four were against left-handers and three against righties, and all seven came with the batter swinging. This was largely because he established his 92 mph fastball early and threw his changeup better than he ever has before. He worked inside and outside, high and low, regardless of a batter’s handedness, and mixed in a few sliders as well after not throwing a single one in his previous start.
What’s special and unique about Rollins, though, is the fast pace at which he operates on the mound. Keeping hitters guessing and on their toes, there were multiple times where I’d finish writing a quick note about one of his pitches and look up to see him already in his windup on the next. Consider him the anti-Josh Beckett.
I discussed Rollins’ fast pace with him after the game, where he also talked about his nasty changeup, researching the opposing lineup and pitching in a star-studded rotation. I’ve embedded the audio below: