Ranking the Top 10 best Colorado-born baseball players in major-league history

Colorado is not an elite baseball state like California or Texas, where a huge population and year-round warm weather cultivate an endless stream of top picks and major leaguers.

But Colorado has taken many excellent players out of its borders, especially for a snowy condition. Here is a list of the top 10 Colorado baseball players of all time. To be eligible for this list, players must have been born in Colorado and played high school baseball here (if applicable).

10. Kyle Freeland

LHP | Denver | 2017-present

Kyle Freeland throws in the 6th inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Coors Field on August 14, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Diamondbacks 7-6. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post)

While the former Thomas Jefferson star is only three seasons into his MLB career, the left-handed is already ranked 10th among native Coloradans in career WAR at 10.6. That includes a 2018 season in which he went 17-7 and recorded a 2.85 ERA, a single season Rockies record for a full season and a performance that earned him fourth place in the NL Cy Young Award voting. He has an ERA of 4.14 careers in 88 games (83 starts).

The 27-year-old’s 2019 year went off the rails, but Freeland remains an iconic baseball figure locally. After playing in Thomas Jefferson from 2007-11, where Freeland set a state record with 145 strikeouts in his peak season while posting a 1.39 ERA, he went on to play at the University of Evansville before the Rockies selected him number 8 overall in 2014.

9. Marco Gonzales

LHP | Fort Collins | 2014-present

Starter Marco Gonzales # 7 of the ...

Stephen Brashear, Getty Images

Seattle Mariners starter Marco Gonzales delivers a pitch during the second inning of a game against the Oakland Athletics at T-Mobile Park on September 28, 2019 in Seattle. The athletics won 1-0.

As the greatest pitcher in Colorado’s prep history, the left-handed won four consecutive class 5A state games for Rocky Mountain from 2007-10 – the only pitcher in state history to ever achieve that feat. Gonzales then played as a dynamic two-way player with Gonzaga before being called up to the Cardinals in the first round in 2013. He made his debut for St. Louis on June 25, 2014 against the Rockies.

Gonzales has overcome arm problems (including Tommy John surgery) and since arriving in Seattle through trade in July 2017, he has emerged as the bait of the Mariners. The workhorse led the major leagues with 34 starts in 2019 and went from 16-13 with an ERA of 3.99. He was rewarded in the off-season with a four-year $ 30 million contract that reflects the Mariners’ confidence in him.

8. Mark Melancon

RHP | Wheat Ridge | 2009-present

San Francisco Giants pitcher Mark Melancon, ...

Ben Margot, The Associated Press

San Francisco Giants pitcher Mark Melancon, right, celebrates the 6-3 win over the Atlanta Braves with Nick Hundley at the end of a baseball game on Saturday, May 27, 2017 in San Francisco.

From the time Melancon pitched his Colorado youth team to a national title in 1999 – he defeated fellow future Major Ian Kennedy in the championship – the right-hander has proven his talent and guts as one of the state’s best pitchers of all time. The Golden High product played at the University of Arizona before being drafted by the Yankees in the ninth round in 2006.

Since then, Melancon has proven to be a reliable, experienced bullpen arm in stints for New York, Houston, Boston, Pittsburgh, Washington, San Francisco and now Atlanta. The triple all-star was named Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year for his work with the Pirates in 2015 when he led baseball with 51 saves. In his career, the 35-year-old has 194 saves to go along with 10.8 WAR and a 2.85 ERA.

7. Tippy Martinez

LHP | La Junta | 1974-88

Ranking the Top 10 best Colorado-born baseball players in major-league history
Tippy Martinez on the porch of his Aurora home where he lived with the Orioles out of season. Later he gave the house to his parents who still live there. Photo by Brian Brainerd

Felix “Tippy” Martinez played for 14 years in the major leagues between the Orioles (11 seasons), Yankees (three) and a short spell with the Twins towards the end of his career. The left-handed reliever played in La Junta and the state of Colorado, where he was arguably the greatest player ever to leave the program in his 92-year history. He led the Rams to a No. 2 national rank in 1972 with a school record of 1.25 ERA.

Martinez posted an ERA of 3.45 and 8.6 WAR in 546 career appearances. He earned his only all-star roster in 1983 as a pillar of the Orioles World Championship team, with 21 saves as closer to Baltimore that year. The 69-year-old ranks fourth in his career saves in Baltimore history with 105.

Roy Hartzell

OF / SS / 3B | Golden | 1906-16

Ranking the Top 10 best Colorado-born baseball players in major-league history
The Golden High School baseball team practices on its field in Golden on Tuesday -14/5/02.

Over 11 Major League seasons, Hartzell scored 1,146 hits with a .252 career average. He played five seasons for the St. Louis Browns from 1906-10 and finished his career with the New York Highlanders / Yankees for six years. The Golden native played at the Colorado School of Mines.

Hartzell turned left in the early 20th century and threw right like a real utility man. His most productive season came in his debut year with the Highlanders in 1911, hitting .296 / .375 / .387 with a .763 OPS. A speedster, Hartzell stole more than 20 bases six times and finished 182 for his career. He died on November 6, 1961 at the age of 80 in Golden.

Ranking the Top 10 best Colorado-born baseball players in major-league history

Corresponding press file

Denver-born Johnny Frederick played for the Brooklyn Robins / Dodgers at Ebbets Field from 1929 to 1934.

Johnny Frederick

FROM | Denver | 1929-34

The left-handed outfielder played six seasons in the majors, spent his entire career with the Brooklyn Robins / Dodgers. His debut campaign in the majors came in the minors after seven seasons, and it would certainly have earned him a rookie of the year if the award had existed back then. In that 1929 season, Frederick hit .328 with 24 home runs and 75 RBI’s in 148 games. He set a National League-record for doubles with 52, and his 82 off-basehits remained a rookie record in the highest league until Albert Pujols broke the line in 2001.

Even after injuries undermined his speed and turned him into a bench bat during his last few seasons, Frederick still managed to make history as a pinch hitter. He was 10-for-32 (.313) in that role with a Major League-record of six pinch-hit homeruns, a mark that held up until the turn of the century. He played in the Pacific Coast League for six seasons after he was unceremoniously “released from the (major) leagues,” a SABR account, and finished his career with 3,421 hits in 19 professional seasons. He died in 1977 at the age of 75 in Tigard, Ore.

Ranking the Top 10 best Colorado-born baseball players in major-league history

Denver Post File

John Stearns played catcher – and football – at the University of Colorado in the early 1970s.

4. John Stearns

C / 1B / 3B | Denver | 1974-84

Stearns emerged as a leading athlete at Thomas Jefferson High School in the 1960s before becoming a two-sport athlete at the University of Colorado. In football, the “Bad Dude” was a comprehensive eighth Conference selection in the field of safety and punter in 1972. He excelled as a catcher in baseball that the Phillies made him number 2 overall in 1973. He was the talk of the state at the time.

Stearns made his MLB debut for Philadelphia the following year, but ultimately played only one game for the team. He spent the other 10 seasons of his career with the Mets. In New York, Stearns earned four NL all-star kinks, dropping .259 / .341 / .375 with 46 homers and 312 RBI’s. An elbow injury made his career short, but not before the now 68-year-old reached 19.67 in WAR, beaten only by the three Colorado ball players before him on this list.

3. Chase Headley

3B / OF / 1B | Fountain | 2007-18

Ranking the Top 10 best Colorado-born baseball players in major-league history

(Photo by Denis Poroy / Getty Images)

Chris Nelson of the Colorado Rockies is tagged out at third base by Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres during a game at Petco Park on June 6, 2011 in San Diego.

The Farewell stall from 2002 from Fountain-Fort Carson High, Headley demonstrated the pure talent and mindset needed to flourish as a professional player. Headley dominated the Big West Conference in his freshman year at the University of the Pacific, so he moved up to a heavier college baseball test at the University of Tennessee. After two seasons there, he was selected in the second round (No. 66 overall) of the Padres in 2005 and soon climbed the minor league ladder.

Headley, an ultimate man who played at the highest level and played mostly third and first base in the majors, played 12 seasons between the Padres and Yankees with a career slash line of .263 / .342 / .399. His best season came with San Diego in 2012, when he led the majors with 115 RBI’s, a NL Silver Slugger Award and a Gold Glove – the last third baseman in the league to win the award uncredited Nolan Areanado.

2. Goose Gossip

RHP | Colorado Springs | 1972-1994

Ranking the Top 10 best Colorado-born baseball players in major-league history

(AP Photo / Ray Stubblebine, File)

New York Yankees’ Rich “Goose” Gossage hurls a pitch during the ninth inning in the ALCS against the Oakland Athletics at New York’s Yankee Stadium in 1981.

The first Coloradan inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Rich “Goose” Gossage, was born in 1951 in Colorado Springs. The 6-foot-3, right-handed reliever played at Wasson High School and was selected by the White Sox in the ninth round of the 1970 draft. Gossage started his career with five seasons in Chicago, culminating in two selections for all stars in 1975 and ’76.

He played 22 seasons for nine big league franchises, with nine all-star appearances and a 3.01 career ERA. His most notable years came in seven seasons with the Yankees, collecting 151 saves and winning the 1978 World Series. Gossage finished in the top six for the Cy Young Award vote five times, an unusual achievement for a reliever, and the now 68-year-old was inducted into Cooperstown in his ninth year on the ballot in 2008.

1. Roy Halladay

RHP | Denver | 1998-2013

Arvada West pitcher Roy Halladay. ...

Denver Post file

Arvada West pitcher Roy Halladay.

Can any Centennial State ball player take on “Doc”? The answer is no. As a phenomenon for Arvada West, the 6-foot-6 right-handed led the Wildcats to the 1994 Class 6A state title and never lost a game in the state of Colorado in his high school career. He was selected 17th overall by the Blue Jays in 1995 and made his debut in Fall 1998. Over 12 years in Toronto, Halladay was 148-76 and a six-time all-star, including a 2003 season in which he won the AL Cy Young when he went 22-7 with a 3.25 ERA.

Halladay was traded in Philadelphia before the 2010 season and went out and promptly won the NL Cy Young with a 21-10 record and a 2.44 ERA. He is one of only six pitchers to win a Cy Young in both competitions. Halladay finished his career with 203 wins, eight all-star kinks, a 3.38 ERA and a 64.2 WAR. He died in 2017 at the age of 40 after crashing into an airplane he piloted off the coast of Florida, and was inducted into Cooperstown posthumously in 2019.

Honorable mention

Taylor Twers, pitcher from Minnesota Twins, throws ...

Jim Mone, The Associated Press

Minnesota Twins pitcher Taylor Twers throws against the Kansas City Royals in a baseball game on Sunday, August 4, 2019 in Minneapolis.

RHP Scott Elarton (Lamar / Lamar HS / multiple teams), LHP Taylor Rogers (Chatfield / Twins), OR Darnell McDonald (Fort Collins / Cherry Creek / multiple teams), RHP Kevin Gausman (Centennial / Grandview HS / multiple teams), RHP Tom Hughes (Coal Creek / Salida HS / Yankees and Boston Braves), RHP David Aardsma (Denver / Cherry Creek HS / multiple teams), INF Chuck Cottier (Delta / Grand Junction HS / multiple teams), RHP Mark Knudson (Denver / Northglenn / Colorado State / multiple teams).

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