The Houston Astros rotation potentially has one of the best one-two-three punches in the league. The top two are a pair of future Hall of Famers in Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. The third man is Lance McCullers Jr. who has dealt with injuries in his young career but has shown signs of immense potential. In McCullers’ last full season of 2017, he began the year with a 7-2 record. His ERA hovered around 3.00 and he struck out 10.4 batters per nine innings pitched. He garnered an All-Star appearance that year as well. For a team with an elite top of the rotation, there are a lot of question marks at the bottom of the rotation. There are a number of options, few are proven, and they range from young to very young.
Young Talent Vying For Remaining Houston Astros Rotation Spots
There was one front-runner for the fourth spot, but he has yet to appear at the Astros summer camp. That front-runner was Jose Urquidy, who first gained recognition because of his sensational World Series start, where he went 5 2/3 innings, giving up no runs, and getting the win. If the 25-year-old shows up to camp soon, he can claim that spot in the rotation, but if he can’t return in time, Houston will have to look to some of their other options.
The next option is Josh James, who is another player who has not yet appeared at summer camp. The 27-year-old has just 84 1/3 innings in his short career, but he has struck out 129 batters. That’s a 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings clip, which is a very high rate. James is going to strike out a lot of batters, the two biggest questions are whether it’s from the bullpen or starting rotation and whether he comes to play in this shortened season.
The next two options are 26-year-old Framber Valdez and 23-year-old Bryan Abreu. Valdez has been a reliever and a starter in his short MLB career, and he has been a mixed bag. In his introduction to the big leagues in 2018, he pitched 37 innings, with a 2.19 ERA. In 2019, he did not have the same results, pitching 70 2/3 innings, at a 5.86 ERA. Abreu had a very small sample size in the majors last year, 8 2/3 innings out of the bullpen, but he only allowed one run on four hits and three walks. He struck out 13 batters in that brief stint. It’s an extremely small sample size, but it was an efficient stint that showed the potential he possesses.
Two Veterans And A Top Prospect Round Out Houston’s Options
The first of the veterans is 30-year-old Austin Pruitt, who is only a veteran by age standards, as he has only been in the league since 2017. Pruitt has mostly been a reliever for the Tampa Bay Rays over the past three seasons, logging just 10 starts in his career. The second veteran is 32-year-old Brad Peacock. The impending free agent has been very versatile in his career, starting 83 games and appearing out of the bullpen in 95 games. Peacock has the most experience by far, but he has been slightly better out of the bullpen, 3.81 ERA, than as a starter, 4.04 ERA.
The final option is a bit of a stretch, but he is the number 19 prospect according to Jonathon Mayo at MLB.com. That is the 22-year-old Astros top prospect, Forrest Whitley. Whitley was ascending through the minors at a Clayton Kershaw type rate, but all that momentum came to a screeching halt. Over the past two seasons, Whitley has battled injuries and dealt with a suspension. When he’s been on the field, he has struggled. It’s not likely that he makes the 30-man, big league roster, much less the rotation. It is one fascinating option, and it’s worth keeping an eye on.
The Houston Astros have plenty of options to follow Verlander, Greinke, and McCullers in the rotation. With summer camp absences from Urquidy and James, the final two spots are even more wide open.
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