Corpus Christi’s starting five may not be as strong as last year with both Jordan Lyles and Douglas Arguello moving up to Oklahoma City, along with the fact that Dallas Keuchel could also be promoted to Triple-A as well. The following list of pitchers is in no particular order, but is an attempt to become more familiar with some of the young rotation candidates for our Double-A affiliate the Corpus Christi Hooks. While it is just spring training and the major league roster is nowhere close to being set yet alone minor league rosters, the pitchers mentioned below have a good chance at cracking the Hook’s starting rotation, or at the very least seem to have a chance of being a part of it at some point during the season.
Taken in the same draft class as Jordan Lyles, Ross Seaton was a very projectable high school hurler. After Lyles and Seaton’s performance in Rookie ball in 2008, there was reason to be optimistic for the Astros of the future as it appeared that the Astros had a good 1-2 tandem in top pitching prospects. Fast-forward 3 years and while Lyles has not disappointed, Seaton has left something to be desired. Seaton projected as a hurler who consistently rushed his fastball to the plate in the mid 90s, but his velocity dropped in his first full season in pro ball, and his velocity has come and gone throughout his professional career so far.
Seaton’s arsenal consists of primarily a fastball and a pitch that carries both traits of a slider and a curve; however it has been reported that the Astros staff are trying to turn that pitch into a distinct curveball, and a distinct slider. The most disappointing statistic thus far in Seaton’s career has been his strikeout rate. After posting a K/9 rate of 9.00 in rookie ball in 2008, he has posted a K/9 of 5.80 in 2009, and 5.23 in 2010. In his first full season Seaton posted a respectable ERA of 3.29, but failed to build on that by posting a 6.70 ERA in 2010.
If you’re looking for a silver lining when discussing Ross Seaton, then look no further than his age relative to league. He will most likely be pitching in the Texas League at age 22, which is an accomplishment in itself. As far as his chances for future success goes, more consistency in terms of fastball velocity, and the development of his secondary pitches could determine if he has what it takes to make it to the majors as a starter.
Ross Seaton did not have to look very hard to find another pitcher that struggled last year in Lancaster as Kyle Greenwalt had a similarly frustrating season. Greenwalt posted a similarly uninspiring K/9 rate of 5.93 as Seaton did to go along with a 5.93 ERA. The good news is he will also be relatively young for the Texas League, leaving hope that with a decent showing he could re-enter prospect ranks again. At this point in his professional career his ceiling seems to be a #5 starter in the majors, with a more likely destination as a middle reliever. Greenwalt has been able to carry a consistently low walk rate in the minors, which could prove to be beneficial to him if he can figure out how to miss a few more bats in the process.
Greenwalt throws a low 90’s fastball with heavy sink, and has a good feel for his curveball. He also features a changeup and slider; however both pitches are works in progress. Greenwalt’s greatest attribute to date so far has been his excellent control. One side note that is worth mentioning is that Greenwalt had gotten off to a terrific start in 2010 before an injury slowed his pace. The numbers he posted after returning from injury were night and day different than before he was injured. Also, just as Greenwalt started 2010 on a good note, he ended 2010 on a good note by posting a 2.35 ERA in the Arizona Fall League which still leaves reason to be optimistic.
Lefty pitcher Patrick Urckfitz has bounced back and forth between being a starting pitcher and a reliever since signing as a free agent in 2008. Urckfitz’s value will be determined by whether or not he can stick in the rotation or takes on the role of situational lefty, but will given every opportunity to stick as a starter before the latter is chosen. At 22 years old, it would be a good time to see what the lefty had in the Texas League. Urckfitz has had a solid K/9 rate throughout his career never dipping below 7.20 according to FanGraphs. He was also another Astros participant in the Arizona Fall league where he posted a respectable ERA of 3.86.
Standing at 6-3 and 190 pounds he is still a somewhat projectable pitcher who could add a couple of ticks to his fastball. While there’s not a lot of information out there on what Urckfitz throws, he is primarily a fastball slider pitcher right now with above average command. Considering the fact that last year was his first year converting into a starting pitcher, a stat line of 8.86 K/9 innings, a 2.75 BB/9, an ERA of 4.13, and an FIP of 3.32, shows that Urckfitz could be a pitcher to keep an eye on this year.
Out of all of the pitchers mentioned here, Tanner Bushue is the one that possesses the most upside. After being drafted in 2009 and a successful stint in Greenville it appeared that Bushue would be on a Jordan Lyles type path through the organization. While his first full year in professional ball was by no means a disappointment, it did not live up to the Jordan Lyles comparisons. He could, however, still be a candidate to skip a level like Lyles and start the year in Corpus.
Last year Bushue posted a solid K/9 rate of 7.68, and an ERA of 4.17 in 133 innings pitched. Bushue works off of a high 80s to low 90s fastball, and a very strong curve that is his best pitch, but needs to develop more offerings to be successful as a starter as he moves up through the organization. Two areas that hurt him this year was the fact that he had below average control, and gave up quite a few home runs as he profiles as more of a fly ball pitcher thus far.
The good news for Tanner is that he is still very young, and with a 6-4 180 pound frame, should be able to increase his fastball velocity as his body develops. At just 19 years old, if Tanner can develop a changeup or a secondary off-speed offering and cut down on his walks he has a chance at regaining the Jordan Lyles type recognition that he received earlier in his career.
For most, the offseason trade of Matt Lindstrom to the Colorado Rockies was viewed as a salary dump, but the primary player that Houston received in the trade threw 122 innings with a K/9 rate of 8.02. His ERA was 4.05, but his FIP was significantly lower at 2.92. He also has been able to sustain an above average ground ball ratio throughout his brief minor league career thus far. The biggest knock against Musick has been his age (24), relative to league (Low A Ball). Due to the fact that he is already 24 years old he will probably skip a level and be pushed aggressively to Corpus this year.
Musick worked primarily off of his fastball last year that sits at about 92, and is going to have to develop his off-speed stuff if he is going to be successful at the next level. While he may not be something to talk about right now, Musick has a ceiling of a late blooming lefty similar to that of Wandy Rodriguez. If he doesn’t develop his off-speed pitches then a more likely destination for him is as a left-handed specialist in the bullpen.
Jose Cisnero was signed out of the Dominican Republic in December 2007. Cisnero completed his first full season in the minors last year posting a K/9 rate of 8.53 with an ERA of 3.79 in A ball. He was a pleasant surprise, and had more success in Lexington than Tanner Bushue. It is hard to guess where Cisneros will end up this year as the Astros could take the cautious approach and build innings at Lancaster, or continue their recent trend of promoting pitchers aggressively and promote him to Corpus Christi. Due to the fact that Cisnero has typically flown under the radar so far in his career, there is little information out there on what he throws. What is known is that while he has struckout a lot of hitters, he has also walked a lot of hitters which has limited how deep he has been able to get into games.
Cisnero also possesses a projectable frame standing at 6-3 and 185 pounds, which seems to be a trend among Ed Wade and Bobby Heck when signing pitchers. If Cisnero is able to hone in his control and pitch deeper into games while maintaining his strikeout rate then he will almost certainly jump up prospect rankings within the organization.
While not all six of these pitchers will start the year at Double-A Corpus Christi, it would be a safe bet that they will be seen at some point in the Texas League this year barring injury. This rotation should be considerably younger than the Hook’s starting rotation last year, and like other areas in the organization is starting to be filled with prospects once again. Pitchers who could also be considered on this list to a lesser degree include Robert Donovan, Luis Cruz, and Shane Wolf.