Yesterday I gave one of the bullpen spots to Lucas Harrell. That leaves sixteen relievers in camp to fill the six remaining roster spots. Let’s start with the pitchers that are least likely to make the Opening Day roster. Non-roster invitees Xavier Cedeno and Henry Villar have both already passed through waivers after being designated for assignment during the off-season. Neither has much of a chance to break camp with the big club. Jose Valdez and Houston native Lance Pendleton are probably in the same boat.
The next group of ‘not ready for prime time players’ includes 25 year-old Venezuelan Arcenio Leon and Jorge DeLeon. Leon is a longshot but could start the season at AAA. DeLeon has yet to pitch above A-ball after starting his career as a position player.
A third tier of relievers that have a chance to make the team but wouldn’t be my first choice starts with Enerio Del Rosario. The 26 year-old righty was ineffective in 54 appearances for the Astros last season, walking as many batters as he struck out (31 in 53 innings). In my opinion Juan Abreu has more to offer than Del Rosario. Abreu came to the Astros in the Michael Bourn trade and earned a late season call-up from AAA. He has worked as a closer in the minors and posted staggering strikeout numbers at every level. Unfortunately, his walk rate (5.4 per 9 IP career) is also very high.
Fernando Abad, Sergio Escalona, and Wesley Wright make up a trio of lefties that will be taken into consideration by Mills and Doug Brocail. I would assume that two of the three will start the season in Houston, but the possibility exists that the Astros could start the season with only one lefty in the ‘pen. How these guys perform in Spring Training could be a major factor.
Now let’s look at the guys with the best chance to make the Opening Day roster. The Astros owe Brandon Lyon $5.5 million for the 2012 season. Couple that with the fact that Lyon is one of the only veterans in the bullpen mix and Lyon figures to be a virtual lock. If healthy, Lyon could also regain h the closer’s role.
Rhiner Cruz was the first player picked in this year’s Rule 5 Draft. That has to be considered a plus to his chances of making the club. Cruz throws hard and his sidearm delivery could be a problem for hitters. Control has been an issue but Cruz will probably be given a shot to start the season. If he falters, the Astros can always offer him back to the Mets.
Former catcher David Carpenter also appears to be a favorite for one of the bullpen spots. Carpenter’s name has come up this off-season as a possible replacement for Mark Melancon in the closer’s role. Carpenter has had success as a closer in the minors, including a brilliant stretch at AAA last season before his promotion to Houston.
Fernando Rodriguez had a successful rookie campaign in Houston last year and should be a favorite for a spot on the Opening Day roster. The 27 year-old made 47 appearances, posting a 3.96 ERA and striking out more than a batter per inning. Rodriguez will need to cut down on the walks to remain an option for the Astros in the long term.
One pitcher that should be a lock for the Astros bullpen in 2012 is Wilton Lopez. The 28 year-old was a workhorse for Brad Mills last season, making 73 appearances despite a stint on the disabled list. When Lopez sprints in from the bullpen you can be assured of at least one thing- he will throw strikes. Lopez has walked only 23 batters in 138 innings over the last two years. Lopez has flourished in the setup role and should continue to do so if someone else emerges as the closer.