Normally, at this point of spring training, clubs start to get an idea of what their rosters might look like in a few weeks. Competitions begin to get whittled down a bit and names start to emerge, some expected others not so much. The Astros have reached the point where they have named who is contending for the final two spots for their starting rotation via Brian McTaggart. So, it appears Kyle Weiland, Livan Hernandez, Jordan Lyles and Zach Duke are the last four men standing, with Henry Sosa and Lucas Harrell now in competition for bullpen spots. With the departure of Brett Myers to the closer’s role, two spots opened up and now it appears these four men will do battle to see who can claim them and, in some cases, who remains with the Astros.
Of the two final spots, one may already be close to a given, as Livan Hernandez has pitched well enough, and given his experience, I’d find it highly unlikely he doesn’t win the spot as the 4th guy. Livan did have a rough outing his last time out and that may have kept the door slightly opened for the other three guys but reading between the lines all spring, I would be shocked to not see him starting for the Astros this season. If my theory does hold water, the 5th spot is the most wide open competition. As of right now, Kyle Weiland should have a nice lead as he has put up some wonderful numbers, so far. Weiland, much like Livan, had a difficult outing his last time out and, again, might have opened the door for Lyles and Duke to sneak in. Unlike Livan, Weiland doesn’t have the experience to simply ignore rough starts during this period so he must keep his foot on the gas to lock down the final rotation spot.
Jordan Lyles’ youth may play a big role in this competition. He hasn’t been great so far this spring so given his age and promise, a trip to Oklahoma City looks to be in the cards. That said, he goes today vs the Cards and a good start may begin to shift things in his favor. Weiland had a chance to all but nail down the job yesterday, well Jordan has a chance to make this a dogfight to the end today. Zach Duke maybe the longest shot of the four, he has been pretty mediocre this spring and hasn’t stood out in the way someone in his position should have. For Duke, however, all may not be lost as he has the ability to come out of the pen and could be the new Brian Moehler or Nelson Figueroa. So the Astros could simply keep him on the roster in long relief and as a spot starter or, given his age and production, simply release the veteran. I do, however, have one question about someone not mentioned in this competition, J.A. Happ. Why is his spot seemingly secure and not part of this battle royal? I understand he makes more money than the guys mentioned above but it isn’t out of this world money and his production has been mediocre at best this spring. Coming off a bad season in 2011, I’m a bit surprised the rotation spot has been seemingly handed to him.
With the rotation taking shape, these last few weeks seem critical and will tell a lot. At this point, Livan and Kyle seem to have a distinct advantage in this race but all it takes is one bad start to begin to hear whispers. I would imagine it would take a pretty big collapse from Hernandez but Weiland, while impressive, has a smaller margin for error. Lyles could take a huge step today in making this much more interesting and I’m sure Duke will have the same opportunity shortly. It’s good to have options and the Astros, as a surprise to some in the media, do have options in their rotation. That is a good problem to have.