With the news circulating that the Houston Astros could be done in the free agent market and trade front, we now have a pretty clear view of what the roster will look like going into the 2013 season. One thing that Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow has done during the offseason is create competition in some key areas, and one such area is the back of the rotation. It has been made clear that the top three spots in the rotation will go to Lucas Harrell, Bud Norris and Jordan Lyles. Between the players returning from the 2012 team, the offseason additions and the young up-and-comers, there will be a healthy competition for the final two spots. Let’s take a look at some of the candidates that will be battling it out during Spring Training.
Left-hander Dallas Keuchel made his major league debut on June 17th and pitched that month looking like the next Tom Glavine. He went 1-0 in 20 innings with a 1.35 ERA in June. Keuchel spent July and August looking more like the next Tom Jones (who, I have on good authority, throws like a ninny) before finishing with a strong month of September. He finished the season going 3-8 with a 5.27 ERA.
Edgar Gonzalez was signed out of the Mexican League last season and worked his way into the rotation by September. He did what he was asked by eating some innings and limiting the walks, but nothing more than that. He finished 3-1 with a 5.04 ERA in 25 innings, which was enough to warrant him a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. I would be surprised to see Gonzalez in the rotation come Opening Day. I see him as more of a guy that can eat innings at AAA and provide depth in case of injury at the major league level.
Alex White came to the Astros this offseason in a trade that sent closer Wilton Lopez to the Colorado Rockies. Jeff Luhnow is very high on White and has said that he has “top of the rotation” potential. White started 20 games for the 2012 Rockies and got roughed up in many of those outings. A combination of walks and pitching at Coors Field played a role in that, as he walked nearly five per nine innings and 10 of the 13 home runs that he allowed came at home. At only 24-years old, the Astros are hoping he can mature and will pitch better in a new atmosphere. Fans are hoping for the same, as well as praying that new manager Bo Porter will enforce a rule that prevents pitchers from having single digit uniform numbers!
Philip Humber was claimed off of waivers from the White Sox and agreed to a one-year contract this offseason. Last year was an up-and-down season for Humber who threw a perfect game against our new division rival, the Seattle Mariners, but ended the season with a record of 5-5, a 6.44 ERA, and a demotion to the bullpen. The Astros are hoping he can return to his 2011 form when he started 26 games and went 9-9 with a 3.75 ERA. He is a Texas boy that helped Rice University win the College World Series in 2003, and is perhaps least known for giving up a home run to your’s truly in a summer league game during our high school years.
26-year old John Ely came to the Astros this offseason by way of a trade that sent minor league pitching prospect Rob Rasmussen to the Dodgers. Ely had a strong season at AAA Albuquerque where he went 14-7 with a 3.20 ERA and was named PCL Pitcher of the Year. His longest stint in the majors came in 2010 with the Dodgers where he had 18 starts and finished 4-10 with a 5.49 ERA. With an average velocity of just over 87 MPH, he isn’t going to be lighting up any radar guns, but he is still capable of racking up some decent strikeout numbers, as shown by his 8.8 strikeouts per 9 innings ratio last season.
The Astros acquired Jared Cosart in the trade that sent Hunter Pence to Philadelphia. He is currently the organization’s #7 prospect according to Baseball America. He features an electric fastball with good movement and a sharp breaking curveball. He has been working to develop his change up, which he will need if he is going to succeed as a big league starter. He pitched at both AA Corpus Christi and AAA Oklahoma City last season, and had a combined 6-7 record with a 3.30 ERA in 20 starts. There has been some talk this offseason of him competing in Spring Training for the closer’s role which, if his change up is not up to par, may be the better fit for him for the time being.
Rudy Owens came to the Astros from the Pirates in the Wandy Rodriguez trade. He is one of the three left-handed pitchers shooting for a spot in the rotation, which could help his chances. He started 27 games at AAA last season and went 10-8 with a 3.48 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. He lacks a plus fastball, so he depends on his control and his excellent change up. At age 25, Owens maturity should not be a question and the Astros are hoping he is ready to take the next step.
Brett Oberholtzer is another left-handed option for the back of the rotation that came to the Astros by way of a trade. Oberholtzer came to the organization from the Braves in the Michael Bourn deal. He, like Cosart, spent 2012 between AA and AAA, but did not show the progression the Astros had hoped for. He finished the season with a combined 10-10 record and a 4.37 ERA in 28 games. He will have to show dramatic improvement to crack the Astros rotation coming out of Spring Training. One area that he will have the upper-hand in is baldness, where he ranks among the top of the Astros prospects.
If nothing changes between now and Spring Training, that is at least eight guys competing for two spots, which should be entertaining and hopefully create a level of competition that will push these guys to be at their best. If that doesn’t work, it could make for another long season.