The future of the Houston Astros looks like it should be a bright one. By most accounts, the farm system has jumped from a bottom feeder to a top-10 system. As you look down the list of the Astros top prospects, one thing really pops out; the Astros have a plethora of right-handed pitching. In his short time in Houston, Jeff Luhnow has stockpiled good, young talent through the draft and several trades, with a focus on power pitchers.
I compiled a list of 16 of the top right-handed starting pitching prospects, from various levels of the organization. If you glance through the scouting reports for these guys you will find one major issue. There are very few top-of-the-rotation arms in the organization. Last season’s supplemental first-round pick, Lance McCullers Jr. has Ace-type potential, but many believe he could end up being a late-inning reliever. Either way, he is fresh out of high school, and even though he had a very good 2012 in Rookie League, he is still a few years from being Major League ready.
Jarred Cosart is another pitcher that could be a one or two starter, or potentially a closer-type reliever. We should be seeing Cosart some time during the 2013 season, but as our own Ray Kuhn said in an earlier article seen here, he should start the season at triple-A Oklahoma City.
The Astros 2010 first round pick, Mike Foltynewicz had a great, bounce-back season at Low-A Lexington in 2012 (14-4, 3.14 ERA in 27 starts), but he has a ceiling of being a two or three guy in the rotation. Asher Wojciechowski came to the Astros from Toronto as part of the 10-player trade last season. “Wojo” impressed in his first taste of double-A with the Corpus Christi Hooks, to the tune of a 2-2 record and a FIP of 2.95. He is another guy with varying projections, from being a potential two or three guy to a late-inning reliever.
Next comes the cornucopia of mid-rotation ceiling guys like: Nick Tropeano, newly acquired Brad Peacock, Adrian Houser, Aaron West, Joe Musgrove, Kevin Comer, Vincent Velasquez and Alex Gillingham. There are also a few prospects that may have a back-of-the-rotation ceiling like Brady Rodgers, Matt Heidenreich and Ross Seaton.
I haven’t even mentioned the young, newly acquired right-handed pitchers, John Ely and Alex White, who will be competing for a spot in the rotation this spring training. If they fail to make the Opening Day roster, we can expect to see them at some point during the 2013 season.
Many of these guys may end up never stepping on a Major League mound. Some may make a couple spot starts at some point in their careers, while others may end up making their living as a relief pitcher. The most important thing about the stockpile of right-handed starters in the organization, is that it sets the Astros up nicely for when they are competitive again. Luhnow wanted to be able to create so much depth in the farm system, that if they needed to trade a few prospects in the future to help the Big League team, they could do so without taking too much of a hit. That is exactly what they have with right-handed pitching. In fact, there is so much depth that it could create a potential problem.
Last month, Jayne Hansen from What the Heck, Bobby? talked with Jeff Luhnow about the issue of having so many starting pitchers between double-A and triple-A. He suggested using a “piggyback” system that he had used with the Cardinals organization. That is quite a different approach from what teams like the Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals are preaching. These teams have been trying to stretch their starting pitchers out to pitch deeper into games. The piggyback system would lead to starters only pitching into about the fifth inning, and then bringing another starter in to finish the game. I’m not a huge fan of this approach because, unless you are planning on using these pitchers the same way once they get to Houston, it will be difficult to project their stats. Usually there is quite a difference in a pitcher’s first and second time through a batting order, compared to their third and fourth time through.
It will be interesting to see how these prospects are used in the next few years and where they will end up. While I would love to see the Astros have more top-of-the-rotation potential in their system, it is nice to have so much starting pitching depth. Of the sixteen players I mentioned here, Jeff Luhnow and company have brought in eleven of them in just over a year’s time. If the Astros decide to piggyback the pitchers, trade them or move them to the bullpen, who am I to question Mr. Luhnow and all his brilliance?