The Astros selected RHP Rhiner Cruz with the first pick in the 2011 Rule 5 Draft. Since that time, the hard throwing Dominican has failed to live up to expectations. In what is becoming an all too familiar refrain when describing Astros pitchers, control problems have been the main issue for Rhiner.
Cruz had a walk rate of 4.7/9 IP with the Astros in 2012. Not surprisingly, he spent most of last season at the AAA level. What was a bit surprising though, was that his walk rate actually increased — to a ridiculous 6.9/9 IP. Cruz will have to improve upon that number in 2014 or else he could be sent packing.
The Astros have shown some patience with Rhiner due to the fact that his average fastball velocity is around 95 m.p.h. Although the club has amassed an abundance of pitching prospects within the organization, not many of them possess that kind of velocity. But a pitcher cannot survive on velocity alone.
At 27 years of age, Cruz can no longer be considered a raw young prospect. Rhiner has been pitching professionally since the age of 17 and control has always been a problem. As little progress as he has made over the course of ten years, it would seem as though Cruz is unlikely to suddenly find his control.
Rhiner is currently pitching in the Dominican Winter League and I’m sure the Astros will be keeping a watchful eye on him. I’m thinking the club will have new pitching coach Brent Strom working closely with Cruz in Spring Training. If Strom can’t get Rhiner’s command issues under wraps, we could be saying goodbye to the right-hander sooner rather than later.