Astros draw Phenom’s Debut in Year of Youth


Yesterday all around Major League Baseball rosters expanded from 25 to 40 active spots. This brings up all those fringe Major Leaguers from AAA but also many young prospects and among them, some elite ones that didn’t earn the call-up in the season’s first five months due to a good team having no room and being in no hurry to start the clock on one of their top young players. For example, Billy Hamilton of the Reds would have been up earlier if he was a member of the 40-man roster and Cincinnati would not have had to release anyone to make room. But Hamilton’s ridiculous speed (MiLB record 155 steals in 2012) was not going to be left off the Reds potential playoff roster –- a deadline to be added to that coincides with September call-ups.

This year in baseball has been another that has featured the arrivals of brilliant young talent from the minor leagues. Billy Hamilton’s call-up was delayed by that scenario and un-Puig-like minor league numbers, but mostly the scenario.

The timing and handling of promoting five-star prospects is always a very vigilant and unpredictable and easy-to-go-wrong (See any Royals starter the last decade) thing and one that has become more and more of a public interest in recent years, as I have noted in multiple years.

Even so, impact call-ups tend to happen in the heat of the summer.

Current Top Astros Prospect George Springer (photo by Tammy Tucker)

Tim Lincecum (2007) ,Clayton Kershaw, Jay Bruce, Evan Longoria (2008), Matt Wieters (2009), Stephen Strasburg, Giancarlo Stanton (2010), Mike Trout (2011), Jose Fernandez, Gerrit Cole and Yasiel Puig (2013) all made their debuts before August, as is the norm for big time prospects.

However, August has seen its own greatness emerge with Justin Upton (07), Matt Harvey and Manny Machado (12). The newest addition to this list this year is last Friday night’s winning pitcher for the Seattle Mariners and conveniently being dubbed the next “King” (Felix Hernandez), 21-year old Taijuan Walker.

The Astros top young guns have remained in the minor leagues in 2013 minus Jarred Cosart, and for all the right reasons. But that hasn’t stopped the Astros from doing more than their fair share of call-ups and send-downs, promotions and demotions, trials and errors, and enough roster swapping to make me almost type wife swapping. A show I’ve never seen. But it’s terrible.

To put the shuffling into perspective, Erik Bedard is the only pitcher on the 25-man roster that hasn’t moved all season. Not at all slighting the strategy because it was totally necessary in a clear rebuilding and evaluating season. But if there’s a team in Major League Baseball that understands the nature of bringing aboard a new young talent to the big league club, it’s the 2013 Houston Astros.

With Dylan Bundy of the Orioles requiring Tommy John Surgery months ago, Taijuan Walker was widely considered the next best (if not already) pitching prospect in all of baseball. And it was our Astros that were lucky enough to draw the phenom’s major league debut.

Walker wasn’t expected this season and the Mariners are certainly not a contender, but their top pitching prospect was absolutely dominating minor league hitters. Combined with having Aaron Harang on their pro squad, the M’s decided to give Walker a start a week earlier than he was ever expected….at the earliest.

Photo Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

With 40+ family members at Minute Maid Park to watch Taijuan debut against the ‘Stros, Walker was very effective in five innings. He allowed one unearned run on a measly two hits, one walk and struck out two. But Astros outfielder L.J. Hoes probably remembered more than just two punch-outs in the five innings tossed by the fellow rookie.

“He was really impressive,” Hoes said. ”He’s a big kid. On his video, he didn’t look as big as he really is. It says he’s throwing 96 (mph), but it seems way harder than that because he’s so big.”

The Astros have been playing some streaky ball lately, but streaky implies a positive side and there have certainly been many bright spots in the second half of this enduring season. As I type this rookie hurler Brett Oberholtzer has just delivered a complete game shutout on the same Mariners to finish the series and salvage a game vs. Seattle in the four game set.

After an 8-21 August that featured seven losses to the Texas Rangers and one to Taijuan Walker, September begins with a 2-0 victory and an undefeated record in the ‘2013 September Call-Up Era.’

In the words of Michael Kelso, ALLLLL-RRRIIIIGHT!