Starting Pitching Candidates: Who Fills The Final Three Spots?


Jarred Cosart

(Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Ten different Astros pitchers were handed the ball to begin a game in the 2013 season.  As of mid-January, just four of those guys remain as candidates for the 2014 starting rotation. Scott Feldman was signed earlier this offseason to help eat some innings and provide a leadership role for a young rotation including Jarred Cosart. The other three rotation spots are pretty much up for grabs during this year’s edition of Spring Training.

Wait…you’re saying Paul Clemens isn’t a favorite to be in the rotation?

That’s correct. Along with Brett Oberholtzer and Brad Peacock, I am not entirely convinced that MLB Depth Charts has the Astros rotation completely correct. Currently the website lists the Astros projected rotation as Feldman, Cosart, Oberholtzer, Peacock, and Clemens. Given that the final four are those who remain with the club from the 2013 season, I can understand their logic.

For this discussion the only locks in the Astros rotation are Cosart and Feldman. While the upcoming competition in Spring Training isn’t nearly as exciting as the possible combinations that are in the Astros future, there are definitely some worthy candidates for filling the #3, #4, and #5 spots for the 2014 campaign.

(Please note: the list is in alphabetical order)

  • Anthony Bass – This acquisition made me scratch my head a little bit. To get Bass, the Astros traded their Rule 5 selection, Patrick Schuster, to the San Diego Padres. Since making his debut in 2011 with San Diego, Anthony has struggled to stick to a role as a starting pitcher. For the 2013 season, despite his home ballpark being Petco Park, the right-hander recorded a 5.36 ERA while allowing 10.9 hits per nine innings. I wish him good luck in trying to make the squad as a relief pitcher.
  • Paul Clemens – One of the two remaining acquisitions from the 2011 Michael Bourn trade, Clemens appears destined to be a member of the 2014 Oklahoma City Redhawks. He gets hit often and gets hit hard — sporting numbers of 10.1 H/9 with a 2.0 HR/9. Those numbers make me want to throw up. Perhaps there is a sign of hope, though, as he owns a 6.36 ERA for 46 2/3 innings from the bullpen while pitching to a 3.71 ERA as a starter.
  • Lucas Harrell

    – Use the force Luke! Unfortunately for Harrell, when he tries to paint the corners, his Jedi mind tricks don’t work on the umpires. The 2012 and 2013 seasons were very different for a pitcher who was claimed off of waivers halfway through the 2011 season. The ability to walk hitters has been apparent throughout his major league career, as evidenced by 191 base on balls — 88 of which came during the 2013 campaign. He was also experimented with pitching out of the bullpen and though his numbers weren’t as drastic as Clemens, Spring Training could be his last chance. To paraphrase the man himself: if he can’t make it here, he won’t pitch anywhere.

    Brett Oberholtzer
    (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Brett Oberholtzer – Clemens and Oberholtzer are the remaining products from the Bourn Exchange of 2011. Oberholtzer may be the strongest candidate to make the rotation. The string of success during the second half was a much appreciated surprise to Astros fans. Two of his blemishes to being a lock are that he struggled in AAA as well as never really being highly regarded by scouts. Most prospect reports did see his ceiling as being a back-of-the-rotation workhorse.
  • Rudy Owens – Two guys in this list saw little to no action in 2013 due to rehabilitation from an injury. Owens was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Wandy Rodriguez trade. The deal also netted Robbie Grossman. He has logged 292 1/3 innings in AAA to record a 4.09 ERA. While this in itself is not overly impressive, he did improve by more than 1.5 earned runs when he moved from the Pirates to the Astros AAA affiliate. He will likely have to force his way into the starting rotation during Spring Training. My guess that he joins the Oklahoma City pitching rotation and could make a few starts for the Astros sometime this season.
  • Brad Peacock – The strongest candidate in this list, other than Obie, to be considered a lock for the 2014 starting rotation, Peacock was quite impressive in his second stint with the Houston Astros. Looking through his splits, there are three statistics that jump out to me. Number one, he ended up with a .183 batting average against right handed hitters. Brad also was able to record a K/9 rate of 8.94 for the entire season. Lastly he showed a tremendous ability to improve. Who doesn’t know that he learned from an 8.07 ERA in 29 innings in his first taste to posting a 3.64 ERA in 54 1/3 in the second half? That’s not what I’m really referencing. In August he posted a 3.94 ERA while getting even better, down to 3.24, for the month of September. I hope that Peacock remains driven to succeed, because the Lowrie and Rodriguez exchange for Stassi, Carter, and Peacock looks pretty darn good so far.
  • Alex White – Alex originally made the team to begin the 2013 season. Unfortunately he injured his arm during an exhibition game and required Tommy John Surgery in mid-April. He has of course resumed throwing recently and will be given another shot. With a sinker that can get into the mid-90s, White has been able to induce ground balls throughout the minor leagues. However, his stock was diminished when he pitched for the Colorado Rockies. If he can recover well from surgery, there is no reason that he should not thrive as a member of the 2014 Houston Astros.
  • Asher Wojciechowski – The kid known as “Wojo” to many of the faithful Astros fans that circulate the world of Twitter. Since being acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays at the 2012 trade deadline, Asher has developed into a very capable pitcher in the upper levels of the minor league system. Luhnow obviously feels very highly as Wojciechowski was added to the team’s 40-man roster in preparation of the Rule 5 Draft. He is my favorite to make the team so that MLB The Show will allocate enough characters to allow his last name to be inputted. In all seriousness, I hope Asher is able to break camp as an Astros starting pitcher.
  • Peacock, Oberholtzer, White, and Wojciechowski will be the arms to watch during Spring Training. The other four guys may get looked at by the coaching staff and could vie for a spot in the bullpen. The rotation actually looks promising. Maybe I am just so deprived of a solid pitching rotation that I am temporarily fooled.

    Mark Appel (Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports)

    There are also several members of the organizations’ farm system that had a strong performance in the 2013 season and earned an invitation to Spring Training. Mark Appel will almost certainly join the team by the 2015 season. Other players that could be fun to watch are Nick Tropeano, Bobby Doran, and the man who throws heat — Mike Foltynewicz. Their experience with big-league camp could be pivotal to their success for the 2014 campaign in the minor leagues. Who knows, perhaps Appel and Foltynewicz will contribute as early as this season.