The end of the Houston Astros having priority on waiver claims is likely coming soon. Organizations can select players off of waivers in reverse order of the win-loss standings from the previous season. Nearly 3 months are completed in the 2014 season and there are two standouts that were acquired via this transaction method. One of them is starting pitcher Collin McHugh who has netted tremendous praise. Darin Downs, however, has worked out of the bullpen to be vastly under appreciated by Astros fans.
Sometimes we all get a little lost in how tough it is to become a major league baseball player. McHugh has a familiar story as he bounced around from team-to-team as an insurance policy. McHugh struggled to find consistent success at the major league level for his first few stints in the big leagues.
Downs differs in the sense that once he arrived in the majors, he has been pretty solid. But his road here tested his perseverance for nearly a decade. Heck — playing on a last place team probably still does.
The Road to the Show Begins
Darin Downs became a professional ballplayer quickly after high school. Out of Southfield, Michigan (which is a suburb just north-west of Detroit), the Chicago Cubs selected him in the 5th round of the 2003 draft. The organization assigned him to their rookie-level affiliate where he would be a starting pitcher. Repeated success eluded him throughout his time in the Cubs organization. His best work, a 3.50 ERA in 61 2/3 innings, came during the 2005 season for the Cubs’ low-A affiliate.
Prior to 2008 Downs had worked, for the most part, as a starting pitcher. In high-A ball for the Daytona Cubs, Downs posted a 2.89 ERA as a reliever in 17 appearances while working 28 innings. That success led to a double-A promotion — the first of his career. Sadly that did not pan out well (6.56 ERA, 23 1/3 innings) and the Cubs traded him for cash considerations at the beginning of July 2008.
Maybe all that he needed was a change in scenery. The Rays assigned him to their Class-A Advanced affiliate. His ERA began to drop, the H/9 rate was alright, and the HR/9 was consistently good. In fact, between AA and AAA in ’10, he posted a 2.95 ERA over 41 appearances. But that was not enough for the Rays to hang onto him as in the offseason he was granted free agency. In 2011, with the Marlins organization, Darin again received a good portion of time as a starting pitcher. The ERA rose again all the way up to 4.66 between the upper levels in the minor league system.
Major League Debut
He was granted free agency again and was able to sign a minor league deal with the Detroit Tigers. Out of the triple-A bullpen, Downs posted a 2.15 ERA in 29 1/3 innings. Nearly a decade after being drafted, Downs was finally able to become a major league baseball player. His debut was on July 3, 2012 where he threw a scoreless frame against the Minnesota Twins.
Fortunately, Downs would remain on the Detroit roster for the remainder of the 2012 season. Overall his rookie campaign consisted of a 2-1 record, 18 appearances, and 20 2/3 innings that yielded a 3.48 ERA.
He would go on to stay within the Tigers organization through the 2013 campaign. Downs struggled and was eventually demoted back to AAA. Following the 2013 season, the Tigers removed him from the 40-man roster and the Houston Astros selected him off of waivers. Downs began the 2014 season with the Oklahoma City Redhawks prior to joining the Astros at the beginning of May.
(Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)
I like Downs a lot so far this season. He has made 23 appearances with an ERA of 2.33, posting a 1-1 record. Though he is not designated as a guy to be used in the later innings, he is definitely earning trust for those situations. Of those 23 appearances, the lefty has had 18 scoreless outings. Overall he has allowed just 5 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings of work this season.
It’s been a long road to the big leagues for Darin Downs. Maybe he has finally found a home in the Astros bullpen.