The best of the Astros top pitching prospects is Mark Appel, obviously, and hopefully he’ll make his debut in late 2015. This article will look at the some of the other pitching prospects who might be a couple of years away. The first is Josh Hader who pitched in Single-A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi in 2014, and was acquired in the Bud Norris trade in 2013. The second is Michael Feliz who pitched for the Quad Cities Mid-A team in 2014, who was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2010.
Are these the only pitchers who could make an impact for the Astros? No, I’m sure Michael Foltynewicz, Lance McCullers, Vincent Velasquez, and Kyle Smith will have an impact. Hader and Feliz have intrigued me while I’ve kept up with their stats in the minors in 2014. The other pitchers will be looked at another time.
Hader is a 20-year-old southpaw, 6’3″, and weighs 160 pounds. He is currently 10th best Astros prospect by MLB Pipeline and Baseball America. He was drafted out of high school in the 19th round of the 2012 draft (582nd overall) by the Baltimore Orioles. He was acquired along with LJ Hoes and 2014 competitive balance draft pick from the Orioles for Bud Norris.
The pick the Astros received netted them outfielder Derek Fisher (37th overall) who is 12th best prospect in Astros system according to MLB Pipeline.
On the surface, maybe the Orioles won the trade like Jon Morosi said in his above tweet. However this can change in 2016 or 2017 when Haderade fever rolls into Houston. In 2014, Josh Hader was named the 2014 Astros minor league pitcher of the year going 10-3, 3.28 ERA in 123.1 innings between Lancaster and Corpus Christi, with 136 strikeouts and a 1.145 WHIP (55 BB). He was involved in a combined no-hitter with 2 of his roommates in Lancaster.
Hader was able to do something that Mark Appel could not do last year, he was able to pitch in a very hitter friendly ballpark successfully. From an article by Jonathan Mayo, “Hader combined with two relievers for a no-no at home in Lancaster, typically a launching pad. He went the first six hitless frames, walking four and striking out six, before turning it over to the bullpen. Pitching in a piggyback system, Hader threw four innings of relief on Sunday, allowing one run on four hits while striking out nine.”
“Hader combined with two relievers for a no-no at home in Lancaster, typically a launching pad. He went the first six hitless frames, walking four and striking out six”-Jonathan Mayo
From a scouting report by Tucker Blair while Hader was pitching in the Orioles system,”On the mound, Hader has a unique pitching slot. He almost resembles Chris Sale in terms of arm slot and overall frame. He hides the ball behind his body until the last second, making it hard to pick up out of his hand.” This is not the first time Chris Sale has been used to describe Josh Hader, which if it comes true will be good for the Astros.
Scouts will say that Hader has to get better command and is still raw, but made good strides in 2014 to silence the Hader haters. I resisted using the Taylor Swift song here. His fastball sits around 96 mph, which has increased as he has advanced up the minor league ranks.
I wrote about Michael Feliz earlier in the offseason when the Astros initially left him off the 40 man roster prior to the 2014 Rule V draft. After seeing all the teams targeting Feliz in the draft, the Astros did an about-face and protected him before the 11 pm (CST) deadline. Rumors had him possibly being involved in trade talks (maybe Evan Gattis), but when that deal fell through the Astros quickly protected him.
I compared him to Johan Santana, but that was mainly due to the Rule V pick that could come back and bite the Astros. But unlike Sanatana, Michael Feliz is a right-handed pitcher.
Feliz is a 21-year-old, is 6’4″ feet tall, and weighs in at 210 pounds. He is taller and heavier than Josh Hader, but also has more minor league experience after signing with the Astros as a 16-year-old after his contract was voided by testing positive for steroids with the Oakland A’s. He sat out 50 games in 2010, and signed with Astros for $400 K.
He is a hard thrower, reaching 98 mph at times, and is still pitching at the Single-A level despite 2014 being his 5th season in the minor leagues. He started slow his first two years, and had a coming out party in 2012. Not sure who he compares too, but probably similar to Yordano Ventura of the Royals.
In 2014, the #7 ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline went 8-6 with a 4.03 ERA, 111 strikeouts in 102 2/3 innings pitched, and a WHIP of 1.373. He is also very raw, similar to Hader., and has control issues that have held him back a little.
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According to The Scouting Book, “At Tri-City in 2013, Feliz looked promising, posting a 1.96 ERA to lead the short-season NY-Penn League. His 95mph fastball has been clocked as high as 99, and his slider, while still in development, already looks MLB-ready, at least on good days. On bad days, his dragging arm action can impair his command of both pitches, leaving him hittable up in the zone. Still very raw, he nonetheless shows all of the attributes associated with relief aces, and he should be on the long-term radar of those charting possible future closers in Houston.”
One thing to point out when Josh Hader hit Double-A ball is that he struggled with his command with 7.20 walks per 9 innings. Feliz has the slightly better command overall, but Hader has the impressive strikeout rates.
So who could become an ace, it is still to early to tell. In this writer’s opinion, I feel that Josh Hader will make rotation in late 2016, while Michael Feliz could be added to the bullpen. Don’t forget that when you build a strong farm system, other teams will come after your pitchers with trades. One of these two could be packaged with another to bring a proven player.
You can get excited about their strikeout potential!