Earlier in the offseason I wrote about Michael Foltynewicz being told by Astros to get ready to be in rotation in 2015. With the trade of Foltynewicz, a big hole opened up in the Astros 5th starter behind Scott Feldman, Collin McHugh, Dallas Keuchel, and Brett Oberholtzer. The Astros are in search for a 5th starter, either via free agency or trade. But do the Astros currently have the right man for the job in Mark Appel?
In House Options (with major league experience)
Jake Buchanan – Jake made his debut with the Astros in 2014, pitched in 17 games including 2 starts. He went 1-3/ 4.58 ERA/ 35.1 IP/ 20 strikeouts. He was acquired along with Robbie Grossman in the Wandy Rodriguez deal. If he has a good spring, he might get into rotation.
Brad Peacock – Peacock was acquired along with Chris Carter and Max Stassi in the Jed Lowrie trade and has had an up and down Astros career so far. In 2014, Peacock went 4-9/ 4.72 ERA/ 131.2 IP/ 119 K’s. He might be the most logical choice, but he will miss start of season due to hip surgery.
Alex White – Jeff Luhnow called White the “forgotten man,” because he has not pitched for Astros yet after having Tommy John surgery in 2013. He was able to pitch in the minors in 2014 but went 3-6/ 6.50 ERA/ 63.2 IP/ 53 SO. So he could be the wild card to earn spot, as he was a former top prospect.
In House Options (without major league experience)
Asher Wojciechowski – Wojo was acquired in the J.A. Happ trade, and was formerly in the top 20 Astros prospects, but was removed after the 2013 draft class joined the list. Now with the Evan Gattis trade, Wojo has rejoined the Astros top 20 prospects. He was viewed as the biggest piece the Astros received in that trade but suffered a setback from a hip-flexor injury. He might be the most MLB-ready prospect the Astros have after spending 2 years in AAA.
Vincent Velasquez – I saw an article with a misleading title the other day saying that Astros righty Velazquez Tommy John surgery, thankfully it was not Velasquez. Velasquez has always been a top prospect, even after having Tommy John prior to the 2011 season.
He opened eyes in the Arizona Fall League but has not pitched above class A, so he might be a stretch. Jose de Jesus Ortiz said that “of the Astros’ remaining top pitching prospects, I bet Velasquez is the closest to being a front-line starter if he can stay healthy.”
“Of the Astros’ remaining top pitching prospects, I bet Velasquez is the closest to being a front-line starter if he can stay healthy.”-Jose de Jesus Ortiz
If I had to guess right now, I think that Asher Wojciechowski will win the spot. Jake Buchanan may get it, but he is not a sexy pick. Alex White will have to prove he’s healthy, and I feel like Jeff Luhnow has a big “man crush” on White, so he has a shot.
Favorite: Asher Wojciechowski
Dark Horse: Alex White
Free Agents Rumors Free Agents
Ryan Vogelsong – He is 37 years old with eight MLB seasons under his belt. Last year he played on the World Series Giants team, going went 8-13/ 4.00 ERA/ 184 IP/ 151 SO. He could be a good #5 pitcher.
Kyle Kendrick – He is a 30-year old veteran who has spent his 6 years in MLB with the Phillies, despite the prank placed on him by his teammates that he was traded to Japan. In 2014, Kendrick went 10-13/ 4.61 ERA /199 IP/ 121 SO.
“Astros still want to add starting pitcher at some point this winter. Not in the hunt for the big money guys, though.”-Brian McTaggart
According to Brian McTaggart, “Astros still want to add starting pitcher at some point this winter. Not in the hunt for the big money guys, though.” So even though names like James Shields and Max Scherzer keep on being brought up, don’t expect them in Houston. There is always a chance that the Astros could be the mystery team, but a trade might bring a more reliable pitcher than the two free agents mentioned above.
Of the two free agent rumors I feel like Kendrick is younger and has the better ability to pitch 200 innings for the Astros.
What About Mark Appel?
What about the 2013 #1 pick Mark Appel? Let’s just give him the experience now. Yes, he has not pitched in AAA yet, but many prospects including Jose Fernandez and Mike Leake have shown that if you have the talent, you can skip AAA.
I watched him pitch in the Arizona Fall League, and while he didn’t look overpowering, he had good command and knew how to pitch. Something that might have led to success is the pitch clock that was used in the Arizona Fall League, which may have kept him in a good rhythm and at a nice pace.
Will he hit some bumps in the road? Yes, but you are expecting him to be your number 5 pitcher right now, so it’s okay for him to take some lumps. Jeff Luhnow came out and said that he expects the Astros to be a winning team in 2015. To be a winning team, you need to play with your best options at each position. I will make a bold prediction that not only will Appel make the opening day roster (without trade for a starter), but I also think Colin Moran will be there as well. Moran might be less likely to make it, but it Margo and Matty-D struggle in spring training, if could happen.
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Scott Boras wants to get Appel’s arbitration clock going by him making the team in spring training. “I think that’s something you have to evaluate in spring training,” Boras said. “Certainly he’s got the arm strength and the attitude. But the idea is that I think we all have to see him, what he does, and evaluate it from there.”
Unless the Astros sign or trade for a starter, I feel that the 5th rotation slot will be the most important spring training competition for Astros fans to keep up with. The Astros also need to give Appel a chance to earn a spot, not just a token spring training invite. Bottom line, the job needs to go to the most deserving player.
I feel that Mark Appel will rise to the top, and will make his debut in the second series of 2015. The Astros need to take a risk. I’ll bet the Marlins are sure glad they shocked the world by opening with Jose Fernandez in the rotation. If anyone can do it, Mark Appel can.