Starting Pitching Candidates: Who Fills the Final Two Spots?

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Last year I wrote an article very similar to this one. While mid-January was probably a tad premature then, and late-January is a little premature now, I figured that consistency is more important than waiting on my hands for another move. There are rumors of adding an additional pitcher, but I believe that there are plenty candidates in-house for AJ Hinch to choose from during Spring Training.

The first three spots in the rotation are all but set in stone. Dallas Keuchel had a tremendous season in 2014 and looks to build off that confidence as the Astros Ace in 2015. Collin McHugh fulfilled the role of a spot starter well as he proved himself a quality major league pitcher. I’m sure that Bo Porter telling him that he belonged helped him build confidence. McHugh worked his way through fingernail issues in the midseason in route to a dominant finish in August and September. Scott Feldman, brought in on a 3-year deal, figures to be a viable #3 starter in a team that is beginning to transition into their highly regarded pool of starting pitching prospects.

Last season saw right-handed pitching prospects Nick Tropeano and Mike Foltynewicz make their big league debuts. Jake Buchanan, Rudy Owens, Brad Peacock, Sam Deduno, and Jarred Cosart also made appearances as starters. Cosart, to the disappointment of many Houston fans, was traded at the deadline last season while Jeff Luhnow has flipped Tropeano and Folty this offseason. Fans should be happy with the progress made in trading these three players. While they are all projected to have success in the majors, Luhnow trades players because there are better fits for the club.

The 40-man roster includes a few options for the final two rotation spots. Brett Oberholtzer is, arguably, the closest thing of the lot to being proven. Through 215 1/3 innings at the major league level, Obie has compiled a 3.85 ERA to go along with a favorable FIP of 3.59. I believe that he will fill the fourth rotation spot.

The fifth spot, however, is a little tricky. Luis Cruz was added to the 40-man prior to the 2014 season to avoid risking him to the Rule 5 Draft. The same concept was used with both Michael Feliz and Vincent Velasquez. Cruz has reached AAA albeit pitching to a 5.92 ERA in 24 1/3 innings. Feliz finished 2014 as a member of the Midwest League Quad Cities River Bandits (low-A) while Velasquez struggled to stay healthy with the Lancaster Jethawks in high-A ball.

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The competition is essentially brought down to five right handed pitchers.

  • Sam Deduno – Sam was selected off waivers from the Twins in late-August. He has registered just 2 years and 96 days of service time throughout parts of 5 seasons in the major leagues. Therefore he is out of options and must go through waivers to start the season in the minor leagues. Deduno is a 31-year-old with a 4.20 ERA in 293 1/3 innings with most of his appearances as an MLB starter.
  • Alex White – Both White and Deduno were originally drafted by the Colorado Rockies. Alex was one of the first acquisitions by Jeff Luhnow and has not appeared in the majors since the 2012 season. He spent the 2013 season rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery. For the Redhawks in 2014, White yielded too many baserunners with an 11.0 H/9 ratio and a 4.4 BB/9 ratio. The 26-year-old still has options remaining and could begin the 2015 season in AAA Fresno.
  • Dan Straily

    – This candidate intrigues me. He was acquired recently in the Fowler to Cubs trade. Some people may believe that he and Oberholtzer are proven to be quality MLB arms. However, he struggled with both Oakland and the Cubs in 2014 posting a 6.50 ERA. FIP  (4.38) suggests that he was unlucky; HR/9, BB/9, and H/9 ratios were well above his first 180 big league innings. Another 26-year-old with likely the best chance to win the final rotation spot. It may be worth noting that Roster Resource has him slotted in the 5th spot.

    Aug 16, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Dan Straily (19) pitches during the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

  • Asher Wojciechowski – Remember that 10-player trade that sent Happ to the Blue Jays? We netted ‘Wojo’ in this deal and sent him to the Texas League South and he excelled there. He has experience as both a starter and a reliever due to the tandem system. Injuries have delayed his arrival to the show, but Wojo has received high praise from those who have seen him pitch in person. Yes, his statistics were unfavorable in 2014, but he had been recovering from a few injuries. With a good showing in Spring Training, I would not be surprised to see him fight his way to being the 5th rotation spot. He could hypothetically be a reliever, but with options remaining, it’s all but certain Wojo will be a starter this season. Oh yeah, he’s 26-years-old as well.
  • Jake Buchanan – Jake is the youngest of these five guys at age-25 for this season. Through 5 seasons in the minor leagues his ERA is just south of 4.00 and he made his major league debut in 2014. Through his 35 1/3 innings in the show, Buchanan’s ERA matches his FIP at 4.58 with 2 games started and 17 appearances overall. One would expect him to begin the season in the minor leagues.
  • Brad Peacock finished the 2014 season on a good stretch. However, he is currently rehabbing from surgery and is unlikely to be ready by Opening Day. I can understand why the Astros are considering adding another arm to add to the mix. With Mark Appel lurking in the minor leagues, the Astros do need to secure a couple insurance policies for the fifth rotation spot. The in-house options may not be too deep, but a few innings can be given to Straily and Wojciechowski. Eventually Peacock will return. And soon after?  — #HappyAppelDay.

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