The Houston Astros announced on Friday that 21 year old Lance McCullers will be making his major league debut on Monday night against the Oakland Athletics. The righty has spent the bulk of his time on the Astros farm in the lower levels of the minor leagues, making just six starts in Double-A at the time of the promotion. McCullers was drafted by the Astros 41st overall in 2012 as a supplemental draft pick for losing Clint Barmes to free agency after the 2011 season. With the potential that McCullers has shown, that’s looking like a very nice swap indeed.
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Just a couple of days ago McCullers was receiving the good news that he was being promoted from Corpus Christi to Fresno after his stellar start with the Hooks. In his six starts, McCullers was 3-1 with a 0.62 ERA in 29 innings. The two runs he’s allowed were both to Frisco after facing the RoughRiders in back-to-back starts. The lefty has also been racking up the strikeouts this season, k-ing 43 in those 29 innings pitched for a K/9 ratio of 13.3. Having only six starts under his belt this season surely inflates that number just a bit, but his career K/9 mark is 10.7, so expect to see some swings and misses on Monday night.
Monday night will be a test of Oakland’s patience and McCuller’s “stuff”. Oakland is ranked 25th in fewest team strikeouts this season with 243, while somehow the Houston Astros aren’t in first (trail the Cubs’ 344) with 330 punch outs. While Oakland’s record is poor, their offense has been quite productive, scoring 172 runs in 2015, good for 5th in baseball. The team has been exceptional against righties as well, batting .274 with 32 home runs and 144 runs scored. With lefties Josh Reddick and Stephen Vogt off to hot starts, it should come as no surprise that Oakland prefers to face right-handed pitching. This should be a good early test for McCullers.
If you’re wondering why not Mark Appel, he took some lumps in a start against Frisco last night pitching just four innings while allowing five runs on six hits and five walks. His ERA stands at 4.70 thus far this season. McCullers seems to have flat-out earned the promotion.
MLB Pipeline provided this summary of McCullers before the season began, “McCullers attacks hitters with a powerful fastball-curveball combination. His fastball sits in the low to mid 90s and regularly reaches 97 mph. He has a good feel for spinning the ball and can throw his breaking ball with different shapes and sizes, with the best ones looking like hard, late curveballs. He also mixes in a changeup, which lags behind his other two offerings. While McCullers’ stuff is good, he has struggled with his control throughout his career. His high-effort delivery leads many scouts to believe he is best suited for a role at the back of the bullpen, like his father.”
We’re obviously quite hopeful that McCullers will impress in his debut and solidify the fifth spot in the Astros’ rotation, at least until lefty Brett Oberholtzer is ready to re-join the rotation. That said, if McCullers does pitch effectively, there may be no room for Obie in the rotation. If Jeff Luhnow is ready to start the clock on some of his young prospects, he’s going to want to get his money’s worth.
The staff at Climbing Tal’s Hill had a minor freak-out session when the news broke that McCullers would be making his debut on Monday. The Astros calling up one of their talented prospects is exciting in it’s own right, but it also signifies that management may be going for it this season. Whether or not the decision will pay off remains to be seen, but it sure is exciting in the here and now as a fan.