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The Houston Astros, Lance McCullers Jr. and the Trade Market

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Monday night Lance McCullers Jr. made his major league debut for the Houston Astros, with the 21 year old righty lasting 4 2/3 of three hit, one run ball. With the Astros needing the fifth spot in the rotation filled until Brett Oberholtzer returns from his latest stint on the disabled list, McCullers seems like he will be the guy to do so with a strong first showing.

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We’ve talked a bit about the rotation outside of Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh in recent weeks, and typically the conversation goes something to the effect of, “The Astros need an upgrade.” On Monday before McCullers made his official debut, Baseball Prospectus had their scouting report for subscribers. There is plenty of great material in the piece, but I want to focus on what they said of McCullers’ immediate big-league future: “There’s no question that McCullers has electric stuff, and it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if he missed plenty of bats in his time with the Astros. It also wouldn’t surprise me if the below-average command and lack of third pitch led to struggles, because history tells us to expect that. If the improved command is here to stay he’s a mid-rotation starter who can pile up the strikeouts, with high-leverage reliever as a floor.”

It’s the last sentence that sticks out here. A mid-rotation starter is just what the Houston Astros could use, and it looks like instead of trading away their prospects for a starter at this point, GM Jeff Luhnow is using his assets in a different way by seeing if they can help his team directly. McCullers was arguably off to the hottest start (3-1, 0.62) in the Astros’ minor-league system, so he earned the first chance to prove his worth in the majors.

If McCullers is able to slot in to the third or fourth spot in the rotation, that would give the ‘Stros a rotation of Keuchel, McHugh, McCullers, Obie and either Scott Feldman or Roberto Hernandez. Feldman is making a decent sum of money this year, so it’s likely that he’ll be left in the rotation. Most fans will be hoping that McCullers is able to stick around in the rotation, leaving Sam Deduno as the odd-man out in this situation. One other scenario could be Oberholtzer taking the long-relief role and leaving Hernandez and Feldman in the rotation with Deduno again being on the short end.

Of course this is all speculation, but if McCullers performs well enough in the time that he’s given it will be hard to make a case to send him packing.

So what does this all mean? With the Astros in first place, fans are clamoring for Carlos Correa to be brought up (he’s coming) and debating which prospects you would be willing to part with in order to land X pitcher. It looks as though player’s timelines are being sped up and the Astros will be looking to compete all season. Whether that means making a trade in the coming weeks will all depend upon how these prospects perform when they’re brought up.

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