Joseph Musgrove will Lead the Next Wave of Houston Astros into the Future
When the San Diego Padres requested Joe Musgrove from the Houston Astros in their trade package for Craig Kimbrel, the Astros deemed it too steep and backed down. Musgrove is a 6’5”, the 255-pound righty with a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, curveball, and slider that hover between average and above average. So what makes him such a strong candidate to be 2016’s breakout rookie? The short answer is his refined control, which has elevated him to new heights among Astros prospects.
HOW HE GOT HERE
Musgrove, 22, was drafted out of Grossmont High School (El Cajon, CA) by the Toronto Blue Jays as a compensation pick in the 1st round of the MLB Draft in 2011.
The Astros acquired Musgrove along with Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, Asher Wojciechowski, David Rollins, Carlos Perez, and Kevin Comer for Brandon Lyon, J.A. Happ, and David Carpenter on July 20, 2012. Only Wojciechowski (another first-rounder) and Musgrove remain with the Astros, and outside of Happ’s recent return to Toronto, no one from the trade remains with the Blue Jays. The Astros added Musgrove to the 40-man roster on November 20th, which is a testament to the front office’s ability to scout players across all levels of other organizations.
WHAT HE HAS DONE
Musgrove blossomed since the trade and was named the Astros’ 2015 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Over 100.2 IP in 2015, Musgrove struck out 99 and surrendered only eight walks. Let that sink in for a second. His incredible 23.2% K-BB ratio is indicative of his excellent control. The Astros’ leaders were Josh Fields at 23.0%, Tony Sipp at 21.8%, and Luke Gregerson at 20.5%. Dallas Keuchel, for comparison, posted a K-BB% of 18.1%. Keuchel led the league in command this year, and Musgrove was right behind him, despite pitching between Quad Cities, Lancaster, and Corpus Christi. It is important to stress that we are not directly comparing statistics between Double-A and MLB players, but are instead highlighting Musgrove’s exciting trends and progression with MLB players as points of reference.
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Musgrove posted an excellent 83.9 LOB% over 100 IP in 2015, illustrating his ability to pitch carefully out of trouble. 45 of those IP were with the Hooks, where he elevated it to 89.7%. For comparison, Sipp led the Astros with an 88.0 LOB% over 54.1 IP, Will Harris was right behind him with 87.4% over 71 IP, and Joe Thatcher rounded out the top three with 80.4% over 22.2 IP. The top three starters were Keuchel at 79.4% over 232 IP, Mike Fiers at 77.4% over 62.1 IP, and Scott Feldman at 75.1% over 108.1 IP. This puts Musgrove in good company once again.
Being able to spot your pitches and limit your walks with such remarkable consistency is impressive at any level. Musgrove’s BB/9 was an exceptional 0.72, which is especially significant when contrasted against Gregerson’s team-leading 1.48, Chad Qualls’ 1.64, and Keuchel’s 1.98. Musgrove is simply hitting his targets and transforming himself into a can’t-miss Astros pitching prospect. Musgrove stands to learn a lot from Keuchel, Brent Strom, and a similarly-equipped pitching staff. If he can sustain his 2015 performance levels, he’ll be hard to ignore in 2016.
That’s not to say there won’t be any speed bumps along the way. His HR/9 ballooned to 1.40 after being called up to the Hooks, and he allowed 7 of his nine home runs at the Double-A level. Musgrove mentioned his developing baseball mind and injuries as reasons that his career got off to a slow start. His FIP ballooned to a career-high and below-average 4.25 with the Hooks after posting an FIP of 1.84 and 2.08 between Quad Cities and Lancaster. However, batters had a .208 batting average against him and a .219 BABIP during this time. Musgrove is only 22, and there is plenty of time and room for improvement.
HIS POTENTIAL ROLE
Musgrove’s chances to crack the Opening Day roster will depend on his Spring Training performance and the Astros’ offseason moves. While not guaranteed a spot by any means, Musgrove could certainly find his way to the Opening Day rotation like Wojciechowski did last year. When the Astros traded Brett Oberholtzer and Vincent Velasquez to Philadelphia, Musgrove lost two of his direct competitors. The Astros expect to add a veteran starter this winter, but lackluster performances and injuries could create a spot for Musgrove.
The Astros are not afraid to call up inexperienced players from Double-A directly to the Majors. To put it further in perspective, Lance McCullers was called up after posting a 0.62 ERA over 29 IP with 43 Ks and 11 BB for Double-A Corpus Christi. Musgrove could find himself in a very similar situation.
The Astros have an abundance of promising pitching prospects, but if Musgrove carves up Major Leaguers anywhere close to the rate he did in Double-A, the Astros will have to find a way to keep him on the Active Roster. If he can maintain his outstanding command, all signs point to him becoming another young weapon in the Astros’ pitching staff and breaking out in 2016.
**Stats from Baseball-Reference**