The Fresno Grizzlies are off to a good start to the 2016 season, they are the Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros
With solid outings early in the year by Mike Hauschild and Brady Rogers, the Grizzlies look like they may have some starting pitching depth. However, with guys like Michael Feliz and Asher Wojciechowski both off to rough starts, left-hander Tommy Shirley is picking up the slack for them at the back end of that rotation.
Shirley, a 9th round pick by the Astros back in 2010, has not always been a starter but has been a solid pitcher in the Astros organization no matter what role he is in. In his minor league career, Shirley has a 2.58 ERA with 304 strikeouts in 317.2 innings pitched. He also has a career average against of .222.
Early in this 2016 season, Shirley has been exclusively a starter. After two starts, he has a record of 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and seven strikeouts in 11.2 innings pitched.
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The funny part about Shirley’s year so far is both of his first two starts have been against the Los Angeles Angels Triple-A affiliate, the Salt Lake Bees. Although the Bees are off to a great start in the Pacific Coast League, Shirley has carved them up in both of his starts limiting them to only nine hits in his 11.2 innings against them.
Shirley’s pitching career has been a bit peculiar. His college career at Xavier was nothing special. Through his three seasons, Shirley had an ERA of 5.52 with a .300 batting average against.
Then, his first outings within the Astros organization were a complete change. In only five starts for Single-A Tri-Cities in 2010, Shirley gave up 0 earned runs in 17 innings with 28 strikeouts.
Although his strikeout numbers have fallen since then to a career 8.6 per nine innings, he has had impeccable control. In his minor league career, Shirley has walked 101 batters compared to 304 strikeouts.
So even though Shirley has put up good numbers in the minors, he has always been overlooked. Shirley’s chances at making a major league roster look pretty slim at this point with guys like Feliz and Rogers at Fresno and other prospects including Joe Musgrove and Frances Martes in the wings at Double-A Corpus.
So with two solid starts to start the year for Shirley, the best-case scenario would be for him to be called up to be a spot lefty that could pitch some innings out of the major league bullpen. His likely ceiling for the 2016 season, though, is helping the Grizzlies with stability in their starting rotation. However, if Shirley keeps pitching as he has in his first two starts of the season, we may hear Shirley’s name being called out of the bullpen in September.
***Stats from milb.com and goxavier.com***