The Astros’ Triple-A Team is Struggling in 2016
Winning the National Championship in 2015, the Fresno Grizzlies had high expectations coming into 2016. Through 45 games, though, the Triple-A affiliate of the Astros has been struggling. They are 8.5 games back of the first-place Tacoma Rainiers in the Pacific Coast League. With a team five games under .500, the need for a lights-out closer isn’t as prevalent as a first place team. However, with the bullpen at the major league level taking shape, the Grizzlies have the luxury of keeping a bona fide closer in Triple-A. That man is 29-year-old right-hander James Hoyt.
Acquired in the trade that landed the Astros Evan Gattis, Hoyt started his Astros career at Fresno in 2015. He quickly became a power arm at the back end of the bullpen; saving nine games in 12 chances with a 3.49 ERA last season in 47 games.
The hitters facing Hoyt had some trouble with Hoyt last year with a .246 average against and with Hoyt having a 1.20 WHIP. It was not lights out by any means, though.
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According to a scouting report from FanSided’s Atlanta Braves blog, Tomahawk Take, the 6’6” Hoyt has “a mid 90’s fastball that he can reach the upper 90’s with lots of movement and a devastating slider that he uses as an out pitch.” He showed that through his strikeouts, striking out 12.1 batters per nine innings in 2015.
So far in 2016 though, Hoyt in an entirely different pitcher. In his 22 innings pitched, Hoyt has nine saves in 11 opportunities with a 2.05 ERA and a WHIP of 0.86. He is also in the middle of a six-game scoreless streak. In his 6.1 innings in that streak, Hoyt has given up one hit, walked one, and struck out 11.
Hoyt has proved himself to be almost unhittable. He has given up only 12 hits and seven walks in those 22 innings and has a .162 batting average against.
The impressive part, if you aren’t impressed already, is his strikeout numbers. In his 22 innings, Hoyt has 36 strikeouts. That adds up to Hoyt averaging an amazing 14.7 strikeouts per nine innings.
Hoyt has been absolutely devastating against right-handed batters. Their batting average against is at a measly .088. If you are a right-handed hitter that’s playing at Chukchansi Park, Hoyt has a home batting average against at a minuscule .061.
The crazy thing about Hoyt is his story to become a minor leaguer. After struggling in his last year of college at Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, recording an 18.82 ERA and 2.82 WHIP in his 11 innings pitched, Hoyt pitched two solid years in the Mexican league until the Atlanta Braves signed him to a minor league contract in November of 2012.
As the number 21 prospect in the system, the Astros have some faith in Hoyt that he will be able to get some outs at the major league level. He will have to wait a while longer though as Ken Giles, Will Harris, and Michael Feliz keeps pitching well at the major league level.
Hoyt is putting up outstanding numbers that deserve a major league call up. Until that time comes, he will have to continue to be a reliable source at the back end of the bullpen for the Grizzlies. So, even though the Astros gave up a lot of Gattis, Hoyt may become the steal of that deal if he turns into that critical back end of the bullpen piece that the Astros expect.
***Stats from Baseball-Reference, MILB, FanGraphs, and The Baseball Cube***