Astros Minor League Spotlight: Trent Thornton is rising

WEST PALM BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 21: Trent Thornton #67 of the Houston Astros poses for a portrait at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on February 21, 2018 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
WEST PALM BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 21: Trent Thornton #67 of the Houston Astros poses for a portrait at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on February 21, 2018 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
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Time to shine a spotlight on Houston Astros’ Triple-A affiliate Fresno Grizzlies pitcher Trent Thornton.

For a guy who didn’t make the Astros’ Top 30 prospect rankings, Trent Thornton sure is pitching like a guy who wants to be on it. Coming within four outs of a no-hitter will make people take notice.

The 24-year-old right-hander tossed eight shutout innings in his last start, allowing just one hit, which came with two outs in the eighth. He dropped his season ERA to 2.88 and his WHIP to 0.96, while batters are hitting just .203 against him. He’s one of the reasons why Fresno’s pitching staff has been especially strong this season.

The Stats

Thornton was the Astros’ fifth-round draft pick in 2015 out of North Carolina. In short-season Class A that year, he posted a 3.27 ERA in 55 innings. In 2016, he went 7-4 with a 4.12 ERA at Class-A advanced, then earned a promotion to Double-A. For Corpus Christi, he made seven starts and went 3-1 with a 2.35 ERA, statistics courtesy of MiLB.com

2017 proved to be a difficult year for Thornton, however. He posted a 6.06 ERA in 16.1 innings at Double-A, then was promoted to Triple-A. In 115 innings for Fresno, he worked to a 5.09 ERA and a .295 batting average against.

Thornton is back on track in 2018, and arguably pitching better than ever. He’s allowed more than three runs just once in 12 appearances so far and has gone at least six innings in four straight starts. He’s also done well at avoiding the long ball, surrendering just two homers in 65.2 innings.

The Outlook

Pitching was often a problem for Fresno in 2017, but that has not been the case so far this season. Thornton is one of a handful of pitchers who’ve been turning in quality outings for the Grizzlies in 2018. That makes the situation a bit murky if the Astros suddenly have a need for reinforcements in the major league rotation.

Next: Astros Breakdown: Appreciating the home run barrage

Barring injuries, Thornton likely won’t see the majors this season, unless as a September call-up. How he pitches for the rest of this year will determine if he has a shot to earn a roster spot in 2019. At the very least, he could be used as trade bait if the Astros need to acquire some help before the July trade deadline. And he could be working his way onto an Astros top prospect list soon.

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