The Astros have two potential pieces for the 2019 roster pitching some big innings down the stretch in 2018.
With Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton in their final year of team control, there could be some openings next year in the rotation. For that matter, Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander will be free agents after the 2019 season. While we would love to keep the whole band together, the financial obligations would be astronomical. It’s always good to have depth options in the minor leagues, but really good to have some with big league experience.
It’s only a matter of time before Forrest Whitley joins the rotation for good. He may have made his debut this year, but the suspension and injuries slowed him down. Until he gets that taste of big league experience, he will be an unproven prospect with high upside. There are several prospects in the Astros minor league system who could be members of the future rotation.
But you are just a prospect until you prove yourself.
That is what Josh James and Framber Valdez have done as the 2018 season comes to a close. Both should get at least one more start in the regular season, Valdez may get two more. It all depends on how the Astros want to set up the playoff roster and when the games don’t matter. In other words, when the Astros clinch the AL West. Once that happens, we will see players like Kyle Tucker and Myles Straw get some playing time.
The magic number is seven, meaning any combinations of Astros wins and Athletics losses that equal seven clinches the division. They have a magic number of two to clinch the playoffs. Don’t look for the Astros to try to stop winning games with the chance of setting a new franchise record in wins. But, James could give Verlander a breather as he preps for the playoffs. James just recorded his first MLB win last night as he pitched 5 1/3 shutout innings.
Will they be given a chance in 2019?
With the Astros looking to capitalize on winning while the core is still intact, they may go out and trade or sign a starting pitcher. The only negative is they are both still struggling with control. According to Baseball-Reference, James is averaging 4.2 walks per nine innings with a 2.81 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings. Valdez is averaging six walks per nine innings pitched with a 2.20 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings.
Why are they successful? Valdez is a left-handed pitcher who knows how to be effectively wild. He’s not afraid to walk a hitter because he has faith he can get out of trouble. James can just throw the heat, throwing in the upper-90’s, averaging 97.4 mph on his fastball per Fangraphs. He mixes in a hard change-up (89 mph) and an 85 mph slider.
Whether their future has them as a starter or reliever, these two young pitchers have made an impression. As for James, his performance could lead to him making the cut for the playoff roster. It was nice to see AJ Hinch give James a chance to pitch into the sixth inning last night. James is already becoming a favorite among Astros fans.