With Lance McCullers Jr. officially on the shelf for the entire 2019 season, who is the next man up in the Astros’ rotation?
So, how was your Tuesday afternoon? Mine was spent finding out that McCullers was ruled out following Tommy John surgery that same day. I don’t know the Astros’ pitcher personally, but the news has to be even more devastating for him than any fan. It still sucks for fans and his team, though. That said, Houston’s vaunted starting rotation from last season has more questions than answers.
Where do the Astros go from here? Well, the club has options. Plenty of them, actually. Young arms like Forrest Whitley, Josh James, Framber Valdez, and J.B. Bukauskas will surely get looks as a starter in 2019. And don’t forget about proven veterans like Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock. Like I just mentioned, there are options.
Based on general manager Jeff Luhnow’s comments on Tuesday evening, it appears that the right-handed McHugh is a favorite to rejoin the staff following a season-long trip in the bullpen in 2018.
McHugh appears to have the inside track for a starting job next season. Unless injuries take place or the Astros add multiple high-end starters during the offseason, it is probable that McHugh gets the job. And that’s a good thing. Here are the right-hander’s stats as a starter since his first season in Houston through 2017:
102 starts, 606 1/3 IP, 1.253 WHIP, 3.70 ERA, 3.60 FIP
For comparison sake, here are McCullers numbers as a starter since his major league debut in 2015:
80 starts, 453 2/3 IP, 1.281 WHIP, 3.69 ERA, 3.24 FIP
While McHugh doesn’t have the same electric stuff as McCullers, the former does have quality results. Honestly, it takes a situation just like this one that affirms why the Astros were right in keeping McHugh instead of trading him earlier in the year. Count me in as feeling good about seeing him starting games again in 2019.
If the 2019 season started today, the Astros still have two openings in the starting rotation. The front office will likely fill one of those openings via free agency or a trade. For the remaining spot, there is plenty of internal talent to choose from in the organization. Luhnow hinted that certain prospects would need to take steps to contribute to the major league team sooner or later.
Between Whitley, Bukauskas, James, Valdez, and Peacock, Houston should be able to receive decent production from the last spot in the rotation. Of course, plans can change, and the best pitchers should play. The offseason is going to be fun, right?