The pitching rumor mill seems to have quieted down since the Winter Meetings. Can the Astros enter the 2019 season with their current staff?
Several pitchers on the trading block and free agent market have been snatched up by other teams. Patrick Corbin, Nathan Eovaldi, Lance Lynn and J. A. Happ, just to name a few, are now off the board and even Charlie Morton will be sporting a new uniform next season. But there is plenty of time and still quite a number of quality pitchers available. Should the Astros make a move or are they satisfied with what they have?
As everyone is aware, the core of the Astros pitching rotation is Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Most likely, former starter Collin McHugh will be brought out of the bullpen to resume his starting role in the upcoming season. A role that McHugh filled adequately for Houston from 2014 to mid-year 2017, when Verlander was acquired via trade. Behind McHugh is where the questions start to arise.
Houston has a few promising prospects that could possibly fill in the fourth and fifth spots of the rotation. Josh James, 25, is one of those prospects and already has a small sample of experience at the major league level. He was called up in September of last season and performed admirably. In six appearances he had a 2.35 ERA and struck out 29 batters, while only issuing 7 walks in 23 innings pitched. James went 2-0 in his three starts and was also accredited with 2 holds in three relief appearances.
Forrest Whitley is another one waiting in the wings to get his chance at becoming a fixed asset in Houston’s starting rotation. Whitley is Houston’s #2 prospect and is the top-rated pitching prospect in baseball. He has a nice repertoire of pitches with a high-velocity fastball, hard curveball, slider and an effective changeup. Many scouts are projecting Whitley to be an ace quality pitcher, sooner rather then later. He’ll get his chance to prove himself in Spring Training
The future, past the 2019 season, is also something that needs to be taken into consideration in this process. With Verlander and Cole entering the final years of their contracts, it might be prudent to keep some money aside to offer an enticing extension to one or both pitchers. What better mentors for the likes of Whitley and James to learn from. Lance McCullers Jr. will also, hopefully, be returning healthy in 2020 and isn’t eligible for free agency until 2022.
The offseason is still young and there are plenty of pitchers to choose from, so no time to panic. The Astros might be just fine going into the season and see what happens during Spring Training. There’s always a chance to trade for a top pitcher later in the season, as they did in 2017. We all know how that turned out. With the recent news of Joe Smith out six to eight months following surgery, and a pitcher or two coming out of the pen to start, maybe the bullpen is Houston’s more immediate need.