Astros: Pitching depth will be key this season

codypoage
WEST PALM BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Framber Valdez #59 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning of a Grapefruit League spring training game against the Atlanta Braves at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on February 24, 2019 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
WEST PALM BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Framber Valdez #59 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning of a Grapefruit League spring training game against the Atlanta Braves at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on February 24, 2019 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /
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For better or worse, the Astros are betting on their internal pitching depth to produce another quality season. Chances are good that’ll occur, but I am not expecting an exact repeat from last season.

Anytime a club has two pitchers like Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole leading a rotation, there isn’t a huge sense of urgency to add another starter. Well, unless you’re the Nationals. The Astros always seem ready to pounce for another starter, but they didn’t pull the trigger this offseason. Instead, the club is clearly banking on their own depth to help shore up a staff missing 60 percent of its starters on last year’s Opening Day roster.

Opening Day Rotation – 2018

Justin Verlander
Gerrit Cole
Dallas Keuchel
Charlie Morton
Lance McCullers Jr.

Projected Opening Day Rotation – 2019

Justin Verlander
Gerrit Cole
Collin McHugh
Wade Miley
Brad Peacock

Quite the stark difference, right?

While I am optimistic about McHugh’s and Peacock’s respective returns to the rotation, the Astros are banking on their internal depth to pitch well. For a club like Houston, that position is reasonable, especially when you consider their minor league depth. I can’t help but wonder if Jeff Luhnow and the front office would’ve been more active in the offseason if it wasn’t for the likes of Forrest Whitley, Framber Valdez, Josh James, J.B. Bukauskas, and Corbin Martin waiting in the wings.

That said, the Astros need free-agent pickup Miley to produce quality results like he did with the Brewers (2.57 ERA in 80 2/3 IP) in 2018. While Keuchel does – and still – makes sense for Houston on a short-term contract, I doubt we will see his return unless he agrees to the club’s terms. Whitley could push for a rotation spot as early as June, which may move either Miley or Peacock to the bullpen.

Honestly, the starting rotation shouldn’t be an issue, although it likely won’t reach the heights of last season’s staff. The bullpen doesn’t concern me much as presently constructed, however, one could see a potential issue or two if certain pitchers don’t bounce back. Chris Devenski, who was viewed as a key cog in the bullpen only one year ago, has had a rough camp in Florida. Hector Rondon filled in as a high-leverage reliever until his collapse late last season.

The backend of the ‘pen should be fine between Roberto Osuna and Ryan Pressly, but moving McHugh and Peacock out of that unit could be something to watch. I figure we’ll see plenty of James and Valdez in the bullpen and potentially Bukauskas later in the season.

Next. Astros: Looking at FanGraphs odds for the 2019 season. dark

While there is plenty of reason for optimism, I can’t help but think that this season will test Houston’s internal depth on the pitching staff. While there is much to like about the young arms, they’re also relatively unproven. It could take some time for these pitchers to see the fruit of their labor at the major league level. Again, the Astros have a top notch staff already in place. I am just doubtful if we will see this staff fully replicate last season’s impressive results.

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