The Astros have several candidates who could earn a spot in the starting rotation this spring.
Much has been written about the Astros search for starting rotation help, which has proved fruitless thus far. The losses of Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley to free agency need to be accounted for, and the team hasn’t really done that up to this point.
As it stands, the five most likely candidates for the rotation are Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr., Jose Urquidy and Brad Peacock. The team could still add an outside candidate or two as well, which would lessen the need for any of the guys listed below.
Still, these players can’t be counted out to make the rotation out of Spring Training. I’m not including Forrest Whitley on this list, as even if he pitches well in the spring, the Astros will likely want to see him be effective at Triple-A coming off a rough 2019, and also limit his innings. He could be a candidate to join the rotation mid-season if he succeeds.
This is a name to watch out for, as his stock has risen drastically. The 22-year-old righty has excelled in the minors, most notably in 2019 when he jumped from High-A ball all the way to Triple-A, compiling a 1.74 ERA in 113.2 innings with 170 strikeouts and an 0.968 WHIP.
We recently looked at Javier’s situation more in depth, and there’s a strong chance he’ll start the year in Round Rock, having only made two starts at the Triple-A level. But if the Astros don’t add anyone to the mix and he impresses in the spring, he could force their hand.
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Armenteros made his major league debut in 2019 and saw mixed results, working to a 4.00 ERA in two starts and three relief appearances. He struggled a bit at Triple-A but had better results there in 2017 and 2018.
He doesn’t have as high of a ceiling as Javier, but he does have a higher floor and could provide some serviceable innings in a fifth starter role. If the Astros need someone like that, they can always turn to Armenteros.
The fact that he’s thrown more than 100 big league innings gives Valdez a leg up on some of the other candidates. He struggled in the rotation in 2019 but showed great promise in 2018 and will be given an opportunity to earn a roster spot in Spring Training.
This largely depends on whether the Astros want to keep James in the bullpen or try him out in the rotation. He has a 2.20 ERA in four career big league starts, so the potential is certainly there. If he can keep the free passes in check, his big fastball could play well at the back of the rotation.
This is the dark horse of dark horses, but there’s a reason the Astros added the left-hander to the 40-man roster. The sinkerballer doesn’t strike out a ton of batters, but he put up a 2.49 ERA in seven starts in Triple-A last year after spending most of the season in the bullpen. He’s a different type of pitcher than the team currently has and could play his way into a spot if he can show his success was no fluke.