The Astros may have made a sneaky good trade in acquiring Austin Pruitt.
Astros fans have waited two months for the club to acquire a starting pitcher, and when they finally do so, it’s not even remotely splashy. This isn’t even a guy who’s guaranteed a rotation spot. But the addition of Austin Pruitt could be bigger than many people think.
GM Jeff Luhnow has made it a habit of finding unheralded pitchers and bringing them in to work with the team’s in-house wizard, pitching coach Brent Strom. They tend to gravitate toward guys with high spin rates on their pitches, help them revamp their approach, and sit back and watch the results.
This has already worked with guys like Will Harris, Collin McHugh, Ryan Pressly and Charlie Morton, whose previous teams couldn’t get out of them what the Astros could. They unlocked Gerrit Cole‘s full potential, helping him eventually land a record contract with the Yankees.
Pruitt is more along the lines of McHugh, as someone who’s not really established himself in the big leagues but could really turn into a useful pitcher under Strom’s tutelage. He’s from the Houston area and is out of options, so he was expendable for the Rays, making him an ideal pickup for Luhnow.
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We know the Astros are big on spin rates, and Pruitt has some of the best. His curveball is ranked in the 98th percentile in spin rate in the major leagues for 2019, with his fastball in the 82nd percentile. His slider also exhibits high spin rates.
What’ll be interesting to watch is how Strom helps Pruitt alter his utilization of the fastball and curveball. Neither has been particularly effective for him, as batters hit .291 off the fastball and .350 off the curve in 2019, with similar results in the previous two years as well. His slider and changeup have been his two best pitches.
The spin rates indicate the Astros can almost certainly help Pruitt make those pitches more effective; it’s all about knowing where and when to throw them and making sure he hits the target. The fastball velocity isn’t impressive, coming in just under 92 mph, so using it properly will be key.
McHugh and Harris never exhibited exceptional velocity either, so it’s not a necessity. The good thing for Pruitt is he seems to have four useful pitches, as the club will probably have him ditch his rarely-used sinker. If he can utilize the fastball and curveball the way Strom wants, this could turn into a steal for the Astros.
Now it’s probably not reasonable to expect him to be the next Morton or to come out of nowhere and win 19 games like McHugh did. But it’s certainly possible that he shows up and pitches to an ERA under 4.00, giving the club a solid fifth starter or long reliever. If he can do that for a few years, this should go down as another excellent move for Luhnow.