Astros: Five bold predictions for pitchers in 2020

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 17: Lance McCullers Jr. #43 of the Houston Astros reacts after walking Brock Holt #12 of the Boston Red Sox (not pictured) with the bases loaded to score J.D. Martinez #28 of the Boston Red Sox (not pictured) in the seventh inning during Game Four of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 17, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 17: Lance McCullers Jr. #43 of the Houston Astros reacts after walking Brock Holt #12 of the Boston Red Sox (not pictured) with the bases loaded to score J.D. Martinez #28 of the Boston Red Sox (not pictured) in the seventh inning during Game Four of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 17, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /
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Here are five bold predictions for Astros pitchers in 2020.

We’re finally playing some Spring Training games, which means it’s time to forget the offseason drama and focus on playing baseball. The Astros have plenty of talent on their pitching staff this season, but also no shortage of question marks.

There are questions in the rotation behind their two aces, and there are a few bullpen spots up for grabs as well. There are plenty of storylines to follow in Spring Training as the staff gets sorted out. Here are five predictions for the Astros pitching staff in 2020.

Only Two Pitchers Will Make 30 Starts

Last season, the Astros had three pitchers in this category — Justin Verlander with 34, and Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley with 33 each. They had four in 2018 with Verlander, Cole, Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton. But that number will drop to just two this season.

Zack Greinke made 33 combined starts between Arizona and Houston, so it’ll be him and Verlander as the two most likely to make a full slate of starts. With good health, it’s all but certain. The rest of the rotation doesn’t seem likely to get to that threshold.

More Pitchers Will Make Starts Than Last Year

The rotation behind Verlander and Greinke doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence. Lance McCullers Jr. is plenty talented, but is coming off Tommy John surgery and is unlikely to make 30 starts as the team limits his innings. Jose Urquidy is still relatively unproven, and the fifth starter isn’t even decided on yet.

In 2019, the Astros had 11 different pitchers make two or more starts. I believe that number will be higher this year. McCullers will be given breaks, the fifth starter spot will end up as a revolving door, and Urquidy could need some relief as well. Behind the top two, the rotation has a lot of question marks.

An Unlikely Relief Ace Will Emerge

Will Harris is gone, which means there are plenty of prime relief innings up for grabs. Joe Smith, Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna will get plenty of those, but there will still be some key innings left, and someone is going to step up and earn those innings as the season progresses.

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The veteran non-roster invitee Jared Hughes is the most likely — if he can fix the home run issues that plagued him in 2019, he should be plenty effective. Youngsters Bryan Abreu, who allowed just one run in 8.2 innings last year, and left-hander Blake Taylor are candidates as well. At least one of these pitchers will earn the trust of manager Dusty Baker.

Lance McCullers, Jr. Will Catch Fire After All-Star Break

McCullers is going to have some rust after not having pitched since 2018. His first half is going to be pretty up and down, and he’ll probably have a couple of short stints on the injured list in order to give him some rest.

But following the All-Star break, McCullers will round back into form and emerge as the true No. 3 starter the Astros are needing. I think he’ll end up making around 22-25 starts, and his season ERA will be in the mid-threes, but his second half will be fun to watch.

Cristian Javier Will Have a Better Debut Than Forrest Whitley

The hype is strong around Whitley, and rightfully so. He’s been a top prospect for a few years and has the raw stuff to be a legitimate ace if he can harness his command and control and gain some maturity on the mound. He could very well make his big league debut at some point this season.

But the 22-year-old Javier will also make his debut and look much more impressive. He made the start in the abbreviated Spring Training opener on Saturday, striking out three Nationals in two scoreless innings. His career ERA in the minor leagues is 2.22. He’s going to join the big league club this year and really turn some heads.

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