Astros reliever Chris Devenski is facing an important Spring Training and 2020 season.
There are plenty of storylines to follow with the Astros during this Spring Training, but there’s one that hasn’t been discussed much so far. Veteran reliever Chris Devenski, coming off two consecutive subpar seasons, could be in a make or break position this year.
Devenski, of course, was one of the game’s best relievers through the first two years of his career. He put up a 2.16 ERA in 108.1 innings as a rookie, then followed that up with a 2.68 ERA and an All-Star selection in 2017. His lethal changeup was like kryptonite to most hitters.
But things have gone south for him the past two seasons. His ERA rose to 4.18 in 2018 and 4.83 in 2019. His strikeout rate has remained strong, and his walk rate hasn’t gone up much, but he’s been allowing more hits. The main culprit is his fastball, which has actually increased in velocity each season. Despite that, after hitting just .211 against it in 2017, hitters have mashed it to the tune of a .295 and .306 average in each of the past two seasons.
After the Astros declined Devenski’s $2.825 million option for 2020, I half-expected them to non-tender him. But instead they offered him arbitration and got him for a $2 million salary, thus saving themselves a little cash.
Devenski is arbitration-eligible one more time in 2021 before hitting free agency, but that doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed to be with the Astros for the next two seasons. If he’s not able to get things turned around, he could find himself out of a roster spot this year.
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There are eight bullpen spots in a 13-man pitching staff, and four of those are already spoken for. Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly, Joe Smith and (if healthy) Brad Peacock are locks. Austin Pruitt and Josh James are in a battle for the fifth starter role, and the loser will likely be in the bullpen as well. That leaves, at most, three bullpen spots up for grabs.
Non-roster invitee Jared Hughes probably has an inside track on one of those. There are several candidates vying for those other two spots, including Joe Biagini, Bryan Abreu, Blake Taylor and Framber Valdez. Other players like Cy Sneed and Cionel Perez could force their way into consideration with strong performances this spring.
If Devenski doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he can still be optioned back to Triple-A this season due to having less than five years of MLB service time. But that won’t be the case in 2021, so if he doesn’t show that he can be relied upon in the big league bullpen, it’ll be hard to justify tendering him a contract next year.
That’s why 2020 may be a make or break season for him. If he doesn’t reverse his fortunes and earn that bullpen spot, it could be his last season in the Astros organization.