Houston Astros 2020 Year in Review: Framber Valdez
The plucky southpaw took a giant step forward in 2020, and could be an Ace-in-the-making for the Astros – if he isn’t already.
The Houston Astros have been able to find international prospects and turn them into stars, with recent examples being Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa (technically) and Yuli Gurriel. It’s probably safe to say that Framber Valdez should be added to that list. Valdez, a stocky 5’11, 240 pound pitcher from the Dominican Republic, initially signed with Astros in 2015 then proceeded to cruise through their Minor League system the next two years, earning minor League accolades and mowing down prospect hitters. His performance earned him a spring training invite in 2018, where he impressed the front office enough to merit his Major League debut later that August.
The southpaw relies on a sinker-curve pitch combination (he throws those two pitches 85 percent of the time) with the occasional fastball and changeup. He jumped back and forth between the majors and AAA during the 2019 and frankly underwhelmed on the mound. He consistently missed his pitches and would give up some big hits in bunches. Coming into the 2020 season, Valdez was viewed by many fans as a low-upside prospect, nothing more than a 6th starter or a long reliever option out of the bullpen.
Like many other young players on this year’s team, injuries to the Astros staff led to opportunity for Valdez. With Justin Verlander out after Opening Day, and Brad Peacock, Austin Pruitt and Jose Urquidy unavailable, Valdez was tasked to be a permanent starter in the rotation, along with rookies Cristian Javier and Blake Bielak.
The Frambenator (catchy, isn’t it?) started off the season with a strong showing against the eventual champion Los Angeles Dodgers, and seemed to consistently get better. He posted a 3-game winning streak during a key stretch of the season and two double digit strikeout games. Other than one bad game against the Angels, Valdez routinely gave up less than three runs per outing and would go six or seven innings deep. In a season with a highly inexperienced bullpen, Valdez’s ability to eat up innings while keeping the Astros in games proved incredibly valuable.
Valdez continued his strong performance into the postseason and made himself a known commodity on the national stage. In Game 1 of the Wild Card series, Valdez came in during the fifth inning and recorded the final 12 outs, shutting the Twins down to the tune of five strikeouts, one hit and no runs. Valdez followed that up with a Game 2 win in the ALDS against AL West foe Oakland A’s in dominant fashion. In the ALCS at Petco Park, Valdez lost a close Game 1 duel against Tyler Glasnow, before giving his best performance of the year – a Game 6 gem (9 strikeouts, 1 ER) to tie the series at 3 games apiece.
Valdez made four appearances in the playoffs, going 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA, to go along with 26 strikeouts. He only allowed 14 hits and 5 extra base hits in the 80 batters he faced during the postseason. His curveball was electric, he didn’t give up big hits, and was a big reason why the Astros almost made it back to the World Series.
Valdez proved this season that he’s a surefire starter in the league, with the potential to even grow into an ace. He just turned 26 and could be entering the prime of his career. If he can maintain the dominance with his curveball and have just a modest improvement in his other primary pitch – the sinker – he could be a dependable No 2 or 3 starter. If pitching coach Brent Strom can help him develop the sinker with the occasional effective fastball, he could be Max Fried.
The Astros will likely look to add a starter in the rotation in free agency, but you can pencil him in as the third starter behind Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers. Valdez’s 2020 campaign showed a ton of growth and poise during the regular season and was able to play at an All-Star level during the playoffs. The way he’s been developing, he could be Houston’s best pitcher – if he isn’t already.