In light of McCullers' injury, it's likely no player is counted on to step up more than Houston's top prospect--Hunter Brown. The flame throwing righty overpowered AAA hitters all season in AAA, earning PCL Pitcher of the Year honors before being called up in September.
In seven appearances, Brown went 2-0 with a 0.89 ERA and pitched his way onto the playoff roster.
Safe to say, Brown will rack up a much larger sample size in 2023. Valdez and Javier are locked in as co-aces at the top of the rotation. One would assume Garcia and Urquidy would bump up to 3/4 while Brown serves as the fifth starter with Lance out. If he outperforms the fifth spot, maybe he gets bumped up in the order.
But if he struggles, Houston could be in trouble. According to this Chandler Rome tweet, Dusty Baker didn't appear thrilled Houston opted not to add a starter this offseason. If another starter gets hurt or if Brown scuffles, what was once a perceived strength becomes a massive question mark. A strong start to the season from Brown alleviates all concerns and would allow Houston to continue chugging along full speed ahead.
The Astros farm system is already depleted. They don't have a ton of prospects to package together to acquire another starter. If Brown is up to the task, they won't even have to consider such a thing.