Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Searching for internal rotation help

On Sunday, May 17, 2015 the Astros beat the Blue Jays to improve their record to 25-13 with a 5.5-game lead over the 2nd-place Angels. Brett Oberholtzter had just gone on the DL with a blister and the Astros planned to slot Jake Buchanan in to start against the A's on May 18. Instead the Astros announced that Lance McCullers would make his Major-League debut, skipping Fresno and Triple-A entirely.

It made sense, although McCullers had only thrown 32IP at Double-A. In those 32IP, however, he allowed 16H/2ER, 48K:14BB. Dude was ready, and the Astros had a need in the rotation to keep their division lead rolling (plot twist: it didn't.)

Now the Astros find themselves in a similar situation. They're (gulp) 36-16 with an 11-game lead over 2nd place. That said, the back end of their rotation features Joe Musgrove, Brad Peacock, and Mike Fiers. That's not exactly Spahn-and-Sain-and-pray-for-rain. The Astros need another starter (maybe two). Is there help in the minors? Let's take a look at some of the candidates:

David Paulino: Paulino had his start for Fresno scratched, and it seems highly likely that he's on his way to Houston to replace the recently-departed Jordan Jankowski. Paulino is somewhat of a known commodity, having appeared in three games for the 2016 Astros (7IP, 6H/4ER, 2K:3BB). A consensus Top-100 Prospect coming into 2017, Paulino has been battling injuries this season and has only thrown 14IP for Fresno in 2017, allowing 11H/7ER, 13K:9BB. Those walks are concerning and, while all three of his appearances were starts, it'll be interesting to see if the Astros shift him to the bullpen while they take a little more time to evaluate Peacock/Fiers.

Francis Martes: Good Ol' Frankie Tuesday! The highest-ranked pitching prospect in the system (#15 by Baseball America, #20 by MLB.com, and #28 by BP), Martes has struggled in his first shot at Triple-A. In 29.2IP, Martes has allowed 34H/15ER, albeit with 36K:24BB. His first two starts at Fresno saw him throw 9.1IP, 7H/0ER, 10K:9BB. Again with the walks. Then he allowed 4ER in three straight starts, but in his last two starts (10.2IP), he has allowed 8H/3ER, 16K:5BB with a season-low one walk in his last outing on May 26 at Tacoma. He's trending better, but he hasn't dominated to the point where the Astros might feel comfortable bringing him up.

Brady Rodgers: Dammit if Rodgers didn't have Tommy John Surgery last month. Were it not for that, I bet he already would have been up.

So let's take us a gander at Corpus and see if there is a lurking Lance McCullers-type pitcher, worthy of jumping a level to help a pennant push...

Rogelio Armenteros: Armenteros, a 22-year old Cuban RHP (he'll turn 23 at the end of June), has dominated Corpus this season. In 41.2IP, Armenteros has allowed 27H/5ER, with 55K:14BB - a 1.08 ERA/0.98 WHIP. In his last four starts (18.2IP), he has allowed 10H/0ER, and with 25K:5BB. While those numbers aren't quite McCullers-esque, they're not far off from what McCullers had done before his call-up.

Dean Deetz: My love for Dean Deetz is well-documented. Deetz has cut his walk-rate from 4.3 BB/9 in 2016 at Lancaster to 2.0 BB/9 for Corpus this season. In 39.2IP in 2017, he has allowed 27H/8ER, 42K:9BB. His still averaging over a strikeout per inning, but that walk rate is so very nice. He's coming off his "worst" start of the season, allowing 6H/3ER, 9K:0BB in 5IP against Tulsa on Sunday. Prior to that start Deetz had thrown 34.2IP, 21H/5ER, 33K:9BB. He's probably more of a risk, and is the least likely of the three to get called up to pitch at this point in the season.

Do the Astros have options? Yeah, maybe. But with an 11-game lead and the offense hitting like it has so far this season, the Astros might just decide to see what they can get out of Peacock and Fiers, and let Musgrove learn on the job before making a drastic move - either through call-ups or trade(s).