As the Astros flail headlong towards perhaps the worst season in the organization’s history, there is a silver lining. One that is quite obvious, despite the losing, errors and keystone cops play.
Thanks to Ed Wade and recent key draft picks, the Astros may be putting together a pitching rotation that could rival the Braves in the late 80s/early 90s. Atlanta was absolutely horrible in the late 80s, losing 96 or more games four times over the space of six years.
Okay, perhaps not nearly as bad as the Astros, but one of the keys to turning around the Braves was the rotation. First there was Tom Glavine, then John Smoltz. Remember Pete Smith, Steve Avery, Derek Lilliquist, Kent Mercker, even Mike Stanton and Mark Wohlers? Then came Greg Maddux to round out what would be one of the strongest 1-2-3 punches of the 90s.
The rotation helped turn Atlanta into winners and perennial contenders.
It could also be the key to the Astros’ turnaround. But, like Atlanta, a solid rotation will need a veteran presence and, at the very least, a dependable bullpen. The Braves found Wohlers and Stanton in their system just as the Astros tabbed Brad Lidge and Billy Wagner in their minor leagues.
At this point, the Astros have at least 10 quality young arms in the system that could develop into difference makers or at least fill a spot in the rotation for several years. If only three or four of those become solid contributors, Houston will have a successful rotation.
Bo Porter has used 24 pitchers so far this season, hoping to find a core that he can count on in 2014 and beyond. The auditions will continue into 2014 and more in 2015. Yes, it’s too early to compare any of the youngsters to Glavine, Maddux or Smoltz, but it’s clear the pool exists that could produce the next generation Astros’ rotation. Here’s a look:
- Jarred Cosart. 23 years old. Still listed as the seventh best prospect in the organization, Cosart has already begun to establish himself with five stellar outings. Prediction: Keeper.
- Brett Oberholtzer. 23. Another trade acquisition (Michael Bourn) who’s earned his keep the last two starts and has a spot in the rotation that’s his to lose. Prediction:
- Dallas Keuchel. 25. As he learns to miss the bat more and more, he’ll become a solid contributor. Prediction: #4 or #5 starter until McCullers and others mature.
- Jordan Lyles. 22. Still, one of the youngest prospects in the organization, though it seems as though he’s been pitching in Houston for an eternity. Don’t give up on him yet. Prediction: He’ll be part of the next gen rotation.
- Mark Appel. 22. The 2013 #1 draft pick could become the best Astros’ ace since Roy Oswalt’s good years. Could he be in Houston by the end of 2014? Prediction: Becomes a regular in 2015 and could anchor the rotation into the next decade.
- Lance McCullers. 19. He’s #5 on the Astros’ prospect list (second pitcher), and some inside and outside the organization believe he could be the cream of the Astros’ prospect crop. He’s done very little in Quad Cities to disprove those thoughts. Prediction: Look for him around 2016 or 2017.
- Mike Foltynewicz. 21. With a mid-to-upper 90s fastball, Folty is one to look forward to. He could be a year or two away, perhaps arriving in mid-2015 if he stays on pace. Prediction: Future closer?
- Asher Wojciechowski. 24. Started at Corpus Christi and hasn’t missed a beat at Oklahoma City. If he doesn’t get a look-see in September, he’ll be in the mix in spring training. Prediction:
Others to consider: Josh Hader, Brad Peacock, John Ely, Alex White, Jake Buchanan, Andrew Thurman, Kent Emanuel.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that there are three or four pitchers in this group who could develop into top echelon MLB pitchers. But injuries or under-performance will also likely play a role in keeping some of these players from realizing their goals of long-time contributors.
Moreover, this list also clearly supports the Bud Norris trade and management’s low tolerance for attitudes like that of Lucas Harrell. It’s all about 2015 and beyond.
A few questions:
- Which of the pitchers in the above list will most likely develop into the next Astros’ ace?
- Which of the pitchers in the above list will most likely be a bust?
- Based on what you know about the list above, is there one who stands out as the next Lidge or Wagner?
- How manywhich ones of this list will ultimately be traded for another piece of the rebuilding puzzle?