Astros developing a rotation similar to Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz


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?
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30 comments on “Astros developing a rotation similar to Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz

  1. One comment before I address your questions. I have been impressed with Peacock since coming back up. His development would be very helpful to our net balance from the Lowrie trade.
    – Next ace – Hope we have more than one out of that group…. but I’ll go with Appel with Cosart next in line.
    – Likely bust – I’ll drop down to the second level list and pick Alex White.
    – Next Lidge or Wagner – Maybe a guy like Peacock will eventually take a spot like that….
    – Will be traded …That is a tough one – I’m guessing they will try and trade aobut 30% of the list – but only time will point to which ones.

    Bottom line – the only bright spot for me this year has been seeing good performances out of Cosart and Oberholzer and the times when Lyles, Peacock and Keuchel have looked good. If you get a good rotation – other things will fall into place…. eventually.

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  2. Interesting topic, as I was looking at the big turnaround of the 1990 to 1991 Braves. Starting pitchers matured, and very little change on the roster. So it is possible to go from last to first in 1 year. (Yes, very rare to do it). But also we can look at the 1969 Astros with starters of Dierker, Don Wilson & Tom Griffin – all in their early 20s. Team played .500 ball for the 1st time in history – and we were on our way. But it was not to be. Today, when we look at the shear numbers of potential pitchers and how they are doing in the minors — we have to get lucky at least once every 50 years. Lets hope we end up with too many quality starters. Way to early to talk about trading anyone in my opinion.

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  3. If there is a bright spot right now, the rotation is it, with more depth on the way. That’s why I think this club can make quite a bit of progress in 2014 with a payroll of 50 million or so. If that’s what it takes to put some relievers in the pen, then that’s what should be done. Guys like Altuve need to get used to being competitive. Losing becomes habit forming.

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  4. Some thoughts about the Glavine, Smoltz, Maddux triumvirate.

    – When the Braves went from last place in 1990 to first place and a WS appearance in 1991 – Maddux was not with the club yet and would be not signed away from the Cubs until 1993.
    – In 1991, Glavine was 25 and had 3+ years mlb experience
    – In 1991, Smoltz was 24 and had 2+ years mlb experience
    – Avery, 21, was superb that year in his second season in the majors
    – The Braves had a 34 year old anchor in lefty Charlie Leibrandt who had a very good year.

    Bottom line – you need more than just getting the guys to the majors, they need some experience and having a good veteran anchor in the rotation really helps.

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    • Dan, theoretically, by 2015, Lyles will have 3-4 years experience, Cosart and Oberholtzer will have 2 or so years. And they could be welcoming Appel and/or one or two others. Mix in a veteran “Liebrandt” type or even a “Maddux” and suddenly it’s very appealing. Especially if they find another Lidge or Wagner in the mix.

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  5. DaveB – tagging onto your comment. Doubt Bedard nor Wright will be back. So with Altuve at $1.45M and Castro at $?2-3?M, next year could be a cheaper team than this year. So one would think there is tons of budget money available. My first thought is FAs are almost 30+ except for a very few. If Astros stick to this plan, doubt we will see any higher priced FAs again this year. Another “keep our powder dry” winter. God I hope we see a commitment to winning at the ML level.

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    • Astro 45 – Maybe we will soon be at the point where we can make strategic trades for the right veteran – not trying to drain the system – but at the rate the minor league system is blossoming there is bound to be a time in the near future where certain guys are seen as available due to the team’s assessment or due to better prospects near the top, but may have value to another team.

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  6. Oh yea…….Wright just got traded to the Ray’s for cash, and the Astros are bringing
    up Humber. Just gets better and better…..*sigh*. Becky

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    • Wow – not ever big on players for cash only. Not big on bringing a guy up who was hammered earlier in the season and has been mediocre at AAA. This sounds like one of those 40 man roster moves – bringing him up.
      Hey they decided to break up Darvish’s no-hitter in the 8th inning this time instead of the 9th….

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      • I agree on the cash only deal. Just back from the park. As Nathan got the last out, pretty much all the folks on the third base side were standing and yelling for a final K. They got it. Might have been 60/40 today with Ranger fans being the 60.

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    • I approve of this trade, but not the returns. Piggy-backing on Dan’s comment about the Braves and veteran leadership…with four extra teams and a shift in how the teams approach building their rosters due to PEDs being outlawed I’m not sure who will be an affordable option. It would have been ridiculous to pay for Kyle Lohse last offseason. The Brewers got burned big time. In other words, everyone has to get used to the new status quo where very few players will perform exceptionally into their late thirties. Marginal guys getting paid like All Stars are unlikely to turn into MVP candidates.

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  7. Trying to stay motivated after today Yu is great, but geez, why take the bat to home plate. Anyway, have a question. My understanding is in Sept only players on 40 man roster can be brought up? If so, Springer, Stassi, DMartinez, etc – for them to come up, would it require to cut someone currently on the 40 man roster? Or is there exception for guys on DL. not counting on 40 man?

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    • Astro45, yes, any player who is called up at any time — including September — must be part of the 40-man roster. Players on the 15-day DL count against the 40, players on the 60-day DL do not.

      With Wright traded today, the Astros currently have 36 players on the 40-man roster, so it’s not a problem at this point.

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    • Hey Astro45 – the Astros offense was tremendously efficient today – 1 hit = 1 run. And since the bullpen did not have a lead to protect, they did not give up any runs. And if we threaten to somehow give up the #1 pick to the Marlins – we can always bring Humber into any game where we have a lead….

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      • Thanks Chip, just saw the Astros page with 40 man roster and did not count. I am slow – sorry. DanP – I claimed “cynicism” for me on this blog. You were supposed to be “voice of reason” – and Becky claimed “Tony the Tiger” without the “eeeaaatt” on the end. Seriously there are many prospects I would love to see in September – if only for a couple games. However, it looks like Sept 22-24 against the Rangers will be all that I get to see.

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  8. I got to watch 2 out of three games with the Rangers this weekend. I guess it is best for all of us that they were not on TV more often. Pitchers (starting) look better but hitters and the pen are not even good enough to be terrible. I agree with Chip’s assessment of the timeframe for the younger pitchers, but we better be ready to spend a bit of money on some established bull pen guys are we still won’t be competitive next year.

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  9. The Astros have a legitimate TOR prospect that no one even mentions when having this discussion – 10+ SO/9, 1.12 WHIP, good command and three plus pitches.

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  10. Nice one Flash – a former 2nd rounder who went thru TJ surgery – dropped from the radar, but could soon return. Still only 21 – nice job….

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  11. Velasquez has been under everyone’s radar due to his injury past. I mentioned him a few weeks ago back in Chron land.

    If you are looking for that veteran presence at the top of the rotation, David Price is a free agent in a year and a half, will demand money out of Tampa’s price range, and could even be a trade and sign candidate next July, especially if Tampa is not in the race. We have the payroll flexibility to add the hometown kid to the rotation for the next 5-6 years.

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    • That is a great name to throw out there, Steven. If bopert were here he would tell you why Crane would never sign him and why the Astros will never win. (Though after sending Wright to the Rays for cash I’m wondering if bopert has a point).

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      • Kinda wondering that myself Dan. Can’t figure that one out unless it’s a salary dump.
        If they pass on Rodon next year I’ll be switching to Bo’s side.

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  12. I noticed in the Crawfishboxes that Luhnow signed a 22-yr old from the Mexican League. Supposed to be a good hitter and one of the top prospects in that league.

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  13. All of you forgot to mention our future ace … the guy not even in the system yet. We’ll be picking first again next June, and that means Carlos Rodon, the phenom out of NC State. We sign him–and Luhnow has a record of making those signings happen–then all of the arms we currently have get bumped back one spot in the rotation by 2016.

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