As pitchers stream into Kissimmee, it’s time to review the options for the rotation. Obviously, much has already been discussed, but here’s the time and place for you to register your official commentary, opinions and thoughts. What was perhaps the strongest part of the major league team in 2014 may be the one with the most question marks for 2015. Let’s review just a bit.
- 2014 opening day rotation: Scott Feldman, Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer, Lucas Harrell, Dallas Keuchel.
- 2014 end-of-season rotation: Essentially, Feldman, Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Oberholtzer, Brad Peacock.
- Rotation possibilities no longer in Houston: Cosart, Nick Tropeano, Michael Foltynewicz, Jordan Lyles.
So, here’s a quick rundown of what is likely for the 2015 season. Ha, you actually thought I was going to make a prediction? Guess again friends. After the past two months, I’m giving up the chips. But here’s what looks to be fairly evident in the tea leaves.
Locks to start the season. Or so we’re told…
- Feldman. He’s a steady, veteran hand when healthy. He starts the second season of a three-year contract. He’ll earn $10 million this year and $8 million next. That makes him both a great bargain for Houston and good trade bait if some of Houston’s youngsters step up.
- Keuchel. Just turned 27 and may be a budding young star. Along with Jose Altuve and perhaps McHugh, he’s as close to untouchable as anyone on the roster. Due for arbitration after the season, GM Jeff Luhnow would be wise to tie him up for a few seasons, especially if he starts strong.
- McHugh. The prize student and catch on the waiver wire before last season. There was nothing in his track record to indicate he’d be nearly as good as he was in ’14, so he does have a bit to prove that he can repeat his numbers from a year ago. He’s arb-eligible after next season.
- Oberholtzer. While the first three seem to be locks, Luhnow hasn’t been quite as bold with that label for Obie. Is it because he’s been trade fodder in the off-season? Or is it simply that he doesn’t have the same pedigree? The lefty is only 25 and improved his walk rate, WHIP and other factors as well over the second half of the season. No real pressure here since he’ll be helping to pull up the back of the rotation, but he’ll still need to hold his own and take another step forward in 2015.
Now, the heavy lifting begins. Easy to say, but if the Astros are as successful with the fifth spot in the rotation as they were last year, new manager A.J. Hinch will be on easy street with his rotation. Here are the contenders, some of which may turn out to be pretenders.
- Peacock. If he were healthy, he’d already be penciled in. However, it could be May or June before he’s available. By then, any number of pitchers could have staked their Wally Pipp claim. Not likely, but Keuchel took the spot and didn’t look back last year.
- Dan Straily. Time will tell whether he was just an added piece or the piece in the Dexter Fowler trade. The 26-year-old former 24th rounder starts the season in his third organization, but it’s key to note that all three are stats-driven (Oakland, Cubs, Astros), so perhaps the numbers’ guys see smoke and hope there’s fire. Stay tuned.
- Roberto Hernandez. Luhnow is hoping to catch lightning in a bottle and obviously has some level of confidence. That said, both sides are hedging their bets since Hernandez is a NRI with a potential $2.65 million payday, but he has an opt out for five days before spring training ends. Basically, it’s an all or nothing deal for both sides.
- Alex White. It’s his time. Or you can read it: Now or never. He was the 15th overall pick in the 2009 draft and definitely has the makeup and pedigree to pull it off. If he sticks, he could be as good as Keuchel or McHugh. If he doesn’t pan out after all these years or succumbs to his prone injury bug, he may not even hang in Fresno. All that said, he could be the best sleeper in the bunch to turn into the next Keuchel.
- Sam Deduno. Does anyone really believe he’ll be the fifth starter out of the gate? Bullpen, maybe. Swing man, possibly. Fifth starter in the rotation, doubtful.
- Asher Wojciechowski. Another former first round pick (41st overall in 2009), Wojo is very similar to White. His time is now. Injuries and setbacks have plagued him, but at 26, he’ll need to step up in ST after only 76 IP last season at OKC.
- Mark Appel. There’s no reason to rush, but he’ll be in spring training and you can bet all eyes will be on him. He proved his worth in a late season promotion to Corpus Christi and the former #1 pick is unlikely to start the season in Houston. That said, Appel says you shouldn’t count him out for 2015. He’d like to finish the season in MMP.
There is still time for a trade or other acquisition to battle, but it’s not likely. Of course, a trade for Cole Hamels would shake things up dramatically. But there aren’t other likely players for the rotation.
Another thought to consider. The bullpen seems more stable starting 2015 with fewer question marks than 2014. How does that affect the rotation and those who don’t make the 5-man cut? It basically means that Fresno will have a fantastic rotation since there are fewer holes to fill in the pen.
The rotation and its depth may no longer be the most sturdy position on paper, but it still has a chance to shine in 2015. Here are the factors:
- Keuchel and McHugh must be stable and establish themselves as solid pitchers. In other words, show early they weren’t flashes in the pan. That will relieve much pressure for Hinch and allow him to focus elsewhere.
- Feldman needs 30 starts. If he gets that, he’ll deliver the consistency the Astros need.
- Oberholtzer must step up or perhaps get booted out or down to Fresno.
- There is adequate depth to push him and make him better.
- Hinch establishes the relationship early with pitching coach Brent Strom and the pitchers. How they are used, pulled, etc. will determine a lot about their success.
- Pitchers like Appel, Lance McCullers Jr., Michael Feliz and others must continue to push their way to Houston. Not necessarily reach MMP in 2015, but solidify the pipeline.
So here are your questions:
- The basic one: Who wins the fifth starter role?
- Barring injury, who would you project in the rotation at mid-season? At season’s end?
- Does/should Appel make it to Houston in ’15?
- Your thoughts on Obie?
- Which of these guys — or do any of these guys — has a chance to become the next Keuchel or McHugh in 2015: Wojo, Straily, White?