Friday discussion: Guys who fly under the radar

Yesterday, my son and I were driving down a street we frequent 2-3 times a week.  A long line at a traffic light meant we stopped further back than usual and, as I was looking out to the left, I asked Destin: “Has that nursery always been there?”

Indeed, the building wasn’t new, the parking lot had obviously been there quite some time and the landscaping wasn’t recent. Hmmm. Funny how things are often right before you and go unnoticed.

Which brings me to the topic of today’s conversation. Because the stars of sports teams make the most money, handle the ball more than most and make the most “noise” before or after a game, we often discuss them at the water cooler. They get the headlines — good and bad — and they attract the most trade or free agent attention.

However, it’s often the guy who goes unnoticed that makes the biggest difference over the course of a season. He’s the one who subs for the player who takes a 2-3 week stint on the disabled list or steps into multiple positions over the course of a season. He’s the coach who stays late watching video and catches a game-changing gap in a swing or hitch in the giddy-up of a pitcher’s mechanic. Or a bullpen catcher. Or a guy at AAA taking extra batting practice or throwing a few extra pitches in a bullpen.

So, here are a few people who could be difference makers for the Astros this season. People you may not notice right away. People you may ask “who is that?” one day when the game slows down a bit.

Brent Strom. Pitching Coach.

  • He’s not a player, but there’s no better place to start. He’s the only coach on Bo Porter‘s staff who had more than a one-year contract. He’s about the only one that Jeff Luhnow insisted on A.J. Hinch keeping. By every account, he’s been a difference-maker and brought stability to the Astros’ pitching program. Now is the time you’ll likely start seeing the manifestation of the fruit. Believe it or not, Strom has been the pitching coach for only one season, though it seems like three or four.

Marwin Gonzalez, Super Sub.

  • He hasn’t gone unnoticed, but he could be one of the most important cogs in Hinch’s engine this season. There is nothing like a Bill Spiers Super Sub. He can play most any position, give you a stretch of games in case of injury or under-performance, come in late in games and produce. And, do it all extremely well. If Jed Lowrie or Luis Valbuena — or even Jose Altuve — go down, MarGo slides in seamlessly. Maybe not at the same production (in the case of Altuve), but he can handle it. Important player.

Brett Oberholtzer. #4 starter.

  • Yes, you’ve noticed him some, but he carries more significance than you may think. Frankly, as he goes, so may go the Astros’ season. He entered spring training without the promise of a job behind the much ballyhooed Scott Feldman, Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh. A .500 season from  Obie could be huge for Houston. a 5-13 season with a 5+ ERA could spell the difference in a run at the playoffs and a ho-hum .500 season for the team.

Roberto Hernandez.

  • Like Oberholtzer, Hernandez could be a stabilizing difference-maker until Mark Appel arrives, either in the rotation or as trade bait (note all the pitching injuries around the league). Likewise Dan Straily could fill the gap if either Hernandez or Obie falter.

It’s the draft stupid.

  • Get this: Houston. Can’t. Miss. In. The. Draft. With an unprecedented two of the first five picks, the Astros have to nail at least one, if not both, picks. No Brady Aiken gambles. If The Plan moves forward, it should be the last time Houston drafts in the Top 10 for a few years, so this draft is even more significant.

These guys.

  • The pipeline is apparently full. Watch closely. It’s foolish to believe that all of these will develop into quality major leaguers, much less stars. However, Houston has to hit on some of these players. And, not trade them away. And, it’s not the top five who are critical. Take a look down the line at the Danry Vasquez‘ and the Kyle Smiths and the like. Some of those guys — and others who aren’t even in the Top 20 — must contribute. Watch closely.

So, who are the players or other individuals who will fly under the radar much of this season, but will make a huge difference over the 162-game schedule?


11 comments on “Friday discussion: Guys who fly under the radar

  1. I thought about this a lot and did some statistical digging.
    I think a guy who flies under the radar and could make a big difference this year is Scott Feldman. The guy had good numbers last year but is the type of pitcher who could add a half a dozen wins over last season with similar numbers. A jump in offense, improvement in outfield defense, a drastically improved bullpen and a different manager could make big differences to a guy who was four games under .500 on a bad hitting, bad fielding, bad bullpen team last season.
    When you stop and assess the situation of a team who had the worst bullpen and one of the worst offenses in baseball, you could automatically think that a #3 pitcher could really benefit greatly from improvements in those spots.


  2. Chip – nice subject – thought provoking in many ways.

    Under the radar kind of guys:

    – Josh Fields – he is so under the radar that I forgot to mention him in the last post relative to possible closers. If he (who has really good stuff in my opinion) could grow into a shut down closer this season, this could be a very strong bullpen with Gregerson, Neshek, Qualls and Sipp bridging from the 6th to the 9th innings.

    – A.J. Reed – I think this guy who had 54 RBIs in 68 games in his first taste of the minors could quickly rise in this minor league system.

    – Brad Peacock – I liked what this guy showed after being told he was tipping off his pitches. I know he will likely not be ready at the beginning of the season. But how under the radar would be a guy who maybe slides back into the rotation. Maybe he never gets a shot this season, but again I liked what I saw of him down the stretch last season.

    – Dave Hudgens – the fact you may not recognize his name shows he is under the radar. The new hitting coach is very important as multiple players need to do better this season – Grossman actually swinging at strikes, Singleton actually hitting strikes (or anything), Springer, Carter and others cutting down those insane strikeout %’s.

    Those are my quick thoughts.


    • Dan,
      I’m with you 100% on Josh Fields and Dave Hudgens. Neither are household names, but either or both could make a tremendous impact on the Astros’ season.
      I have nothing but praise for Reed, and I hope he continues to progress.
      However (and I hope I’m wrong), I not putting much hope in Peacock. I loved it when we traded for him, but was expecting him to be a #3 or #4 starter at some point. I’m a “let’s see” sort of guy when it comes to him.
      Overall, I think Dave Hudgens could be the biggest difference-maker. And as we speak, he’s definitely under the radar.


  3. I’m the only one on here not sold on Oberholtzer being a rotation piece. He’s in the same position that Keuchel opened 2014 in my opinion – likeable lefty who has one inning that prevents him from winning games. I’m hopeful the offense will actually give him some leads early on and then we can see whether he can protect them. So, I can’t really call him under the radar, but rather think he’s in the spotlight / hot seat if we’re trying to finish above .500.

    Regarding the draft, if they miss on either 1.2 or 1.5 I can’t imagine a scenario where the Astros aren’t considered the equivalent of the Portland Trailblazers. Here are the facts:
    2012 – Passed on Byron Buxton for Carlos Correa and pieces.
    2013 – Passed on Kris Bryant for Mark Appel
    2014 – Passed on Carlos Rodon and everyone else to not sign Brady Aiken and friends.
    Correa looks like the real deal and defensible #1 even if Buxton becomes an All Star. I think Appel will be good, but Bryant is one of the most valuable prospects in baseball. As for 2014, I’ll get voted off the blog for harping on that further…


    • Devin, you won’t get voted off the blog by me. You just listed the three 1.1 picks we had and what we would have had if we had done things differently. Nobody but the close group of Luhnow apologists would disagree with you on your facts in their entirety.
      I like Correa over Buxton and I may live to see me being right about that. Millions of baseball fans around this country would agree with you on your assessments of these drafts, including many baseball experts.
      But if the Astros do win a World Series with the players that Jeff Luhnow has acquired, all of your arguments don’t mean diddly. And I still believe the Astros have a good chance of doing just that. If we get there, I don’t care if we got there by a plan I didn’t agree with. I just want to get there and have the feeling I had in 1994 and 1995, when the team I had supported for years rewarded me personally and my city with something I will never forget.


    • Devin, not sold either. To me, Oberholtzer is a 5th starter, based on what he’s shown. That’s why I don’t think this club will do much. The rotation is suspect.


  4. Marvin, a guy that never impressed me initially, has consistantly shown his value. As a result, he’ll probably continue to block my guy Joe from a job with the big club, at least in the foreseeable future.


  5. That has to be devastating news for Ranger fans and management – exactly what they did NOT need to hear after the disaster that was 2014. Darvish is one tough competitor. I suspect this means that trade talks regarding Beltre are officially now about to re-open.


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