Astros’ youngsters giving rotation a boost

In the Astros off-season, the Astros potential rotation for 2020 looked something like this.

  1. Justin Verlander
  2. Zack Greinke
  3. Lance McCullers Jr.
  4. Jose Urquidy
  5. Pick one – Josh James, Framber Valdez, Brad Peacock, Austin Pruitt

The best-laid plans of mice and men went awry from the very beginning. Urquidy, Peacock and Pruitt were injured or sick from the very start of the Summer Camp restart. Justin Verlander pitched 6 innings and then went on the IL for what appears to be the long term. Josh James started two games and control issues caused him to spit the bit on a rotation spot. Things looked grim.

Fast forward to August 18 and the 12-10 Astros are on a 5 game winning streak and have been kept afloat by the efforts of Greinke, McCullers and unexpected help from a very inexperienced set of starting pitchers.

  • Framber Valdez. Headed into 2020, Valdez had the most experience of any of the youngsters mentioned here as he had pitched in 34 games the previous two seasons with 13 as a starter. He had shown good stuff at times, but his lack of control (5.7 walks per 9 IP) had placed a big asterisk next to his name. After some struggles in an initial start against the Dodgers, he has been terrific in a very long relief appearance and two starts, giving up only 2 earned runs in his last 19.1 innings of work. Overall Valdez is 1-2 with a 1.90 ERA and a 1.099 WHIP. And those walks? He is so far only walking 2.3 hitters / 9 innings on the season.
  • Cristian Javier. Javier was the Astros Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2019. But the fact that he only had pitched 11 innings at the AAA level made him a likely late-season call-up in 2020. Well as it turns out the late-season call up ended up being after Summer Camp as his performance in camp earned him a spot in the bullpen, which ended up being Verlander’s spot in the rotation the second time through. He had one ugly start against the A’s (5 runs in 3 innings), but outside of that, he has been oh, so solid giving up only 2 runs in 18.2 innings in his other 4 appearances.  To date, Javier is 2-1 with a 2.91 ERA and a Verlander-esque 0.831 WHIP.
  • Brandon Bielak. Bielak pitched solidly in his call-up to AAA in 2020 (8-4, 4.45 ERA) in a season when high scoring was the norm at the AAA level. He was not on the original opening day roster but was added to the roster early and after a couple wins out of the bullpen was added to the rotation in Josh James spot in early August. He’s given up 3 earned runs in those starts covering 16 innings and looks like he wants to put a stranglehold on a starting spot moving forward. Bielak is 3-0 with a 1.69 ERA and a 1.125 WHIP in 2020.

So…

Where would this team be without the efforts of these three gentlemen?

Who are the most sustainable of this bunch?

Who do you look forward the most to watching going forward?

Forrest who?

81 comments on “Astros’ youngsters giving rotation a boost

  1. 1. Without these 3 the Astros would not be contending. Almost no conversation about how their performance might have greatly helped and influenced the pitchers in the bullpen. Confidence coupled with success can be contagious. Is it coincidence that the bullpen has seen these guys pitch and has started to settle down themselves. I think not.
    2. Most sustainable. tough question. I’ll go with Framber.
    3. I look forward to watching Bielak, because I think he is the biggest surprise to many.
    Some thoughts:
    * My jaw dropped when Baker said he went with Stubbs behind the plate in the last two innings of Monday night’s game because of his arm. It is the first time I have heard anyone with the Astros comment on a specific part of Stubbs’s tool set. They give all the rahrah stuff when asked, but that specific was a stunner to me. Stubbs caught Raley, James and Taylor in the final innings of a tense and important game. Pretty sure Hinch would never have done that.
    * The Astros pitching staff is starting to mirror that of the Rays. More and more confidence in home grown and Click acquired pitchers.
    * The Astros pitching staff is now 5th in baseball in Team ERA, which I think is still a great way to judge an entire pitching staff.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m very pleasantly surprised and impressed with all these guys.
    I’m a big Bielak fan. Kid looks so mature on the mound.
    Nerves of steel.
    Fun to watch.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bielak has been a revelation. Dan compared him to Mark Portugal in the previous post; I see it, but especially when Portugal was pitching against the Giants (whom he completely owned when he was here, much like Luis Gonzalez always demolished the Cubs when he was here)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. – Dr. Becky last night said she thought Springer would be sitting out with a reinjured wrist and darned if he wasn’t scratched from the lineup right before today’s game
    – Greinke threw one of those slo-mo breaking balls to Arenado and he looked like a longshoreman trying to hit a butterfly with a sledge hammer
    – Speaking of Greinke – I hope he was not hoping for too many runs on a day when the lineup is:
    Straw
    Reddick
    Bregman
    Gurriel
    Tucker
    Altuve
    Toro
    Maldonado
    Mayfield

    Greinke could probably outhit about 5 of those guys

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I know everyone hates it when I complain about lack of fundamentals, but here we are in the bottom of the 10th with runners on first and third and no outs. Tucker pops a fly ball up to CF deep enough to score Bregman from third. Gurriel, who was on first, never extends past where he got his secondary lead and lackadaisically moves back to the bag to touch the bag, then bounces off a few steps. The only thought he had of going to second would have been if the ball got away from the catcher, but he was making such little effort even if the throw home had been dropped by the catcher he couldn’t have moved up unless it really bounced away. Keeping in mind there was no first baseman as he was in the middle of the diamond as the cutoff man. If the Astros and Gurriel wanted to win the game, this would have been a great time for him to see that the ball was clearly going to be caught and get back to the bag to tag up. With no one covering 1B he could then go as far as he wants towards 2B as the throw comes in and fully read whether to advance if it went through to the plate or retreat back to 1B if caught. Given Gurriel is actually playing 1B for us you’d think he would have an understanding of this…so I’m chalking it up to lack of effort.

    So what happens next? Altuve looks awful in his at bat and pops out to first base. Toro then strikes out. End of inning. At least Gurriel can stand around at first and wait for Altuve to bring him is glove instead of wasting energy, I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Devin, I saw that and said the same. The team is not prepared and that falls on Dusty. Altuve needs to be placed in a batting cage and fed a diet of darting sliders, low and outside, until he realizes he cannot hit them.

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      • To be truthful sarge, he’s not hitting the low and inside sliders either or almost anything right down the middle…..

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  5. Jose continues his outstanding hitting by swinging at pitches a foot of the plate. Toro swings at three out of the zone. We need somebody who can hit besides Yuli and Bregman.

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  6. You know what? Walks can go to hell…I want Scrubb as closer. The more pressure there is, the better he pitches. It’s like he will walk a guy just to add more pressure, and in his mind he’s like “NOW I got them where I want them”, I really like this kid

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  7. Yay!!!!!! I’m Myles’s biggest booster here and I’m glad it was him!!!

    My Rockies had nothing to be ashamed of. That was a great game, and felt like a play off game

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  8. Well they just wanted to make it interesting and as my son said – three of the last four games were 2-1….
    Myles Straw is the other one who can hit apparently.
    Glad Tucker got his run in too. We’ve left a lot of ducks on the pond in extras before this.

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  9. Boy, I’ve been really wrong about Honest Abe so far. We need to send him down, but where is down?
    I used to think Jose was almost a lock for 3000 hits. Could he have peaked at 27? 91 at bats now, looking worse everyday. He’s in a career slump.
    Can we thank my nephew for Andre Scrubb? I’m still dubious in spite of what a great story he’s been.
    So Alvarez is done for 2020. He’s been hurting since AA ball. Could he be done done except for cameo appearances?
    Greinke is something else.
    George gets hurt too much.
    Anyone down on the Skipper today?
    This is a kookie club. I don’t really know how this roster is 13-10.

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    • Toro needs to stop hitting from the right side.
      I hope Altuve hasn’t peaked. Something is certainly wrong.
      Give your nephew a big thanks for Scrubb.
      Did the Dodgers know something that we didn’t about YA?
      Greinke, need we say more?
      George ain’t going to get a big contract when he only plays 2/3’s of the season and is prone to injury.
      Pressley is not a closer and Dusty needs to stop sending him out there in a closing situation.
      The young pitching staff is operating at a 12 on a scale of 10.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. How impressed are we of the “baby” pitchers on this team! Where they end up after this season, who knows….but as long as they are showing us they can get outs in *HIGH* leverage games, I’ll take it everyday and twice on Sunday!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. -Andre Scrubb got his first ML win today. I felt he didn’t get his due in the postgame.
    -Tucker with the walkoff on Sunday and Straw with one today. The youngsters contribute.
    -Baker said he wanted Stubbs to pinch hit because he knew Stubbs was one of the best bunters on the team because he went to USC where they are taught to bunt. Thats two nights in a row for Stubbs in Baker’s press conference.
    -Please, more talk from haters about Greinke’s age. Do they think he pays attention?
    -Astros’ pitching moving up the leaderboards and the batters are moving down.
    -That was a helluva good young pitcher that mowed down the Astros today. But at the start of the 9th inning I reminded the Mrs. that our bullpen was better than theirs has been.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s what I’d figured on the Stubbs pinch hit, but didn’t know Baker had specific insight.

      His comment reminds me of why MLB teams draft players from Vanderbilt and Oregon State, “because they are taught to WIN!”

      You were ahead on Scrubb and Framber, Op. Well done.

      These rookies haven’t really surprised me. What has is how the league can’t solve them. What a beautiful thing: Bielak, Taylor, Paredes, Valdez and Cristian Javier.

      Jeff Luhnow, scouts and draft staff really left the cupboard stocked full. So nice the ball has bounced our way to helped them build confidence.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Remember the headlines the Chronicle used to run when we were in the NL?
    “Don’t look now but…HERE COME THE ASTROS”!! Well…..here they come!

    Liked by 2 people

    • That is really tough to swallow, old pro. It makes me feel like when we had Ralph Sampson and Yao Ming, who were cut down in their prime by injuries. I hope this is something they can correct and let this man have the great career he sure looks like he is capable of producing….

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      • Dan, if he’s diagnosed with something fixable, then he’s got exactly six months between now and spring training to get it fixed and recover. I’m hoping that is what is happening. If that isn’t enough time to get it done, they might as well take 1.5 years to fix it because it’s not like he is costing them zillions of dollars to sit on the 45-60 day IL. I mean, they will still need a bat like his in 2022, right? diagnose it and fix it.

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      • The most odd thing to me is that nobody knows, not even Dusty who was asked the other day about his actual long-term condition. He replied, “I don’t know.” I asked Mctag, Berman, all of them since March, nobody knows.

        That leads to me to think a few things. We’d never reveal a chronic condition because we’d lose any ether involved in a frenzied, shop him, trade. We didn’t do long-term therapy like a surgery, and instead waited (like with Ivey and now, JV) in hopes of a natural healing; following a “do no harm” theory.

        My default has always been to play the prospects so they can cut their teeth. Since 2020 is so chaotic, it doesn’t seem pressing to play Yordan, and oh by the way, Jones was sent down after Day 1 — he needs reps.

        It’s just really strange that Astros haven’t given a hint about what doctors are saying. Where they have confused us even more is that in Spring, Sparks revealed he dealt with pain after the foul ball which explained the late season slump. Now, all of a sudden they tell us he had the pain going back to Corpus.

        The plot thickens.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Where is our Doc? The MRI did not show anything. So what kind of stuff might an MRI not pick up? Degenerative issues? Arthritis? He’s been having problems since AA ball. I’m somewhat surprised the issue has not been diagnosed, or maybe it has been but they don’t want to tell us.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Well, there it is. It sure like his slide into 3B the other day was really awkward, and now we know. Couldn’t they just have said that, at the time?

    Season ending knee surgery
    partial tear of his right patella tendon

    Liked by 1 person

  15. It seems like the team is suggesting that this has been his issue all along and that it has just gotten progressively worse. Perhaps, the team ortho just didn’t really see it and the second opinion spotted it.

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    • Daveb – that was one of the finest DPs you will ever see turned.

      Sarge – Is Dusty Baker the Job of managers? I’m sure he can’t believe Bregman just went down – sounds like a hammy

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Maldonado dinger
    Correa dinger
    Tucker triple followed by solid first MLB hit and RBI by Taylor Jones
    3-1 Astros and the rally in the 5th continues…,

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  17. I watched Tucker’s four hit performance from last night. Hopefully, he is beginning to get his groove on. He looks much better at the plate now than previous at bats.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Some Astros thoughts:
    -I think Biagini is on the active roster because Jose Urquidy is not. Last night was the perfect place to use him and his performance was a good chance for Baker to see what I have been seeing for the last year.
    – The Astros’ team batting WAR went from 2.1 to 3.1 after last night’s game. That moved them from 18th to 12th in team WAR.
    – The Astros team ERA is now #3 in baseball.
    -James Nix’s MILB bio shows he was released by the Tri-City Valley Cats on June 5, 2020.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Drafted in the 35th round, but given a $250,000 signing bonus. Pretty sure something happened. Very disappointing.

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    • I’ve debated a year with my ol friend “ABlindHog” over Nix. I wasn’t a fan, and saw when he was released. Another guy I disagreed with him was R8, Luis Guerrero (who?) A bust. Several guys who were once well thought of, falling off; McKenna, Adolph, Schroeder, Perez and Perry, Deason had surgery. I wonder about lefty Texas Tech, Mushinski who was on pace doing well. Of course such hi hopes for Solomon Ivey and Solis..

      There are plenty to talk about who are here!

      One who didn’t show much, but the team still likes is R6 Matthew Barefoot. I listened to Woodpeckers interview with him recently, and like Jordan Brewer and Jeremy Pena, they’re all having to fend for themselves by finding a garage, or some facility to stay up to speed. They talk to coaches remotely, and send video so they can be monitored. It’s really sad how these kids are being put on hold nationally.

      I need to let everyone know here who I’m absolutely bowled over by: Brett Conine. Confirmed by Bill Murphy, they LOVE this kid. If you didn’t see him in intrasquad, or watch highlights from Corpus recently, HE is the next big thing! I put him #7! *Devastating* curve and changeup, the fastball is more average but great command. Kind of blows me away that he’s getting more press from our staff than Luis H. Garcia, who led all minor leagues with SO9 (wait a year on him, like Hunter Brown).

      There are so many pitchers to be excited about, and even guys in lower levels like; Bellozo, Jairo Lopez. Nobody ever mentions Jeremy Molero, who led Dominican league in K’s. Just on and on; Blair Henley is going to be GREAT with awesome spin rates from UT. There’s Shawn Dubin that coaches rave about.

      Not even talking about Santos, our first pick.
      Btw, 29 fanbases hate us and say we weren’t punished enough. This year we missed out on 2 pitchers we definitely would have selected and two guys I “coveted” — Bobby Miller from Louisville, and my guy Kyle Nicolas. HUGE loss.

      I ended up refining this after study, if interested in viewing.
      https://www.crawfishboxes.com/2020/8/3/21353704/astros-2020-prospects-to-the-major-leagues

      All the best, Chip and Dan fam

      Liked by 2 people

      • As usual – thanks for the insight GoStros. Did you have any more information on Nix than he just wasn’t working out? I know $250,000 is a drop in a major league team’s bucket, but it is a fairly significant signing bonus and they usually give them longer than that to pan out. Just wondering.

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      • Sorry, Dan, just watching the game.
        Yes, really significant as the near last pick.
        I suppose even though small sample, the strikeout rate got me.
        Then, he didn’t do much in NYPL. Think I recall he battled some injury, but Astros may have seen hole in swing. We have so many OF’s to try and develop, lost in the numbers was my take.
        No special insight on him though.

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  19. It is rather amazing that the news on Nix is so mum. I searched and could not find any official team announcement on it – just found a web site that referenced the release and stated it had to be disappointing with the $250,000 signing bonus to be released one season later. I mean he went from rookie to A- to A ball in one short season which you would think is OK – no great shakes on the stats, but it has to be off field to cause this type of problem

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    • WOW!! That is great news for Cionel!!

      I would have thought Tanielu, but with Mayfield Toro and Jones on the team, he’s superfluous/redundant. I’m tellin’ ya, if we don’t protect McKee, Tanielu and Bryan De la Cruz, somebody will take them in Dec. Some very difficult choices ahead, but hopefully with the whole league dealing with same issues, there will be less selected in Rule 5, just a guess.

      As mentioned, every kid taken from uas; Arauz Ramirez and Bailey are contributing this year. Bailey will bounceback, btw.

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  20. In 2019, someone very familiar with the Astros minor leagues mentioned in a tweet that some phenomenal things were showing up in pitchers passing through Fayetteville and it was about breaking pitches.
    A lot of these pitchers GoStros1 is mentioning fit into that Woodpeckers pattern.
    I don’t know all about every pitcher GS1 is mentioning, but I do believe that we are on the verge of a young pitching wave.
    Luhnow started it all, but I just don’t think he was willing to take a chance on what he was building, so he kept investing tons of money in older pitchers until the risk was past. But, he didn’t last long enough to see it happen.

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    • We have to really look at the development folks at those levels, Op.

      Erik Abreu is the pitching coach nobody mentions much.
      The guy that people rave about is Thomas Whitsett (came over from Univ Arizona). In Bielak’s case, Drew French and Bill Murphy, who really helped in 2018. I know you’re well aware of this.

      Those fans in Fay’ville are going to get another great group next year.
      Posting again but the 2018 QC River bandits set all-time minor league strikeout record, and Fay’ville the following year almost beat it.

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  21. Let me get this straight – Tucker has 5 career triples – and he has 4 of them at Colorado in 2 games + 2 innings of play.
    Oh and Altuve put the best swing on the ball that he has done in about a month
    Astros up 5-0 and counting in the second

    Liked by 1 person

    • And he just got picked off of 1st. Is that 3 times already? Maybe he’s starting to get his head back in the game but that doesn’t help. 10 runs already helps but we’ll need more I think.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. I sure was not expecting 4 of 4 from the Rockies. And I sure hope Bregman has a low grade hammy issue instead of a month long version. I think I’d prefer to have Perez around than Raley. James, Pressly, yikes. Some really significant defensive plays in these two mile high victories. Nice to see Paredes get his first win. I can’t believe these guys are 15-10. They are sucking me back in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can only disagree on Raley. We don’t know what kind of game condition Perez is in, and Raley has been NAILS (0.96 WHIP before today). Today a little chink in armor, but it’s COL and now league is getting a better “book” on him, since he last pitched in Korea. No, I love this pickup of Raley, and “Free” from CIN, can’t beat it.

      James — I’ve been an apologist for, so it will sound biased. He seems to be having some bad luck (like Reddick misplaying his ball that opened up the inning, or the ‘ball’ called that should’ve been a K). What I cannot deny is he’s a 2-outcome guy; K, or hard hit. His path as a Starter is not panning out like I’d projected. Everything centers around his lack of command.

      Paredes should Close, end of story. Pressley seems to need a few batters to get warm. Defense picked him up, though, and it takes all 9 to win!

      You’re right, I never thought we’d sweep the Rockies, Uncle.

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  23. While watching the games in Colorado, Mrs and I noticed no fan cutouts and what ones they have are of all former players for Colorado. A funny note, Mrs saw Bud Black reach for the dugout phone to call the bullpen and remarked, “that phone looks like a payphone.” I laughed and said that’s why the manager has a lump in his pocket. It’s all of the quarters in his pocket to pay for the phone calls he makes to the pen. LOL

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    • I was amazed they left Marquez in with the 7-spot he was carrying. Then, I realized the Harvey that was warming was no better.

      We’re starting to get, Sarge!

      On next man up, I sure hope it’s Conine.
      Might be Sanabria, or Nivaldo since they got sent down quick.
      Dubin would be the sleeper.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. -In 2019 Abraham Toro played in 98 games at AA and his slash line there was .306/.393/.513/.906. He was promoted to AAA and his slash line there for 16 games was .424/.506/.606/1.112. That is his entire time in the upper minor leagues. He was 22 years old in 2019.
    I have always thought he would be a good MLB player. I think he has a chance to be a star. He did not start switch hitting until he was drafted. It has taken him a while to get used to it. He always had the ability to hit. He sure has gotten attention from Mrs1OP, who says he is easy on the eyes.
    -Perhaps Cionel’s promotion is due to the coaches in CC telling the team that he has made strides and was looking good down there. I sure hope so.
    -Dusty talked about DHing Yuli yesterday and resting him today. I hope he has changed his mind about that. We need Yuli’s bat in that lineup.
    -Don’t know a lot about San Diego as a team. But I do know we have finally moved on from Arenado at 3B and now get to face Machado there. I suppose Brooks Robinson will play 3B for the next team we face.

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    • Mr. Toro has started hitting here lately and he really launched that home run yesterday,
      The Padres are a young team that seems to be jelling. We recognize Eric Hosmer and Machado, but their true star is 21 y.o. Fernando Tatis Jr with a universe leading 12 HRs and 29 RBIs.
      On the pitching side we remember Garrett Richards who was a promising pitcher for the Angels, a guy who had a lot of talent but who never could stay on the mound.
      They are a dangerous club, but perhaps the Astros can take advantage of their lack of experience.

      Liked by 1 person

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