Houston Astros: Who Wins The Final Rotation Spot?
With Opening Day looming large at just under a month away, the Astros have most of their 25-man roster locked down already. With still a spot or two up for grabs, most of the attention has been directed towards the remaining spots. But slightly forgotten in all the pandemonium that is Spring Training are the positional battles still up for grabs. With the infield and outfield mostly locked down, pitching has been a place of emphasis all offseason for the Astros. With a few pitchers looking to gain an advantage, the 5th spot in the rotation looks to be the last standing domino to fall for the Astros.
According to many, the Astros’ rotation is the biggest question mark on the team, as Lance McCullers and Dallas Keuchel rebound from injuries that ended their 2016 campaigns prematurely. McHugh and Fiers both suffered down years, and Fister was up and down in his sole year in Houston. The fact the Astros were in the Playoff hunt for as long as they were last season says a lot about the team they will field in 2017.
Moving into the new season, Keuchel and McCullers are both healthy again, and McHugh (should start soon) and Fiers look ready to improve on their down years. Fister is no longer with the club, but Charlie Morton will occupy his spot for now, and if he stays healthy could be one of the most underrated signings out of Free Agency. Meanwhile, the final spot in the rotation is still up for grabs.
With Keuchel, McCullers, McHugh, and Morton locked into the rotation at the moment, it leaves a handful of pitchers left to duke it out for the final spot. Most likely, the final spot will come down to either Joe Musgrove, Mike Fiers, or long man Chris Devenski.
Fiers has proven before he can be a solid pitcher, evident by his no-hitting of the Dodgers in 2015, but his inconsistency has been a question mark since his arrival in Houston. Fiers has the potential to be one of the best back-of-the-rotation arms in baseball if he’s able to limit the inconsistent starts. The H/9 needs to come down, as well as his WHIP and a whopping 17 WP, in order for him to bounce back. He’ll have the lineup to back him up, so his pitching could easily translate to a few more wins in his name.
2016 Stats: 11-8, 4.48 ERA, 168.2 IP, 42 BB, 132 K, 88 ERA+, 1.35 WHIP, 2.2 BB/9, 7.2 K/9, 0.3 WAR.
Joe Musgrove is an interesting pitcher. Very few walks and nasty offspeed pitches make a him a desirable pitcher for a spot in the rotation for a contending team. During the offseason, he was linked as a possible trade candidate in a potential acquisition of White Sox LHP Jose Quintana during the offseason, with the White Sox adamant on acquiring Musgrove in the deal, but the Astros’ front office had no intention of involving Musgrove in such a deal and tried to reconstruct it to leave him out. Obviously a trade didn’t come about, and Musgrove remains an Astro. That says a lot about what the Astros think of Musgrove, as they believe he can be a dominant starter for them as early as this season. He could very well end up being the piece everyone said the Astros needed in the rotation to take this team to the upper echelon.
2016 Stats: 4-4, 4.08 ERA, 62 IP, 16 BB, 55 K, 1.21 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, 8.0 K/9, 0.6 WAR
Chris Devenski was one of the best kept secrets in all of baseball last season. Making the 25 man roster out of spring training, Devenski played well enough to finish 4th Place in Rookie of the Year voting in 2016. In 2017, he is expected to take on a much larger role, whether that be in the rotation or in the bullpen. Chances are the Astros want to keep him in the bullpen has a long reliever, but don’t be surprised if he forces the Astros hand for a potential rotation spot down the road. The key with Devo was his splits as a starter and reliver. As a starter he had 4.01 ERA with 8 BB/21 K in 24.2 IP. As a reliever he posted a 1.61 ERA with 12 BB/83 K in 83.2 IP.
2016 Stats: 4-4, 2.16 ERA, 108.1 IP, 20 BB, 104 K, 184 ERA+, 0.91 WHIP, 1.7 BB/9, 8.6 K/9, 2.8 WAR
I expect big things from Joe Musgrove in 2017. Last season he showed flashes of dominance in almost every single game he played in, making one believe he could be a future Front of the Rotation pitcher if he puts it all together. Though very dominant when he’s in his zone, he struggled mightily when out of his element. In order for him to really take the next step forward, he’ll have to hone in his abilities and pitch like he did in most of his games in 2017. If he is able do that, then it’s possible the Astros actually did upgrade the rotation, all without having to give up a single dime. Musgrove is my breakout candidate for 2017, and if he performs like he can and should, that gives the Astros another weapon and another thorn in the sides of every team in the AL in the years to come.
As for Fiers and Devenski, I believe will still contribute for Houston this season, helping bolster up the pitching staff and helping the Astros clinch the AL West in 2017. In the case of injury, there are also prospects such as David Paulino and Francis Martes that will be waiting at the door for their crack at the Major Leagues, and that’s a luxury not many teams in baseball have. I believe the rotation will be a big strength this season, completely reversing how many view the Astros’ rotation currently, and will be a massive reason why the Astros win the division in 2017, and hopefully a whole lot more.
**Photo Credit: Tammy Tucker**