Astros 5th Starter Competition Update
Opening Day is quickly approaching. Among the biggest question marks around the Astros Opening Day Roster is the rotation. We know Greinke, McCullers, and Urquidy will be the top three to start the season and Justin Verlander will make his way back into the rotation at some point. As it stands now, there are two spots open in the Opening Day rotation and it will come down to newcomer Austin Pruitt, flamethrower Josh James, young but electric Bryan Abreu, and the enigma Framber Valdez.
There are no doubt many factors that Dusty Baker and Brent Strom will consider in determining who gets that final spot in the rotation. We can’t know exactly which factors weigh heaviest or what goes on in closed bullpen sessions, but Spring Training game results will definitely be considered. Here is a look at how the hopefuls have fared so far this spring.
Austin Pruitt – 3 outings, 9.0 innings, 2 ER, 6 hits, 1BB/3k
Pruitt has big league starting experience with Tampa Bay and seems to be the favorite to lock down one of the available spots in the rotation. He comes with a pretty good fastball/breaking ball combo with a high spin rate – fitting the Astros’ mold well. Can he take a step forward under pitching coach Brent Strom and become a dominant starting pitcher? Time will tell.
Josh James – 3 outings, 8.2 innings, 5 hits, 3 ER, 3BB/9K
Josh James has looked good this spring and has shown flashes of dominance at the Big League level already in his career. Along with Pruitt, James is another favorite to land a spot in the Opening Day rotation. Coming into 2019, there was thought that the flamethrowing righty could start some games for the Astros – and do so effectively. An injury in 2019 Spring Training derailed those thoughts, but a year later, James appears poised to be a starter for the Houston Astros.
Bryan Abreu – 4 outings, 8.0 innings, 3 hits, 0 ER, 4bb/13k
The young righty has pitched 8.0 impressive Spring Training innings and has allowed 0 runs on only 3 hits with a 12/2 K/BB. After surprising in his first taste of Big League action in 2019, Abreu has looked really good this spring with his mid-90s fastball and wipe out breaking ball. The only question is whether he is ready to handle the workload of a Major League starting pitcher. He could open the season in AAA as a starter which would make him available to the Astros as a starter later in the season – or he could be a key piece to the Astros’ bullpen from March to October. Either way, he is a key factor in the Astros’ pitching plans in 2020 and figures to have the most to gain from the absence of Justin Verlander to start the season.
Framber Valdez – 4 outings, 10.1 innings, 7 hits, 4 ER, 4BB/11K
Framber remains an unknown in the equation. At times he looks like a solid Major League pitcher, and at times he looks like he forgets where the strike zone is. His performances this spring have been just as up and down as his young career has been to this point. Because of the uncertainty, Framber will likely begin the season at AAA. But one factor that favors Framber is the Astros’ lack of left-handed pitching throughout the organization. Right now, he is probably the best southpaw in the entire organization, including the Major League roster. Dusty Baker may prefer to keep him on the Big League staff for that reason – and if he can find some consistency, he could make an impact in Houston in 2020.
Who do you want to see fill out the Astros’ starting rotation in 2020? Join the conversation on Twitter @AstrosFuture.
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