Take the starting right-handed pitchers who had good seasons on full-season league teams in 2012, add in lefties Dallas Keuchel, Brett Oberholtzer and Rudy Owens, and then add in the new pitchers that Luhnow picked up in the off-season (Alex White, John Ely, Philip Humber and Erik Bedard), and the field starts getting very crowded between the major leagues, AAA and AA. And this isn't even counting Kyle Weiland and Wes Musick as they come back from injury.
Astros GM Jeff Luhnow - 2013 Fan Fest
Photo by Jayne Hansen
So I asked Luhnow how he was going to handle juggling 15 or more pitchers for whom a valid case could be made for a starting roster spot at AAA and AA. I shouldn't have been surprised by his response, but I was. I should know by now that Luhnow thinks outside the box.
"That's going to be one of the most challenging things. We've got our best people working on it. Quentin [McCracken, Director of Player Development] is going through every day and putting magnets in different spots. Sig's [Mejdal, Director of Decision Sciences] on it, and I'm on it. I think those roster decisions at AA and AAA are going to be as important as the big league roster decisions.
"When I was farm director at the Cardinals, I instituted the piggyback, the tandem pitching rotations which allowed you to have eight starters for the first couple months of the year so we are going to discuss whether or not that's appropriate.
"The way you do that [is] you have four groups of two. First guy comes in and goes through the fifth inning and the second guy goes sixth to the end. The pitchers have to get used to it. They're not used to coming in in the sixth inning, but sometimes it's good because then [they] get the experience of finishing a game which is a totally different experience than most of these guys have had. And then the next time, [the second pitcher is] the one that starts the game and [his] piggyback partner comes in later.
"We're going to talk about it. We'll be creative certainly in how we allocate those roster spots. We'll proably have to have a few guys a level below where they would be otherwise."
That final statement brought to mind Mike Foltynewicz. Until recently, I thought that Foltynewicz might skip Lancaster and go straight to AA Corpus Christi, but in looking at the pitching depth at the higher levels, I had come to doubt that there would be enough room for him on that roster, at least to start the season. Luhnow and I discussed that briefly and it sounds as though he isn't as likely as the last regime to spare a top prospect like Foltynewicz the challenges of pitching in the hitter-friendly California League, "If they're going to learn to pitch here [Minute Maid Park], they're going to need to learn to pitch through some adversity."
One final thought. Knowing what Luhnow has in mind as far as the possibility of using tandem pitching duos helped me understand my findings regarding the lack of depth in the area of right-handed relief pitching at the upper levels. With two starters piggybacking in one game, the relief corps isn't likely to get much work.
The plethora of pitching is a good problem to have. And having a creative out-of-the-box thinker like Luhnow around to solve it is a very good thing as well.