Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Astros Minor League Depth - Right-Handed Starters, Part 1

[4/13/14 UPDATE: Alex Gillingham is no longer with the organization.]

As we continue to look at the depth in the Astros minor league system, let's move to right-handed starting pitchers. Due to the sheer number of pitchers involved, I will be breaking this up into two posts. This one will address those who finished their seasons at Advanced A Lancaster or above. I did not include any pitchers who made their major league debuts in 2013, such as Jarred Cosart and David Martinez. I did include Matt Heidenreich because I still consider him to be a starter despite his extensive use out of the bullpen in 2013.

I have ranked the pitchers by WHIP, from low to high. Topping the list is 2010 eighth round draft pick Jake Buchanan. The minor league pitcher of the year in 2011, Buchanan was unable to duplicate that success in 2012. Fast forward to 2013 and Buchanan was extremely effective once again as he split his time between Corpus Christi and Oklahoma City. He had one of the highest groundball rates out of this group and had the lowest BB/9 rate, a very stingy 1.25 walks per nine innings. His ERA was also the lowest out of the group.

Asher Wojciechowski was another real success story from the 2013 season. Wojo picked right up where he left off in Corpus Christi in 2012 after being acquired in the big July 2012 10-player trade with the Blue Jays. The former first round 2010 draft pick started the season back in Corpus and dominated at the level, leading to his promotion in early May to AAA Oklahoma City. Hitters only managed a .223 batting average against him, the best mark for this group. Wojo also had the lowest groundball rate of the group with a 0.66 GO/AO rate, a rate that was lower than he has had in past seasons.

Vincent Velasquez spent the vast majority of his season at Quad Cities, landing in Lancaster for his final three starts. Velasquez, a second round 2010 draft pick, appears to be fully back from the Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss the 2011 season. He pitched 124+ innings in 2013. Velasquez was a close second to Wojo in batting average against, with hitters managing only .225 against him and he leads this group in SO/9, getting 10.25 strikeouts per nine innings.

Vincent Velasquez - April 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Bobby Doran, yet another 2010 draft pick (fourth round), seems to always fly under the radar. He doesn't have the flashiest stuff out of the group, but he is a big (6'6" 235#), healthy innings-eater who rarely has a really bad outing and manages to keep his team in the game. His 11-2 record is reflective of that.

The last of this group to have been drafted in 2010 is Mike Foltynewicz, another first rounder. Folty started the season in Lancaster, but was promoted to AA Corpus Christi in early May. He barely trailed Wojo and Velasquez in terms of batting average against with hitters putting up a .226 mark against him and his strikeout rate was rather healthy as he managed to strike out 8.6 batters per nine innings. The one area upon which Folty will need to improve is his walk rate. He had the highest walk rate of the group at 4.6 per nine innings. But at only 22 in October, he has plenty of time to make those adjustments.

The 2011 draft class is represented in this group by Kyle Smith, Nick Tropeano and Alex Gillingham. Smith, obtained from the Royals in the Justin Maxwell trade, excelled in the Advanced A Carolina League before the trade and had mixed results in Advanced A Lancaster in five appearances afterwards. Smith struggled at times, but one of his appearances just happened to be a complete game two-hit shutout. Tropeano had a solid, albeit unremarkable season, with uneven results at times as he tried to adjust to the Texas League. Tropeano and Smith both managed more than eight strike outs per nine innings over the season. Gillingham, who came from the Rockies in the Wilton Lopez trade in December 2012 gets an incomplete. After only three appearances, he was shelved for the season. I had looked forward to seeing what he could do in Lancaster with his historically high groundball rate.

Three 2012 draft picks made it to Advanced A in only their second year pitching professionally -- Brady Rodgers, Aaron West and Mike Hauschild. Rodgers and West spent the full season at Lancaster and put up numbers that are fairly typical for the hitter-friendly venue, while Hauschild was promoted there from Quad Cities in mid-July and (aside from one very tough outing) adjusted well to the level. Hauschild and Rodgers have two of the highest groundball rates from this group and West has one of the lowest. West and Rodgers both had low walk rates and West, with his 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings, had one of the best strikeout to walk ratios in the Astros system.

Brady Rodgers - September 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

R.J. Alaniz, a non-drafted free agent who signed in 2009, was young for the AA level, having only turned 22 in June and his youth showed at times. For whatever reason, Alaniz fared better as a reliever than as a starter out of the tandem, putting up a 3.51 ERA and a 1.286 WHIP in that role. Matt Heidenreich, obtained in the July 2012 White Sox trade for Brett Myers, struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness in 2013, but a healthy Heidenreich excelled in the Arizona Fall League where he was 2-1 with a 2.14 ERA and a 1.095 WHIP. Ross Seaton, drafted in 2008, did not fare well in Oklahoma City in 2013 and ended up back at AA Corpus Christi for nine games before being recalled to Oklahoma City to end the season. He had more success in his final three appearances in OKC than in his earlier stint. Hopefully, he can build on those later outings when he presumably starts the 2014 season back in Oklahoma City.

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