Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Astros Minor League Depth - Lefty Starters, Part 1

[4/13/14 UPDATE: Wes Musick and Kyle Hallock are no longer in the organization.]

In a continuing look at the Astros minor league depth, today we're going to cover those left-handed starting pitchers who ended their seasons at Advanced A Lancaster or above. As always, I tend to make a few judgment calls when categorizing the pitchers. For example, Blair Walters started the season in the tandem rotation but ended it working exclusively out of the bullpen so I will be including him with lefty relievers. Conversely Tommy Shirley was not used extensively as a starter until late in the season and I am including him with the starters. The following pitchers have been sorted low to high by WHIP.

Wes Musick leads the list in terms of WHIP and Rudy Owens is toward the bottom of the list in that regard, but neither mark is particularly meaningful as both pitchers were derailed by injury early in the season and were shut down. I don't know the nature of Musick's injury, but it is the third year in a row that he has missed significant amounts of time. Owens was set back by a fractured foot early in the season, but was healthy enough to put up impressive numbers playing in the Dominican League over the winter. In 10 starts, he was 3-2 with a 2.68 ERA and a 0.988 WHIP. Musick came to Houston from the Rockies organization in 2010 for Matt Lindstrom and Owens was a part of the July 2012 trade with the Pirates for Wandy Rodriguez.

Also obtained in that July 2012 trade with Pittsburgh was Colton Cain. Cain started the season in Quad Cities and did not have a good April (vast understatement), but he righted the ship and went 8-3 with a 2.78 ERA and a 1.247 WHIP the rest of the way and was rewarded with an August promotion to Lancaster.

I'm not sure what to make of Kyle Hallock's 2013 season. Coming off an injury-shortened season in 2012, Hallock was moved between teams five times in 2013 and had mixed results. The Astros 2011 10th round draft pick had better results earlier in the season, including pitching the first five innings of a combined no-hitter for Lancaster in May, but he got pounded later in the season. Hallock may very well be headed to the bullpen as he generally fared better in that role during the 2013 season.

Hallock's tandem partner while in Lancaster, Luis Cruz, pitched the final four innings of the May no-hitter. Cruz, who just turned 23 in September, was drafted by Houston out of Puerto Rico in the ninth round in 2008. Not only did Cruz throw the back end of the no-hitter in May, he also tossed a complete game two-hit shutout in his penultimate appearance with Corpus Christi after being promoted there in August. Cruz led the Astros minor leagues with his 150 strikeouts in 130+ innings pitched, and was added to the Astros 40-man roster ahead of the December Rule 5 draft.

Luis Cruz - May 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

David Rollins also received a late-season promotion to Corpus Christi, and although he did not dominate at the level like Cruz, he mostly managed to hold his own (although there was one bad outing to end the regular season that I'm sure he'd like to get back). Rollins came to the Astros in the big July 2012 10-player trade with the Blue Jays. He ranked third in the Astros minor league system in strikeouts in 2013 with 137 in 136+ innings. It is worth noting that he fared extremely well in the hitter-friendly California League, putting up a sub-4.00 ERA and a 1.161 WHIP in 97+ innings despite his penchant as a flyball pitcher. An ERA that low pitching for Lancaster is the exception rather than the rule.

David Rollins - September 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Which brings me to Tommy Shirley. Shirley, the Astros 2010 ninth round draft pick out of Xavier University, made a couple of spot starts for Lancaster early in the 2013 season, but was mostly used out of the bullpen until later in the season. Shirley had great numbers for the season and even managed a sub-4.00 ERA at home at The Hangar. He ended the season very strongly and I look forward to seeing him build on that success in 2014.

Later this week, we'll look at those lefty starters who ended their seasons at Low A or on one of the short season clubs.

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