Friday, February 21, 2014

Astros Minor League Depth - Lefty Starters, Part 2

[4/13/14 UPDATE: Joe Bircher is no longer in the organization.]

In an ongoing series on the Astros minor league depth, we last looked at the lefty starters in the organization who ended the season at Advanced A or higher. Now up, those lefties who ended the season at Low A or one of the short season teams. Again, I'm sorting these from low to high by WHIP. One pitcher who may be considered a starter (and is not on this list) is Sebastian Kessay. He started early in the season, but after missing almost a month was used exclusively out of the bullpen.



Four of these pitchers pitched under 30 innings so their numbers can be taken with a grain of salt. Kent Emanuel (2013 third round draft pick) and Austin Nicely (10th round) are the highest profile pitchers of those with limited innings. Emanuel was used extensively (some say too much) during his junior year for North Carolina and into the College World Series so it was no surprise that he was limited. Baseball America listed Emanuel as the Astros #23 prospect in their recent Prospect Handbook. Nicely was one of the younger signings, having been drafted out of high school, and is likely being brought along slowly.

Also limited in innings pitched were Starlyng Sanchez and Ambiorix de Leon. Sanchez only started playing for the Dominican Summer League Astros at the end of July and only became a starter in his final two outings. De Leon was shut down in mid-July.

Joe Bircher (10th round 2012 pick) and Brian Holmes (13th round 2012 pick) both started in the tandem rotation in Quad Cities and both ended up missing a good chunk of the season due to injuries. Holmes was terrific in his final four appearances after coming back from rehabbing the injury. Bircher struggled for consistency after returning from his rehab, but shone in the post-season. Bircher only walked 16 batters in 78 innings. Holmes had a very healthy 3.76 SO/BB ratio and held batters to a .208 average, .198 against right-handed hitters.

Brian Holmes - April 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Josh Hader also pitched for Quad Cities after he came over to the Astros from Baltimore in the July 2013 Bud Norris trade. In five starts after the trade, Hader was 2-0 with a 3.22 ERA and a 1.164 WHIP and dominated in the post-season. Even better, the 2012 19th round draft pick did all of that at 19 years of age (he will turn 20 in April). Batters hit only .209 against him for the season and only .182 against him at Quad Cities. Baseball America has him as #14 in the Astros system.

Two of the three lefty starters who finished the season with Tri-City were drafted in 2013. Chris Cotton (14th round out of LSU) only made eight appearances before being shut down for the season in early August, but he definitely impressed. Cotton only walked two batters in 31 innings and had the highest strikeout to walk ratio of any starter in the Astros system. Randall Fant (29th round out of Arkansas) held his own in his freshman season, but actually fared better when used on the relief side of the tandem rotation, putting up a 2.79 ERA and a 1.086 WHIP and holding batters to a .219 average.

Chris Cotton - July 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

The third pitcher who ended the season at Tri-City was 2010 10th round draft pick Evan Grills. Grills is another pitcher who did better in relief than as a starter. When used in relief in the tandem, he had a 1.65 ERA, a 0.988 WHIP and held hitters to a .214 batting average. Grills was drafted out of high school and will only be turning 22 in June.

Two 21-year old extreme groundball pitchers were fixtures in the Greeneville rotation in 2013. Jordan Mills, drafted in the 28th round in 2013 had an excellent first professional season. And Chris Lee, drafted in the fourth round in 2011, made a big step forward in his third season. Lee was used almost exclusively as a starter, making only one relief appearance. After seeing Lee pitch last August and interviewing him, he officially landed on my radar and also made the Prospect Handbook as #24 in the system.

Chris Lee - August 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

The final pitcher from the list is an 18-year old Venezuelan who was a part of the very successful Dominican Summer League rotation in 2013. Edwin Villarroel, who will be 19 in May, made big strides in lowering walks and increasing strikeouts in his second professional season. 

1 comment:

  1. Chris Lee had it all! Low BB rate, High K rate, HUGE ground ball rate, Low WHIP, low ERA and low batting average. I think I'll go back and read his interview, thank you. 1oldpro

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