Thursday, March 15, 2018

Beyond the Astros Top 30: Left-Handed Pitchers

As the old year fades away and the new season approaches, it's time to start looking at those players of interest who are beyond the Astros Top 30 (or 32 ... see below). These players may not ever make a Top 30 list (or they may), but a combination of projections, actual results, incremental improvements and intangibles keep them in the mix as interesting players to watch. I am not including any players in these posts who have already made their major league debuts since, presumably, anyone reading my blog is already very familiar with those players.

Now that all of the major players (Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, MLB Pipeline and Baseball America) have weighed in with their Astros Top Prospect Lists, I've integrated all of the rankings into one consensus top prospect ranking that includes 32 Astros players (16 were ranked on all four lists, nine were on three of four and the final seven were on two of four). I highly recommend checking out the included links for all of the great information provided.


LEFT-HANDED PITCHERS IN THE TOP 30 (in alphabetical order)

Framber Valdez - August 2017
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Brett Adcock (Primarily a starter in 2017) - MLB #28, FG #28+
Adcock was noted as the 28th Astros top prospect by MLB Pipeline and was also mentioned by FanGraphs as a lower ranked player in the system. Despite possessing a plus curveball and slider as well as a decent low 90's fastball, Adcock is considered by most to be destined for the bullpen due to a fringy changeup and his reputation for less than stellar command. The fourth round 2016 draft pick out of the University of Michigan started 18 of his 25 games in 2017, starting his season with Low A Quad Cities with an early May promotion to HIgh A Buies Creek and compiling a 3.93 ERA and a 1.226 WHIP. In 107.2 innings, he allowed 39 walks to 117 strikeouts (which isn't exactly awful for someone with supposed command issues). Adcock will be 23 in August.

Cionel Pérez (Primarily a starter in 2017) - FG #6, MLB #6, BP #11+, BA #13
Pérez, originally from Cuba, signed with the Astros in December 2016 for a reduced payment of $2 million (down from $5.5 million) due to concerns over potential elbow issues. In his first season in the States, he appeared in 12 games with Low A Quad Cities and five games with High A Buies Creek, compiling a 3.90 ERA and 1.252 WHIP in 80.2 innings, before his promotion to Corpus Christi in mid-August. He had mixed results in four appearances at the higher level, but ended the season with a strong final appearance of the season. In a total of 93.2 innings, Pérez allowed 27 walks and struck out 83. Pérez features a low 90's fastball that can hit 96, a plus slider and advanced control and command. Improvement in his curveball and changeup will be needed for him to remain in a starting role, but his fastball/slider combo should ensure that, at minimum, he would be very effective in relief ... as long as that elbow continues to hold up. Pérez, who will turn 22 next month, is ranked #6 by MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs, #13 by Baseball America and appears in Baseball Prospectus's "Next 10."

Patrick Sandoval (Primarily a starter in 2017) - BP #11+, FG #28+
Sandoval was also included in the Baseball Prospectus "Next 10" and fell just outside FanGraph's Top 27 and both publications said, more or less, the same thing about Sandoval -- that his curveball and slider project as plus offerings, but his fastball command and high effort delivery may (and probably will) limit Sandoval to a relief role. In his third season since being drafted by the Astros in the 11th round in 2015, Sandoval pitched in one game with High A Buies Creek, four with short season A Tri-City and ended the season with nine games for Low A Quad Cities. In 14 games/11 starts for the season, he had a 4.09 ERA and a 1.362 WHIP, but saved the best for last as he improved to a 3.86 ERA and 1.179 WHIP in his final six regular season appearances in August and September. Moreover, Sandoval went on to win both of his postseason starts (1.42 ERA/1.026 WHIP in 12.2 IP). Whether he ultimately starts or relieves, Sandoval's intangibles should help him get the most out of his abilities. He is very smart, very grounded and has a unique ability to connect with each and every one of his teammates on a personal level. He just turned 21 in October.

Framber Valdez (Primarily a starter in 2017) - BA #14, MLB #16, FG #25
Valdez was ranked #14 by Baseball America, #16 by MLB Pipeline and #25 by FanGraphs going into the 2018 season. BA was slightly higher on Valdez because of improvements to his changeup and his command. The one thing that all three outlets agree on is that his curveball is his best weapon, a plus pitch that he can use effectively (and with great confidence in any count) against both lefties and righties. There are some concerns about his high effort delivery and his less than optimal build, but most feel that his 2-seam fastball and curveball with their late heavy life will play up in the bullpen. However, if he can work on a more repeatable delivery and keep improving with the changeup and command, he will likely be given every opportunity to stay in the rotation. Valdez signed at the ripe old age of 21 and was in his third pro season in 2017, splitting his time between High A Buies Creek (2.79 ERA/1.141 WHIP in 61.1 IP) and AA Corpus Christi, where he struggled somewhat with the adjustment (5.88 ERA/1.694 WHIP in 49 IP). Valdez turned 24 in November.

LEFT-HANDED PITCHERS BEYOND THE TOP 30 (in alphabetical order)

Salvador Montaño - July 2017
Photo by Jayne Hansen

I'm going to ATTEMPT to keep these a little more succinct or the season will be over before I get through these and the right-handers!

Adam Bleday (Used primarily as a starter later in the season in 2017)
Drafted by the Astros in the 27th round in 2017 out of the University of Pennsylvania, Bleday started his season with Greeneville and finished at Tri-City after a mid-August promotion. In 13 games, he had a 3.40 ERA and a 1.267 WHIP, walking 16 and striking out 50 in 45 innings of work. Although he was a bullpen pitcher in college, the Astros had him start three of his four games in Tri-City which makes sense since he is reported to throw both a 2-seam and 4-seam fastball, curveball, changeup and slider. Bleday was very effective against lefties and is said to have excellent mound presence.
Key: Be prepared to move quickly. Bleday was a senior sign and turned 23 in November so it is likely that the Astros will challenge him in 2018 and he will need to be up to that challenge.

Ryan Hartman (Primarily a starter in 2017)
Drafted in the 9th round in 2016 out of Tennessee Weslayan College, Hartman made quick work of Low A Quad Cities (2.72 ERA and 1.160 WHIP in 39.2 innings) and was promoted to High A Buies Creek in late May. Hartman was uneven in his time with Buies Creek, but ended with overall decent numbers at the level (4.17 ERA and 1.246 WHIP in 69 innings). He throws a high 80's to low 90's fastball, a good changeup and a developing curveball.
Key: Consistency! Hartman was absolutely lights out at times, but he appeared to have struggled somewhat down the stretch (which may very well be attributable to workload; his 108.2 IP ranked in the top 10 in the Astros minors). He will be 24 in April.

Ricardo León
Signed by the Astros in July 2017 out of Venezuela for $300,000, León is said by Astros staff to be highly intelligent with a projectible frame, great mound presence and the potential to develop three average or better pitches. He will be 17 later this month.

Salvador Montaño (Solely a reliever in 2017)
Something clicked for Montaño in his fourth professional season and he became both more confident and more consistent on the mound. In 36 games for Low Quad Cities, he was 8-4 with five saves (out of six opportunities), a 2.89 ERA, a 1.434 WHIP and he stranded 25 of the 30 runners he inherited. He also provided 7.1 scoreless innings in three appearances in the postseason for Quad Cities.
Keys: Montaño will need to rein in the free passes. In 53 innings, he walked 41 batters (68 strikeouts) and sometimes flirted with disaster because of those walks. Also, since Montaño will be 24 in July, I would like to see him pushed more aggressively; it will be up to him to respond accordingly. [UPDATE: Montano was released prior to the 2018 season.]

Parker Mushinski (Primarily a reliever in 2017)
Drafted in the seventh round in 2017 out of Texas Tech, Mushinski did start three games for the short season A Tri-City team, but fared much better in his 10 games out of the bullpen, going 3-0 with a 2.48 ERA and a 1.318 WHIP in 22 innings and holding batters to a .176 average. Overall, he had a 3.60 ERA and a 1.367 WHIP in 30 innings, walking 19 and striking out 40. At the time of his signing, Mushinski was said to feature a low 90's fastball and a good curveball, but had struggled with control at times. And there is the matter of seven wild pitches and four hit batters in only 30 innings so control may still be an issue. Mushinski was 22 in November.
Key: I don't have a good enough feel for Mushinski to have any recommendations for him, but working on one's control/command is always recommendable!

Javier Navas (Primarily relief, but ended season with three starts)
Navas was extremely proficient in a relief role in his third pro season (all in rookie leagues) in 2017 (1.71 ERA and 1.238 WHIP, .183 BA in 21 IP), but didn't fare quite so well as a starter (think 8.25 ERA and 2.583 WHIP in 12 innings). When he was first signed in July 2014 for $175,000, he was said to have good pitchability. Aside from that I don't know much about Navas, but I could guess that he lacks a solid third pitch and may find the bullpen more to his liking. Navas just turned 20 in February.
Key: Not a clue, but I do know that if he is to have a shot at the rotation, he can't be walking 13 batters in 12 innings as he did in a starting role in 2017.

Chris Nunn (Started in a limited number of games in 2017, was solely a reliever prior to that)
2017 Rule 5 Draft pick (minor league phase) Chris Nunn is likely as long a longshot as you're going to see on this list, but he also has the most interesting story! After a circuitous baseball journey, it all comes down to command (doesn't it always?) as the 27-year old works to make the most of a fastball that sits 92 to 95 and hits 97 or 98 and a slider with a look he can vary.
Key: Command, command, command.

Antonio Pujols (Used primarily as a starter later in the 2017 season)
My note to myself after reviewing Pujols's 2017 season: "No info available but dayum! GOOD 1st season - will be 20 though." Pujols signed after the 2016 season and spent his first pro season in the Dominican Summer League, compiling a 4-2 record with a 1.65 ERA, a 0.933 WHIP and 16 walks to 49 strikeouts in 54.2 innings. He held batters to a .186/.250/.266 line. I repeat, "Dayum!"
Key: Get this kid to the States and see if he can keep that momentum going!

Kit Scheetz (Primarily a starter in 2017)
Another player with an excellent first season was non-drafted free agent Kit Scheetz (out of Virginia Tech). Described as an undersized pitcher with a good sinker and changeup, Scheetz flew through three levels in 2017, finishing his season with Low A Quad Cities and ending with a combined 1.72 ERA, 1.021 WHIP and nine walks to 53 strikeouts in 47 innings of work. He also pitched 11.1 innings in the post season with a 2.38 ERA and a 0.882 WHIP, issuing two walks and striking out 11. Scheetz will be 24 in May and I, for one, will be rooting for him to beat the odds that a NDFA faces in most minor league systems.
Key: Just keep doing whatever it was that he did to be so successful in 2017, and do it at the higher levels!

Sean Stutzman (Used solely in relief in 2017)
For inspiration, Scheetz need look no further than Sean Stutzman, another non-drafted free agent (Dallas Baptist) who showed in his second season that he was able to go anywhere (he played 13 games in AA Corpus, four in AAA Fresno and 16 in High A Buies Creek) and compete. He ended the season with a 2.28 ERA and a 1.075 WHIP in 33 appearances (67 IP). He walked 23 and struck out 72. Stutzman will be 25 in July.
Key: Go with the flow! Keep showing the flexibility to go wherever the team needs him and compete consistently; that will go a long way toward establishing his value to the system.

Alex Winkelman (Primarily a starter in 2017)
Winkelman's third professional season had a great start with eight appearances with High A Buies Creek prior to his May promotion to AA Corpus Christi. His season with the Hooks, though, was uneven. On July 19th, he carried a no-hitter through 8.2 innings, but that brilliant outing was sandwiched by two of his less stellar appearances of the season. He ended the season with a very respectable 3.21 ERA and 1.370 WHIP in 103.2 innings, walking 35 and striking out 110. Winkelman was drafted out of Southeast Missouri State University in the 21st round in 2015 and he just turned 24 last month.
Key: Maintain his workhorse reputation, but bring more consistency to the mix.

Others to Watch (in alphabetical order):

Denilson Lugo
Signed in July 2016 out of Venezuela, Lugo ended his first pro season in the Dominican Summer League on a (very) high note, compiling a 0.75 ERA and a 1.000 WHIP in his final four games of the season. However, his first five games didn't go quite that well and he has only pitched 28 professional innings so that's not much of a track record to go by. But he could be interesting to watch if he can build on that final month of his first pro season. Lugo was 20 in December (which is a little old for the DSL so I'd like to see him stateside soon).

Nathan Thompson
Thompson fared well enough in his 10 appearances (all but one out of the bullpen) for short season A Tri-City that he made the New York-Penn League All-Star roster, but his five appearances following his August promotion to Quad Cities didn't go quite as well. But it's actually the number of walks and hits that Thompson allowed in 2017 that gives me pause. If he can keep a few more guys off base, he could be interesting to watch. Thompson was drafted in the 27th round in 2016 out of Oklahoma Baptist and was 24 in November. [UPDATE: Thompson was released prior to the 2018 season.]

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1 comment:

  1. I have high hopes for Cionel Perez and Framber Valdez. Astros seem to really struggle to find lefties not named Keuchel. Great job Jayne as always.