The Astros Bullpen Prospects: What Went Wrong?

Bill James may have been the first to say it, but it's been a fairly established baseball tradition. There's No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect. For every top-rated pitching prospect who goes on to become an ace, there are five that flame out either in the minors or in brief appearances in the majors. Some, like David Clyde or the Mets Super Trio, are more famous for failure than someone like Kris Benson (a No. 1 overall pick) was in success.

That bit of baseball wisdom applied doubly to relief prospects. Relievers at the big league level are often thought of as eminently replaceable, simply because they are. For every Mariano Rivera, there is a Mike Magnante or Xavier Hernandez. Relievers have so few innings in each season that success and failure often live a razor's edge away from each other. Then, there is the injury factor.

Why do I bring all this up? What's the point of repeating things you already know? Well, I was going over some articles from last spring training the other day and saw how much confidence we placed in the bullpen depth, both at the major league level and in the minors. With Sammy Gervacio undergoing yet another surgery on his arm, that depth has all but dried up. After the jump, we'll look at where it went and what went wrong.

Let's review just how many young, promising relievers the Astros had going into last season

Alberto Arias -Injured early in the season, put on 60-day DL coming out of spring training

Jeff Fulchino -Missed a month with elbow soreness, only threw 47 innings. Had surgery in October.

Chris Sampson - Ineffectiveness grew as season went on. Released after the season.

Wesley Wright -Conversion to a starter bombed, though he did start four games in the majors.

Danny Meszaros -Suspended for PED use.

Chia-jen Lo -Elbow surgery ended his season before it began.

Matt Nevarez -Did not take step forward. ERA solid but peripherals were terrible.

Sammy Gervacio - Surgery derailed his 2010 season. Was taken off 40-man roster

Wilton Lopez - Made team out of spring training after short, bad stint in 2009. Became setup man by end of season.

Henry Villar - 68 strikeouts in 102 innings got him a big-league promotion. Threw six innings in September with 3 Ks.

Out of 10 guys, only one hit with another showing good progress. Those are not the odds we were hoping for last spring. Wilton Lopez was a success story, but if Ed Wade doesn't sign Brandon Lyon and trade for Matt Lindstrom, that bullpen would have been a wreck.

That's kind of the point, I guess, about relief prospects. As good as we felt about Lo and Meszaros, injuries and other situations do crop up. I certainly wouldn't have predicted Henry Villar would be vying for a roster spot over those guys a year ago, but there he is.

I don't like Wade's constant acquisition of relief prospects. As much potential as I think Mark Melancon, David Carpenter and Aneury Rodriguez have, there is just no margin in betting on relievers. Depth today won't necessarily help tomorrow, though I don't think the Astros will run through another spell of bad luck like they did in 2010.

In the next couple of weeks, we'll break down who's got the best shot to make the Opening Day roster, but for now, who were you most surprised didn't hit? Who has the best chance to bounce back?

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