For today's stock watch, let's check in with the fifth starter candidates first:
Nelson Figueroa, falling: It's not that Figueroa has done anything badly. He's had a couple rough outings here and there, but overall he's pitched okay. He just hasn't done anything to win this job. Coming in as the probable front-runner, Figgy has just slightly underwhelmed. Not sure if that's enough to get Brad Mills to pick someone else over him, but it can't be a good sign.
Ryan Rowland-Smith, no growth: On the other hand, Hyphen hasn't done anything, period, for this job. Yes, he's gotten into some trouble, but much like Figgy, it hasn't been a ton of bad outings. In fact, Mills said just the other day how impressed he was that Hyphen was able to pitch through some command issues. I doubt he's ahead in this race right now, but he's also not falling far behind.
Jordan Lyles, rising: If we're going just off spring results, Jordan Lyles would be your fifth starter right now. However, to win this job, Lyles would need to completely dominate his next few appearances AND have the other four candidates suddenly start giving up runs like it was going out of style. Then, and only then, would Lyles have a shot at not heading to Oklahoma City to begin the season. I have faith that the Astros brass will protect Lyles. It may be misplaced faith.
Aneury Rodriguez, dead-cat bounce?: In every one of his starts so far, it seems like the writer describes it thusly, "Other than that (walk/home run/double to the gap), Rodriguez pitched well." Maybe that makes him an ideal fifth starter, in that he can get guys out but still makes mistakes. There's room for growth. Maybe he's just inconsistent and the Astros won't want to take that chance in the regular season. Either way, every good outing by Rodriguez is caveated. That has to put him third in this race.
Lance Pendleton, fading fast: It's not looking good for the Houston native. He has had some control problems so far in camp and is probably last in this race. That hasn't changed from previous weeks, but I will mention that Zachary Levine did distinguish between returning a player and passing them through waivers. I'll see if I can clarify that process with him, but if the Astros could return Pendleton and then pick him up in a trade from the Yankees, he might still end up on their Triple-A roster.
J.B. Shuck, rising: For Shuck to make the Opening Day roster, he'd need an absolutely amazing camp. He' d have to get on base all the time, show great instincts on the bases and field his position well. He's done some of those things but not all of them. Has he done enough to beat out Brian Bogusevic? Probably not, simply because Shuck doesn't have a ton of time at Triple-A. He only spent 36 games there last season and, though he put up good numbers, they might not trump what Bogey's done in two seasons. I really like Shuck and think the Astros do too. His only downside as an outfielder is his limited range. Shuck is stretched playing right field and probably couldn't handle center, which limits his ability to work as a bench outfielder.
T.J. Steele, rising: On the other hand...Steele is hanging around and at this point, I think it's just to make me angry. He hasn't hit, but that's not surprising given his minor league track record. He has played good to great defense and has stolen two bases in two attempts. I wonder if Tal Smith has anything to do with Steele still being in camp.
Jon Gaston, falling slightly: The first of the Three Caballeros to be sent to minor league camp, Gaston is also the best defender of the group. After seeing him a couple of times last summer, I wasn't surprised to see Baseball America rate him as having the best outfield defense and best outfield arm of the Astros farm system. Still, he's got to be disappointed not to get more time with the big league club. I think he'll be in Oklahoma City with Shuck and Steele, but would have liked to see him get a little more burn.
J.R. Towles, possibly rising: I say possibly because he's definitely been hitting the cover off the ball. But, did you see the comment Mills made yesterday? Something like, "He's having a good spring, just like he did last year when he was our Opening day catcher." Does that mean Mills has faith in him or that whatever made the Astros send him down last season is still under consideration for this one? At this point, I'd be shocked if Towles wasn't the starter in April, but I do wonder how the Astros are evaluating him.
Patrick Urckfitz, faintly rising: Give the Astros credit. As badly as Urckfitz has gotten slapped around this spring, Mills and Co. kept him around a little longer to get a fair evaluation of the kid. The way the bullpen is shaping up, that might give him a chance to be a late-season call-up if there are injuries back there. Of course, he's going to have to perform a heck of a lot better than he has been for that to happen.
Henry Villar, surprisingly strong: Given his minor league track record and lack of experience with the big league club, I really thought Villar was more of a wild card to make the team. However, he's only given up three hits and two runs in 8 innings of work this spring, striking out eight and only walking one. That strikeout rate is what he flashed in the low minors. If he can keep that up, Villar will make an excellent addition to the bullpen.
Wandy Rodriguez, falling: Everyone together now, "This tendinitis is a minor thing. This tendinitis is a minor thing. Don't be worried about missing a spring start." If we say it enough, I might start believing it.
Brett Wallace, blue-chip status: So far, so good. Wallace has shown everything we could've asked for in a small sample size this spring. He's flashed power, a high batting average and decent defense at first. Every indication is that he'll start the season as the everyday first baseman and may even get some starts against lefties. Now, about that nickname...
Jason Bourgeois, rising softly: He hasn't been flashy, but Bourg has quietly filled in nicely for a resting Bourn this spring. He's hit well, he's led off well and may be doing enough to unseat Bogusevic for that fifth outfield spot. In order for that to happen, I'd imagine the Astros would need to guarantee a left-handed bat off the bench on the infield, or to carry Bourg as the backup second baseman instead of Matt Downs. Both those are not locks to happen.