There is a chance that the Astros starting rotation could look significantly different come August 1st than what it has for the vast majority of this season. Even though rumors regarding the Astros two starting veterans Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez have been scarce, there is still the possibility that one or both could be moved before the deadline. Add in the fact that rookie pitcher Jordan Lyles will have his innings limited towards the end of the season and the Astros will have to rely on some different looks to finish off their season. The Astros do have several in-house candidates to fill rotation vacancies in Aneury Rodriguez, Andy Van Hekken, Lucas Harrell, Dallas Keuchel, and to a lesser extent Nelson Figueroa and Ryan Rowland-Smith. While none of these candidates have had any type of sustained success in the majors, all but Figueroa and Rowland-Smith have experienced some degree of success in the minors this season. With that being said lets take a look at the aforementioned rotation hopefuls and what each could possibly bring to the table this year.
The rule-5 pick started the season in the bullpen, moved to the rotation, and then moved back to the bullpen all while showing at times he can be a capable major league pitcher. Aneury would have to build up his pitch count slowly if he was chosen due to the fact that he has not started a game since June 12th. Aneury’s overall line this year reads a 5.57 ERA, 4.88 FIP, 6.46 K/9, and a 2.87 BB/9. As a starter Aneury has fared slightly worse this year with a 5.80 ERA and a 5.8 K/9 in 40.1 innings pitched. Aneury has experienced some success as a starter in the minors over his career, and at some point it would be beneficial for the Astros to see what they have in Aneury as a starter at the major league level during this lost season. The biggest drawback of moving Aneury back into the rotation is that you lose him in the bullpen. In a season where the Astros bullpen has struggled Aneury has been very good coming out of the pen of late, and could assist in easing the burden of eating extra relief innings that could be placed on the pen by an inexperienced rotation.
Andy Van Hekken
Based solely on his performance in the minors this year Van Hekken would be the best option to fill in for the Astros as a starter. In 84.2 innings pitched at AAA this year Van Hekken has posted a 2.98 ERA, 3.16 FIP, 8.93 K/9, and a 3.08 BB/9. Since joining the Astros rotation in 2008 Van Hekken has split time as a starter and reliever in the system and has never had an FIP higher than 3.87 with the Astros. The biggest difference in Van Hekken this year when compared to last year is the fact that he was able to raise his K/9 rate from 5.79 to 8.93. At 31 years old Van Hekken would give the Astros a veteran pitcher that would be riding a hot streak into Houston this year. The only situation that I would see Van Hekken not being one of the guys promoted would be if the Astros receive major league ready talent back in any trade, or if they choose to go with younger more upside guys with an eye towards the future.
Harrell is one of the more intriguing replacement options in the rotation this year as he has experienced some success throughout his minor league career, and is still young enough to help the Astros in the future as well. Harrell’s career minor league stat line reads 3.76 ERA, 6.0 K/9, and a 4.3 BB/9 in 721.1 innings pitched. The biggest downfall of Harrell’s game has been his control which so far has been better this year. He has posted a 3.3 BB/9 in AAA this year between the White Sox and the Astros organization compared to his career average of 4.3. Harrell was a guy that was blocked by several veteran pitchers in the White Sox organization, and could be yet another one of Wade’s waiver wire success stories.
Dallas Keuchel would seem to be the least likely candidate of these four to see time in the majors this season, but after Wade and company promoted Jose Altuve from AA to the majors recently anything is possible. Keuchel is a soft tossing lefty who has also experienced success at every stop in the minors so far. His career line read 3.37 ERA, 6.3 K/9, and a 1.8 BB/9 in 352.1 innings pitched. One area of concern for Keuchel might be the fact that his K/9 rate has fallen from 6.04 last year in AA to 5.27 this year, however he is still experiencing a good amount of success by posting an ERA of 3.12, and an FIP of 3.74. Keuchel would seem to benefit the most by remaining in the minors this season and also start next year in Oklahoma City to further round out his game before given a chance to show what he can do for the Astros next season.
So to recap it does not seem like a trade of either of the Astros two veteran pitchers is imminent, but the Astros do have in-house rotation options to fill vacancies if necessary. The Astros also have other options in Nelson Figueroa and Ryan Rowland-Smith, both of which has not fared well in Oklahoma City this year, Sergio Perez, and Xavier Cedeno even though he appears to have been put in the bullpen for the remainder of the season. At the very least the backup options of Aneury Rodriguez, Andy Van Hekken, Lucas Harrell, and Dallas Keuchel could keep Ed Wade from looking for major league ready pitching talent in return for any trade, and could allow him to trade for younger higher ceiling type guys. In short hopefully Ed Wade can see the depth that he has in the minors, and can piece together the remainder of this lost season with the average pieces that he already has in place so that he can trade for the best possible prospects available and not worry about major league ready talent in return.