Astros Minor League Review: Greeneville RHP Lance McCullers Jr.

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Lance McCullers Jr. was able to fall to the Astros at number 41 overall due to signability concerns, but the Astros were able to offer him almost double the slot value and sign him away from his college commitment. Here's a look at how McCullers performed after being drafted.

The Astros draft strategy may have not been that clear heading into this year’s draft, but soon became clear that Jeff Luhnow and the Astros wanted to nab as many first round talents as they possibly could. By agreeing to an underslot signing bonus with their first pick Carlos Correa they were able to accomplish just that and added high upside prep talent in Lance McCullers Jr. and Rio Ruiz. McCullers was considered to have a strong commitment to the University of Florida, and it took $2.5 million to lure him away from that commitment. McCullers had a great senior season and went 13-0 with a 0.18 ERA pitching a total of 77.1 innings and racking up 140 strikeouts. Most likely due to the high school workload McCullers only made eight starts in rookie ball for the Astros this season, four with the Gulf Coast League Astros and four with the Greeneville Astros.

There weren’t too many scouting reports out there on how McCullers looked in pro-ball. Zachary Levine reported here in his minor league notebook on McCullers first start in the GCL.

Supplemental first-round pick Lance McCullers Jr. made his first start, throwing three scoreless innings. The start was attended by Astros scout John Martin, who reported to assistant GM of scouting Bobby Heck that McCullers threw 91-95 mph and used his slider and changeup.

There’s also this report from baseballinstinct.com that covers a start that he made on 7/31 this season. The takeaway:

He’s a presence on the mound and was working 93-96 and touched 97 on a couple of occasions. He worked in an 82-85 mph slider which is a tough pitch with the same arm speed as his fastball. Working the two pitches with the fastball up and down you can see why he’s been labeled as a potential closer type.

But he flashed a low 80 changeup more than a few times and while we’re talking rookie ball hitters, he was using the changeup effectively with good arm speed. So there is more than a good chance that he can continue to develop the pitch into an above average offering.

With that in mind let’s take a look at how Lance McCullers did this season in professional ball. He opened up with the GCL Astros and pitched a total of 11 innings and struck out while allowing only two walks while posting an ERA of 1.64 and an FIP of 1.56. He also showed the ability to generate ground balls as he did that 50% of the time. He was then promoted to Greeneville where he made another four starts. He pitched 15 innings and struck out 17 batters but also allowed 10 walks as well. He still generated groundballs a good percentage of the time at 51.3%. Here he posted an ERA of 4.80 and an FIP of 4.87.

Overall McCullers threw 26 innings and posted a 3.46 ERA and a 3.47 FIP while striking out more than a batter per nine innings at 10.04 K/9 while averaging 4.15 BB/9. He generated groundballs 50.7% of the time. McCullers was slightly more effective against left-handed hitters than right-handed hitters this season recording a 2.76 FIP against lefties and a 3.85 FIP against righties. He had a better strikeout percentage against righties but was able to generate more groundballs (66.7%) against lefties. Lefties hit .156/.250/188 against him while righties hit .224/.312/.343 against him. He did not allow more than two earned runs in a start until his last two starts of the season where he allowed three earned runs in three innings and four earned runs in four innings. These were also the only two starts that he allowed a homerun in. He allowed 20 hits on the season in his 26 innings pitched, and of those 20 hits five were for extra bases (two homeruns, three doubles).

Lance had a nice introduction to professional ball even though the sample size was small likely due to his 77.1 innings pitched in high school this season. McCullers has a high ceiling and it was nice that the Astros were able to draft someone with his potential with their 41st pick. Ed Wade’s decision to deem Clint Barmes untouchable at the 2011 trade deadline proved to be a smart one as they would not have been able to snag anyone close to McCullers potential in a Clint Barmes trade.

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