Astros Minor League Review: Lancaster Jethawks RHP Nicholas Tropeano

Nicholas Tropeano was one of the most effective pitchers in the Astros system this year and posted a combined 3.02 ERA and 166 strikeouts and 47 walks in 158 combined innings between Lexington and Lancaster.

Today we wrap up our review of the Lancaster Jethawks season by taking a look at right-handed pitcher Nick Tropeano. Heading into the 2011 draft the scouting report on Tropeano was that he was an advanced college pitcher who possessed below average fastball velocity but an above average changeup and feel for pitching. After being drafted in the fifth round in 2011 Nick Tropeano was assigned to the Tri-City Valley Cats team where he logged 53 impressive innings. He struck out 63 batters while only allowing 21 walks and posted a 2.36 ERA. He started out this season in Lexington where he dominated the Sal League. The most positive reports that came out of his time in Lexington were that his velocity had improved, and that he was now sitting in the 92-94 range which was nice to hear.

This season Tropeano did what you would expect a college pitcher with an advanced feel for pitching and above average changeup to do in Low-A ball. He dominated. Here’s a look at his pitching stats in Lexington:

14 starts, 87.1 IP, 2.78 ERA, 2.39 FIP, 10.0 K/9, 2.68 BB/9.

He was a tad better than league average in the Sal League in inducing groundballs by posting a groundball percentage of 45.70% (league average of 44.20%). His batting average on balls in play was a little high at .333 which may explain why he outpitched his ERA this season. Perhaps the most impressive thing about his time spent in Lexington was how well he pitched against left-handed hitters. In 33.2 innings against southpaws Tropeano posted an FIP of 2.19 while striking out 32.10% of the batters he faced (26.90% of those strikeouts were swinging). Opponents scored four or more runs off of him four times in his fifteen starts, and he was pretty consistent all year long. Here’s a look at his breakdown by month in Lexington:

April – 26.2 IP, 2.36 ERA, 1.63 FIP

May – 32.1 IP, 3.62 ERA, 2.27 FIP

June – 28.1 IP, 2.22 ERA, 3.24 FIP

This performance earned him a mid-season promotion to the Astros High-A affiliate, the Lancaster Jethawks. His debut was a memorable one as he pitched eight innings, only allowed one unearned run, struck out nine batters while only allowing two walks and a hit batter, and only allowed five hits. This was his best start for the Jethawks. Even though he still pitched well, especially considering the Cal League’s offensive reputation, his numbers decreased compared to his production in Lexington. Here’s a look at his pitching line with the Jethawks:

12 starts, 70 IP, 3.18 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 8.79 K/9, 2.67 BB/9

Cal League Avg: 4.74 ERA, 4.10 FIP, 7.98 K/9, 3.42 BB/9

Even though all of these numbers declined compared to Lexington, They were all significantly better than the Cal League Average. Prior to his time in Lancaster Tropeano had always been average or slightly above average at inducing groundballs, but that percentage dipped from 45.70% in Lexington to 36.60% in Lancaster. Much of this decline can be attributed to him struggling against left-handed hitters more at Lancaster. In 29.2 innings pitched against lefties he posted a 4.82 FIP and posted a groundball percentage of 30.80%. His strikeout rate also dipped to 6.67 K/9 against lefties. Prior to this Tropeano had always handled left-handed hitters just as well as right-handed hitters. He even stated that he just likes throwing against lefties in this excellent interview by Jayne at WTHB. The last thing I’ll mention about his time in Lancaster is that Lancaster gets plenty of attention for being a Launchpad so if a pitcher is able to experience some success their then it should not be taken lightly. In six starts at Lancaster and 36.2 innings Tropeano posted an impressive ERA of 2.70, and a respectable SIERA of 3.68.

Looking ahead to next season it looks like Nick Tropeano may be placed on the express lane to the majors. It was announced late this season that the Astros assigned Tropeano to the Arizona Fall League, a move that was a little bit surprising considering he just logged a combined 158 innings pitched in his first full professional season. However, if you take into account his combined innings count in 2011 between college and the NYPL the jump doesn’t appear to be as significant. He pitched 93 innings for Stoney Brook College and 53 innings for the Tri-City Valley Cats for a total of 146 innings. Therefore the additional 30 innings or so that he would pitch in the AFL would not represent as significant of a jump from last season. Plus it will be nice to see him tested against some of the top hitting prospects out there and could play a role in how quickly he is moved through the system.

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