The J.R. Richard Award is the Astros minor league version of the Cy Young. Naturally, this is where you choose who was the best pitcher in the minors this year. Not prospect. But, best pitcher this season.
Lance McCullers Jr.
The first compensation round draft pick from last season made his full season debut and turned several heads by meeting expectations and exceeding others. He stayed healthy but was shut down toward the end of the season as he reached what was presumed to be his innings limit. He threw 104 2/3 innings and accumulated a 3.18 ERA which was higher than his 2.88 FIP. He posted an impressive 26% strikeout rate but a high 11% walk rate. He maintained his fastball velocity for a lot of the season and flashed a plus breaking ball but the changeup and mechanics still need work. But, if that's all there is to write about after a first full-season, there's nothing to complain about.
Few can argue against his rise in stock this season. Folty came out of the gates as a prospect with loads of potential but had struggled with consistency in the past. Most evaluators would hold back putting too high of grades on him last off-season because he was still considered quite raw, but would comment that he could break out. This year, he pretty much did. His fastball velocity was more consistent and reached new levels. He tossed 129 1/3 innings across two levels and 103 1/3 came in AA Corpus where he finished the season with a 2.87 ERA. He outperformed his FIP of 4.02 which could be from his .255 BABIP. His 22.4% strikeout rate while in Corpus is an improvement over last few seasons but his 12.3% walk rate is the worst he's posted. But, he also posted a career best 49.3 GB%. The fastball is elite and the mechanics aren't bad. He is still inconsistent with all of his secondaries, but if you catch him on a good day, you won't leave disappointed.
Lots of questions surround VV coming into the season as it was his first full season after returning from Tommy John surgery last year in Tri-City. Full-Season ball would be a whole new challenge. He met it head on and dominated Low-A competition to the tune of a 3.19 ERA and 2.85 FIP over 110 innings before running into the Cal League winds for 14 2/3 innings where he had a 4.43 FIP. His Low-A numbers were very impressive with a 27.2% strikeout rate and 7.3% walk rate. With his plus fastball and advanced change up, there is some great potential. The breaking ball has good velocity but isn't sharp enough to be considered much more than above average at this point.