The Astros traded away Jed Lowrie this morning, pinning the entire return on one player. Brendan McCurry is a 23-year-old right-handed reliever who was drafted in 2014. What do we know about him?
A Tupelo, Oklahoma native, McCurry went to Roff High School, where he was an all-state selection his senior year. The right-hander hit .510 and led the state in home runs with 26 in his senior season. He was a two-way player in high school and drew interest from big-name schools, but attended a junior college for two years instead of signing with a four-year school right away.
At Howard Junior College in Texas, McCurry hit .337 with five home runs as a sophomore and was 3-0 with a 4.22 ERA on the mound his freshman season. He signed with Oklahoma State after completing his time with Howard.
In his first season with the Cowboys, McCurry was named All-Big 12 as a utility player and also had eight saves, allowing 18 runs in 46 innings.
McCurry saved 19 games in his second year with the Cowboys, making him the team's all-time saves leader with 27. He also posted a 0.39 ERA his senior season and helped Oklahoma State reach the Super Regionals.
His brother, Randy, also played for the Cowboy baseball team and the two played together in 2013, when Randy was a senior.
Interestingly, this article suggests that McCurry didn't plan on pitching when he signed with Okie State, but a bullpen session that fall opened that door back up.
According to J.J. Cooper, McCurry has an average fastball, a good curve and a changeup that is just a tick below league average.
New Astro Brendan McCurry: Avg FB, CB flashes plus, 45 CHG. Commands everything. And importantly, doesn't need to be on 40-man.— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) November 25, 2015
He generates a ton of swing-throughs with his pitch, however, as Daren Wilman points out
Brendan McCurry had a 40% K% at AA in 16.2 innings this year. 47.5% GB%. Other teams top 20 prospects .187 vs him. pic.twitter.com/k082z8Nhij— Daren Willman (@darenw) November 25, 2015
That ability to miss bats combined with a pretty decent ground ball rate is a nice combo.
Oh, PS, he also has two different arm slots, throwing both sidearm and from a 3/4 slot. That seems significant.
Our friends over at Athletics Nation have glowing things to say about McCurry. According to this post, he was throwing 88-91 consistently on his fastball and topping out at 93. His curve comes in at 67-71 and he mixes in a slider, too.
Be sure to stay in that post for Batter No. 3, Bubba Starling, which features a 16-inch break on his curve.
Minor league record
McCurry pitched at three levels for the Oakland A' s in his first season, totaling 28 2/3 innings with 37 strikeouts and three walks. He made it to High A with the Stockton Ports in the dreaded Cal League, but only pitched one inning there in 2014.
The next season, he returned to Stockton and was very good. McCurry struck out 56 in 46 1/3 innings, allowing 30 hits and 11 walks with three home runs. That was good for a 1.94 ERA. Adjusted for the league, that's like a 2,000 ERA+. Or something.
He was promoted to Midland in the Texas League at the tail end of the season, getting in 16 innings with 26 strikeouts and six walks. His ERA was even lower at 1.62.
Overall, McCurry had 119 strikeouts in 91 career minor league innings.
TCB's honorary Cal League scout had this to say about McCurry:
Brendan McCurry was probably my favorite reliever in the Cal League in 2015. If he was four inches taller, he'd be all over top prospects lists. Huge strikeout numbers, near-immaculate control, and as near to MLB-ready as a 2014 draftee can be. Low-nineties fastball with movement that can get up to around 93, curveball in the high sixties, slider in the mid-to-low seventies, and a really vicious changeup.
He has a lot of different variations on his fastball, and really the big question mark around him is going to be whether the "varying the arm slot" trick gets exposed by better hitters. He has a small frame and lives on deception, so you just kind of have to hope that he can hang on in the majors, but if he can refine his repertoire, I think he has a ton of potential. I'd like to see him get a little less gimmicky and really learn to focus on honing his four basic pitches. But the movement on the fastball and the best slider in the system since Travis Ballew, more than his numbers against low-minors hitters, are what get me excited about him.
What to expect?
As Cooper put it, McCurry's attractive to the Astros because he doesn't take up a 40-man roster spot. They were maxed out after protecting guys from the Rule 5 draft. This frees up a spot on the 40-man for any moves the Astros might have in store.
It also continues a trend of the Astros grabbing "Break In Case of Emergency" relievers. Guys like James Hoyt and even Riley Ferrell prove that the Astros don't shy away from grabbing straight relief prospects and could be looking to bolster the bullpen through these additions eventually.
McCurry probably doesn't make an impact in 2016 and maybe not in 2017. But, he's around if injuries put Houston in a bad position. His history of closing big games could also play a role in how they evaluated him.
Also, don't rule out things we can't see that influenced their decision. Between High A and Double-A, McCurry pitched in front of Houston's TrackMan cameras in the minors six times. They likely have a bit of data on his exit velocities and other things that help them evaluate pitchers. I'm guessing they saw something they liked.