The Astros decision to flip Ramon Laureano to ease the roster crunch in 2017 is one that is sure to be talked about plenty, but the player that came back in that transaction has flown under the radar a bit to this point. That player, Brandon Bailey, is one that fits the Astros’ draft MO and has turned a few heads since entering the Astros organization.
At just 5’10 and around 180 lbs, it would be an understatement say that Bailey doesn’t possess typical starter’s size, particularly throwing from the right side. This has never dissuaded the Astros from using a pitcher as a starter as we have seen in the past however, and thus far the 24-year-old has predominately thrown out of the rotation in both the Oakland and Houston systems.
After a dynamite 2017 campaign in the Midwest and California leagues, Bailey spent most of his 2018 season back at the High-A level with Buies Creek. He picked up more or less where he left off with Oakland, striking out 113 batters in 97.2 frames with just six homers allowed and a workable walk rate. He made six appearances in Double-A after a late season promotion to Corpus, largely in long relief. He met a bit more resistance in the upper minors, as he allowed five home runs in just 24.2 innings at the level and saw his K rate drop notably.
Bailey has a four-pitch arsenal, of which three pitches project as real weapons at the major league level. Bailey brings significant velocity to the table, sitting in the 92-94 range as a starter. That said, his heater tends to come in a bit true, leaving him prone to hard contact when he doesn’t have his best command. Perhaps his best overall weapon is his changeup, which draws grades from 50-60 depending on who you ask, and plays very well off of his fastball. He also throws a curveball and slider, and while the curve is a major league average pitch, the slider is seen as very fringy and will likely be scrapped entirely should he move to the pen.
2019 will be a tone-setting year for Bailey, who is at a turning point in his development. The Astros will want to see him recapture his plus K rate in the rotation with Corpus Christi, and if he proves unable to miss bats at as high of a rate as he did in the lower minors, a move to the bullpen could be in the cards sooner rather than later. Should things really come together for Bailey, he projects as a solid #4 starter who misses his share of bats but falls victim to hard contact on occasion.
Additionally, there are legitimate concerns as to whether or not Bailey will be able to handle a heavy starter’s workload with his undersized frame. The 112.1 innings he threw across two levels last season were a professional career high, but his numbers suggest that he wore down a bit towards the end of the campaign and it’s fair to wonder if that’s a trait that Bailey will be able to shake. Despite his smaller stature, Bailey is thickly built in the lower half and doesn’t put a tremendous amount of stress on his harm during his delivery, so I like his chances of avoiding relegation to single-inning work more than the average 5’10” hurler.
A bit of a tweener, Bailey is rightfully overshadowed by some of the more dynamic arms in the Astros’ system, but all in all his 2018 performance is something to build on. Given the Astros’ organizational philosophy and Bailey’s overall profile, I think that his best future role could be as a multi-inning “super reliever,” as he has the requisite stuff to get outs against both lefties and righties, but has some light workload concerns and isn’t overpowering. Barring unforeseen developments, Bailey will open the 2019 season in the Hooks’ rotation, and could find himself in any number of situations come October. Unlike J.D. Martinez, Ramon Laureano’s departure from the Astros wasn’t for nothing.