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No More a Young Padawan. Is Reymin Guduan the Right Lefty One?

In the race to be the lefty out of the bullpen, Guduan is emerging the front-runner.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Houston Astros
Houston Astros relief pitcher Reymin Guduan (64) jokes with relief pitcher Francis Martes (58) in the dugout before a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Minute Maid Park
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

“Control, control, you must learn control!” Master Yoda

The Force has always been with young Reymin Guduan. Since being signed by the Astros at age 18 out of the Dominican Republic, Guduan has had the physical tools to be at least a viable left-handed reliever in the Big Leagues. He’s six foot four inches, with a 96 MPH fastball that sometimes reaches 99. Statcast says both his fastball velocity and spin rate are in the 82nd percentile among major league pitchers. His second pitch, the slider, has a vertical drop of 35.06 inches. Just for comparison, Justin Verlander’s slider drops 29.68 inches, while coming in just a half MPH faster at 87 MPH.

With commanding size, speed and motion on his pitches, there has always been something missing in the progress of the young padawan. In 354.2 innings pitched in the minors, mostly in relief, he has a 4.80 ERA, and a 1.71 WHIP, this despite 438 strike outs. What is this disturbance in the Force?

Control, young padawan, control.

In those same 354 innings Guduan surrendered 245 walks.

You must unlearn what you have learned.” Master Yoda

Of course it is a ridiculously small sample, but in six innings pitched in Spring Training, Guduan has allowed only 4 hits, and most importantly, only one walk with 10 strike outs. Has he learned control? Only time will tell. Last year in Spring Training Guduan had four walks in eight innings, about like he always has. But with his main competition for the left-handed relief role being Framber Valdez at this point, whose problems with control have not been unlearned, there is a good chance that this is the year the 27 year old (in 2 days) Guduan graduates from padawanhood to being the left-handed Jedi specialist in the Astros bullpen.

Fangraphs rates Guduan’s fastball as a 60, his slider a 55, both high grades, but his command at 40. On that mainly they rate his overall future value at 40, a low performing major league player at best. The projection services have him pitching around 25 innings this year, with an ERA between 3.70 and 4.58. But they also all have him throwing around five base on balls per nine innings.

“You fail because you don’t believe.” Master Yoda

What if, I repeat, what if, Master Strom has helped Guduan unlearn his problem with control? With his high strikeout numbers, what if he got his walk rate down, to say, Tony Sipp range, one per three innings? And, as reported by Chandler Rome, what if the Master has taught the apprentice to trust more in his real Jedi weapon, the slider? Then Guduan could be one of the pleasant surprises of 2019 and another triumph in the pitcher development program of the Houston Astros.

“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.” Master Yoda

Again, time will tell. But with about two weeks left before Opening Day, my money says Guduan gets the first shot among lefty relievers at the 25 man roster at this point. Framber Valdez went into camp as a front-runner for the fifth spot in the rotation, but whereas in his limited time last season he gave up a lot of walks but few hits, this Spring he has been generous in providing the opposition lots of hits and walks.

Cionel Perez made his first appearance of the Spring yesterday, throwing one perfect inning. He might overcome Guduan, but only if Guduan reverts to old form. Perez is still just 22 years old, barely saw action in AAA last year after his brief but unspectacular stint with the Big Team last year, and thus has time to develop and earn another shot. Time is running out on Guduan, and it would be a pity if he left the loaded Astros system, like so many before him, an undervalued asset that ended up helping some other team.

Much to learn you still have my old padawan. This is just the beginning.” Master Strom

MLB: Houston Astros-Media Day Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports