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Josh James - Future Starter or Reliever?

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Seattle Mariners v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Josh James has had an interesting career to date. A 34th round pick (number 1006) overall, signing for a mere $15,000. Hailing from Western Oklahoma Stast Colllege, the 6’3, 206lb Righty did not draw much fan fare and his fastball sat in the low 90’s. In 2017, he didn’t make the top 20 Astros prospects for Minorleagueball, he didn’t even make the “extra” C+, barely scraping into their top 50 at #49. To start the season in 2018, he faired no better, not making the top 20 or even the C+ list.

Then in 2018, something magical happened. His velocity spiked, his strike-outs sky rocketed. June of last year, I posted on Minorleagueball asking John what his thoughts were and he was nice enough to write an entire article ( https://www.minorleagueball.com/2018/6/13/17454028/thoughts-on-houston-astros-prospect-josh-james-sleep-apnea ) on the changes.

Here was CrawfishBoxes scouting report ( https://www.crawfishboxes.com/2019/3/25/18279728/houston-astros-top-30-prospects-for-2019 ) on him coming into 2019:

“3. Joshua James, RHP

Current Level: MLB

ETA: 2018

DOB: 03/08/93

James’ velocity had been trending up for awhile, but it exploded in 2018 after he got treatment for sleep apnea in the offseason. The 6’3” James now works in the upper 90s and can get as high as 102, and his changeup and slider both have great action. It’s a unique profile, and a unique story, but James has all the stuff needed to be a mid-rotation starter in short order as long as his arm holds up throwing at such high velocities. He’ll open the year in the big league bullpen and is probably first in line to move into a rotation opening- depending on if and when that happens, James is a dark-horse rookie of the year candidate with the potential to rack up strikeouts in bunches.”

Then 2019 came with hope springing eternal in spring training until a mild hamstring injury disrupted his chances at taking over a spot in the rotation. Falling back into the bullpen, James had a brutal start to the season, tossing a 7.36 ERA across his first 14.2 IP, rocking his lowest K/9 (12.89) and highest BB/9 (6.75) for any month of the season. His elite velocity was down a tick to 96.5 mph (vs 97.4-97.6 for the rest of the season)

Since then he’s been an entirely different reliever, throwing 37.2 IP of 3.58 ERA. James was shut down on 7/23 for Right arm soreness, in which we saw his velocity dip. Statcast actually sees a pretty significant improvement in James’ arsenal in 2019, with end results showing a .167 xBA, .273 xSLG, and .269 xwOBA (compared to .196/.343/.275 last year).

Overall, his stats have trended well with a minor uptick in average 4-seamer velocity (even with the slow start), a larger differentiation in his slider speed and increased spin rate, and a solid jump in his K%.

All of these are great indications of continued growth in the future. The question comes to where he should be the Rotation or the Bullpen?

There’s debate in regards to the bullpen being a “healthier” alternative for arms, although I’m not sure I buy into that notion. For those that believe in a certain number of innings an arm can take, James is a refreshing surprise having logged limited innings when he was younger which also potentially projects for continued future refinement.

From a needs standpoint, James is obviously in the bullpen for the remainder of this year. With the Greinke trade, there’s an argument that he will be needed to a much higher degree in the bullpen with the potential departures of Colin McHugh, Will Harris, Hector Rondon, and Joe Smith.

Tell me, where do you think Josh James’ future is?

Poll

Where do you see Josh James in the future?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    Starting Rotation
    (139 votes)
  • 63%
    Bullpen
    (283 votes)
  • 5%
    Meh
    (26 votes)
448 votes total Vote Now