The Astros knew coming into the season that with the exit of Gerrit Cole, Collin McHugh, Will Harris, and Hector Rondon, the pitching corp was going to be a little thin.
The ace, the anchor, the Cy Young winner, Justin Verlander, is out indefinitely. Brad Peacock has not been able to throw. Joe Smith won’t participate in this, the season of Covid. The All Star relief ace, Ryan Pressly, has arm problems and has not seen action. Chris Devenski and Joe Biagini have seen limited action, but now both are also out with arm problems. Off-season acquisition Austin Pruitt has also been sidelined.
That means the Astros pitching staff has only five active veterans, Roberto Osuna, the just-back-from-Tommy-John Lance McCullers, the 36 year old Zack Greinke, and the two still young and erratic almost rookies, Josh James and Framber Valdez.
To fill out the staff the Astros have nine rookie pitchers. Seven of them have made their major league debut during this still very young season. Three of those have never pitched higher than AA, and one, Nivaldo Rodriguez, never higher than A+.
Here’s the bottom line:
Veterans: 29.1 IP...30 Ks...17 Earned runs...5.22 ERA (Without Verlander the ERA is 5.79)
Rookies:..28.2 IP...28 Ks....4 Earned runs....1.26 ERA.
The Astros team ERA at 3.26 is 6th in MLB. Obviously it is the rookies who are the main force behind that ranking.
Six of the nine rookies have not allowed a run in their brief appearances in this first week of the season. Two others have an ERA under 3.00, and only one is over 5.
Still fresh in our memory is the performance Wednesday night in which rookies pitched in 11 of the 13 innings and only allowed two earned runs in a losing cause.
Of the three wins now recorded by the Astros staff, one was earned by Brandon Bielak in his major league debut. When starter Josh James left Game Four of the season with the team down 3-0, Bielak, Enoli Paredes and Cy Sneed completed innings 4-8. They allowed only one earned run as the offense eventually compiled eight runs in an 8-5 victory over Seattle.
One could have wished that the rookies had seen more action in the third game of the season, as the Astros lost seven to six, all seven runs allowed by veterans Zack Greinke, Joe Biagini, and Chris Devenski.
Who are these surprising young prospects, none of whom have have ever sniffed the Top 100 prospect list from any major publication? Let’s start from most experienced to least.
Cy Sneed, 27
It’s nice to finally see some return on the Jonathon Villar trade. Sneed was a 3rd round draft pick by the Milwaukee Brewers. He was traded for Villar in November 2015. He saw 21.1 innings of actions last season with the big club, compiling a 5.48 ERA. In 4.1 innings this season he has a 2.08 ERA with four strikeouts and a 1.38 WHIP.
His repertoire includes a 92.5 mph fourseam, a slider, curve and splitter, which he is reportedly using more this season.
Bryan Abreu, 23
The young Dominican skyrocketed quickly up the Astros system and made his Astros debut last season skipping directly to the big club from AA. He even made the post-season roster, allowing two earned runs to the Yankees in .2 innings pitched.
Abreu throws a 94.5 mph fourseam, but relies on his curve 61% of the time. He occasionally mixes in a change and slider.
Cristian Javier, 23
The nicest surprise so far this year is another young Dominican, Cristian Javier. Javier advanced quickly through the system last season, starting at A and ending in AAA. He has 6.2 innings pitched this year, allowing only one run, with nine K’s and only one walk.
His repertoire includes an almost 93 mph fourseam, a curve and a slider.
Blake Taylor, 24
Taylor was acquired last winter from the Mets in exchange for Jake Marisnick. He was originally a 2nd round draft pick by the Pirates. Like Javier he had barely sniffed AAA before answering the call of the big leagues this year in service of the depleted Astros.
He’s been another nice surprise, throwing 4.2 innings without a run. He’s had five Ks and no walks, and has allowed only one hit thus far. Is he finally the lefty arm we’ve been looking for for so long?
He throws a 94 mph fourseam and a slider.
Brandon Bielak, 24
Bielak was an 11th round pick by the Astros from Notre Dame and saw 85 innings at AAA last season with a 4.41 ERA. He’s allowed one earned run this season in 3.1 innings with four Ks, no walks, and a 1.200 WHIP.
He has a versatile repertoire, throwing a 93 mph fourseam about 40% of the time, using his change and cutter about 22% of the time each, and occasionally mixing in a slider and curve.
Enoli Paredes, 24
Yet another Dominican, Paredes has never advanced above AA. He looked great in the practice game in KC and his first official appearance this season. But in the first Los Angeles game, he inherited bases loaded from Framber Valdez and continued the Valdez meltdown, allowing all inherited runners to score, and allowing two more of his own. All without getting a single out. He’s the only rookie in the bunch of whom you could say he has had a true meltdown.
He has allowed two runs in 1.2 innings with two Ks.
Paredes can bring it, averaging 95.5 on his fourseam. His main secondary pitch is the slider, with an occasional curve and change.
Andre Scrubb, 25
This kid’s big. 6-4, 270 lbs. An eighth round draft pick of the Dodgers, he came into the Astros system in the Tyler White trade last season. He saw 64.2 innings in AA last year, with a 2.78 ERA.
He’s thrown 2.2 innings for the Astros so far, allowing no runs, but two hits and three walks.
He’s a fastball, curve pitcher, throwing 92.5 on the heater.
Nivaldo Rodriguez, 23
How many pitchers in history have gone from A+ ball straight to the majors? That’s how depleted the Astros are..or how high they are on Rodriguez. A Venezuelan, Rodriguez pitched 105 innings last year with a 2.40 ERA.
This year he has contributed two scoreless innings. He throws a 92.5 mph fourseam, a slider and a curve.
Obviously the current success of these pitchers is in no way to be expected in the future, as the sample size for all of them is minuscule. Which means that the real Astros had better start playing real Astroball real soon.