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A refresher on Austin Pruitt, the Astros’ forgotten man

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Yes, he’s alive, and he’s nearing his return.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Austin Pruitt may soon be a thing again. The ex-Rays hurler is now rehabbing with the Sugar Land Skeeters, the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate, and says he expects to rejoin the big club shortly after the All-Star Break in mid-July.

Pruitt was acquired by former general manager Jeff Luhnow in January 2020. The trade was struck only days before the sign-stealing scandal went nuclear, and it would end up being the last acquisition Luhnow made as Astros GM. Due to a serious elbow injury that required surgery last September, Pruitt has yet to make his Astros debut, but that could change in a few weeks.

18 months ago, it was no secret why the Astros targeted Pruitt — the spin rate on his four-seam fastball was 82nd percentile in 2019 and his curveball’s was 98th percentile, with an average spin rate that fell only 1 revolution per minute shy of joining the illustrious 3000 RPM club.

The Astros have long valued pitchers who can spin it, and in Pruitt’s case, there’s reason to believe there could be serious untapped potential with his high-spin offerings.

Despite being able to generate a lot of spin, the UH product has never been able to translate the spin into extra pitch movement, as evidenced by the lowly active spin rate on both his four-seamer (67 percent) and curveball (55 percent). Simply put, there is an awful lot of movement that could be added to Pruitt’s pitch arsenal via an improvement in spin efficiency. Different techniques to achieve this include grip alteration and mechanical adjustments such as a change in arm slot and release point.

What makes the 31-year-old especially intriguing is the fact that he’s already had moderate success in the big leagues without an optimized repertoire. In nearly 200 innings across three seasons, he has a career ERA of 4.87, but a FIP of 4.17 and an xERA just above 4.00.

Pruitt has worked as both a starter and a reliever and was viewed as a rotation candidate in 2020, but given the wealth of starting pitching the Astros have this year, he’s likely destined for the bullpen. The righty’s ability to consistently throw strikes would be a welcome addition to a unit that issues a fair amount of free passes. He won’t overpower hitters with middling velocity, but Pruitt has an established track record of minimizing walks and inducing a good number of ground balls.

The Astros are renowned for their ability to get the most out of their pitchers, and based on his past numbers, it’s reasonable to think Pruitt has yet to reach his ceiling. It’s possible that he does in Houston, as many other arms have.

The data in this article was compiled via Baseball Savant