Righthanded pitcher Carlos Calderon entered the 2022 season with limited fanfare, having posted intriguing but mixed results at two rookie ball levels last season (74 K/31 BB in 49 IP with a 4.78 ERA). He failed to rank on any preseason organizational lists, but his impressive strikeout numbers did turn some heads, and those who got eyes on him noted some significant arm talent, even if it came packaged in a 6’0” frame from the right side.
Some teams might have tried to ease Calderon in to full season ball a bit, but the Astros have demonstrated by this point that their preference is to develop young arms by maximizing their reps with starting roles. The plan for Calderon was no different— to start 2022, he was given a rotation spot with Low-A Fayetteville, and it got off to a bit of a rocky start. In his first two appearances, Calderon, totaled 6 and 1⁄3 frames, and looked to be struggling a bit in his new digs with 8 walks and 3 hit batsmen across those outings. He did strike out 9, evidencing the quality of his stuff, but to hold on to a rotation turn, he’d need to land more strikes.
Fortunately, he was able to right the ship in short order. In his third turn on April 20th, Calderon fired five nearly flawless frames, allowing just one hit while walking two and striking out seven. As a bonus, he got the majority of his in-play outs on the ground. Two walks in five innings isn’t an elite rate, but it was an impressive that he was able to avoid the walks while also avoiding the heart of the plate and limiting hits. It built some much needed momentum for a pitcher who looked completely out of sorts at the start of the season, and he successfully carried it into his next start a week later. In that April 27th start against Kannapolis, Calderon went 4 innings and issued just one free pass, striking out 5 and allowing just 2 hits, though one of those was his first home run allowed on the year.
Astros circles started to buzz a bit after the second consecutive dominant outing, which lowered his season ERA to 3.52. While he’s still not heavily scouted and we don’t have detailed velo numbers, fans got a chance to see him shove on MiLB.tv and were coming away impressed. He looks larger than his listed weight of 175 lbs., and his feel shows more maturity than you might expect given his career numbers prior to the last few weeks. He’s aggressive with the fastball, happy to let it eat at the top of the zone, but also makes liberal usage of two secondaries. The go-to is a two plane slider which he’s able to land for strikes, but there’s also a pretty mature changeup with sink and fade that has already begun to pick up some whiffs as well.
The fresh attention, if he even noticed it, didn’t seem to bother Calderon a bit. His most recent start was perhaps his best to date, as it was his first scoreless outing of the season, and he again walked just one batter against 6 strikeouts and a single hit, this time in 5 complete frames. The brilliant appearance brought his ERA, which sat at 5.68 through two outings, down to a very impressive 2.66, and while his K/BB ratio currently sits at a wild 27/12 in 20 and 1⁄3 innings, the mark over his last three appearances is a sterling 18/4 in 14 frames. In a year where the lower levels of the Astros farm have been a bit slow out of the gates, Calderon’s emergence has been a welcome sight to say the least.
If there’s a scouting-level concern regarding Calderon at this stage, it’s that the mechanical operation isn’t the most athletic in the world. He’s explosive in the upper body, but a bit more conservative and deliberate with his lower-half movements, which could be either an opportunity for improvement or a long term limiting factor depending on which lens you’re viewing it through (or perhaps more accurately, how you view Calderon’s overall athleticism). His size naturally funnels him towards the bullpen long term, but his frame is bigger than the typical 6-foot-nothing, he already has some diversity in his arsenal, and he finds himself in an organization that gives relievery arms more leash as starters than perhaps any other in the league. I’m far from out on him as a long term starter, at least into the upper minors, and for my money he’s tracking towards earning some organizational ranking spots, perhaps as early as midseason, regardless of whether or not the pen is seen as his likeliest long term home.