College right handers are often seen as low ceiling, unexciting options on draft day, at least after the top tiers come off the board, but the Astros have consistently shown that they have no qualms stacking them up class after class, and they have been able to generate some surprising value along the way. While they didn’t go as far as the Angels did with their all-pitcher, almost-all-college class in 2021, the Astros again walked away with a healthy crop of college righthanders this past draft (plus Monmouth southpaw Trey Dombroski), drafting a total of seven.
The first three, compensatory pick (80th overall) Andrew Taylor out of Central Michigan, third rounder (103rd) Michael Knorr of Coastal Carolina, and the aforementioned Dombroski (133rd), plus 15th rounder (463rd) Joey Mancini from Boston College, have all remained at the complex, out of game action for their introductions to pro ball. However, we have gotten some solid looks at the group of middle-rounds righties that could offer some hints at their future trajectories. Let’s take a look at the earliest pick to debut so far, fifth rounder Nolan DeVos.
On a per batter basis, DeVos was amongst the absolute best in the college game at missing bats in 2022, leading a surprisingly dangerous Davidson club that projects to be a force again in ‘23. It’s no surprise that he’s able to generate so many whiffs when one breaks down his approach to pitching. At 6-foot-nothing, DeVos is on the shorter end of the spectrum for a right hander, but uses the smaller frame to his advantage by creating big time fastball carry out of a low release point.
This type of frame/fastball combination has become increasingly popular among major league organizations over the last decade thanks to those bat-missing qualities, but finding pitchers who combine the advantageous low release/rising life pairing with consistently good velocity, strike throwing ability, and durability. The rare pitchers that do tend to go on to top prospect status.
DeVos, like most of his peers, doesn’t quite check all of those boxes, but he comes pretty close. His velocity will more than play, typically sitting in the low 90s but regularly touching mid-90s with the four seam, and while his durability hasn’t really been tested by large workloads yet (his 78 and 2⁄3 innings for the Wildcats in 2022 were a career high by far), he hasn’t had any long term injuries to this point and has a thick build that suggests he should be able to continue to scale up his innings counts.
The fastball is backed up by a trio of secondaries, including two breaking balls with subtle differences and shape that is perhaps a bit inefficient, and his changeup shows promise despite lagging usage. The one area where there are some fairly major questions is in the location department- DeVos walked 31 hitters in college this year, and often worked shorter outings despite being a full time starting pitcher thanks to inefficient pitch counts. DeVos’ mechanics are quite simple and the verticality in his arm action should help limit lateral wildness, but he’s very uptempo and has a bit of violence to the operation, so the issues could be persistent.
Quickly assigned to Fayetteville after signing, DeVos had a debut that was at once successful and fairly non-instructive, as his performance in the Carolina league strongly mirrored his earlier work up the road at Davidson. After a quick tuneup in the FCL, DeVos made four appearances totaling 12 IP with the Woodpeckers, walking 5 in 5 frames across the first two before ending on a high note with 12 Ks:1 BB across 7 IP in his last pair. Low-A hitters looked about as equipped to handle his ghost fastball as A-10 competition had been, and while his breaking stuff continued to look a bit raw, it was also effective for him in the taste of full season ball.
Despite above average raw spin ability and a four pitch arsenal, DeVos is a fastball dominant pitcher right now, which could hint at opportunities to tap into further potential. The Astros’ minor league coaches have helped round many a breaking ball into form- if they can help DeVos find a bit more effectiveness and confidence in one of his breakers, it would allow him to diversify his pitch mix significantly. With the fastball and little else he would project favorably as a short reliever who lives at the top of the zone with four seam heat, but there’s room for him grow into larger roles with a bit of pitch design magic. He should make the cut in postseason top 30s.