Barring something unforeseen, the Astros' projected rotation on Opening Day will likely be Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Luis Garcia, José Urquidy, and Hunter Brown. A terrific group in its own right. But with Justin Verlander now in New York and Lance McCullers Jr. out through at least Opening Day, the vaunted depth of last season’s pitching staff looks a little leaner than originally forecasted. A veteran pitcher like, say, Jake Odorizzi would have come in handy right about now, at least as insurance in the event another pitcher isn’t ready to go or some sort of load management is deemed necessary by the club.
Instead, the Astros are, once again, banking on internal development to help buoy the rotation in the event of a rash of injuries, underperformance, or some combination thereof. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this plan as this staff is arguably six-to-seven starters deep when healthy. But sometimes the best-laid plans can go by the wayside quickly under the right, rather inopportune, conditions. The club is partially accounting for this development by stretching out Ronel Blanco in camp. There are also a host of arms to monitor who could also answer the call to fill on upon occasion. Below are the other pitchers currently on the 40-man roster who have recent (from 2021 onwards) experience starting.
- Brandon Bielak
- Forrest Whitley
- J.P. France
- Shawn Dubin
- Parker Mushinski
Of the five names mentioned above, especially considering his recent bout with back spasms, I doubt we see Parker Mushinski starting a Major League game anytime soon. Plus, the Astros appear intent on utilizing Mushinski as a left-handed reliever, at least for the time being. Brandon Bielak likely has the first chance considering his experience as a fill-in starter on occasion when the need eventually arises. The other three names (Forrest Whitely, J.P. France, and Shawn Dubin) are where it gets a bit interesting in terms of hierarchy on the depth chart. Whitley, in particular, will be monitored closely in Sugar Land as he is only 25 years old despite his long-term status as a prospect in Houston’s farm system. If he is pitching well, then the calls will be loud among the fans who desperately want to see the right-hander finally make his long-awaited Major League debut. But do not ignore France and Dubin, who both could prove capable of a spot start here and there.
In addition to Blanco, I wonder if Dana Brown and Dusty Baker thought about stretching out Bryan Abreu, who was initially viewed as a possible starter in his earlier Minor League days. But considering his success last season, and the fact that he hasn’t started a game since 2019, it is highly doubtful at this moment he will any time start again outside of an opener situation any time soon. This rationale is likely part of the justification to stretch out Blanco, especially as the bullpen already has a nearly full complement of pitchers.
The Astros do have options at their disposal in the event their starting pitcher depth takes a further hit in the near future. The odds are likely high in any case that we’ll see at least one, or possibly two, of Whitley, France, and Dubin making a handful of starts this season. Even when their depth was at its deepest last season, Houston still had different eight starters in 2022. They’ll need at least seven to eight again — more likely nine to ten — before the 2023 season concludes.