The Astros’ 2019 draft has been a mixed bag thus far- while it did produce rookie starter Hunter Brown, top picks Korey Lee, Grae Kessinger and Jordan Brewer haven’t fared as well. The overall jury on the group is still out, though, as later selections, such as Colin Barber, are still developing on the farm. Another player from the crop who has come on strong in 2023 is right handed pitcher Ryan Gusto, an 11th round selection who received 4th round money to sign out of JUCO as a 20 year old. He was an intriguing upside play at the time, with impressive physicality and a live arm that projected for good velocity, and was on an upward trajectory.
In his pro debut, Gusto showed a proof of concept for his upside, striking out 19 across 14 and 2⁄3 innings in rookie ball ranks. He wouldn’t get an opportunity to pitch the following year thanks to the minor league season being cancelled, but was filed away as a priority follow for 2021. Unfortunately, he would end up missing the entire season due to injury, not returning to the mound until the start of the 2022 campaign. His return to game action was moderately successful- he was very solid for Fayetteville at the season’s outset, posting a 2.63 ERA with strong peripherals in 24 innings to earn a promotion, but he wasn’t nearly as effective with Asheville, struggling with homers en route to a 6.55 ERA in 66 frames over the rest of the season.
After the rocky stretch, Gusto would return to Asheville to start play this year. He was very old for the level at 24 years old, but with a low experience level for his age- and age is far less important contextually for pitchers anyway. Things went much the same as 2022 during his repeat of the level- he allowed over 2 HRs per 9 with a mediocre walk rate. He missed a good amount of bats, but not enough to buoy his production, so it was puzzling when he was promoted to Double-A in late June.
For whatever reason, the move up revitalized Gusto. His first start was a rough one, with 6 earned runs in 2 and 2⁄3 innings, but from there he settled in rapidly, striking out 18 against 4 walks with a 1.29 ERA in the month of July, which he has followed with a 2.37 ERA and 24/8 K/BB ratio in 19 August frames. Perhaps most impressively, after allowing HRs at full-on red flag frequency in High-A ball, he has allowed just one thus far for the Hooks. It’s hard to say what exactly is responsible for the sudden, rapid improvement, but his current tear is 9 outings deep, and it’s hard to write off at this point.
Like many Astros pitching prospects, Gusto’s fastball shape is a standout trait, allowing the heater to frequently skate over the top of bats. It works best up in the zone, but Gusto can also land it at the knees. It’s backed up with a curveball that leans towards the power end of the spectrum, which tunnels effectively and shows a bit of tilt. His control is ahead of his command, but both of his lead offerings play in the zone. While he has the physicality you want to see in a starting pitcher, I see Gusto fitting most effectively in the bullpen- playing at the top end of his velo capabilities should make a big difference for him, and he’s mostly a 1-2 punch guy, so short work feels like the best option. Even still, his emergence is a welcome sight in a system that has been pillaged by graduations and trades over the last year. For my money, he has pitched his way from the fringes of the radar to top 30 status over the last couple of months.