If you consume any amount of Astros prospects-related content, you have probably read that the team targets pitchers with bat missing fastball shape, typically referred to as ride. More or less all of the top arms in the system are praised for this part of their game, and 21 year old righty Miguel Ullola is no exception. After a strong 2022 in which he posted a 3.25 ERA with 120 strikeouts in 72 innings, evaluators dug into Ullola’s game and were excited about what they saw. Not only was Ullola already throwing in the mid-90s, it showed extreme ride, prompting some evaluators to slap double-plus grades on it. He did walk 55 batters, but at just age 20 at the time there was plenty of optimism that he’d be able to improve his strike throwing and potentially stay in the rotation. Those most aggressive on him ranked him among Houston’s top 10 prospects this past offseason.
There was a lot of excitement around Ullola’s potential at the start of this season, but the road has been rocky for the young righty for much of the year. His strike throwing has been stagnant- he coincidentally has 72 innings pitched at the time of writing, matching his total from last season, and he has walked a near-identical 52 walks- and he has been hit much harder in High-A than he was with Fayetteville, with 10 homers allowed and a .238 BAA vs. .157 in 2022. While Ullola has continued to miss bats at a high clip with 93 Ks thus far on the year, he has frequently walked himself out of games, leading to increased skepticism around his ability to start, which already required a fair amount of projection. While he hasn’t done himself a lot of favors with his location, one source of issues has been diminished velocity at times, dipping to the lower 90s for much of the year, which certainly helps to explain the hittability issues.
In August, however, Ullola has appeared to find a bit of a groove- in his start on the 2nd, he set a season high for strikeouts in a game with 11 while walking just 1 batter over 4 and 2⁄3 frames, and he followed that with 8 more on the 8th of the month, matching his previous season high, again walking just 1 opposing hitter with 1 hit allowed. He did allow a home run in each of those games, but the performances were nonetheless very encouraging. If Ullola can live in the zone more consistently, improved sequencing and feel for his secondaries should help him learn to avoid hard contact thanks to his stuff profile. In addition to the prodigious heater, Ullola has a solid slider that can get under bats, though he hasn’t shown much of a third offering to this point. While his leash in the rotation may not be especially long with a 40-man decision looming after the 2024 season, Ullola can position himself to break camp with Corpus Christi next year if he strings together a couple more strong performances down the stretch. While the year hasn’t been what he or the Astros hoped overall, ending things on a high note could change the complexion of his projection over the winter. While he’s a very different physical presence, there are some parallels between his game and Bryan Abreu’s, and he could be a similar slow-burning, eventual high leverage arm with some patience.