PT TOMORROW: AL West—A HOU rotation issue?

Houston Astros

As in 2018, the division's deepest club and most stable 25-man roster has enjoyed good health—and made no player moves, apart from swapping out relievers Framber Valdez and Reymin Guduan a couple of times. But while everyone wonders how long the AL West leader can hold off calling up Yordan Alvarez, some cracks are beginning to form in the rotation. Both Colin McHugh (RHP, HOU) and Brad Peacock (RHP, HOU) own 5+ ERAs now six weeks into the season, with the latter's underlying metrics—notably a 7.6 Dom, 9% SwK, and 4.50 xERA—well off last year's performance and looking particularly troublesome. Any continuation into late May is the kind of thing that can ultimately result in a DL stint or bullpen demotion.

And if that happens, the MLB debut of Forrest Whitley (RHP, HOU) will happen before the All-Star break right? No, not unless something changes for HOU's #1 pitching prospect at AAA-Round Rock, where he currently owns a 10.43 ERA (7 BB, 4 HR allowed) after his first 15 IP. The 19 Ks say that he's still missing bats, but the slow start is also a reminder that Whitley tossed just 26 IP last year thanks to a mix of injuries and suspensions. He'll likely need more than his current 60 career Double-A IP before being able to contribute at the MLB level.

Should the club choose to bypass a bullpen game approach and call on another minor league SP over the near-term, the likely choice pool would include three of Whitley's Triple-A rotation mates. But among Brady Rodgers (RHP, HOU) (2.75 ERA, 25/11 K/BB through 36 IP), Rogelio Armenteros (RHP, HOU) (3.93 ERA, 23/7 K/BB through 18 IP), and Corbin Martin (RHP, HOU), only Martin has the repertoire and command that currently projects a career as an MLB SP. Martin has yet to give up more than two runs in any of his Triple-A starts, and currently sports a 1.48 ERA and a 28/11 K/BB over 24 IP. He'll likely make his MLB debut at some point in 2019, but whether he'll be called upon this early or is even MLB-ready is anyone's guess.   

 

Los Angeles Angels

A fragile rotation continues to project as a work-in-progress for the duration of 2019. Oft-injured Tyler Skaggs is pitching reasonably well (3.12/4.05 ERA/xERA through 26 IP) despite spending a week on the DL with ankle issues. But Andrew Heaney (LHP, LAA) has been shelved since mid-March with elbow inflammation, and won't make his first 2019 appearance until late May. And off-season additions Matt Harvey (RHP, LAA)—6.94/4.92 ERA/xERA through 36 IP—and Trevor Cahill (RHP, LAA)—6.95/5.07 ERA/xERA through 34 IP—have been disasters to date, their futures in Anaheim beginning to look tenuous barring abrupt turnarounds. Felix Pena's (RHP, LAA) early numbers (4.05/3.77 ERA/xERA, 14% SwK over 27 IP) suggest serviceability. But Pena's inability to control his pitch count has left him unable to go more than 5 IP in any of his starts, and he's recently become the long-man in LAA's "opener"/bullpen game efforts. 

With just 9.2 IP, rookie Griffin Canning (RHP, LAA) has filled the remaining starting spot for now. Canning's broad repertoire and polished approach are apparent in his early small-sample (two starts) metrics—13/2 K/BB, 64% FpK, 21% SwK over 10 IP—and along with LAA's needs suggest that he has a long leash for now. The club will monitor Nick Tropeano's (RHP, LAA) Triple-A progress following repeated shoulder-related DL stints, along with Salt Lake City teammate Jaime Barria's (RHP, LAA) development. Both have MLB experience along with plenty of warts; either could be recalled in a pinch.

The next intriguing LAA rotation prospect likely to make his MLB debut behind Canning is Jose Suarez (LHP, LAA), finally off the IL (sore shoulder) and tossing 5 IP of scoreless ball in his first 2019 Triple-A outing this past weekend. Like Canning, Suarez advanced three levels ending in Salt Lake City where he struggled with control at the end of a long season. But overall, Suarez's 3.92 ERA and 142/44 K/BB over 117 IP last year speak to an outstanding change-up, plus curve, and his ability to miss bats with both. LAA didn't waste any time promoting Canning despite his limited high-minors experience, and it seems doubtful that they'd change things up with Suarez. A month or two of credible efforts could land Suarez in Anaheim—and at a time when good pitching is difficult to find, he's immediately roster-worthy in deep league formats.

 

Oakland Athletics

Losers of eight of their last 10 games through May 7, the club's problems start with an offensive drought detailed in part here last week, as well as a mediocre rotation. But now the malaise may be spreading to the back of the bullpen. Despite remaining on the active 25-man roster, closer Blake Treinen's (RHP, OAK) last appearance was 10 days ago on April 28, when he was lit up for 4 runs in 1 2/3 IP by the Blue Jays and left complaining of elbow discomfort. This apparently improved after taking anti-inflammatory medication and Treinen is reportedly ready to pitch again. But 11 BB and a 33% GB% through 15 IP are well off his recent performance excellence, suggesting that Treinen may not be out of the woods on this one yet.

Behind Treinen, both "experienced closers" Fernando Rodney (RHP, OAK) and Joakim Soria (RHP, OAK) have been putrid to date, as suggested by their respective 8.78 and 5.51 ERAs, perhaps showing their age. And Lou Trivino (RHP, OAK) has had his own physical woes in the form of a thumb injury that kept him shelved for almost two weeks through the end of April. The difference between Trivino and the rest of these names is that his performance level has continued to soar in the early going, as punctuated by an 18/4 K/BB, 18% SwK, and 1.20 ERA over his first 15 IP in 2019. Even on a club that is likely willing to close by committee if Treinen is forced to the sidelines, we still think Trivino is his likely replacement as OAK's #1 high-leverage bullpen option. And we're still betting on a decent handful of saves and wins going forward.

 

Seattle Mariners

As we noted here back in early April, the offense wasn't going to maintain its early pace forever, and the good times weren't going to last—particularly with a mediocre pitching staff and MLB's most porous defense. And now in May, SEA currently led all MLB clubs with 41 errors through May 7, 10 more than its nearest competitor in this dubious category. Current SS Tim Beckham (SS/3B, SEA) currently paces all Mariners (and MLB players) with a whopping 11 errors, followed by out-of-position Ryon Healy (1B/3B/DH, SEA) and DH-wannabe Domingo Santana (OF, SEA) with six apiece. And now following a torrid 11-2 start, the club has lost 17 of its last 23 games through May 7.

Fixes are obviously needed, starting at shortstop, where Beckham has just 20 hits over his last 94 AB (.212 BA), and showing why his future is likely as a utility off the bench. In contrast, SEA shortstop-of-the-future J.P. Crawford (SS, SEA) is reportedly playing good defense and flashing offensive skills—.319 BA, 19/25 BB/K, 3/0 SB/CS, 3 HR through 119 AB—that he showed early on as a prospect. His recall seems likely to come any time over the next 3-4 weeks, bumping infield bench utility Dylan Moore off the 25-man roster as Beckham becomes the infield utility and gets time at 3B, where his glove plays at least a little better. 

Currently on the 60-day IL following hand surgery, Kyle Seager (3B, SEA) is eligible to be reinstated on May 25, and per recent news is expected to begin a minor league rehab stint sometime next week. Obviously barring new injuries, the Mariners will have difficult more roster decisions to make at that point. But regardless, they're likely to have a different SS/3B combination beginning in June.

 

Texas Rangers

Willie Calhoun (OF, TEX) has begun to hit HR again at AAA-Nashville. After banging 59 HR between AA/AAA and MLB play in 2016-2017, Calhoun's power evaporated last year, when he struggled in spring training and then managed only 11 HR over 531 AB between Triple-A and TEX. Another power outage in 2019 Cactus League play banished him back to the minors to begin 2019—but he's seemingly now righting the ship, with 7 HR through 98 AB for Nashville. More good news comes from the fact that Calhoun doesn't appear to be cheating or opening up to reestablish his power. His plus plate skills remain intact, as indicated by a .286 BA and 17/14 BB/K to date—which will be critical for a player whose glove and foot-speed are liabilities.

The immediate problem for Calhoun now is timing. Suddenly the Rangers are second in AL in scoring, and in no small part to role players like Hunter Pence (OF, TEX), Danny Santana (1B/2B/OF, TEX), and Logan Forsythe (1B/2B, TEX), all of whom have made big contributions with the extended playing time received following injuries to Ronald Guzman and Rougned Odor. Now with Odor back and Guzman expected to be activated today (Thursday, May 9), the Rangers have surprisingly optioned Delino DeShields Jr. to to create a roster spot, suggesting that they'd be reluctant to clear more space for Calhoun any time soon. Calhoun suddenly looks stash-worthy again for owners needing pop. But the Rangers may keep him in the minors for a while longer while they figure out their log-jam—and to see if Calhoun can sustain his turnaround. 


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.