Payoff Pitch: Young Arms Start Strong
The Astros approach the 2019 campaign with an impressive starting rotation as perennial Cy Young candidates Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are backed by proven big-league veterans Wade Miley and Collin McHugh. Meanwhile, elite pitching prospects are fueling the battle for the fifth slot in the rotation, as well as the 2020 outlook.
Forrest Whitley, the best pitching prospect in baseball, followed Verlander in style Monday, striking out three of the six Mets he faced in West Palm Beach, Fla. It marked the first spring outing of Whitley's young career.
J.B. Bukauskas has received two spring training assignments, permitting just one hit through four frames. Bukauskas, the 15th overall pick in the 2017 draft, has fanned three.
Texas A&M product Corbin Martin received his first taste of Grapefruit League action Sunday and permitted a solo home run by Atlanta's Pedro Florimon over two innings of work. Martin is listed by MLB.com as the No. 3 hurler in the Houston system.
Brandon Bielak, a top-10 Astros pitching prospect according to MLB.com, turned in two hitless innings Sunday at First Data Field in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
Brandon Bailey (2.0 IP), Akeem Bostick (2.2 IP), Ralph Garza (1.2 IP), Erasmo Pinales (3.0 IP), Kit Scheetz (2.0 IP), and Framber Valdez (2.0 IP) have not been charged with a run thus far in big-league camp. Pinales picked up the save Thursday vs. Miami.
The lone setback has been a quad strain which sidelined Josh James, who is vying for a spot on the Major League roster. James suffered the injury while lifting weights following a bullpen session on the backfields at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Last season, the hard-throwing 25-year-old was the Astros Minor League Pitcher of the Year. James earned a September callup to Houston before appearing in two postseason games.
Nick Tanielu is off to a fast start this spring, going 5-for-10 with three extra-base hits. Tanielu's six RBIs are tied for fourth-most in the Grapefruit League. Abraham Toro launched a two-run home run in the fifth inning Thursday vs. Miami. Toro owns five hits and four RBIs in 12 at-bats. Ronnie Dawson is batting .500 (5x10) with three runs, three RBIs, and two stolen bases. Yordan Alvarez boast five free passes to go along with his .375 batting average. Alvarez is tied for the GL lead in walks.
Odds & Ends
A grand total of 24 former Hooks are currently listed on the Astros 40-man roster, with an additional 20 alums earning a non-roster invite to big-league camp. Houston minor league pitchers and catchers will report to camp on Sunday. The first full squad workout for minor league players is slated for Saturday, March 9.
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