AL West Notes: Brown, Whitley, Astros, Pache


It was reported yesterday that the Astros would start the season without Lance McCullers Jr. in the rotation, since he’s out with an injury to his throwing arm. The club will still have a strong front four in Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Luis Garcia and José Urquidy, and it was assumed by most observers that Hunter Brown would now step into the fifth slot.

“It’s consensus in the organization that Hunter Brown has a chance to be big-time for us,” general manager Dana Brown told Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle. “I think he knows it and feels it. When I saw him throw, I was like, ‘This guy has electric stuff.’ The ball is coming out really good. There’s a comfort with Brown that, hey, Brown could take a step and really log some innings this year.”

The general manager didn’t go so far as to crown the young pitcher as winning the job, but it seems like he’s the frontrunner at the moment. That’s fairly logical given the strong season he had last year. He tossed 106 innings in Triple-A, both starting and in multi-inning relief stints, with a 2.55 ERA, 31.5% strikeout rate, 10.6% walk rate and 54.2% ground ball rate. He was also able to make his major league debut, posting a 0.89 ERA in 20 1/3 innings over seven appearances.

Other options on the 40-man include Brandon Bielak, J.P. France and Forrest Whitley. “We’re hoping Whitley takes a jump this year,” Dana Brown said. “It’s time for Whitley.” Whitley, 25, was once one of the most highly-regarded young players in the game, with Baseball America ranking him the #5 prospect in the league in 2019. Unfortunately, he still hasn’t made his major league debut due to various factors, the most prominent being injuries such as 2021 Tommy John surgery. He was able to return to health last year and toss 40 innings in the minors but with a 6.52 ERA in that time. He’ll look to get back on track this season to the form he showed in 2018 when he posted a 3.76 ERA in Double-A at the age of 20. He still has an option remaining and can be kept in the minors until he proves himself ready.

Of course, the Astros could always add a player from outside the organization, but it doesn’t seem like anything is imminent. “I’m not in the panic mode, but I also will keep my eyes open because I’m always looking for depth,” Dana Brown said.

Other notes from the American League West…

  • Sticking with the Astros and their rotation depth, Rome asked manager Dusty Baker about the situation today. “You got to ask the powers that be,” Baker said. “I got the power, but not the authority. That was always a consideration for me … we didn’t have a general manager in place in order to make that move.” That last comment is a reference to the fact that the club surprisingly parted ways with now-former general manager James Click in November and operated with that job vacant until Brown was hired in late January. It’s not true that the empty position prevented the club from making any moves whatsoever, as owner Jim Crane took an active role in baseball operations alongside some assistant general managers. Between Click’s dismissal and Brown’s hiring, the club signed José Abreu, re-signed Rafael Montero and Michael Brantley, in addition to various minor league deals and waiver claims. Still, it’s possible that the front office was a bit short-handed while transitioning to a period without Click and assistant GM Scott Powers. It’s not too late to add pitching depth, as the club could still make a trade or reach out to free agents like Chris Archer, Dylan Bundy or Aníbal Sánchez.
  • The Athletics will have a tough choice to make at the end of spring since outfielder Cristian Pache is out of options and can’t be sent to the minors without first being exposed to waivers. The prospect hype on him was strong enough that he got to #7 on BA’s top 100 in 2021, though his bat hasn’t developed to match his strong defense. Traded to Oakland in the Matt Olson deal about a year ago, he hit a paltry .166/.218/.241 last season. His 35 wRC+ indicates he was 65% below league average, the lowest such mark in the majors last year among those with at least 250 plate appearances. “For Pache, he’s in a difficult situation,” manager Mark Kotsay tells Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle. “Not only is he competing for a roster spot here, but he’s going to showcase himself for 29 other teams. So it’s an important spring for Pache, no question, from an individual standpoint, for his career going forward.” The club has collected many outfielders in its recent deals and currently has a mix that includes Seth Brown, Ramón Laureano, Esteury Ruiz, JJ Bleday, Conner Capel, Brent Rooker, Cal Stevenson and others. Many of those players can be optioned to the minors but Kawahara suggests that Pache’s lack of options might not be enough to get him a roster spot.

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