Not long after bumping him up to Triple-A, the Astros have decided to advance pitching prospect Lance McCullers Jr. to the majors, the club announced. His first start will come on Monday against the Athletics.
McCullers, 21, is the son of seven-season big leaguer Lance McCullers Sr. He was taken in the sandwich round of the 2012 draft out of high school. Using some of the savings they achieved after taking Carlos Correa first overall — a somewhat controversial decision which has turned out nicely — the ’Stros locked up McCullers with an above-slot, $2.5MM bonus.
The young righty fell off of top-100 prospect lists after last season — he had reached #50 on Baseball America’s list and was 52nd per MLB.com — when he struggled to a 5.47 ERA over 97 frames in his first action at the High-A level. The issue then, as it has been more generally, is control, as McCullers put up 10.7 K/9 but permitted 5.2 free passes per nine.
That led Baseball America to drop him to 11th on the Houston prospect list heading into the year. But BA did note that McCullers still have very high quality stuff, including a big fastball, outstanding breaking ball, and improving changeup.
As the big league call-up would indicate, things have come together this year. Houston saw enough to start him off at the Double-A level despite his youth and his tough year, and he rewarded that confidence with 29 innings of top-notch pitching. McCullers has permitted just two earned runs in that stretch, striking out 43 and walking only 11 hitters.
If he can stick at the big league level all year, McCullers would stand a good chance of qualifying for Super Two status. Of course, that is far from a given. It seems reasonably likely that Houston’s purpose here is twofold: first, and most importantly, to get a look and see whether McCullers can contribute at the big league level this year; and second, for their team and others to gauge his future value in weighing him as a trade piece.