The Astros have promoted their top pitching prospect, right-hander Francis Martes, reports Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle (on Twitter). Martes will initially work out of the Astros’ bullpen, Kaplan adds. With Houston already at the 40-man limit, it’ll need to drop someone in order to make room for Martes.
The Astros are the second major league organization for the Dominican-born Martes, who originally signed with the Marlins as an international free agent in 2012. Martes joined the Astros in 2014 as part of a trade involving Jarred Cosart and Jake Marisnick, among others, and has since blossomed into a high-end prospect. In its most recent prospect rankings, MLB.com places Martes 15th. Meanwhile, Baseball America (17th), FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen (18th), Baseball Prospectus (28th) and ESPN’s Keith Law (37th) also have high hopes for the 21-year-old.
Unlike last season, when he handled Double-A with a 3.30 ERA 9.41 K/9 and a 43.9 percent ground-ball rate across 125 1/3 innings, Martes has struggled to produce positive results this year. In his first taste of Triple-A action, Martes has pitched to a 5.29 ERA over eight starts and 32 1/3 frames. Along the way, Martes has struck out an impressive 10.58 batters per nine, but his walk rate has shot from 3.38 last year to 7.79 this season and his grounder mark has dropped to 39.4 percent.
Despite his subpar output this year, Martes’ stuff could pave the way for him to immediately hold his own out of the Astros’ already loaded bullpen. Martes has two above-average pitches – a 93 to 96 mph fastball that can reach the high 90s and a quality curveball – per MLB.com, which notes that he also possesses an improving changeup and a developing slider.
It’s unclear if Martes will get an opportunity to start in the majors this year, but he could figure into the mix at some point if the Astros don’t get more from their complementary rotation pieces. While Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. have thrived in 2017, the rest of the Astros’ starters have battled injuries and/or ineffectiveness. Nevertheless, the team is a major league-best 42-18 and has already established a 12-game lead in the American League West. Now, a Houston club with no shortage of young talent will get a look at yet another potential long-term cog.
With regards to service time, Martes should fall short of Super Two eligibility if he spends the rest of the season with the Astros. As a result, he wouldn’t make a trip through arbitration until after the 2020 season or qualify for free agency until the conclusion of the 2023 campaign. But Martes’ promotion could be a short one to aid a bullpen that Kaplan notes is currently “taxed.”