- Astros ace Dallas Keuchel isn’t likely to return from the disabled list until after the All-Star Break, Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle writes. The left-hander was placed on the DL on June 8 due to neck discomfort, the second time Keuchel has been sidelined this season due to neck problems. The team was known to be taking a very conservative approach to Keuchel’s rehab, and he has yet to begin throwing off a mound, though he has doing some long-tossing at a 120-foot distance. As Kaplan notes, there isn’t any huge rush to get Keuchel back given the Astros’ big AL West lead, as the team obviously wants to ensure its star lefty is fully recovered and ready for the postseason push.
- The Astros are seeing the fewest four-seam fastballs of any team in recent history but are also throwing the fewest number of four-seamers as a team, observes Eno Sarris of Fangraphs. Houston players such as George Springer, Brad Peacock, Brian McCann and Josh Reddick all chatted with Sarris about the trend, offering potential explanations for the manner in which they’ve been pitched. Peacock, who is having a breakout season, described his deviation from the four-seamer as “playing keepaway,” and Sarris points out that Mike Fiers’ season turned around sharply when he began incorporating a sinker into his fastball mix. Springer suggested to Sarris that the move away from four-seamers is a league-wide trend — the Angels, for one team, have been moving away from four-seamers — while McCann suggests that perhaps the trend is merely part of the natural ebb and flow of pitching trends that takes place throughout the league every few years. It’s an interesting read with very good insight from several players that’s well worth a full look.
- The Astros have weathered the absences of several top starters, though the team is surely looking forward to welcoming them back in time to make a full rotation assessment before the trade deadline. First in line seems to be righty Lance McCullers; as Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle writes, the excellent young hurler is set to return to the bump on Saturday. He has missed time with a lower back issue, but it doesn’t appear to be cause for much concern in the bigger picture.
- Meanwhile, fellow Astros righty Charlie Morton is scheduled for a short rehab outing tonight, as Kaplan further writes. The hope is that he’ll be ready to make it back to the MLB hill before the All-Star break. Morton has been quite a pleasant surprise, despite the time missed for a lat strain. He has not only provided 57 2/3 solid innings, posting a 4.06 ERA, but has shown the promise of delivering even better results. Morton is sitting in the mid-nineties with his fastball while carrying 10.1 K/9, both of which dwarf his prior full-season marks.
It now seems likely that the Athletics will end up moving Sonny Gray this summer, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle writes. There’s likely to be plenty of interest in the righty, who is showing improved form after a forgettable 2016 season; indeed, he just placed fourth on MLBTR’s list of the top 50 trade candidates. The full scope of potential suitors isn’t yet known, but Slusser does provide some interesting observations. The Astros, she notes, are “one of the more realistic landing spots” for Gray, with clear interest on Houston’s part and a history of swaps between the division rivals. (A prior report of that possible connection arose over the weekend.) There’s even an unnamed NL club that, per Slusser, “has toyed with the idea of using Gray as a closer.” (If you’re wondering what team that might be, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs takes a shot at a guess.)
More out of Oakland…
- Injured shortstop Marcus Semien will embark on a rehab assignment this weekend, writes John Hickey of the San Jose Mercury News, though it’s not likely to be a quick assignment. “It’s going to look maybe a little like spring training,” said manager Bob Melvin. Semien will start off by playing five innings per game and gradually build up to playing full games, per Hickey. I’d imagine that the impending return of Semien will only further trade chatter surrounding Jed Lowrie, as there have already been rumblings that he could be moved to pave way for infield prospect Franklin Barreto.
- Athletics president Dave Kaval stated yesterday that the A’s will announce the site of a new stadium with the calendar year, as Joe Stiglich of CSN Bay Area writes. The three locations in consideration are a waterfront venue near Howard Terminal, a neighborhood park next to Laney College or a newer facility at the current site of the Coliseum. “Obviously we’re working as quickly as we can to make the announcement as soon as possible,” said Kaval. “At that time, we’ll not only let folks know what the final location is, but also the timeline to actually develop the ballpark, all the different approval processes and also the groundbreaking and the opening date.”
Astros righty Jandel Gustave underwent Tommy John surgery today, writes Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle. The hard-throwing reliever had been on the disabled list since April 19 with what was announced as a flexor strain. It’s not clear when the diagnosis of a torn ulnar collateral ligament was made, but regardless, Gustave will be out for the rest of the 2017 campaign and likely most of the 2018 season as well.
[Related: Houston Astros depth chart]
Gustave, 24, was picked out of the Astros’ organization in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft by the Red Sox and bounced around the waiver circuit during Spring Training 2015 before being returned to Houston in early April. He made his MLB debut a year later in 2016, tossing 15 1/3 innings of 3.52 ERA ball with a 16-to-4 K/BB ratio and a 40 percent ground-ball rate. This year, Gustave made the Opening Day roster out of Spring Training for the first time in his career and tossed five innings with the ’Stros before falling to injury. In that brief time, he issued seven walks and fanned just two men.
The Astros have solid bullpen depth as it is, and currently rank 11th, third, and first in the league, respectively, in bullpen ERA (3.85), FIP (3.27) and xFIP (3.43). The loss of Gustave and departure of Luke Gregerson as a free agent this offseason will thin that depth out a bit, though the combination of Ken Giles, Chris Devenski, Will Harris and Michael Feliz make for a formidable top four in the relief corps.
- Astros manager A.J. Hinch announced Saturday that righty Lance McCullers will come off the DL during the upcoming week (via Brian McTaggart of MLB.com). McCullers just hit the DL on Monday with discomfort in his lower back, so his stay will end up as a short one. He’s one of four Astros starters on the DL – Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Collin McHugh are the others – and arguably the best of the bunch. McCullers has been superb over his first 76 2/3 innings this season, having posted a 2.58 ERA, 10.45 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and a 63 percent ground-ball rate. His teammate Morton, out since May 25 with a lat strain, also seems to be progressing toward a return. Morton is set to make a two-inning rehab start for the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate on Thursday.
The AL West rival Astros and Athletics are mutually interested in making a trade that would involve Oakland right-hander Sonny Gray, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. The last-place A’s have been closely monitoring the Astros’ system, per Cafardo, during a period in which Houston’s four best starters (Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton and Collin McHugh) are on the disabled list. Gray, who would likely slot in third in a healthy Astros rotation, is only running a 4.44 ERA through 52 2/3 innings, but his secondary stats are encouraging and he’s under control via arbitration through 2019. As such, he’d warrant a strong return for the A’s.
JUNE 15: The signing is now official. MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart tweets that Rodriguez’s exact bonus is $1.9MM, so he’ll cost the team a total of $3.8MM when accounting for the 100 percent luxury tax they’ll pay.
JUNE 6: The Astros have agreed to sign 20-year-old Cuban righty Elian Rodriguez for $2MM, Baseball America’s Ben Badler reports. The move will be subject to MLB’s rules regarding international bonus spending and will be part of the pool period that ends June 15. As such, the Astros will have to pay a 100% tax on the signing, bringing the total cost to $4MM.
There isn’t much English-language information about Rodriguez that’s widely available, but Badler reports the 6’4″, 205-pound righty has added velocity since leaving Cuba and can now touch 97 mph with his fastball. Rodriguez also throws a slider and curve, along with a changeup that Badler says he doesn’t use much yet. He pitched briefly for Camaguey in Cuba’s Serie Nacional in 2014.
The Astros have been active in the international market this signing season, inking prospects like Anibal Sierra from Cuba; Freudis Nova, Nerio Rodriguez and Deury Carrasco from the Dominican Republic; and Yorbin Ceuta and Angel Macuare from Veneuzela. (They also signed Yuli Gurriel from Cuba, although his signing was not subject to international bonus pool rules.) Houston had already incurred penalties for its signing totals, meaning the Astros were already ineligible to sign any player for more than $300K in either of the next two signing periods, the first of which begins on July 2.
With a bit more than a week to go until the signing period comes to a close, it’s possible that the Astros could try to sneak in one more signing. They’ve been loosely connected to 19-year-old Cuban shortstop Jose Israel Garcia, though there’s also very little in terms of readily available info on him.
2:15pm: The Astros have now announced the move. Reddick has indeed been placed on the 7-day concussion DL, while right-hander Jandel Gustave moves from the 10-day DL to the 60-day DL to clear a spot for the selection of Fisher’s contract to the 40-man roster.
8:40am: The Astros are calling up top outfield prospect Derek Fisher, as first reported by Jason Bristol of KHOU 11 News in Houston (Twitter link). Houston GM Jeff Luhnow suggested just yesterday that Fisher would factor into the team’s 2017 plans, telling reporters (Twitter link via MLB.com’s Christian Boutwell), “To me, Derek Fisher is ready.” Fisher is not yet on the 40-man roster, so the Astros will need to make a move to accommodate his promotion.
[Related: Houston Astros depth chart]
Fisher, 23, entered the season as MLB.com’s No. 83 overall prospect and currently sits 72nd on their top 100 list. He’s spent the year with Triple-A Fresno, where he’s mashed at a .335/.401/.608 clip, slugging 16 homers and 19 doubles while also picking up 13 stolen bases. He’s been caught 10 times as well, however, so his efficiency on the basepaths remains a work in progress. After punching out in 27 percent of his minor league plate appearances last season, Fisher is striking out at a more manageable 19 percent rate in 2017.
From a defensive standpoint, Fisher has spent most of his time in center field as a minor leaguer, though MLB.com’s report suggests that he’s an “iffy” defender there despite plus speed due to a “lack of instincts.” He’s also logged more than 1000 innings, combined, between the outfield corners, so manager A.J. Hinch could utilize him in a number of ways.
It’s not known at this time whether Fisher’s promotion will be abbreviated in nature or whether he’s receiving a long-term look in the outfield. It’s worth noting, though, that Josh Reddick recently suffered a “mild concussion,” so Fisher could be stepping into his spot on a short-term basis. Then again, left fielder Nori Aoki has posted a lackluster .273/.320/.338 batting line through 154 plate appearances this season, and Fisher could very well be viewed as a candidate to give Houston some more offensive output out of that spot in the lineup.
The Astros are being “very conservative” with ace Dallas Keuchel as the left-hander progresses through rehab for a neck injury, manager A.J. Hinch said in an appearance on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM today (Twitter link). According to Hinch, Keuchel is currently in the midst of a seven-day total shutdown from throwing and won’t throw until this weekend at the earliest. “It doesn’t concern me yet, because that’s the plan we have in place,” said Hinch of the shutdown for Keuchel. Houston, of course, has a massive 12-game lead in the AL West, so the Astros can afford to be cautious with Keuchel’s rehab from recurring neck discomfort.