- Add the Astros to the list of teams interested in Cuban shortstop prospect Jose Israel Garcia, who recently became a free agent. The Astros have already exceeded their pool allotment for the 2016-17 international free agent class, which could indicate that they’re looking to sign the 19-year-old Garcia before the period ends June 15.
The Astros are sending right-hander Charlie Morton to the 10-day disabled list with a lat strain, per Brian McTaggart of MLB.com (Twitter link). There’s no timetable for Morton’s return, and the club will recall righty Jordan Jankowski to take his place for now.
The DL is nothing new for Morton, who has had durability issues throughout his career and missed nearly all of last season as a member of the Phillies on account of a torn hamstring. Health concerns didn’t stop the Astros from handing Morton a two-year, $14MM contract in free agency last offseason, though, and the results have been encouraging – injury notwithstanding. The 33-year-old has been the Astros’ third-best starter, trailing the ace-caliber efforts of Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers, with a 4.06 ERA, 10.14 K/9, 3.59 BB/9 and a 51.3 percent ground-ball rate in 57 2/3 innings. Morton’s solid output has come thanks in part to a notable increase in velocity, as he’s now averaging 96-plus mph on his fastball – up from 95 in 2016 and the 92 to 94 range in previous years.
For now, though, Morton’s campaign will come to a halt, and it could be a for a while if others’ lat strains are any indication. To cite recent examples, Athletics righty Sonny Gray didn’t make his season debut until May 2 after suffering a lat strain in early March, and Angels reliever Huston Street hasn’t pitched yet this year after succumbing to a lat strain around the same time as Gray. Meanwhile, a more severe injury (a torn lat) has shelved Mets ace Noah Syndergaard for a few weeks and will keep him out until after the All-Star break.
Before losing Morton, the Astros were set to at least temporarily demote the scuffling Mike Fiers from their rotation in favor of Brad Peacock. Now, those two could be in line to join Keuchel, McCullers and Joe Musgrove in the starting five for the foreseeable future (alternatively, the Astros could move reliever Chris Devenski to the rotation, but that would take away an elite bullpen weapon). Unfortunately for Houston, top Triple-A options Francis Martes and David Paulino have started slowly this year, and Brady Rodgers underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this month. At the big league level, mid-rotation starter Collin McHugh has missed the entire season with an elbow injury and won’t return anytime soon. On the bright side, the 34-16 Astros have built a whopping nine-game lead in the American League West. As such, it’s unlikely they’ll make any major moves to bolster their rotation with the trade deadline still two months away.
- The Astros, meanwhile, are also making an adjustment to their rotation. Mike Fiers had been scheduled to start Monday in Minnesota, but he’ll go to the bullpen in favor of Brad Peacock, tweets Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle. The role reversal will stick if Peacock pitches well, manager A.J. Hinch indicated. Fiers has been a rare weak link for the formidable Astros this year, having recorded a 5.21 ERA (with a ghastly 7.56 FIP) in nine starts and 46 2/3 innings. Peacock, on the other hand, has logged a microscopic ERA (.87) in 13 appearances and 20 2/3 frames. He picked up his first start of the year in a win over Detroit this past Monday, tossing 4 1/3 scoreless, one-hit innings and tallying eight strikeouts. Peacock has been racking up strikeouts throughout the year (13.06 K/9), but control has been an issue (5.23 BB/9).
- Cuban shortstop Jose Israel Garcia was recently declared a free agent by Major League Baseball, per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, and he’s drawing interest from a number of clubs. To this point, the Reds, Astros and Padres have all shown interest in Garcia. That would seem to indicate that he’s looking to sign before the current period comes to a close on June 15, as each of those teams has exceeded its 2016-17 pool allotment to the point that they’ll incur maximum penalization in the 2017-18 class. There’s not much data on the 19-year-old Garcia, though Heyman has described him as “slick-fielding.”
The Mariners have acquired outfielder Andrew Aplin from the Astros, per a club announcement. Cash or a player to be named later will head to Houston in return. To create room on the 40-man roster, Seattle has designated righty Chris Heston for assignment.
[RELATED: Updated Mariners Depth Chart]
Aplin, 26, had just been designated for assignment when the ’Stros had a need for a 40-man spot. He’ll now head to the division-rival Mariners, who carry a variety of young outfielders on their 40-man roster — a situation with plenty of competition but also a good bit of opportunity.
Seattle is surely intrigued by Aplin’s ability to manage the strike zone, make contact, and get on base. He owns a .375 OBP through thirty games at Triple-A this year. But Aplin has also failed to show much else with the bat at the highest level of the minors, with a composite .245/.341/.329 batting line through 953 total plate appearances over four seasons. He did manage nine home runs in 598 plate appearances at the High-A level back in 2013, however. And Aplin is regarded as a quality defender who can play anywhere in the outfield; Baseball America credits him with a high-quality arm while noting that “his range and defense play up thanks to good routes and reads.”
The 29-year-old Heston, who’s best known for his 2015 no-hitter, has struggled badly in his limited major league opportunities over the past two seasons. Most recently, he was bombed in a spot start on Sunday. Still, Heston had managed a 3.41 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 over 31 2/3 innings this year at Triple-A Tacoma.
- The Astros will select the contract of right-hander Jordan Jankowski from Triple-A Fresno today, reports Brian McTaggart of MLB.com (Twitter link). He’s not on the 40-man roster, meaning the team will need to make another move to accommodate him. Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle reports that Jankowski will replace lefty Ashur Tolliver on the active roster, though Tolliver has minor league options remaining, so he needn’t be designated for assignment and can rather be optioned. Houston selected Jankowski in the 34th round of the 2008 draft, but he elected to attend college at Catawba College, in Salirbury, N.C. Four years later, the Astros again selected Jankowski — once again in the 34th round. The 28-year-old owns a pristine 1.42 ERA with a 22-to-9 K/BB ratio in 19 innings this season in Triple-A.
The Astros announced that they’ve designated outfielder Andrew Aplin for assignment in order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for right-hander Jordan Jankowski, whose contract has been selected from Triple-A Fresno.
The 26-year-old Aplin was a fifth-round pick of the Astros back in 2012, and while he reached Triple-A for the first time as a 23-year-old in 2014, his career has stalled somewhat at that level. Aplin has now spent parts of four seasons there, hitting a combined .245/.341/.329 with eight homers and 47 steals through 249 games (953 plate appearances). That includes a .250/.375/.345 batting line in 2017 — his age-26 campaign.
Jankowski, 28, was drafted by the Astros out of high school in 2008 and out of college in 2012 — both in the 34th round. He’s worked to an excellent 1.42 ERA with a 22-to-9 K/BB ratio in 19 innings this season in Triple-A and has a lifetime 3.24 ERA with 11.9 K/9 against 4.4 BB/9 in 153 innings at that level.
The Astros have placed catcher Brian McCann on the seven-day concussion disabled list, retroactive to Saturday, and selected the contract of fellow backstop Juan Centeno from Triple-A, per Brian McTaggart of MLB.com (on Twitter).
McCann is now the second prominent Astro to hit the DL since Saturday, joining ace Dallas Keuchel on the shelf. Like Keuchel, McCann has thrived for the 29-14 Astros, owners of the majors’ best record. McCann, whom Houston acquired from the Yankees in an offseason trade, has slashed .269/.365/.454 with six home runs and as many walks as strikeouts (17) in 126 plate appearances. On the defensive side, the 33-year-old has continued a careerlong trend of serving as a plus pitch framer, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Fortunately for the Astros, they do have a quality reserve behind McCann in the power-hitting Evan Gattis, who has also performed well this season. Centeno, an offseason minor league signing, will back up Gattis. The 27-year-old Centeno has been great this season at Triple-A, where he has slashed .368/.395/.487 line in 83 PAs, though he hasn’t been nearly as successful in the majors. In 258 big league PAs, including 192 with the Twins last year, Centeno has hit .236/.290/.338. Behind the plate, BP ranked him among the majors’ worst framers in 2016.
- The Astros are “very interested” in Pirates righty Gerrit Cole. Houston has been checking in on top-tier starters for months, so it makes sense that the team would have an eye on Cole’s availability. Peter Gammons recently suggested that the Astros (and Yankees) may be the only contenders who could actually afford a Cole trade, given Houston’s deep farm system and the giant return that the Pirates will surely demand for their controllable young star if Cole is indeed shopped at the deadline.
The Astros will place ace Dallas Keuchel on the 10-day DL with a pinched nerve in his neck, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart (Twitter link) and others reported. Left-hander Ashur Tolliver will be recalled in a corresponding move.
The injury doesn’t seem particularly serious, as Keuchel is expected to only miss one start since the DL stint was backdated to Wednesday. In his last start, on Tuesday, Keuchel threw just 70 pitches over five innings (his shortest outing of the season), though he still held the Marlins to two runs and earned the victory.
After a disappointing 2016 season, Keuchel has shown early signs of returning to his 2015 Cy Young Award-winning form. Keuchel has a 1.84 ERA, 7.63 K/9 and a league-best 67.1% ground ball rate over his first 63 2/3 IP of the season, and was named the AL Pitcher Of The Month for April. There are a few red flags for Keuchel — a .215 BABIP, 88.2% strand rate and a career-high 19.4% homer rate — but overall, ERA predictors are still pretty rosy (3.27 FIP, 2.87 xFIP, 2.97 SIERA) about the lefty’s performance. Despite the lack of missed bats, Keuchel is excelling at generating weak contact, with 31% of his balls in play rated as ’soft’ contact by Fangraphs and only 20.8% rated as hard contact.