HOUSTON -- There’s going to be a crowded competition at the bottom of the Astros’ rotation when Spring Training starts in a month, with a new right-hander now in the mix. The Astros acquired Austin Pruitt from the Rays on Thursday night in a three-player trade made to bolster their rotation.
Houston sent a pair of Minor Leaguers, right-hander Peyton Battenfield and outfielder Cal Stevenson, to Tampa Bay in the deal. In a corresponding move, the Astros designated right-hander Dean Deetz for assignment, keeping their 40-man roster full.
Pruitt, who attended high school in the Houston area and played at the University of Houston, will join a group of hurlers competing for a spot in the Astros' 2020 rotation behind Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr. That group includes José Urquidy, Brad Peacock, Framber Valdez, Josh James and prospects Forrest Whitley and Cristian Javier.
The Astros have lost accomplished starters Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole since the end of the 2018 season, creating some opportunity and uncertainly at the bottom of the rotation. Pruitt, who is out of options, will head to the bullpen if he doesn’t make the rotation.
“We’re going to give him a chance to compete,” Astros president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “He’s started in his Major League career, so he’s capable. He’s got two different breaking balls, a good fastball and really good command, which means he should be able to get through some innings.”
Pruitt, 30, made 67 appearances (10 starts) for Tampa Bay from 2017-19, posting a 4.87 ERA. He split last season between Triple-A Durham and the Majors, recording a 5.40 ERA in 18 appearances (six starts) for Durham and a 4.40 ERA over 14 games (two starts) for the Rays.
According to Statcast, Pruitt's average curveball spin rate of 2,999 revolutions per minute ranked ninth out of 358 pitchers (min. 250 pitches thrown) in 2019. That makes him an intriguing project for pitching coach Brent Strom, who helped Morton and Ryan Pressly take their games to new levels in Houston by emphasizing spin rates.
Growing up an Astros fan, Pruitt was oozing with excitement about joining his hometown club. He said his family was “through the roof.”
“I’m extremely excited,” Pruitt said. “I’m a little more shocked than anything, you know? There are 29 other teams I could have gone to, and it happened to be the hometown team.”
With the 40-man roster full and the Astros having addressed holes at catcher (re-signing Martín Maldonado) and in the bullpen (re-signing Joe Smith) and adding rotation depth (Pruitt), the club is likely done adding key pieces. Houston is likely to announce its non-roster invitees to camp within the next week.