WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros pitching coach Brent Strom has forged a reputation as one of the best in the league in doing what he does. Since he came to Houston in 2014, he’s taken unknowns like Will Harris and Collin McHugh and put them on the map, while taking established pitchers like Charlie Morton, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and helping them move their careers to another level.
Strom’s expertise is pivotal this year in Houston, where new manager Dusty Baker is still trying to learn the pitching staff and the Astros are trying to fill the void lost when Cole signed with Yankees.
Strom took some time Tuesday to answer some questions:
Q: What have been your impressions of your pitching staff early in camp?
A: I’ve been very impressed with a lot of the young guys that have come to our system. Credit to [Minor League pitching coordinator Bill Murphy] and our Minor League people. Some of the guys that were brought up last year like [Bryan] Abreu and [Cy] Sneed did a nice job for us. Then there’s some guys I’m going to have to become familiar with like [Cristian] Javier and a couple of other guys. It's interesting, as pitching coach you have a Cole and a Verlander and it kind of like makes your job a lot easier because you know what you're going to get every five days. A little bit different this year. I think Lance [McCullers Jr.] has got to step up. Obviously, [Zack] Greinke and Verlander are going to be the staples for this but I'm excited about [José] Urquidy and I'm excited to see how the No. 5 spot comes out.
Q: Is the No. 5 spot between Josh James and Austin Pruitt at this point?
A: Pruitt, James and I think [Framber] Valdez is still a legitimate guy. I never forget what [Mike] Trout said when he faced Valdez and said it was some of the best stuff he'd seen in baseball. And so that shows what Framber has. It's just a matter of consistency. I think you can probably count [Brad] Peacock out of the race. I think he's more valuable to us in the bullpen, so those are the three guys I think that are vying for that fifth spot. James has been very impressive. Credit to James. All winter long between Dan Howells, [head Minor League] strength conditioning coach, and [bullpen coach] Josh Miller and the stuff we've done on the video, he's transformed his delivery. We utilize Cole as kind of a model to help with control and direction, and he's taking to it quite well.
Q: What have you seen from Forrest Whitley so far?
A: Well, I just watched him throw batting practice for the first time out there and I'm not going to place a great deal of stock in to how he did today. Obviously a very talented young man. I haven’t had a great deal of time with Forrest as the Minor League guys have. I'm going to probably step forward here in the next couple days and give him some of my thoughts. I think I have some definitive ideas that can help him, it's just a question of how much. You know, I mentioned to him ‘Heavy is the head that wears the crown,’ and there's been so much expectation on this kid that I’m just glad I never had to go through that. I think it's difficult to meet expectations of other people so his time will come. And when it's right, it'll happen, but I don't think right now I would consider him, you know, a viable candidate [for the No. 5 spot]. I think he's going to be going to Triple-A [Fresno] and put together some numbers, but I am willing to bet we’ll see him this year in the big leagues.
Q: Of the other top prospects in camp, who do think could be a sleeper?
A: I’m really high on Bryan Abreu. I think this guy can be an exceptional Major League starting pitcher.
The other guys, I've been impressed with [Nivaldo] Rodriguez. Very much so. [Enoli] Paredes has a really young, good arm. It's kind of funny to me. I was kidding Sneed today when I put the schedules together and I usually go with years of service, you know, to prioritize. [Joe] Smith is a priority guy with years of service, Verlander years of service, Greinke obviously. About midrange I have Sneed in years of service guy, you know, when before he was kind of down there. There's so many young people here that Sneed is like a veteran now compared to, but it's exciting and it's fun to work with those guys. I've been blessed. I've been so lucky to have the groups that I've had the last four years. All this publicity and whatever I get as a pitching coach and a lot of it’s owed to the analytics people. They've been great with me. I mean, they've given me information that I would not have been able to glean myself. And it's helped a lot of guys.
Q: How different has this camp been with a new manager in Dusty Baker and the circumstances surrounding the team?
A: AJ [Hinch] was very, very an accomplished leader. I've always respected AJ for his ability to compartmentalize and put things in place and be organized and things like that. I'm still getting used to Dusty. It's a little bit different. Obviously, he and I are from a different era. Dusty didn’t hit me as hard as Enos Cabell did and Enos lets me forget. It's a different personality, different way of doing things, but I sense a great deal of respect in that clubhouse for Dusty Baker and as I did with AJ. I will not lie. I miss AJ. I miss being with him on a daily basis and he always gave me respect and a chance to voice my opinion. Whether he listened to it or not was really immaterial more times than not. I thought he did a tremendous job for us for years and really helped get this organization going good. I'm excited work to work with Dusty.