What to expect from Astros' Paulino in the big leagues

September 6th, 2016

Now that the Astros have crept to within two games of a Wild Card berth in the American League, they'll need contributions from multiple recent additions to their rotation to get over the top.

One-time blue-chip pitching prospect made his first start of the season Tuesday in place of an ailing . , No. 77 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, has made six starts since Jr. went down with elbow soreness and will pitch next against the Cubs on Friday.

In between, will make his Major League debut with a Thursday start against the Indians after Houston promoted him Tuesday. Ranked one spot ahead of Musgrove on the Top 100, he was the last healthy pitcher on the Astros' 40-man roster who wasn't with the big league club.

Originally signed by the Tigers for $75,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2010, Paulino is one of three Top 100 right-handers (along with and Musgrove) astutely targeted by the Astros in trades when they were in Rookie ball. Paulino was recovering from Tommy John surgery when Houston received him as the player to be named in a trade that sent to Detroit for outfield prospect Danry Vasquez.

Paulino missed the entire 2014 season but has made tremendous progress since returning in mid-2015. He has climbed up five levels in the Houston system in 15 months, going 5-4 with a 2.00 ERA in 20 games (15 starts) this year, mostly at Double-A and Triple-A. He has a 106/19 K/BB ratio, .214 opponent average and just four homers allowed in 90 innings in 2016, though he missed time at midseason with a suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules, as well as mild arm soreness.

The 22-year-old Paulino cuts an imposing figure on the mound with a 6-foot-7 build and a fastball that sits at 93-95 mph and can reach 98. His curveball gives him a second power pitch that can dominate hitters when he commands it. He shows some decent feel for a changeup but it requires more refinement.

For a young guy with a big frame, Paulino does an excellent job of keeping his delivery in sync. He throws strikes and uses his size to create difficult angle on his pitches. He has had equal success against left-handers and right-handers in the Minors.

Paulino has No. 2 starter upside, but he also has just three starts and 14 innings of experience above the Double-A level. It remains to be seen whether the Astros will need him and will keep him in their rotation beyond Thursday. He factors heavily in their future as Houston transitions from a finesse-oriented rotation to one with live arms such as him, McCullers, Martes and 2016 first-round pick Forrest Whitley.