Hinch weighs in on Astros' rotation options

December 12th, 2018

LAS VEGAS -- Forrest Whitley, the Astros' top pitching prospect, posted a video on Twitter on Tuesday of him throwing a baseball 110 mph from a short distance into a net with the help of a running start. It didn't go unnoticed by manager AJ Hinch, who joked running starts aren't allowed in the big leagues.

The Astros already have the makings of a strong pitching rotation, led by , and , despite the likely departures of free agents and Charlie Morton and the Tommy John surgery that will cost the entire season.

Whitley figures to be in the mix later in the season and could be one of a handful of promising young arms who make their big league debuts next year. The Astros are still in search of a starting pitcher during the Winter Meetings at Mandalay Bay, but Hinch feels good about the young arms on the way.

"I get asked a lot about the rotation, because we lost McCullers to injury and Morton and Keuchel to free agency," Hinch said on Tuesday. "Time will tell how those gaps are filled. We do have some internal guys, including McHugh and [Brad] Peacock, who have done it before, and Josh James and [Framber] Valdez came up and did well. And you talk about the prospects that were in Double-A -- Corbin Martin, Forrest Whitley, made his Major League debut last year. Those are easy names to rattle off."

McHugh will rejoin the rotation after pitching well out of the bullpen last season. The veteran was squeezed out of the rotation when the club traded for Cole last January but will be stretched out as a starter this spring.

"I can easily see him being in the rotation," Hinch said. "No decisions have to be made until we actually know our personnel come February."

Stage set for Astros' top prospect to break out

While the Astros search for a starting pitcher and a bat, they've already made a pair of additions in veteran infielder and catcher . Hinch said Diaz figures to fill the role had last season, getting time at first base, second base, shortstop, third base and left field.

"He's got to get a glove for everything," Hinch said. "He knows that. He's done a little bit of that. Maybe first base the least, or not at all. But might as well try it out. And we'll mix and match him. I told him the day we got him that it was important for him to have that versatility. He grades out at A-plus across the board when it comes to willingness to do whatever it takes.

"And he's going to get a lot of at-bats and he's going to play around the field, and we hope our guys stay healthy. But I thought it was a great addition to our guys."

Hinch said the signing of Chirinos stabilizes the Astros' catching situation. The veteran joins as the only catchers currently on the 40-man roster who have big league time. Prospect will begin the season at Triple-A Round Rock and could emerge as a big league backstop.

"I feel good about it," said Hinch, a former catcher. "I think going into the offseason having lost two of three catchers that were primary catchers this season [ and ], that's a daunting task to replace that. And we signed Chirinos, we feel comfortable that we have two Major League catchers on our roster now and a promising prospect who is likely to start the year in Triple-A in Garrett Stubbs.

"With all the rumors swirling around about every catcher, it's nice to have some stability, guys that have done it, some experience."

While top prospect figures to battle for playing time with whatever veteran the Astros acquire this winter, the Astros still have at-bats for and , who will help fill the void at designated hitter following the departure of Evan Gattis. First baseman Yuli Gurriel will move around the infield, and will play shortstop as well as third base. The only infielders who won't play multiple positions are shortstop and second baseman .

"I believe in versatility as much as any manager in baseball," Hinch said. "So we have to prepare for the unexpected."