Inbox: Will Astros keep young arms around?

Beat reporter Brian McTaggart answers questions from fans

July 30th, 2020

HOUSTON -- The first week of the regular season has been an eventful one for the Astros, who saw eight players make their Major League debuts, headline a bevy of pitchers who suffered arm injuries and a benches-clearing incident with the Dodgers in the much-anticipated 2017 World Series rematch. Whew.

As the Astros get prepared to make their first road trip of the 2020 season -- beginning Friday in Anaheim against Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Anthony Rendon and the Angels -- let’s open the Inbox.

Once the staff is relatively healthy, which young pitchers do you expect to stick around?
-- @SteveinLC, via Twitter

I like this question a lot. Yes, the Astros have had seven pitchers -- , Brandon Bielak, Brandon Bailey, Nivaldo Rodriguez, Andre Scrubb, and Enoli Paredes -- make their Major League debuts already this year. Entering Spring Training, only Taylor -- being the lone lefty in the group -- had a real shot to make the team. Everybody else was destined to begin the season in the Minor Leagues. Along came the coronavirus, the cancellation of the Minor League season, expanded rosters and a rash of injuries and … here we are.

When the Astros get healthy, I’d expect Taylor to stick around for sure. He’s thrown the ball really well and the team doesn’t have many lefty options. Javier’s terrific first start Wednesday against the Dodgers may have earned the club's No. 6 prospect according to MLB Pipeline a spot on the club going forward. Bielak could stick, as well. Really, all the rookies have impressed, but it comes down to how many injured players will get healthy. With Verlander, Brad Peacock, Austin Pruitt, Joe Biagini and on the injured list and with Ryan Pressly and Chris Devenski battling elbow soreness, opportunity abounds for the young guys.

Which pitchers use translators? And when Strom comes to the mound, does Maldonado translate? What if Garneau is catching?
-- @chunky37

None of the Spanish-speaking pitchers use translators on the mound as you might see with Japanese pitchers. Most of the Spanish-speaking pitchers speak enough English to communicate adequately with pitching coach Brent Strom, who knows a bit of Spanish himself. Certainly, having veteran catcher Martin Maldonado behind the plate for most of the games makes it a lot easier when there’s a mound visit. Also keep in mind that if there’s a mound visit, one of the Spanish-speaking infielders -- second baseman Jose Altuve or shortstop Carlos Correa -- could come to the mound and translate as well.

Verlander, McCullers, Greinke, James, Urquidy. Do you think we will see this rotation at any point this season?
-- @elcougar09

That depends on whether Verlander comes back. He suffered a strained forearm in his first start of the season Friday against the Mariners and will be shut down for two weeks. The rotation you laid out -- Verlander, Lance McCullers, Zack Greinke, Josh James and Urquidy -- is their best rotation at the point when everyone is healthy, though a case could now be made for Javier as well. James struggled to throw strikes in his first start Monday against Seattle and Javier allowed two hits and one run in 5 2/3 innings against the Dodgers on Wednesday. Regardless, the rotation is drastically better with a healthy Verlander than it is without Verlander.

Where is Whitley? I thought the Astros were high on him, yet I haven’t heard anything about him.
-- @frank_1950

Keep up, Frank! I’ve written a couple of times about in the past few weeks. The fact that seven pitchers have made their Major League debuts so far this season and none of them is Whitley -- the club’s top pitching prospect -- tells you the Astros believe he’s not ready. Whitley is at the team’s alternative training site in Corpus Christi, Texas, and is in the 60-player pool, which general manager James Click said was comprised of players the team felt could help them win this year. Still, Whitley was working on his mechanics in the spring and was coming off a poor year, which included a 12.21 ERA at Triple-A Round Rock in 2019. Whitley, who will have to be added to the 40-man roster this year to avoid potentially being selected in the Rule 5 Draft, is only 22 years old -- younger than the seven pitchers who have made their debuts this year.

Which position players on the expanded rosters have a future with the team beyond this season?
-- @TheMarkFreeman

could be the Astros’ starting center fielder next year if George Springer doesn’t return in free agency. And with fellow outfielders Josh Reddick and Michael Brantley also free agents, Straw’s playing time figures to jump in 2021 regardless. If Yuli Gurriel leaves in free agency, -- who made his debut Sunday and went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and a double play before being sent back to the alternative training site -- is poised to possibly get a shot to take over at first base next year. also figures to have a long-term future with the club, especially if he can become a little more versatile defensively.

How long until Yordan and Urquidy are back?
-- @chicken17399907

I get this question a lot, and I wish we had more answers. What we know is this: and Urquidy were expected to be huge contributors to this club. They both went on the injured list July 12 for undisclosed reasons. When the season started, they were sent to the team’s alternative training site in Corpus Christi and have been working out for several days now. Manager Dusty Baker said they hadn’t been doing baseball drills while the rest of the club was at Summer Camp, so I’d expect them to be at Corpus Christi for a few weeks. And considering so many pitchers have come down with arm injuries on the heels of the slow ramp-up to the regular season, the Astros figure to be more cautious with Urquidy despite their desperate need for pitching. Here’s a guess on my part: Alvarez will be back in a week to 10 days and Urquidy’s return will be near the end of August.