Yet more Astros strikeout artists on display at instructs

September 28th, 2018

Astros pitchers excel at missing bats. They've set a big league record this season with 1,652 strikeouts and still have four games to add to that total. Their Class A Quad Cities affiliate shattered the Minor League mark with 1,514 whiffs and each of their top five affiliates topped their league in strikeouts.
Instructional league rosters
Based on the arms in Houston's instructional league program in West Palm Beach, Fla., its pitchers will continue to pile up strikeouts in the future.
The highest-profile pitcher in Astros camp, which opened Sept. 20 and runs through Oct. 2, is right-hander and No. 16 prospect Jayson Schroeder. A second-round pick out of a Washington high school in June who signed for an over-slot $1.25 million, he posted a 1.80 ERA with 18 strikeouts in as many innings in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He can run his fastball up to 97 mph with heavy sink, flashes a pair of solid breaking pitches and is starting to develop a changeup.
"Schroeder is working more on basic fundamentals right now," Houston farm director Pete Putila said. "He's just working on getting acclimated to our program before we get too much into pitch development. We're excited to get a real-time look at him and we'll see what comes out next spring."
• Astros instructional league roster, schedule
Right-hander R.J. Freure, a sixth-rounder from Pittsburgh, led NCAA Division I with 14.6 strikeouts per nine innings as a Draft-eligible sophomore last spring. He had a 0.98 ERA with 29 whiffs in 27 2/3 innings at Class A Short Season Tri-City, featuring a hammer curveball and a fastball that topped out at 96 mph.
"His curveball is hard and has a ton of depth, and he has a nice fastball too," Putila said. "His girlfriend is a dietician and he's trying to work with her to lose some weight. It's all about throwing strikes because his stuff will definitely play."
Two late-round right-handers had the best strikeout rates among the Astros' 2018 draftees, and they're both in instructional league as well. Mark Moclair, a 12th-rounder from Tampa who led NCAA Division II in hits per nine innings (3.6) and finished second in strikeouts per nine (14.9) last spring, boosted that latter rate to 15.8 at Tri-City. He relies heavily on a high-spin-rate curveball.
A fifth-year senior who began his college career at Tulane before transferring to Mississippi State for 2018, J.P. France went in the 14th round before averaging 14.0 strikeouts per nine innings between Tri-City and Quad Cities. He gave up just one run in 18 innings, and while he's old for a first-year pro at age 23, he's tough to hit with a low-90s fastball featuring natural cut and a hard curve. Putila said France reminds him of Will Harris, a bullpen mainstay in Houston for the last four seasons.
According to Putila, Dominican right-hander Manny Ramirez has the most explosive arm among Houston instructional leaguers. Signed for $50,000 in July 2017, he fanned 55 in 39 1/3 innings between the GCL and Tri-City this summer.
"Ramirez sits at 95-97 mph and though his curveball kind of wavers in shape, he's got power behind it," Putila said. "He's young and he sometimes loses the zone, but he's really interesting. He's a smaller guy with a very fluid delivery and a very calm demeanor."
In search of even more power arms, the Astros are experimenting with shortstop Antonio Nunez on the mound. Houston scouts Oklahoma junior colleges as thoroughly as any club and grabbed him in the 14th round out of Western Oklahoma State in 2014. He has advanced to Triple-A but is just a career .225/.332/.273 hitter in five pro seasons.
Nunez pitched twice in blowouts this season, walking three straight batters in April before pitching a scoreless inning in July. His fastball has registered as high as 98 mph with running action, though he's still very much in the early stages of figuring things out on the mound.
"He has a really big arm so we figured, why not?" Putila said. "It's something we haven't done a great job historically with, so we're trying to be more diligent finding position guys with arm strength to try on the mound."