- Cuban shortstop Jose Israel Garcia was recently declared a free agent by Major League Baseball, per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, and he’s drawing interest from a number of clubs. To this point, the Reds, Astros and Padres have all shown interest in Garcia. That would seem to indicate that he’s looking to sign before the current period comes to a close on June 15, as each of those teams has exceeded its 2016-17 pool allotment to the point that they’ll incur maximum penalization in the 2017-18 class. There’s not much data on the 19-year-old Garcia, though Heyman has described him as “slick-fielding.”
The Mariners have acquired outfielder Andrew Aplin from the Astros, per a club announcement. Cash or a player to be named later will head to Houston in return. To create room on the 40-man roster, Seattle has designated righty Chris Heston for assignment.
[RELATED: Updated Mariners Depth Chart]
Aplin, 26, had just been designated for assignment when the ’Stros had a need for a 40-man spot. He’ll now head to the division-rival Mariners, who carry a variety of young outfielders on their 40-man roster — a situation with plenty of competition but also a good bit of opportunity.
Seattle is surely intrigued by Aplin’s ability to manage the strike zone, make contact, and get on base. He owns a .375 OBP through thirty games at Triple-A this year. But Aplin has also failed to show much else with the bat at the highest level of the minors, with a composite .245/.341/.329 batting line through 953 total plate appearances over four seasons. He did manage nine home runs in 598 plate appearances at the High-A level back in 2013, however. And Aplin is regarded as a quality defender who can play anywhere in the outfield; Baseball America credits him with a high-quality arm while noting that “his range and defense play up thanks to good routes and reads.”
The 29-year-old Heston, who’s best known for his 2015 no-hitter, has struggled badly in his limited major league opportunities over the past two seasons. Most recently, he was bombed in a spot start on Sunday. Still, Heston had managed a 3.41 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 over 31 2/3 innings this year at Triple-A Tacoma.
- The Astros will select the contract of right-hander Jordan Jankowski from Triple-A Fresno today, reports Brian McTaggart of MLB.com (Twitter link). He’s not on the 40-man roster, meaning the team will need to make another move to accommodate him. Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle reports that Jankowski will replace lefty Ashur Tolliver on the active roster, though Tolliver has minor league options remaining, so he needn’t be designated for assignment and can rather be optioned. Houston selected Jankowski in the 34th round of the 2008 draft, but he elected to attend college at Catawba College, in Salirbury, N.C. Four years later, the Astros again selected Jankowski — once again in the 34th round. The 28-year-old owns a pristine 1.42 ERA with a 22-to-9 K/BB ratio in 19 innings this season in Triple-A.
The Astros announced that they’ve designated outfielder Andrew Aplin for assignment in order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for right-hander Jordan Jankowski, whose contract has been selected from Triple-A Fresno.
The 26-year-old Aplin was a fifth-round pick of the Astros back in 2012, and while he reached Triple-A for the first time as a 23-year-old in 2014, his career has stalled somewhat at that level. Aplin has now spent parts of four seasons there, hitting a combined .245/.341/.329 with eight homers and 47 steals through 249 games (953 plate appearances). That includes a .250/.375/.345 batting line in 2017 — his age-26 campaign.
Jankowski, 28, was drafted by the Astros out of high school in 2008 and out of college in 2012 — both in the 34th round. He’s worked to an excellent 1.42 ERA with a 22-to-9 K/BB ratio in 19 innings this season in Triple-A and has a lifetime 3.24 ERA with 11.9 K/9 against 4.4 BB/9 in 153 innings at that level.
The Astros have placed catcher Brian McCann on the seven-day concussion disabled list, retroactive to Saturday, and selected the contract of fellow backstop Juan Centeno from Triple-A, per Brian McTaggart of MLB.com (on Twitter).
McCann is now the second prominent Astro to hit the DL since Saturday, joining ace Dallas Keuchel on the shelf. Like Keuchel, McCann has thrived for the 29-14 Astros, owners of the majors’ best record. McCann, whom Houston acquired from the Yankees in an offseason trade, has slashed .269/.365/.454 with six home runs and as many walks as strikeouts (17) in 126 plate appearances. On the defensive side, the 33-year-old has continued a careerlong trend of serving as a plus pitch framer, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Fortunately for the Astros, they do have a quality reserve behind McCann in the power-hitting Evan Gattis, who has also performed well this season. Centeno, an offseason minor league signing, will back up Gattis. The 27-year-old Centeno has been great this season at Triple-A, where he has slashed .368/.395/.487 line in 83 PAs, though he hasn’t been nearly as successful in the majors. In 258 big league PAs, including 192 with the Twins last year, Centeno has hit .236/.290/.338. Behind the plate, BP ranked him among the majors’ worst framers in 2016.
- The Astros are “very interested” in Pirates righty Gerrit Cole. Houston has been checking in on top-tier starters for months, so it makes sense that the team would have an eye on Cole’s availability. Peter Gammons recently suggested that the Astros (and Yankees) may be the only contenders who could actually afford a Cole trade, given Houston’s deep farm system and the giant return that the Pirates will surely demand for their controllable young star if Cole is indeed shopped at the deadline.
The Astros will place ace Dallas Keuchel on the 10-day DL with a pinched nerve in his neck, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart (Twitter link) and others reported. Left-hander Ashur Tolliver will be recalled in a corresponding move.
The injury doesn’t seem particularly serious, as Keuchel is expected to only miss one start since the DL stint was backdated to Wednesday. In his last start, on Tuesday, Keuchel threw just 70 pitches over five innings (his shortest outing of the season), though he still held the Marlins to two runs and earned the victory.
After a disappointing 2016 season, Keuchel has shown early signs of returning to his 2015 Cy Young Award-winning form. Keuchel has a 1.84 ERA, 7.63 K/9 and a league-best 67.1% ground ball rate over his first 63 2/3 IP of the season, and was named the AL Pitcher Of The Month for April. There are a few red flags for Keuchel — a .215 BABIP, 88.2% strand rate and a career-high 19.4% homer rate — but overall, ERA predictors are still pretty rosy (3.27 FIP, 2.87 xFIP, 2.97 SIERA) about the lefty’s performance. Despite the lack of missed bats, Keuchel is excelling at generating weak contact, with 31% of his balls in play rated as ’soft’ contact by Fangraphs and only 20.8% rated as hard contact.
The Astros are lining up to pursue pitching at the trade deadline, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes. Houston has its sights set on a quality starter and left-handed reliever, per the report. That hasn’t really changed since the winter, of course, though the team has posted the best record in baseball to this point even without having made the desired upgrades. Rosenthal discusses some possible targets, but it seems that the ’Stros haven’t yet fixed on any particular paths to adding these pieces. General manager Jeff Luhnow did recently tell MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart that the team doesn’t feel any urgency to rush into early trades thanks to its excellent start to the season, so the Astros may well wait to see how the full landscape of the trade market develops before pursuing upgrades.
- Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle reports that the Astros have released Triple-A righty Keegan Yuhl and Double-A lefty Michael Freeman (Twitter links). Yuhl, 25, had a solid Double-A season in 2016 but has been torched for 58 earned runs in 46 Triple-A innings since being promoted on the heels of his strong Double-A output last year. Freeman, also 25, had a seemingly encouraging 3.15 ERA with Double-A this year but walked 16 batters (against 14 strikeouts), hit three more and threw three wild pitches in just 20 innings. He was Houston’s seventh-round pick as recently as 2015.
At 24-11, the Astros are the best team in baseball through the season’s first five and a half weeks — a blistering start that, according to GM Jeff Luhnow, will allow the team to remain patient on the summer trade market. As Luhnow explains to MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart, he doesn’t feel any urgency pushing him to rush into the summer trade market. “We jumped on Scott Kazmir two years ago early in the trade season, and there’s pros and cons to that,” said Luhnow. “…but other pitchers came available — namely, David Price — that had not really been available early, and so if you really want to know what the landscape looks like completely, you kind of have to wait until the end.” Luhnow tells McTaggart that he still plans to be highly active in trade talks from now through the non-waiver deadline, but the GM doesn’t sound anxious to augment his club, especially with Collin McHugh and pitching prospect David Paulino on the mend from injury. “As long as we continue to play well, there’s no urgency to solve a problem right now.”
A bit more on the Astros…
- Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports takes an excellent look at Astros powerhouse Chris Devenski — one of the game’s most quietly dominant relievers. Devenski, nicknamed “The Dragon” by his manager in Double-A (Houston will give away bobbleheads of Devenski riding a dragon later this season), Devenski has followed an unlikely path to his current status as one of Major League Baseball’s best bullpen weapons. The right-hander was a 25th-round pick by the White Sox back in 2011 before being dealt to Houston as a player to be named later in the 2012 trade that sent right-hander Brett Myers to Chicago. Devenski wasn’t protected from the Rule 5 Draft by the Astros following a solid-but-not-dominant 2015 season in Double-A, which Luhnow describes to Rosenthal as “a bad decision with an OK outcome.” Luhnow concedes that Houston took “too much of a risk” in leaving Devenski unprotected, though he’s surely thankful for how it worked out. In 131 1/3 MLB innings since Opening Day 2016, Devenski has a 2.12 ERA with 10.0 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9. Teammates Brian McCann, Josh Reddick, Will Harris, George Springer and others all rave about Devenski’s talent and work ethic, and Rosenthal’s column (which I’d highly recommend reading in full), is stuffed with quotes effusing praise for “The Dragon.”
- Top prospect David Paulino (mentioned by Luhnow as an “important piece” in the McTaggart interview above) made his 2017 debut at Triple-A Fresno after missing five weeks with a bone bruise in his elbow, as Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle writes. Paulino finished the 2016 season in the Majors and opened the season on the Major League disabled list, so he’s technically pitching on a rehab assignment. Based on Kaplan’s writing, it doesn’t sound as if Paulino will be an immediate option for the team once his rehab clock is up; Kaplan notes that he’ll eventually be activated and formally optioned to Fresno. In the meantime, Paulino will continue accruing MLB service time.
- In light of Rosenthal’s Devenski column and Paulino’s return to the mound, I’ll also point out that Paulino was acquired as a player to be named later in a trade for a reliever; Houston nabbed Paulino, who entered the season as a consensus top 100 prospect, as a PTBNL in the 2013 trade that sent Jose Veras to the Tigers. At the time, Paulino was a 19-year-old GCL prospect that was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He’s very clearly elevated his stock, having tossed 90 innings with a flat 2.00 ERA, 10.6 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 across two minor league levels in 2016 (plus five more shutout innings in the Arizona Fall League).