Grading The Prospect: With September 1 Looming, Will The Astros’ Josh James Make An Impact?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

The Houston Astros have a hole to fill in their rotation, at least for one turn (with Charlie Morton sidelined), which coincidentally falls on September 1 when rosters expand.  That adds to the potential for dipping into their Triple-A rotation to take the ball, and it’s possible that Josh James gets the nod (he last started on August 25).  If that happens it’s possible that he sticks in the rotation for the rest of the year, with Lance McCullers likely to return to a bullpen role once healthy and the potential for James to outproduce Framber Valdez.

James, for his part, has been dominant in the minor leagues with 171 K over 114.1 IP between Double and Triple-A.  You can argue that strikeouts are the only “skill” he brings to the table, however.  Just look at his control this season:

  • Double-A (21.2 IP) – 4.15 BB/9
  • Triple-A (92.2 IP) – 3.79 BB/9

Then you have the groundball rate, which went from 54.8% at Double-A to 39.1% Triple-A.  Hitters do need to make contact in order for that to become an issue, and even pitching in the Pacific Coast League his HR/9 sits at 0.78.  It’s something to watch, but not a significant red flag today.

With a fastball that can reach triple-digits, that alone is going to bring speculation that he could profile better as a reliever and closer of the future.  There are other concerns that help fuel that speculation, as seen in this scouting report from MLB.com:

He doesn’t repeat his delivery consistently, so he may not provide enough strikes to remain a starter. His ability to miss bats and generate weak contact could make him a nice bullpen option.

As of today he’s being used as a starter, and that’s the role he could initially be utilized in (though a transition to the bullpen isn’t out of the question).  There also shouldn’t be an issue with the normal questions a pitching prospect faces:

  • Innings – He’s currently thrown 114.1 innings in ’18, and has thrown as many as 116.1 in a season. That should mean that he has around 30-35 more innings to work with this season.
  • 40-Man Roster – While James isn’t currently on the 40-man roster, he is going to need to be added in the offseason or be subject to the Rule 5 draft (as per MLB.com, “Players who were signed when they were 19 or older and have played in professional baseball for four years are eligible, as are players who were signed at 18 and have played for five years.”)  James was drafted as 21-year old in 2014, making 2018 his fourth year in professional baseball.

Having cleared those issues and with the strikeout potential, there’s a lot to like.  That doesn’t mean that there isn’t risk, though, as he could struggle with walks and home runs.  For 2018, given the risks (which includes a move to the bullpen), he’d be tough to trust with your fantasy title hanging in the balance.  If you are looking towards 2019 and beyond we still need to ultimately answer what role he’ll fill, but it’s hard to argue against the potential.

Current Grade – B-
Upside Grade – B+/A- (if he finds his control)

Sources – MLB.com, MILB.com, Fangraphs

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