One of the highest pressure situations of the Astros’ 2017 season occurred in the 5th inning of Francis Martes’ first career start.
After breezing through the first four innings of the game, the 21-year old righty, the youngest active player in the AL, faced a major test. Martes surrendered a double to Jonathon Lucroy to lead off the 5th, before walking Joey Gallo and hitting Jurickson Profar with a pitch to load the bases.
Clinging to a 2-1 lead in a game to avoid a sweep against the Astros’ fierce in-state rivals from Arlington, it would have been understandable for A.J. Hinch to sub in an experienced pitcher to face the top of the Ranger’s lineup with the bases loaded and no outs. Yet he stuck with the rookie, which would prove to be a smart decision and an invaluable learning experience for Martes.
Martes preceded to punch-out Jared Hoying, get Shin-Soo Choo to pop-up to third, and strike out Nomar Mazara looking with a nasty breaking ball that set Minute Maid ablaze. Martes surrendered just one run on a wild-pitch, and finished the day with 7 K’s, 3 H’s, and 2 BB’s.
It was an encouraging start for Martes, who was promoted just a week ago. For a guy used to playing in Corpus Christi and Fresno, delivering not only a good start but also coming out of a bases loaded situation in-front of over 37-thousand fans is pretty damn impressive.
Many will see the start as a good show-case for one of the Astros’ most coveted trade assets, but what if Francis Martes could be the Astros’ missing rotational piece?
Its a long-shot that Martes is already polished enough to be an effective starting pitcher at this point in his career, yet what if he could he would potentially save the Astros’ from having to spend prospects and money for a bonafide ace as the trade deadline approaches? Martes has electric stuff; his mid 90’s fast-ball and power curveball could pave the way for him to be a front-line starter one day, but is it possible that he is already close to being there now?
His issues are control and tertiary pitches, yet if he can keep the walks down to a respectable level he could be a surprise breakout player for Houston. The Astros need someone to step up and emerge as a dependable pitcher behind Keuchel and McCullers, and with an influx of injuries Martes will get a chance to prove he’s that guy.
Its a lot to ask from a guy who’s so young and has thus-far struggled at the Triple-AAA level, but the talent is there and he has a big opportunity. If the Astros’ were saved from splurging on a big-named pitcher they could fill in other needs at reasonable price-tags, like extra bullpen arms, especially left-handed ones.
Ultimately I believe its likely the Astros go all-in on a front-line starter to maximize their World-Series chances, but I fear other teams will use the Astros’ deep-farm system and desperation as leverage to fleece Houston out of valuable prospects. I may be a bit biased towards the Astros rising farm talent, but I’d like to save assets whenever possible.
If Martes continues to play well, he could not only emerge as the Astros’ missing rotation piece, but also save the team from spending heavy.