The Houston Astros have promoted pitching prospect Jarred Cosart and have slated him to start tomorrow against the Tampa Bay Rays and Cy Young pitcher David Price, unintentionally displaying just how far they still have yet to come as an organization. Still, Cosart's arrival signals yet another small step in their progressing rebuilding process, and an important piece of their future in a role still yet to be determined.
Cosart was one of the main pieces the Astros received in one of their first rebuilding trades, receiving him, among others, from the Phillies in exchange for Hunter Pence in 2011. Drafted in the 38th round by the Phillies out of high school, Cosart signed for $550,000, the equivalent of late-second round money. At the time, Baseball America said this about Cosart:
He reached 96 mph with his fastball in the fall, but he topped out at 92 this spring. He's more of a project as a pitcher than he is as a hitter, as he has an awkward pause in the middle of his delivery that compromises his ability to throw strikes or refine his secondary pitches.
Not a lot has changed in that regard for Cosart, who still has issues throwing strikes, a problem with leads many, including me, to believe that he will ultimately end up in a major league bullpen.
Cosart lands with a stiff front leg, which he sometimes struggles to get over the top of. This affects his command, and thus, causes him to miss his location both in and out of the strike zone. Cosart has gotten away with walk rates in the high-3's and low-4's (per nine innings) throughout his minor league career, but few pitchers can do so in the majors.
Cosart would be able to get away with the control issues if he missed more bats, although he is missing more than ever this season in the continuation of a trend throughout his minor league career. A player with a mid-90's fastball and a power curveball should generate plenty of strike outs, but Cosart is just this year striking out more than a batter per inning for the first time in his career. That's a good sign for his stuff, but it would be better if it didn't come along with a career high walk rate of 4.84 BB/9 on the season.
Cosart is going to get himself into jams in the major leagues with walk rates that high, and he will need to get strikeouts to get out of them. If he's unable to do so routinely, he could struggle as a starter. There aren't a lot of examples of starters who walk more than four batters per inning and striking out less than nine batters per inning and remain effective starters for long periods of time. In fact, only four pitchers in the expansion era (since 1961) have had more than two such seasons (BB/9 >4, K/9<9, ERA+>100):
|1||Carlos Zambrano||3||2006||2009||25-28||Ind. Seasons|
|2||Russ Ortiz||3||1999||2004||25-30||Ind. Seasons|
|3||Tom Gordon||3||1990||1995||22-27||Ind. Seasons|
|4||Nolan Ryan||3||1975||1983||28-36||Ind. Seasons|
We know Nolan Ryan went on to strike well over a batter per inning in many seasons in his career, but when a player pitches for 27 seasons, he makes his way into a lot of searches. Jarred Cosart is not Nolan Ryan. The other three players on this list struggled to maintain long-term success as starters despite some success early on.
Gordon's being on this list is interesting, and his career path could be something that Cosart could go on to resemble. Despite being six inches shorter than Cosart, the two have similar repertories with a power fastball/curveball combo. Gordon had some success as a starter in his 20's, but battled control issues. In his first nine seasons, during which time he was primarily a starter, Gordon walked 4.5 batters per nine, but for the reminder of his career, during which time he worked exclusively as a reliever, he walked just 3.3 per nine. Gordon's success as a reliever didn't last, but he reinvented himself as a power-armed late-inning reliever who was a good set-up man and closer for most of his 30's. I'm not predicting that Cosart will go on to have a 21 year career, but the idea that he could have some success as a starter early before eventually ending up in a bullpen seems completely plausible.
The Astros plan to let him work as one, and they have little incentive not to. Cosart is still just 23 and wasn't a full-time pitcher until drafted by the Phillies, so he's still raw, despite almost 450 minor league innings. The good news for the Astros is that the stuff coming out of Cosart's hand is electric, so even if he doesn't make it as a starter, he still has a relatively high ceiling.