By Jason Shetler
p/c: Chris O’Meara – AP
Entering the 2016 season, Joe Musgrove was rated the eighth best prospect in a very stacked Houston Astros farm system, according to MLB Pipeline. He had an okay rookie season with Houston that year, as he put up a 4.06 ERA, along with a 4.18 FIP in 11 games (10 starts). Musgrove began 2017 in the Astros rotation, but was moved to the bullpen in late July. Here were his numbers in both roles.
Starter: 6.12 ERA, .882 opponents OPS, 2.7 BB/9, 7.7 K/9
Reliever: 1.44 ERA, .565 opponents OPS, 1.4 BB/9, 9.0 K/9
Instead of optioning Musgrove to the minors, the Astros made the decision to have him in the bullpen, and it paid big dividends, as he completely turned his season around, while also being apart of their postseason roster. The average fastball velocity for Musgrove last year was 93.6 mph. He also threw a plus slider that averaged at 83.5 mph, making for good separation. Opposing batters hit just .188 off Musgrove’s slider. He also has a cutter, but was utilized better in relief.
Shortly after Pirates pitchers and catchers had reported, Musgrove felt something in his shoulder prior to throwing a live BP session. He held out as a precaution, and the issue was only minor. Pirates GM Neal Huntington has said that they were going to take it slowly with Musgrove anyway, being that he pitched deep into the World Series with the Astros. Because of a couple off days the first week of the season, the Pirates won’t need a fifth starter until April 8th, so it would give Musgrove an extra week to prepare. But the question becomes how much of a leash will they give him as a starter?
The 2018 FanGraphs projection for Musgrove is a 3.75 FIP, which would be a run prevention figure of a mid-rotation starter. He has a good enough fastball, along with an excellent slider, but he needs a quality third pitch, if he wants to be a mainstay in the Pirates rotation. As I eluded to earlier, Musgrove throws a cutter, although that pitch was more effective when he pitched out of the bullpen. He does have a curveball, but it was a below average offering for him last season, regardless which role he had. The Pirates have rotation depth in AAA with Nick Kingham, Clay Holmes and Tyler Eppler, in addition to still having Tyler Glasnow and Steven Brault as options as well. Based on the pitching depth, I don’t think Musgrove will be given a lengthy leash, but as long as he performs well as a starter, then he’ll be able to keep extending that leash.