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Houston Astros Bullpen: Depth Chart Discussions

The Astros’ bullpen is a mishmash of waiver claims, Rule V selections and players looking to resurrect their career. None of the following names will appear high on your cheat sheets this draft season — if they appear at all — but some of these arms could provide fair value for those unwilling to pay for saves or holds in 2013.

The closer:

Jose Veras

Veras inked a deal with the Astros after the Brewers declined to do so, due in large part to his inconsistency on the mound, as Jack Moore discussed. Veras has a tendency to allow free passes; 12.2% of batters he’s faced since 2011 have reached base via the walk to be exact, good enough for ninth worst in the majors among qualified relievers. However, in each of the last three seasons, Veras has dealt a minimum of 48 innings while tallying a 10.0 K/9 or better and keeping both his ERA and FIP under 4.00. Owners in mixed leagues that reward pitchers for saves + holds should target Veras late in their drafts with the understanding that he is a high risk, high reward reliever. It’s also worth noting that if Veras experiences success early in the year, he could very well be a trade target for teams at the deadline, which makes him a good sell-high candidate for your fake team as well..

The setup guys:

Wesley Wright (L)
Hector Ambriz

As volatile as the closer’s role is on any staff, you always want to monitor the hurler that appears to be next-in-line. While the Astros haven’t shown their cards yet, it looks as if Wesley Wright and Hector Ambriz are those guys.

Wright will definitely get some late-inning looks — especially against lefties — who slashed just .197/.265/.273 with a .245 wOBA against him in 32.2 innings last season. He displays a good amount of control and keeps the ball on the ground (54.9% GB% in ‘12), but splits against righties (.350 wOBA) will likely keep him situational.

Hector Ambriz, the frontrunner for the right-handed set-up gig, missed the entire 2011 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Upon his return to the majors in 2012, Ambriz earned three holds in 18 appearances (19.1 IP) with a 2.84 FIP. He showed some swing-and-miss stuff (11.7 SwStr%) in his short time back, but will need to regain his control (13.3% BB%) to be seriously considered for eighth inning duties.

Middle Relief:

Xavier Cedeno (L)
Sam Demel
Josh Fields
Rhiner Cruz

Xavier Cedeno is a converted starter who has been in the professional ranks since 2006, yet has just 32.2 major league innings under his belt. In 44 appearances (31 IP) in 2012, Cedeno posted a fine 26.1 K% with a 3.77 ERA (3.48 FIP) and picked up six holds. He impressed with a good amount of swings-and-misses (10.0 SwStr%) and induced weak contact (20.1 IFFB%), but the southpaw surrendered too many free passes (10.1% BB%). Cedeno probably won’t be anything more than a LOOGY in 2013.

Sam Demel was claimed off waivers from the Diamondbacks in November after a two-year stint in the desert. Demel sported a decent K% and a induced ground balls at a 50% or better clip, but wasn’t able to get his ERA (or FIP) under 4.00 at any point during his stay — likely due to his atrocious HR/FB (13.5% in ‘10 and 16.7% in ‘11). He possesses the makeup and offerings to be a high leverage reliever — even being mentioned as a possible closer in Arizona when he came over from Oakland in the Conor Jackson deal — but Demel needs to keep the ball on the ground and in the park to gain the trust from the Astros’ brass first.

The ‘Stros nabbed Josh Fields with the first selection of the Rule V draft at the Winter Meetings in December from the Red Sox. Fields flashed an impressive 35.5% K% and earned 13 saves in 42 appearances (58.1 IP) between Double-A and Triple-A last season. Considering the spike in K%, improved BB% and closing experience in the minors, Fields could be a dark horse for holds or save chances in Houston should the Astros continue to juggle their roster.

Rhiner Cruz, the first overall selection of the 2011 Rule V draft, is another name to keep an eye on in the Astros’ pen. Much of his minor league experience came in the Mets’ organization, in which he was asked to close out games at each of the five levels he pitched. He earned 41 saves in the lower levels, but failed to develop control — surrendering no fewer than 4.15 BB/9 at each stop. Cruz offers a fastball that sits about 95 mph and changes speeds well, so if he continues to deliver that first-pitch strike (60.9% F-Strike%), induce swings-and-misses (10.6% SwStr%) and improve on that control, he too could emerge as a dark horse candidate for holds down the road as noted by Albert Lang.