Josh James Could Emerge as a Vital Piece to the Houston Astros Bullpen

Although Josh James has only pitched a handful of innings at the big-league level, it was enough to make his mark with the Houston Astros last season given his electric triple-digit fastball. The 26-year old saw some innings in the postseason last year against the Boston Red Sox and looked very good at times, giving manager AJ Hinch the thought that he could have another legitimate arm to add to his pitching staff.

James was a September call-up, appearing six times in the regular season including three starts. The big righty struck out 29 hitters while posting a 2.35 ERA through 23 innings. He was in contention for Houston’s fifth spot in the rotation this year, but a minor quad injury at the beginning of spring training has prevented him from pitching in Grapefruit League action. Thanks to Brad Peacock‘s strong spring so far, he will probably snatch up the final spot in the Astros electric rotation.

Even though James started 75 of the 104 minor-league games he has featured in during his professional career, a role in the bullpen could prove to be beneficial for the former 34th round pick. There’s clearly limited space in the rotation right now and with a 100 mph heater, James could find some serious success coming out of the pen for Houston this season.

A role in the bullpen

James pitched mostly out of the bullpen in the limited innings he had at the major-league level last season, and for the most part, looked pretty sharp. Obviously the number one thing that lit up the eyes of everyone is his fastball, which is arguably one of the best in the entire Astros organization, let alone the actual big-league team as well.

Last season was a breakout year for the hard-throwing righty, where he was named the Astros minor-league Pitcher of the Year after tossing 114 innings between Double-A and Triple-A and striking out an impressive 171 hitters — which was fourth amongst all minor-league pitchers. He climbed all the way from Double-A to the majors which is an astounding feat in itself.

The fact that he hasn’t pitched in spring training yet could definitely be a concern. Although it puts him out of contention for the starting rotation, he still has the chance to earn a spot in the pen. He’s just beginning to throw to live hitters and should probably make four-to-five appearances before opening day. According to reports, his arm does look like it’s in top shape which is a very good thing for the Astros.

James showed last year that he has what it takes to contribute in this Houston bullpen. I don’t believe there is any doubt that he will be seeing some innings late in games this season. With time, I think Hinch will be relying on James to get some big outs for the Astros. If he can continue to command his biggest weapon, the fastball, and compliment that with his devastating changeup and developing slider, he will emerge as a vital piece of his Houston bullpen.

It’s still even possible that throughout the season he could make some spot starts. If they deal with injuries within their rotation, James could end up starting more games than we thought. But in the long run, given his high velocity, I think he will have the most success coming out of the bullpen late in games with the adrenaline pumping, tossing 102 mph.

As a 34th round pick out of small Junior College in Western Oklahoma, it’s a pretty remarkable story that James has even made it all the way to the bigs.

Now he’s here and ready to stay.

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