Houston Astros: Francis Martes needs to rebound in 2018

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 01: Pitcher Francis Martes
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 01: Pitcher Francis Martes /

The Houston Astros acquired Francis Martes in 2014 from the Marlins, and he quickly turned into a prized prospect. But after a shaky first season with the big league club, he needs to prove he’s not going to be a dud.

The Houston Astros and other MLB teams had several rookie pitchers turn heads during their first official campaign, whether it be with their impressive repertoire of pitches or a few stellar starts. Jacob Faria and Luis Castillo did that in 2017.

Francis Martes, on the other hand, did not.

Heading into Spring Training this past season, the heat-throwing right-hander was seen as the team’s top prospect. Hence, manager A.J. Hinch promoted the Dominican in the summer, hoping he could eat up some innings for a taxed relief unit.

With an elaborate collection of pitches and a what Hinch deemed “high-end stuff,” Martes looked poised to establish himself as Houston’s next big thing on the mound. He quickly found himself in the rotation, but floundered in critical spots and posted an inflated 5.80 ERA.

Fans might not want Martes on the 40-man roster next year due to his poor debut season. Yet, at just 21 years old, the way he rebounds can overshadow his horrific numbers in the big leagues.

Martes didn’t enjoy a dominant campaign in the minors in the weeks prior to his call-up. During his stint in Triple-A Fresno, he wasn’t effective, sporting a 5.29 ERA and racking up just 10 more strikeouts than walks. That was mostly as a starter.

The front office has two decisions to make regarding Martes. First, does he deserve a spot on the pitching staff next season, and if he does, is it as a reliever or starter?

Coming off a playoff run that showed the bullpen’s vulnerability, the flame-thrower could provide an extra arm, especially in a long relief role. Luke Gregorson’s departure might help his cause, although the Astros are not lacking right-handed relievers.

And the rotation already has too many starting pitchers as is, with Colin McHugh, Mike Fiers, and Brad Peacock as options for the fifth spot. Hinch could call upon Martes to fill in for spot starts, but he’s more likely to be coming out of the pen.

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Nevertheless, his best performances in the MLB last year came as a starter. While he didn’t register a quality in 2017, he did last five innings in three starts, allowing three runs or fewer in each one. He also compiled 18 strikeouts in those three games.

But Martes also showed promise coming out of the pen at times. He whiffed five hitters in 2 1/3 innings in a relief appearance against Seattle on July 19. Similarly, the fireballer struck out all four of his batters at Arizona on Aug. 15.

However, the rookie countered those with some atrocious outings. He allowed three or more runs without recording three outs on three different occasions.

The Houston Astros have some power arms in the farm system thanks to a strong draft and a development in the minors. With young talent like J.B. Bukauskas and more tenured pitchers like David Paulino, Martes could get lost somewhere in the hype and lose his status as one of the more touted prospects in the organization.

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He can eliminate anyone’s doubts – including my own – with a strong 2018 campaign.