Josh James had a Major opportunity in front of him this spring. Unfortunately, he won't get to take full advantage.
MLB.com's No. 62 overall prospect has suffered a strained right quad, Astros manager AJ Hinch told reporters Wednesday. The injury is expected to keep James out of the Major League rotation conversation for now, since he'll be kept off the mound for an undetermined amount of time, though the right-hander still could win a bullpen spot. James had yet to appear in a Grapefruit League game.
The 25-year-old is coming off a breakout 2018 season in which he climbed from Double-A to the Majors. He posted a 3.23 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over 114 1/3 innings between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Fresno before his first big league callup in September. His 171 strikeouts were tied for fourth among all Minor League pitchers, while his 36.3 percent K rate topped MiLB hurlers with at least 100 innings.
James made six appearances (three starts) for the big club over the season's final month, posting a 2.35 ERA and 0.96 WHIP with 29 strikeouts in 23 innings. He also appeared twice out of the bullpen during the American League Championship Series.
Video: James notches 13th strikeout for Fresno
After seeking help for sleep apnea and improving his conditioning, James improved his velocity last season to the point where he was throwing in the upper-90s and even triple digits at times. His changeup and slider can also be above-average pitches, giving the 2014 34th-rounder the potential package to start at the highest level.
Based on his statistical improvements, James was projected to be the second-best rookie-eligible pitcher heading into the 2019 season, according to the Steamer600 system. With this injury potentially removing him from the starting race, left-handed prospect Framber Valdez, who sits fifth in Steamer's rookie starter projections, could be primed to slide into the lead for a rotation spot behind Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Collin McHugh and Wade Miley.