Prospect of the Day: Dallas Keuchel, LHP, Houston Astros
With Bud Norris on the disabled list, the Houston Astros are turning to rookie Dallas Keuchel to fill the empty spot in the starting rotation. Unheralded pre-season, he survived his first major league start this past Sunday, giving up one run in five innings but taking a no-decision against the Texas Rangers in an eventual 9-3 loss. What can the Astros expect from him in the future?
An Oklahoma native, Dallas Keuchel pitched college ball at the University of Arkansas, showing steady improvement each year, cutting his ERA from 5.88 as a freshman to 4.58 as a sophomore to 3.92 as a junior. Although he didn't burn radar guns, scouts liked his command and most saw him as worthy of a single-digit-round pick. The Astros selected him in the seventh round in 2009 and sent him to Tri-City in the New York-Penn League, where he adapted quickly to pro ball and posted a 2.70 ERA with a 44/9 K/BB in 57 innings.
Keuchel moved up to Lancaster in the High-A California League to open 2010. That's a very difficult place to pitch, but he actually thrived, posting a 3.36 ERA with a 97/25 K/BB ratio in 121 innings. Moved up to Double-A Corpus Christi in late July, he posted a 4.70 ERA with a 36/11 K/BB in 54 innings. He had a similar pattern in 2011: a good start (3.17 ERA, 76/27 K/BB in 128 innings for Corpus Christi), followed by some adjustment issues after being promoted (7.50 ERA with a 15/12 K/BB and 52 hits allowed in 36 innings for Triple-A Oklahoma City).
Returning to OKC to open 2012, he posted a 4.26 ERA (not bad in the PCL) in 80 innings with a 46/15 K/BB and a 2.05 GO/AO. Overall, he has a 3.85 ERA in his minor league career with a 314/99 K/BB in 475 innings, with 494 hits allowed. He's spent more than half his career in hitting-friendly environments, so he's held his own all things considered.
Keuchel is a 6-3, 210 pound left-handed hitter and thrower, born January 1st, 1988, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His fastball isn't very fast, being as low as 83-85 MPH at times, though at his best he works at 86-89, which is where he was in his big league debut. His main breaking ball is an adequate curve, but his out-pitch is usually his changeup, a solid offering with good action low in the strike zone.
Although Keuchel walked four men in his major league debut, command and control are generally his best assets. It usually takes him some time to adapt to each new level of competition, but scouts note that he learned how to succeed in the minors even on days when he didn't have his best stuff. He works hard to keep the ball in the lower part of the zone, and usually picks up more than his share of grounders (2.05 GO/AO this year, 1.85 last year, 2.55 in '10).
From a sabermetric perspective, Keuchel doesn't have the kind of strikeout rate that promises long-term success, but control is impressive and the grounders help. If he gets good defensive support and has a bit of luck, he could be a number five starter or useful relief asset.