Background: Drafted by the Blue Jays with the 46th-overall pick in 2011, Musgrove was one of 60 players who could call himself a first-rounder that year. Thirteen months after the draft, Toronto shipped him to Houston in the J.A. Happ deal. From there, Musgrove’s career stalled for a couple of seasons, as a handful of nagging injuries limited him to just 151 innings between 2011 and the start of 2015. He re-established himself as a prospect with a strong 2015, however, and after over-matching the Texas League in April of this season, Musgrove has pitched well in Triple-A. He owns a 3.86 ERA in a tough circuit for pitchers, and he’s struck out 57 while allowing only seven walks in 59 innings.
Scouting Report: Musgrove is a good athlete with a smooth delivery. Working with a three-quarters arm slot, he has clean arm action, good posture, a still head, and a naturally flowing delivery. He has outstanding control—he’s only walked 10 hitters in 85 innings this season, which aligns with his career walk rate—and while his command isn’t quite as sharp as those numbers suggest, he can throw strikes with all of his pitches and pitch to all four quadrants of the zone.
Right now, his approach in three-ball counts is to throw a strike at all costs, and while that’s worked in the minors, he may get burned if he’s not careful with impact major-league hitters. He’s also just not afraid to come after hitters in any count: he doesn’t like to nibble and will stay around the strike zone even if he’s ahead 0-2 or 1-2. It will be interesting to see if he maintains that approach as a big leaguer, or if he spends a little more time trying to get hitters to chase something outside of the zone.
Musgrove pitches off of a 92-93 mph two-seam fastball, and he complements the offering with a slider and a changeup, while mixing in the occasional cutter. He’ll touch higher with his heater when he’s trying to get a whiff, but he’s mostly content to keep his fastball down and let hitters beat it into the ground.
At present, the change is his best secondary. It’s a low-80s offering with late sinking action, and he maintains his arm speed well on the pitch. He’s comfortable throwing it to both lefties and righties, and he’ll be able to generate swings and misses with it at the major-league level.
Musgrove’s low-80s slider looks more like a curve (I actually misidentified it as a curve when I first saw him). The movement is fairly sharp, but it’s much longer than you’ll typically see in a slider, and the break starts early, which allows hitters to pick it up quickly. The pitch flashes average when he throws it with tight break, but it’s usually longer and generally plays half a grade below that. Long-term, I’m bullish on his ability to develop this pitch further: Given his athleticism and relative lack of professional experience, he has more room to grow than your typical big-league ready arm, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s able to tighten his slider as his career progresses. For now though, it’s a pitch he can steal a strike with, but it probably won’t miss many bats.
At present, Musgrove projects as more of a No. 4 starter than an impact piece. If he can stay healthy—a legitimate concern for a pitcher who has never thrown more than 100 innings in a season—there’s room for growth, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he winds up as a solid No. 3 at full maturity.
Immediate Big League Future: While this is nominally an emergency start, it remains to be seen whether Musgrove will stay in the big leagues following Monday’s outing. Given Houston’s rotation troubles, this likely won’t be the last time he takes the ball for the Astros this season, even if he returns to Triple-A after his debut. —Brendan Gawlowski
Fantasy Take: He’s had a hard time staying on the mound, but he’s been pretty good throughout his minor-league career when he’s been healthy. He’s not a flamethrowing strikeout machine in the mold of Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, or pitching prospects in organizations other than Washington’s, but he should be productive regardless. His primary calling card throughout his ascent has been his command and control. The highest BB/9 rate he’s posted at any level since 2012 is a 1.2 mark from last year in Double-A. He’s no slouch when it comes to strikeouts, though. He struck out more than a batter per inning in the minors this year between Double-A and Triple-A, although just barely: 87 Ks in 85.3 innings.
Right now, it’s not clear if Musgrove will be up for more than one start. He’s filling in for Doug Fister while Fister is on the paternity list. In keeper leagues, that shouldn’t matter: he’s worth stashing for next season. Owners in deeper redraft leagues should note that the Houston rotation contains a number of injury risks and young guys with inning-limit concerns. Musgrove is worth keeping on your reserve list in these deeper redraft leagues since Houston is likely to need another starter or two before the season is done. Don’t bid much since he’s not guaranteed to make more than one start, but put him a notch above most of the bad starters who have spent most of the year shuttling between the free agent pool and different owners’ lineups. As for shallow leagues, stay away: his spot start against Toronto’s hard-hitting lineup isn’t a favorable matchup, and he’ll probably be available for next to nothing in your free agent pool in a few weeks if he sticks in the rotation and performs well. —Scooter Hotz
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