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Opening Day Countdown: Adrian Houser #47

We are a mere and insignificant 47 days away from sweet, beautiful, regular season baseball. To celebrate this momentous occasion let's take a look at another pitcher I may have initially underestimated!

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Brett Phillips! "Woo!"

Domingo Santana! "Woo!"

Josh Hader! "Woo!"

Adrian Houser! "Oh yeah, we got him too, huh?"

That's kind of what the conversation goes when we talk about the Carlos Gomez/Mike Fiers trade. Domingo Santana was the big MLB-ready slugger we got to watch crush at the end of the season. Brett Phillips is the big headliner prospect we're all salivating over. Josh Hader took the spotlight in the AFL when he proved his velocity and command gains were no fluke. Adrian Houser just seems like the "throw-in" by comparison. And honestly, that's really what I thought he was for a while. But the more I read about him, especially lately, the more I'm beginning to think this is one of those exceedingly rare instances when I was mistaken.

When the Brewers made the trade, the word on Houser was: big fastball, starters build, command issues, possible relief profile. I looked at his 2015 season and saw: 49 innings at A+ with a 9.1 BB%, 4.35 ERA, and 4.04 FIP; 33 innings at AA with a 9.9 BB%, 6.21 ERA, and 5.70 FIP. Now, I didn't completely write him off. I learned that lesson recently twice over with Jeremy Jeffress and Michael Blazek. But I didn't see much reason to hope for his command to come around and for him to be anything but a reliever--which does have value in today's game.

Then he threw 37 innings with the Brewers' AA affiliate with a 4.0 BB%, 2.92 ERA, and 3.55 FIP. Huge improvement, sure. But I've seen this before too. New team, new league, small sample size. I wasn't ready to buy in yet. It was nice to see and gave me hope he might profile as a high leverage reliever instead of just a middle reliever. But then reports started coming out about the Brewers tweaking his pitch mechanics. This is something Keith Law mentioned in his Brewers top prospects list:

...the Brewers' scouts saw some little mechanical tweaks he could make to repeat his delivery more, and it clicked

That made me stand up and take notice. Not because it was Law saying it, but because it confirmed the things I'd heard about his mechanical reworkings. We already knew he had a big fastball, and his curveball got favorable reviews. Add a workable changeup--Klaw calls it average which is half a grade higher than I've seen rated anywhere else--and that's a starter's arsenal. Not just a back-end starter either. Law had one more intriguing thing to say about Houser:

If he had pitched all year like he did for Biloxi after the trade, he would have been in the middle of the top 100

Hello! That's huge praise. And in part, it does have to do with the fact that it's Keith Law saying it. Usually he's pretty conservative with his praise of pitchers. Or at least that's the impression I've gotten. There's nothing wrong with that, mind you.

For comparison, Law ranked Jorge Lopez 75th on his Top 100 list. So either that means Law thinks there's potential Houser could be the better pitcher, or that Houser has a better chance of starting long term than Lopez. Or it could mean neither of those things and "middle of the top 100" is a nebulous term that simply means "pretty good prospect."

Whatever it means, it's got me rather excited. Imagine how crazy it would be if all 4 players in the Gomez/Fiers deal hits their ceiling. That's an above average regular in center field and right field to go along with two solid mid-rotation starters. That's the dream, right? Of course that if is pretty big, as three of them have yet to play at AAA and the other still strikes out quite a lot. But damn if I'm not getting really jazzed for this season to begin so we can start to see if we're going to get to live the dream.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs