Joe Musgrove warms up in the Tri-City Valley Cats' bullpen before a playoff game against Connecticut. (Credit-Quinn Barry/

Former Top Prospect Musgrove Reinvents Himself as a Pitcher

Drafted as a compensational first round pick in 2011 MLB Draft, big things were expected out of the 6’5” Joe Musgrove.  Coming out of high school, scouts said Musgrove was consistently throwing at 92-95 as a starter, even touching 98 on occasion.  However, every since Musgrove injured his shoulder, he’s transformed into a completely different pitcher.

As an 18 year-old getting his first taste of pro ball, Musgrove performed fairly well for Toronto’s Rookie Ball team in 2011.  The righty pitched to a 4.01 ERA in 9 games (7 starts), maintained a stellar .973 WHIP, and only walked 1.8 batters per nine.  Solid numbers for a kid who was playing high school ball only a few months prior.

Despite this solid performance, the Blue Jays decided to bump their first round pick down to the Gulf Coast League, where the massive righty finished up his inaugural pro campaign with a lackluster 4.57 ERA.  Still, the talented hurler managed to walk only four batters in his seven starts, especially impressive considering he was 2.5 years younger than the league’s average ballplayer.

Early in the following season, Musgrove sustained a shoulder injury after being re-assigned to Rookie Ball.  The injury was minor, and the towering hurler wasn’t supposed to miss more than a few weeks.  However, this was enough to sway the Blue Jays’ confidence in their young pitcher.  On July 20th, 2012, Toronto dealt Musgrove, along with four other low-level prospects, in exchange for proven Major-League starter J.A. Happ and a couple Quad-A relievers.  It’s obvious what Houston was doing here; exchanging their MLB talent for young, high ceiling prospects, and Musgrove had the most upside of any player in the deal.  In fact, the Houston front office saw the reports on Musgrove’s shoulder, but pulled the trigger on the trade nonetheless.

After acquiring the talented right-hander, the Astros kept Musgrove in Rookie Ball, assigning him to Greenville.  Claiming his shoulder was 100%, Musgrove was able to finish the 2012 season, but he wasn’t the pitcher the Astros thought they were getting in the trade.  Musgrove threw 8.0 innings for the Greenville Astros, but he allowed 7 runs, and was now working exclusively in relief.  Musgrove also seemed to have lost one of his best assets, his control.

Entering the 2013 season, the Astros had some interesting decisions to make regarding Musgrove’s development.  Despite two years of minor league experience, Musgrove never mastered the rookie leagues and was still only 20 years of age.  Ultimately, the Astros decided to stick him back in the Gulf Coast League, where he had pitched two seasons before as a Toronto draftee in 2011.  And even though this was the 20 year-old’s third go-round at the lowest level of the minor leagues, he still wasn’t showing any sort of improvement.  Once again, Musgrove put up mediocre numbers, finishing his 2013 season with a 4.41 ERA, nearly .20 points worse than the mark he posted two years before.  The righty, projected to be a workhorse out of high school, looked like anything but, amassing only 3 starts and 32.2 innings in a disappointing campaign.

In 2014, the former flame-thrower finally made it out of Rookie Ball.  After a stay in extended spring training, the Astros assigned the 21 year-old to Tri-City, the team’s Low A-Ball affiliate.  Musgrove, now reverted to a starter, dominated the competition in his first attempt at short-season ball, compiling a 7-1 record and a stingy 2.81 ERA.  The righty also threw 77 innings for Houston’s New York-Penn League team, easily doubling his previous professional high.  However, despite these positive results, an evaluation of Musgrove’s 2014 season goes beyond the numbers.

In Wednesday’s playoff game vs. Connecticut, Musgrove led his team to victory by throwing six innings of one-run ball. However, his once-blazing fastball never topped 87 miles per hour, and the 6’5” monster relied heavily on his off-speed pitches throughout the g


Coming out of high school, Musgrove was consistently throwing 92-95 as a starter, even touching 98 on occasion.

I’m not saying that Joe Musgrove is done, in fact, there’s a good chance the righty makes a big-league roster someday.  However, in order for that to happen, Musgrove needs to reinvent himself as a pitcher, a process that looks like it’s already begun.  He no longer has the plus heat, but if he can continue developing his breaking pitches and avoid future injury, there’s no reason Musgrove can’t slot into the back end of Houston’s rotation in the future.

No, Joe Musgrove is no longer an elite prospect, but with some development and good coaching, nothing’s stopping him from reaching the Major Leagues.


Tags: Detroit Tigers Houston Astros Joe Musgrove Major League Baseball MLB Toronto Blue Jays

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