Chris Heston had himself one hell of a 2015. After spending six years toiling away in the minors, the right-hander was called upon to spend the year in the Giants rotation. Not only was he a quality pitcher all year long, but he tossed a no-hitter against the Mets in early June, writing his name in the history books.
With a successful 2015 in the books, Heston seemed to have a spot locked up in the Giants’ rotation, but things don’t always turn out as planned. Heston didn’t make the rotation out of spring training, and after a handful of poor appearances out of the bullpen, the 28 year-old was sent down to the minors, where he stayed for the rest of the year. Heston started all of 14 games in Triple-A, and picked up a win in just a pair of those starts. His strikeout-to-walk ratio dipped below 2.0 for the first time in his minor league career, mostly due to an inability to put hitters away.
So, what was the problem exactly? Health. Heston started to falter late in the 2015 season; he couldn’t keep weight on his frame, and his fastball velocity dropped throughout the second half of the year to a dismal average of around 87 mph. He was never exactly able to regain what he lost during 2015, and his control slipped as badly as his velocity. Heston eventually landed on the DL at the end of June of 2016 with an oblique injury. Even after being activated in mid-August for rehab assignments, Heston struggled. Sure, he tore up the rookies, but even after moving to High-A he was clearly not right.
That leads us to the here and now. Chris Heston is a Mariner. General Manager Jerry Dipoto traded for the starter in December, and it’s been known all along what his role is: depth. Heston was never slated to make the starting rotation, and with the acquisitions of veterans Drew Smyly and Yovanni Gallardo, as well as fellow depth option Rob Whalen, he’s fallen further down the ladder. Maybe he’ll be in the mix for bullpen work if he comes out throwing 89 this spring, but the more likely solution is Heston sitting in the minor leagues, waiting his turn if/when starters get hurt. Whether he’s the first option or the third is entirely up for debate, and will be the only real rotation battle come this spring.
Compared to last year, when Wade LeBlanc was trotted out for eight starts, the Mariners rotation is in much better shape. Clearly Smyly and Gallardo have a lot to do with that — veterans at the back end are always a welcome site for a competitive team — but Heston brings with him the possibility of a quality MLB starter waiting in the minors. He just needs to be healthy.