Image credit: Justin Verlander will once again be an Astro. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
In the first blockbuster of the 2023 MLB trade deadline day, Justin Verlander was traded back to the Astros for outfielders Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford.
After signing with the Mets this offseason, Verlander returns to the Astros as they look to defend their World Series title. Verlander did not encounter the sort of success he anticipated this season with the Mets, making 16 starts and seeing his strikeout rate plummet, walk rate rise and ERA jump over a run. Verlander was still effective, pitching to a 6-5, 3.15 mark with a 3.29 xERA and 3.81 FIP. The Astros have dealt with a series of injuries to their rotation this season and adding back a familiar face in Verlander allows them to once again boast some of the best pitching depth in the American League.
Justin Verlander, RHP
And just like that the dream tandem of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer spearheading a Mets rotation is no more. Verlander, while not in 2022 form this season has still been an effective starter, albeit with less flare to his stat line. Verlander is the reigning American League Cy Young winner and a nine-time all-star, and this will be his second time being traded to the Astros after the Tigers shipped him there in 2017. During his time with the Astros Verlander won two World Series and two Cy Young Awards. He will slot in as the Astros ace ahead of Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and rookies Hunter Brown and J.P. France. Verlander has lost a mph or so across all of his pitches this season and it’s led to a drop in the whiff rates against his fastball, slider and curveball.
Drew Gilbert, OF
Gilbert ranks as the Astros’ No. 1 prospect in our July update. After a storied career at Tennessee, Gilbert tumbled down the draft board to the Astros as the 28th pick in the 2022 draft. Gilbert was injured when he ran into a wall following the draft, which forced him to miss most of his 2022 pro season. He returned in 2023 with High-A Asheville and impressed, hitting .360/.421/.686 over 21 games. This earned Gilbert a promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi by early May. Once in Corpus Christi Gilbert stalled, hitting .241/.342/.371 over 60 games. Gilbert shows a well balanced skill set with no standout tool. He has above-average plate skills, limiting his swing and miss and working deep into counts to drive walks. He has flashed average power at times, but struggles to catch the ball out in front. Too often Gilbert’s best contact comes from when he lets the ball travel. This plays well for his bat-to-ball skills and barrel accuracy, but limits how much of his raw power he gets to in games. Gilbert is an average center fielder who takes good routes to the ball and has flashed a plus arm in the outfield. He’ll likely fit best in a corner outfield spot. Gilbert looks like an everyday regular but how much impact he makes depends on his ability to channel his raw power in games.
Ryan Clifford, OF
Clifford ranked as the Astros No. 3 prospect in our July update. Drafted in the 11th round of the 2022 draft and given the second highest bonus in the Astros draft class at $1.26 million, Clifford has been one of the top breakout hitters in the minor leagues this season. He has an excellent combination of plate skills and power. Clifford is one of a few players in the minor leagues with the following combination of metrics; a whiff rate below 25%, a chase rate below 24%, an in-zone whiff rate below 24% and a 90th percentile exit velocity of 106 mph or higher. This plainly indicates that Clifford has above-average bat-to-ball skills, above-average approach and above-average to plus power. Clifford has limitations in the field, as he’s likely a corner outfielder who could slide down the defensive spectrum in the coming years.