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Friday, November 16, 2012

The Curious Case of Chia-jen Lo

As the Astros approach the November 20 deadline to set their 40-man roster, the most intriguing decision they have to make involves right-handed pitcher Chia-jen Lo.

As of this morning, Houston has nine empty spots on their 40-man roster.  Several of these spots will be filled by Rule 5 vulnerable players who may have caught the attention of other organizations with solid AA and/or AAA seasons in 2012, thus meriting the protection that a 40-man roster spot provides.  Chia-jen Lo, however, is a different story.

Lo, 26, who missed almost all of the 2010 and 2011 seasons with injuries, didn't start pitching until mid-season of 2012.  Once he did retake the mound he showed some of the form that had made him the 5th-rated prospect in the system according to Baseball America before the 2010 season.  Between a rehab stint with the GCL Astros and a few months with Lancaster, Lo threw 30 innings, struck out 31 batters and posted an 0.90 ERA in 2012.

Lo augmented his regular season performance in the Arizona Fall League which ended its season Thursday.  He made 14 appearances for the Mesa Solar Sox, posting a 2.40 ERA and striking out 11.  Before the Arizona Fall League, I didn't think the protection of Lo would merit any consideration heading into the Rule 5 Draft.  However, with another healthy month of pitching under his belt, it seems that Lo may well have inserted his name onto the Rule 5 Conversation File on Jeff Luhnow's laptop.

Lo burst onto the scene in 2009.  The Astros signed him in November 2008 out of Taiwan, after he had represented his country in the 2008 Olympics.  In 2009, he had 36 strikeouts in 25 innings for Lancaster before being promoted to AA Corpus Christi.  As a Hook, he posted a 2.31 ERA in 39 IP.  Lo appeared in the 2009 Futures Game along with Jason Castro. He joined the Astros in spring training in 2010 as a non-roster invitee, and was touted as a possible closer of the future by Baseball America.

Does Lo's successful, albeit small sample size of 2012 foreshadow a return to the fast track he was on heading into the 2010 season?  Will Lo's injuries, which caused him to miss the large majority of two seasons, scare away other teams in spite his 2012 accomplishments?   If the Astros don't add Lo their 40-man roster, will another team be willing to take a risk on his small sample size?

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