Houston Adds More Prospect Depth in Wandy Deal

The Houston Astros continue to shed veteran players and General Manager Jeff Luhnow made one of his better trades in terms of prospect value, although none of the three players are A-level young stars. The additions of pitchers Rudy Owens and Colton Cain, as well as outfielder Robbie Grossman adds more depth to the rebuilding Astros and is more than a fair return for left-handed starter Wandy Rodriguez.

Owens has a modest ceiling and fits as more of a No. 4 starter; I ranked him as the 13th best prospect in the Pirates system entering 2012. The 24-year-old southpaw has spent the last two seasons at the triple-A level and made big strides this year, lowering his ERA from 5.05 to 3.14. He’s also cut his hits-allowed rate from 10.34 to 8.59 H/9. Owens could easily slide into the Astros’ starting rotation right now and pitch as well of better than Dallas Keuchel and/or Lucas Harrell.

Cain snuck onto the pre-season Top 15 prospects list at No. 15. The young left-hander shows decent stuff but he’s battled inconsistency as well as back problems. Selected out of a Texas high school in the eighth round of the 2009 amateur draft, he was given more than $1 million to forego his college commitment. Cain, 21, hasn’t been overly impressive in high-A ball in 2012. His ERA is 4.20 but his FIP currently sits at 4.85. He’s also struggled with the home run ball (1.20 HR/9) and his strikeout rate is just 6.12 K/9. Cain, though, is young and was a very desirable amateur just four years ago. He’s also a Texas native, which no doubt made him attractive to the Astros.

Grossman was one of my favorite Pirates prospects. I ranked him as the fifth best overall prospect in the system during the pre-season Top 15 prospects list, one spot ahead of Starling Marte. Grossman isn’t as flashy as his fellow outfield prospect but he has a better shot at having a decent big league career. He had a solid 2011 season and then a very impressive preformance in the Arizona Fall League but got off to a very slow start in 2012 and then hit the disabled list. He’s back now, though, and looking good with an OPS of more than .900 in both June and July while playing at the double-A level. He shows a little power and a little speed (although his base running needs a lot of polish) and gets on base at a very good clip thanks to a strong eye. The switch-hitter could be a decent platoon outfielder. Grossman turned down the University of Texas when he originally signed with Pittsburgh as a sixth round draft pick in 2008.

As mentioned, the three prospects are not necessary high-ceiling, A-level prospects but they each possess the potential to be solid big league contributors with Cain flashing the highest ceiling but he’s also the least likely to appear in a big league ball game. Both Owens and Grossman could play key roles with the organization in the next few years while holding down the fort for the next wave of (larger-impact) talent.

Breakout infield prospect Alen Hanson was originally rumored to be part of the deal but his inclusion would have definitely swung this trade into Houston’s favor. Entering 2012, I ranked him as the sleeper prospect in the Pirates system and he’s easily become one of the best 100 prospects in the minor leagues – something I can’t say about Owens, Cain or Grossman.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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10 years ago

I think this trade firmly establishes what we will see going forward till the deadline.

In the American League there are 10 teams firmly in the hunt, but only five of them are willing to really go for it by getting expensive, star caliber players who also may be rentals (Ichiro, Sanchez so far). It’s telling that five of the teams are looking to cut deals like this one, for cost-controlled, fairly cheap players who do not cost top prospects. Those teams are Cleveland, Toronto, Tampa, Oakland, and Baltimore.

In the NL the Pirates are the vanguard of those teams looking to sustain competitiveness over multiple years while trying to win this year (as opposed to the alternative). Interesting that they are really the only NL team firmly in this category. This may be a function of market, since those AL teams are all competitive while similarly situated teams in the NL are in the tank. But there is something in common with all these teams, no?

I think it is supremely fascinating to see the sabre-blessed GM’s not going for it, while the mocked and derided just keep going out every year doing anything it takes to win. I really wish I was a fan of one of the latter.

10 years ago
Reply to  Paul

The Cardinals are an NL team “looking to sustain competitiveness over multiple years while trying to win this year.”

10 years ago
Reply to  Paul

Neal Huntington is a ‘sabre-blessed GM’ (if I understand that to be placing significant importance on advanced metrics) and he’s going for it, albeit it in a balanced manner in terms of short-term v. long-term.

Those prospects aren’t Taillon/Cole/Heredia/Marte/Hanson/Polanco/Bell quality, but Grossman can project to be a solid-regular (at the least an effective 4th OF), Owens is ready now to be a back of the rotation control guy, and Cain is still somewhat relatively young, though the results thus far are not encouraging. As a pirates fan, I like this deal because they made it from depth (B-O-R starters and OFs) and improved by a win or two (if all goes as plan) in Rodriquez for this year w/ two more years of control at 1.5 WAR/yr rate. Even in his mid-30’s, Rodriquez is a league average, maybe a tick above playing half his games in PNC (depresses RHB power), pitcher who slots nicely into the middle of the rotation.

Burnett/J-Mac/Wandy/Karstens/Bedard is a solid, if unspectacular starting 5 for the stretch run. Plus, they have all those back next year w/ the sole exception of Bedard.

Now, we need a corner OF (Victorino/Pence?) and we got a shot. You know, assuming the Reds ever lose…….

10 years ago
Reply to  Paul

Are you seriously suggesting that the Reds and Cardinals are only interested in trying to win this year and are indifferent to trying to be competitive in the future? Perhaps you need to take a look at the two teams’ rosters and farm systems. Each team has a number of young players who have prominent roles on the team and each team has a strong farm system that will be used to complement the current roster in years to come. Suggesting that these two teams are not “looking to sustain competitiveness over multiple years” is patently absurd, frankly.

10 years ago
Reply to  chuckb

“As opposed to the alternative” was poor phrasing. Those teams have a history of giving up top prospects to get a really good player even if its a rental, OR just giving up top prospects in general for really good players. Examples would be both of the Reds’ big trades this offseason.

Then you have a GM in Huntington who apparently has been pissing off other GMs by calling them up with lowball offers, then trades a bunch of random guys for an old third starter who is not capable of putting them over the top. I would fully expect both Cincy and St. Louis to go get legit players and give up prospects if that’s what it takes. I strongly prefer the latter method, because GMs like Jockety and Dombrowski have shown over and over that a) the washout rate for prospects is very high; and 2) they are easier to acquire than some folks assume.

Well-Beered Englishman
10 years ago
Reply to  Paul

“the Pirates are …looking to sustain competitiveness over multiple years while trying to win this year. Interesting that they are really the only NL team firmly in this category.”

Do you think you might be overlooking the best team in the NL that’s still going to shut down its #1 pitcher?