Rumors are swirling that the Philadelphia Phillies are zeroing in on Houston Astros outfielder Hunter Pence. What I don’t understand, though, is why the Phillies don’t already have him. The rumored offering for the 28-year-old outfielder is top prospects Jarred Cosart and Jonathan Singleton, along with a third unnamed prospect. While Pence is a very nice baseball player, he is not a difference-maker all on his own. Nor is he a star player.
Currently in his prime, Pence will likely be on the downswing of his career by the time the Astros organization is a legitimate contender. The organization has massive rebuilding to do to be able to create sustained success. The last few drafts by the club give hope to that rebuilding mode; they’ve done very well by picking up the likes of infielder Delino DeShields Jr. and pitchers Mike Foltynewicz, Vincent Velasquez, Tanner Bushue, as well as (likely) 2011 first rounder George Springer. The club has also scouted the international market well (second baseman Jose Altuve) despite limited budgets.
The package being offered up for Pence is almost as good as the one that the Toronto Blue Jays received when they traded Roy Halladay to the Phillies. Arguably one of the top-three pitchers in all of baseball and a true No. 1 ace, the right-hander netted Toronto pitcher Kyle Drabek, catcher Travis d’Arnaud, and outfielder Michael Taylor. Halladay was a 5.0 to 7.0 WAR pitcher at the time of the trade. Pence is a 3.0 to 4.0 WAR position player.
*Halladay was older at the time, more expensive, and Toronto had its back against the wall, had to make a deal, and other teams knew it.
Prior to the 2011 season, I ranked Singleton and Cosart Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, on the club’s top-10 list behind outfielder Domonic Brown. With pitcher Jordan Lyles graduated to the Majors for Houston, the two Phillies prospects would rank Nos. 1 and 2 on the Astros’ 2012 top-10 list.
Just 19, Singleton has held his own in high-A ball this season with a triple-slash line of .282/.386/.411 in 316 at-bats. He’s shown an advanced eye at the plate with a walk rate of 14.6%. His strikeout rate is respectable for a young power hitter (22%), although his full power potential has yet to show up in game situations (.133 ISO). He does have some work to do on his overall game, including improving against southpaws (.189 average). Currently splitting time between first base and left field, Singleton is probably a long-term first sacker and a move back permanetly may help his bat develop even quicker. If all goes well for him, I can see his floor being Pence with the ceiling of a 5.0+ WAR player.
Prior to 2011, Cosart and Brody Colvin were the top-two pitching prospects in the Phillies organization with prospect analysts split on whom they liked better. Keith Law and myself preferred Cosart (higher ceiling) while Kevin Goldstein, Baseball America, and John Sickels ranked Colvin higher (more durable). Cosart has really broken out this season while remaining healthy. He’s made 19 starts (20 appearances) and pitched a career-high 108.0 innings. His ERA has jumped to 6.11 in July and he has pitched 37.0 more innings than ever before in a season, so it may be time to shut him down soon with an eye to 2012. His delivery is not the prettiest, which leads to injury concerns, but Cosart has a mid-to-high 90s fastball, good curveball and developing changeup.
The majority of the top prospects in the organization, though, are in the lower levels. And the Astros front office knows this. The club is rumored to be looking for high-ceiling, but lower-level talent. It’s a smart decision to try and develop a strong, sustainable wave of talent rather than try and appease the playoff-hungry fan-base with a win-now mentality that would only result in one or two years of success while once again shedding all the key talent in the minor league system.
If both prospects continue on their current development path, Cosart and Singleton have the potential to be the types of players that any organization could build around.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.