Why Astros' Prospect Return for Wandy Rodriguez Will Accelerate the Rebuild

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Why Astros' Prospect Return for Wandy Rodriguez Will Accelerate the Rebuild
Bob Levey/Getty Images

While the Los Angeles Dodgers’ late-night/early-morning acquisition of Hanley Ramirez will surely capture every national headline today, that wasn’t the only big deal made on Tuesday. For the first time in, well, a very, very long time, the Pittsburgh Pirates are buyers at the trade deadline—2.5 games back of the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central and sitting atop the Wild Card standings with a 54-42 record.

In a move to bolster their starting rotation, they acquired Wandy Rodriguez from the Houston Astros for three prospects: OF Robbie Grossman, LHP Rudy Owens and LHP Colton Cain.

The 33-year-old left-hander signed a three-year, $34 million deal before the 2011 season, which will partially be paid by Houston. Rodriguez spent his entire career with the Astros after first reaching the major leagues in 2005. Appearing in 227 games and logging 1,306.2 innings, he posted a career 4.04 ERA, 7.5 K%, 3.1 BB% and 11.5 WAR over eight seasons.

There’s a lot to like about the Astros’ farm system these days, as it’s blossomed into an exciting mix of speed, raw power and potential big-league arms. Since 2010, they have drafted and traded for specific prospects to replenish their once-dreadful system.

Of the Astros’ top-10 overall prospects, four of them—1B Jonathan Singleton, RHP Jarred Cosart, RHP Asher Wojciechowski and RHP Joe Musgrove—are products of previous deals. Furthermore, their 2010 and 2011 draft classes will yield several big leaguers in OF George Springer (2011), 2B Delino DeShields (2010) and RHP Mike Foltynewicz (2010).

By dealing Wandy Rodriguez, the Astros have once again added three more prospects who may have the potential to at least reach the major leagues. In my opinion, their farm system ranks as one of the more promising in all of baseball, with waves of prospects poised to arrive between 2013 and 2015.

Here is what you need to know about the new Astros (Grossman, Owens and Cain).

     

OF Robbie Grossman

Double-A: .262/.374/.403, 31 XBH (7 HR), 9 SB, 77 K/58 BB (94 G)

Drafted by the Pirates in the sixth round of the 2008 MLB first-year player draft, Grossman had a breakout season at High-A Bradenton in 2011. In 616 at-bats, the switch-hitter batted .294/.418/.451 with 49 extra-base hits (13 home runs) and 24 stolen bases. Although he struck out 111 times, the 6’0", 205-pound outfielder led all minor league hitters with 104 walks.

But is Grossman really that selective and efficient as a hitter? Or was his production merely a result of his second straight season at High-A?

Courtesy of MiLB.com
There’s uncertainty regarding his power and whether it will ever develop to be anything more than big-league average. Even though he still strikes out more than desired, his advanced plate discipline should allow him to hit for a decent average down the road—but nothing spectacular.

Grossman’s highest value comes as a top-of-the-order center fielder where his power hitting, on-base skills and above-average speed are all premiums. If he’s able to hit for enough power, then a move to a corner outfield position may be more appropriate. Considering that he now has both Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen blocking his path in center, it’s a move that may come sooner rather than later. 

His stats at Double-A Altoona prior to the trade may not blow your mind, but he’s turning in a solid season and has made several adjustments.

 

LHP Rudy Owens

Triple-A: 8-5, 117.1 IP, 3.14 ERA, 1.168 WHIP, 85 K/25 BB (19 GS)

A 24-year-old left-hander, there’s not a lot of projection left with Owens, as he’s nearly ready to contribute as a back-end starter at the major league level. At 6’3”, 230 pounds, his fastball only works in the low-90s. However, his command of the pitch throughout the strike zone is exceptional and makes him effective against both right- and left-handed hitters.

Owens also throws an average curveball, although his above-average changeup serves as his best secondary offering. He mixes the pitches well and features similar, deceptive arm action with all of them.

 

LHP Colton Cain

High-A: 3-5, 75 IP, 4.20 ERA, 1.240 WHIP, 51 K/25 BB (16 GS)

Of the three prospects acquired by the Astros in the trade, Cain is the player with the highest ceiling. A physically strong, 6’3”, 225-pound left-handed pitcher, he was an eighth-round draft pick by the Pirates in 2009 out of a Texas high school.

The 21-year-old is still a work-in-progress. He features an above-average command of an 88-93 mph fastball with late, arm-side action. Cain’s breaking ball has drawn mixed reviews, as he still lacks the feel to throw it with consistency. His fading changeup continues to develop and may be an above-average secondary offering by the time he reaches the major leagues.

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