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.