Houston… What Are You Doing?

Pssssst…. Don’t tell Houston but it’s not 2007 anymore. You might also want to avoid telling the organization that it has officially fallen to the 31st worst minor league system in all of Major League Baseball. I’m not sure who No. 30 is now, but it’s definitely not Houston.

In a (polite edit) move, the organization sent second-base prospect Drew Sutton to the Cincinnati Reds as the player-to-be-named in the Jeff Keppinger trade. Now to be fair, I am probably one of the biggest Sutton fans around. As well, though, I have always been a big proponent for Keppinger. But come on… Really? The club’s best (only?) middle-infield prospect – whom I had ranked as the club’s second-best prospect overall – for a veteran utility infielder that hit .266/.310/.346 in 459 at-bats during the 2008 season? The Astros organization apparently thinks it’s acquiring the infielder that hit .332 in 241 at-bats during the 2007 season. With a BABIP of .335 in 2007 and .275 in 2008, Keppinger’s talent level is probably somewhere in between his two most recent seasons.

Maybe Houston just likes small sample sizes. Keppinger is scorching the ball with a .467 average this season in the Majors, while Sutton is struggling at .267 in five Triple-A games. After all, what can we learn by looking at Sutton’s 2008 season? He hit just .317/.408/.523 with 102 runs scored, 39 doubles, 20 homers, and 20 steals in 520 Double-A at-bats. Sutton, a switch-hitter, also posted rates of 12.8 BB% and 18.9 K%. Houston’s Double-A club plays in a pretty good hitter’s league, but the 25-year-old infielder then hit .315/.426/.611 with seven homers in 108 at-bats during the Arizona Fall League.

No, Sutton is probably not going to be a perennial All-Star at the Major League level. He may top out as a utility player not unlike Mr. Keppinger. However, he has the potential to be much, much more. But Houston either does not see that, or understand how that might be more valuable than a dime-a-dozen, established utility player with limited defensive skills whose value lies in hitting southpaws (.354 career vs .261). At the end of the day, it’s yet another questionable move for Houston, which has a laughable minor league system. And the Cincinnati Reds organization continues to overflow with minor league talent and depth.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

9 Responses to “Houston… What Are You Doing?”

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  1. The A Team says:

    All I can say is it’s good to see Ed Wade wrecking a team that isn’t the Philadelphia Phillies.

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  2. CJ says:

    I’m an Astros’ fan and I was a fan of Sutton. But I’m not that unhappy about the trade. I think it is pretty fair trade. I liked Sutton’s story…it’s sort of an underdog story. But, let’s face it, he is 25 years old, posted his big year after repeating AA, and if he fails to make the major league team next year, he probably becomes a perennial AAAA player who only has a long shot at making the majors. Sutton can not be considered anything like a blue chip prospect.

    Apparently the Astros were not impressed with Sutton this past spring. They may be right or wrong. But I think Sutton’s defensive skills may be hurting his potential, in their minds. He probably can’t play shortstop at the major league level. He is questionable at third base, particularly since the Astros like Chris Johnson at third base better. That means he is a utility player whose utility is mostly at 2d base. Keppinger has shown he can play multiple infield positions at the major league level. After Matsui’s contract is up, Keppinger may be an acceptable condidate for his position. In the meantime, with Matsui’s contract lasting through next year, it’s not clear that the Astros had a place for him to play in 2010.

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  3. David says:

    I don’t think it’s an awful move. For a team in Houston’s position – yeah, Sutton is a better asset than Keppinger in the long term. But here’s the thing. Keppinger is only 3 years older than Sutton. He has proven he can hit major league hitting, and has played significant time at shortstop in his career (albeit with terrible range).

    Sutton’s upside might be higher than Keppinger’s, but he’s also a 25 year old player who hasn’t played above AA, and hasn’t played much shortstop in recent years. I think best case scenario, he turns into Melvin Mora, who looked hopeless in AAA until his age 27 season, when he suddenly hit .303/.393/.451 and never looked back. The downside, of course, is just as likely – he turns into a AAAA player, an Alex Cintron type. (Coincidentally, Mora himself was released as a 25 year old failed prospect by the Astros.)

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  4. jeff bagwell says:

    dont worry, the astros will replenish the system when they unload carlos lee and roy oswalt at the trade deadline this year.

    i can see the mets trading f mart and niese for oswalt

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    • The A Team says:

      Again, you may want to take a look at Ed Wade’s body of work as far as trades go. Outside of Kevin Stocker for Bobby Abreu he’s been pretty damn atrocious. Here are some of his “blockbusters”. For Schilling he got Padilla and garbage (Travis Lee, Omar Daal, and Nelson Figeroa). For Rolen and cash he got Polanco and more crap (1 year of Timlin and Bud Smith). Lidge netted him Bourn, Geary, and a piece of Tejada (Mike Costanzo). Now granted his bargaining position was weakened in the Schilling and Rolen deals, but that was ultimately his fault and he’ll be in an identical position if he’s trying to dump salary in July.

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  5. David says:

    Funny you fail to mention Sutton’s age. Interesting how all national media outlets mocked the Astros for having a “top” prospect who was 25 during his second year of AA ball, but he gets traded, and suddenly everyone acts like he’s a 19 year old who went straight from the Congolese rain forest to AA and tore it up. Yes. Sutton put up good numbers at too high of an age while repeating an offensively oriented league. So did Keith Ginter. And Chris Burke. And Ben Zobrist. Frankly, I’m not impressed with 25 year old middle infielders who can hit AA pitching.

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  6. Marc says:

    But you have to consider A) He also hit really well in the AFL, B) He was still probably the org’s best infielder. The point is, for an old club like Houston, with very little depth in the minors, that is exactly the type of trade you should avoid making…

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  7. Justin says:


    please read carefully, as he did indeed post his age:

    “Houston’s Double-A club plays in a pretty good hitter’s league, but the 25-year-old infielder then hit .315/.426/.611 with seven homers in 108 at-bats during the Arizona Fall League”
    -This makes little sense considering Kep is really no more than an avg. utility guy, with very little on-base skills. There are a dozen players like him who would not warrant a top 3 prospect in the Atsros organization, which is completely depleted and has ZERO infield prospects behind Sutton.

    And to “Jeff bagwell”, you are dreaming if you think Carlos Lee is going anywhere. In today’s market economy, and especially after seeing what happened this offseason, no one is going to trade for an atrocious defensive outfielder who has one of the largest contracts in the majors, as he is scheduled to make 18.5 for the next 4 seasons. Unless the astros eat at least 25M+ on his 74M remaining, no one is going to trade for him AND give up top prospects. He has not been worth more than 3.3 wins since 2005, which is not comparable to his contract at hand.

    There is a much better chance of Berkman, who is scheduled to make less money, and has a reasonable 15M option after the 2011 season. Also, Lance has been worth 6+ wins in 5 of the past 7 seasons. Much better than Lee.

    Oswalt is surely a prime candidate to be traded, but Wade may be too stubborn to deal him. They for christs sake traded for Wolf when they were 10 games out last yr!!!!

    Only solution, trade Oswalt and Berkman, hope for a new owner, and fire all of the upper management—-and ohhhh, great idea excersizing Cooper’s option 5 games into the season!! haha

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