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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.