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August 4, 2010

Future Shock

Org Watch: Astros, Royals, Pirates

by Kevin Goldstein

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The trades of Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee were potential race shifters, but overall, the moves teams made at the 2010 MLB trade deadline weren't seismic. Still, three organizations—the AstrosRoyals and Pirates— saw the most change within their minor-league systems as a result of their dealings.

  • The Astros have struggled for years and have a bad minor-league system to boot. Could they be on the upswing? Sadly, it doesn't appear that way after the deadline.
  • The Royals haven't been successful since seemingly the mid-1980s, but their minor-league system was among the best in the game earlier this summer. Where do they stand now?
  • The Pirates—well, we've heard these stories before. Are they finally assembling the pieces, especially pitchers?

Astros: Is that all there is?

With an aging, expensive team headed for its sixth straight season without a playoff appearance and a minor-league system all but bereft of talent, it was clearly time to start a rebuilding plan in Houston. Trading away stars (albeit ones having uncharacteristically poor seasons) like Oswalt and Lance Berkman should have kick-started that process, but in the end, a depressed market led to anything but.

For Berkman, the Astros received Mark Melancon. The middle reliever is nearly MLB-ready, at least by Astros' standards, but that's also his ceiling. Jimmy Paredes is a slick second baseman with some tools, but his lack of power and patience limits his upside and could hinder his progression through the minors. Sure, Berkman is only a rental for the Yankees, but the Astros needed to find a player who could play a role on their team if/when they are good again. Instead, they got spare parts.

The player who could be a real part of the Astros' future arrived via the Blue Jays when the club flipped speedy center fielder Anthony Gose to Toronto for first baseman Brett Wallace, who immediately took Berkman's spot on the big-league roster. Wallace is going to be in the big leagues for a long time; simply put, he can hit. Is that enough, though? He doesn't walk at even an average rate, and his power is average at best for the position. Plus, even though he'll turn just 24 this month, he has those dreaded "old-player skills" that don't exactly age or progress well. The average National League first baseman is hitting .274/.358/.465 this season, and that is a pretty good projection for the kind of player Wallace can be. More Lyle Overbay than the next big thing, Wallace is a placeholder, not a linchpin on a championship-level club.

In the end, Oswalt and Berkman are gone and the rebuilding has begun, but the Astros aren't significantly better equipped to build for the future than they were a week ago.

Royals: Small pieces

The Royals already have a star-studded system filled with many of the best prospects in baseball, and they certainly didn't expect to add anything of significance when the players they traded were the likes of Scott Podsednik, Rick Ankiel, Kyle Farnsworth and Alberto Callaspo. That said, they acquired some small pieces who could have big-league futures.

Picked up from the Braves, minuscule lefty Tim Collins is a unique prospect on whom scouts have turned a corner. Once seen as little more than a sideshow, the left-hander who is kindly listed at 5-foot-7 is now in Triple-A before his 21st birthday, and his career rate of 13.6 strikeouts per nine innings can no longer be ignored. Scouts now see a non-closing late-inning reliever who is equally effective against righties and lefties and could be in the big leagues for more than a decade.

Right-hander Sean O'Sullivan, acquired from the Angels in the Callaspo deal, could turn out to be an even bigger find. He's hardly the next big thing or anyone who is going to come up in a year of the pitcher discussion, but he's a durable strike thrower who should fit in the back of the Royals' rotation for years to come. As with Collins, that might not be the most exciting world, but every December, we're reminded that a talent like this on the free-agent market costs $10-12 million a year. The Royals picked small things—window dressing, essentially—to supplement the (hopefully) potential stars to arrive in the big leagues during the next three years.

Pirates: Here we go again

Like the Royals, the Pirates had little to give away and thus got little in return. Although some young talent is finally creating excitement in Pittsburgh, it's doubtful that anybody who was added to the system this past weekend will make a real difference in the Pirates' chances at their first winning season since 1992. In fact, most of these players already appear to be like current or recently failed Pirates if one looks at them with a critical eye, which is hard not to do when it comes to baseball in Pittsburgh. Here's the purely pessimistic first reaction on all four players picked up at the deadline.

John Bowker: 27-year-old bat-only player who has never proved himself in the big leagues and is limited to first base, just like Jeff Clement.

Pedro Ciriaco, SS: Provides slightly better defense than Ronny Cedeno but even worse bat.

Andrew Lambo, OF: Once-promising hitter has stalled at the upper levels, pretty much the next Brandon Moss.

James McDonald, RHP: Potential back-end starter similar to the pitchers the Pirates have filled their entire rotation with for years.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who

14 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Kevin, you may say the purely "pessimistic" first reaction. But, based on how Moss, LaRoche, Morton, Alderson, Clement, and Milledge have played since acquisition, I think "realistic" evaluation is much more appropriate designation.

Anyone can tear apart an organization- selling off everything of value. But, it's obvious Huntingdon and Coonelly desperately lack talent evaluation skills and are therefore helpless at rebuilding this franchise.

Aug 04, 2010 10:40 AM
rating: 0

I agree with most of your comparisons on the guys the Pirates got except for Lambo. Moss was 26 when we got him from Boston while Lambo is just 21 and still has a chance to turn things around. I'd liken him more to Tabata. He's not a guarantee to make it but he's young, in AA, and still has potential.

Aug 04, 2010 10:57 AM
rating: 0

To me it seems like both Lambo and Tabata are complete crapshoots. Both have inconsistent professional careers and both have unconventional combinations of tools for their positions. Lambo is essentially a left fielder with hopefully(keyword)enough power to make up for his poor defense and underdeveloped plate discipline. Xavier Nady?

Tabata has the arm to play a good RF and the legs to play an average CF, but still doesn't seem to have the power to become better than a Melky Cabrera (in the end). His speed isn't enough to be a reliable basestealer in the MLB in the long-run--especially if he adds bulk to fix the power issues-- and his demeanor (historically) seems scarily similar to that of Elijah Lastings Milledge/Elijah Dukes.

Which is more valuable in the MLB? I guess I'd take Tabata for his potential to be a complete player.

Aug 04, 2010 13:58 PM
rating: -1

For every Elijah Dukes, there are a dozen guys who outgrew their youthful stupidities. Purely a squishy one-man's-impression here, but I see Tabata doing a lot of smart stuff on the field. He adjusts mid-at-bat, doesn't run against strong arms, has good contact rates and, for all his supposed immaturity, hasn't seem the least phased by the transition to the bigs. (compare to the "mature" Weiters?) To my eye, Tabata seems like one of the surer-bets of this year's exceptional class of graduates to sustain his productivity.

Aug 04, 2010 15:33 PM
rating: 1
Richard Bergstrom

Note that Tabata, at age 21, has produced more WARP this season than Milledge, at age 25, has in his entire major league career. Tabata's got talent.

Aug 06, 2010 02:28 AM
rating: 0

As a Giants fan, I can't help but be a bit more optimistic about Bowker than you are. (And just a tiny bit sorry to see him go.)

His first stint in the majors was underwhelming. But his tryout this season, after his hot 2009 in the minors was....82 AB's. I don't know if he is a AAAA guy destined for a career as a AAA slugger or if he could be Nelson Cruz or Jorge Cantu or something. But I'm pretty sure it takes more than 82 AB's to tell. At least we'll get a chance to see, with him playing for the Pirates.

Aug 04, 2010 11:08 AM
rating: 1
Sparky's Pitch Fork

This is a total homer comment, but "is there anything Wallace can do right? Any positive reviews?"

Aug 04, 2010 13:41 PM
rating: 2

I'd like to see a 100-day-moving-average chart of the Conventional Wisdom on Brett Wallace. He's an on-base machine, whoops that was college. He's a power bat except y'know what not so much. A born .300 hitter, never mind he's the next Lyle Overbay. There's always a buyer for this guy and always a seller. It's weird. And then, earlier this week, the Cardinals color-guy couldn't stop talking about Wallace's Buick-sized legs --- and hitting-coach Jeff Bagwell's opinion that he doesn't use them.* I'm a buyer here but, wow. Brett Wallace is one choppy stock.

*(I only caught two at bats but what my amateur eye saw was a quiet-in-the-good-sense lower body, a really quick, efficient hip-turn and semi-soft,educated hands. Guy could absolutely tower a golf ball and look like he's not even trying.)

Aug 04, 2010 15:59 PM
rating: 2

The Astros are headed for their FIFTH straight season without a playoff appearance, not their sixth.

Not a big thing, especially since one year from now, they WILL be headed for their sixth straight October on the links, but we shouldn't kick 'em while they're already down.

Aug 04, 2010 13:54 PM
rating: 3


What's your *overall* take on Anthony Gose? Can you make any MLB comparisons for readers to get a gauge on his potential?

I know he has the speed and defensive tools to be a difference maker but his base-running has been downright awful, this season, and his performance at the plate hasn't been too promising (37SB/27CS, 32BB/103K, .712 OPS in A+). I know he's still just 20 (in a few a days), but even if he does start to develop at a better rate, is it honestly realistic to think that he'll be a starting CF in the MLB? Guys like Jiwan James and Joe Benson have similar tools, are similar ages (with James having less experience at the plate) and have been producing at much more promising rates-- yet they aren't even considered top 100 prospects.

Aug 04, 2010 14:12 PM
rating: 0

And Jay Austin btw....

Aug 04, 2010 14:12 PM
rating: 0

You might want to check Kevin's comments in the Transaction posts he and CK did during and immediately after the deadline. As I recall, the essence of his appraisal was high-upside, high-bust potential for Gose.

Aug 04, 2010 15:24 PM
rating: 0

I hope Tim Collins gets a chance to succeed.A 20 year old non drafted free agent on the verge of the majors is amazing enough, but one who is 5 foot 6? Who doesn't want him to be successful?

Aug 04, 2010 23:19 PM
rating: 0

The comp I have in mind for Collins is Bobby Shantz, a similarly- sized half pint with a lion's heart. Started out as a reliever with the A's, in 1949, then transitioned to a starter and stayed one through most of his 20's, including an amazing age 26 season in 1952 for the A’s, when he went 24-7, pitched 279 innings, with 2.48 ERA and WARP 8.9!, for a typical Connie Mack team that lost more games than it won. Listed at 5'6", 142 lbs. When I saw him, in the '56 season, at Yankee Stadium, pitching for KC, when he was, I think, 30 years old, he still looked from my bleacher seat like a schoolkid on the high mound of those days. Not an HOF guy, but a performer at a high level, as a starter and as a "fireman", ultimately pitching 16 seasons for the A’s, KC, the Yankees. I don't see him in the PECOTA comps for Collins- is he not in the data set?

Aug 05, 2010 14:31 PM
rating: 0
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