The Houston Astros continued their Stalinist purge of veterans off the major league roster this evening, shipping lefty starter Wandy Rodriguez to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for outfielder Robbie Grossman, and left-handed pitchers Rudy Owens and Colton Cain. Here are some capsule summaries with scouting information for the three prospects.
Colton Cain, LHP: Colton Cain is a native Texan, drafted by the Pirates in the eighth round in 2009 from high school in Waxahachie. The Pirates made a habit of giving over-slot bonuses to high school pitchers before the new CBA took effect, and Cain was one of the beneficiaries, receiving $1,125,000 to skip pitching for the Longhorns at the University of Texas. He's produced mixed statistical results, posting a 3.64 ERA and an 81/31 K/BB in 106 innings in Low-A last season, and a 4.20 ERA with a 51/25 K/BB in 75 innings for High-A Bradenton this year.
Cain is a 6-3, 225 pound lefty, born February 5th, 1991. His fastball varies between 88 and 93 MPH, and he uses a curveball and changeup as his secondary pitches. He generally throws strikes, but his command within the strike zone is variable, and he can get hit hard if his location is off. Some scouts consider him mildly disappointing, but he's only 21 and still has a shot at becoming a number three or four starter with further refinement. If he had gone to college, 2012 would have been his draft year, so some perspective is necessary.
Robbie Grossman, OF: Although born in San Diego, Grossman is another Texan, attending high school in Cypress and being a sixth round pick in 2008. Like Cain, he was an overslot bonus guy, and another University of Texas recruit. It took $1,000,000 to sign him. After a couple of mediocre seasons, he broke out in 2011 with a .294/.418/.451 line with Bradenton, drawing 104 walks, stealing 24 bases, and hitting 13 homers.
Some scouts were skeptical since he was repeating the league, and he got off to a slow start in 2012 in Double-A. However, he was shaking off the effects of a fall hamate injury, and he's been extremely hot once he got healthy, hitting .312/.424/.532 in June and .346/.474/.449 in July. Overall he's at .265/.378/.406 in 350 at-bats for Altoona, with seven homers and 59 walks.
Grossman is a 6-0, 205 pound switch-hitter, born September 16, 1989. He's lost some athleticism since high school and his tools are now considered just average to slightly above, but he's very patient and has a good feel for the strike zone. He won't be a huge power hitter, but he should provide OBP with gap power, along with the ability to play all three outfield positions.
Rudy Owens, LHP: Owens was drafted in the 28th round in 2006, signing as a draft-and-follow for $390,000 the following spring. A product of Chandler-Gilbert Community College, the Mesa, Arizona native emerged with an outstanding season in A-ball in 2009, with a 2.10 ERA and a 113/17 K/BB ratio in 124 innings. He was excellent again in Double-A in 2010 (2.46 ERA, 132/23 K/BB), but found the going more difficult last year for Triple-A Indianapolis, with a 5.05 ERA and a 71/32 K/BB with 129 hits in 112 innings. A return engagement this year has resulted in better performance, a 3.14 ERA with an 85/25 K/BB in 117 innings with 112 hits. He doesn't have much left to prove in the minors.
Owens is a 6-3, 230 pound left, born December 18, 1987. At his best, he works in the low-90s, but if his mechanics are off, that will dip into the 80s. A shoulder problem last year didn't help matters, but he's been healthy in '12 and it shows in his performance. He mixes in a curveball and changeup, and while none of his offerings are outstanding, when his command is on he is the kind of pitcher who gives the hitter a comfortable 0-for-4. He projects as a number four starter as long as his command stays strong. His biggest flaw is a tendency to leave mistake pitches too high in the strike zone, resulting in home runs.
Wandy wasn't going to be part of the next good Houston team, so getting some prospects in exchange makes sense. While none of this trio are sure-fire major league regulars, it adds more depth to the system. Owens is ready for a big league trial now, and Grossman will be ready next year. Cain has a higher upside than Owens, but will need more time. Meanwhile, the Pirates added a solid veteran starter without giving up one of the crown jewels of the system.