When any trade discussion involving the Astros striking a deal for a prominent big leaguer, the attention on which prospects Jeff Luhnow is willing to part with. This list includes names like Kyle Tucker, Forrest Whitley, Yordan Alvarez, and Josh James, the consensus top four prospects in the Astros system.
However, often, it is the other prospects included in a trade that ended up being the more impactful players. We can look at two recent trades that the Astros have made for evidence of this.
Exhibit A: In 2014 the Astros traded Jarred Cosart and Enrique Hernandez for Colin Moran, Jake Marisnick, and a lottery ticket named Frances Martes. Although Cosart and Moran were the primary pieces moved, the secondary pieces turned out to be the more impactful players. While Cosart has flamed out as a big leaguer and Moran just recently got his shot, Hernandez and Marisnick have become integral and established players in the bigs while Martes catapulted himself to being the top prospect in the Astros system at one point.
Exhibit B: As the upstart Astros made a push for the postseason in 2015, Luhnow traded for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers in exchange for Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips, Josh Hader, and Adrian Houser. Gomez and Santana were the primary pieces moved, but Fiers turned out to be the most important person in the deal for the Astros, but, in hindsight, Hader has turned out to be the gem for the Brewers, becoming perhaps the most dominant reliever in baseball in 2018.
As the 2018-2019 offseason heats up, and with the Astros rumor mill in full swing with Luhnow apparently showing reluctance to move his top four prospects, what prospects could Luhnow be offering as return pieces in trades? Let’s take a closer look at three current Astros prospects that have been mentioned frequently in recent weeks: Myles Straw, Cionel Perez, and Garrett Stubbs.
MLB Upside: Starting CF
Expected 2019 Level: Triple-A/MLB
Myles Straw enters 2019 in much the same way he did in 2017 and 2018, as one of my favorite Astros prospects. In 2018, as Straw made his way up to Triple-A, Astros fans began to take notice. Splitting time evenly between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Fresno, Straw posted a combined .291/.381/.353 slash line with 70 stolen bases (35 at each level) in 79 attempts. As I’ve stated here before, Straw’s offensive value lies in his ability to get on base and turn walks and singles into doubles via the stolen base. His offensive skill set is enough to earn him at least a 4th outfielder role.
Defensively, Straw has the speed to cover much ground, and he takes efficient routes, which when paired with an above average arm, has Straw projected as a steady defender at every outfield position. With the signing of Michael Brantley, the Astros have a logjam of outfielders on the 40-man roster unless the Astros trade Jake Marisnick, Josh Reddick or Kyle Tucker. The likelihood of Straw remaining with the Astros long term would seem unlikely. Straw could have great appeal for rebuilding teams, and Luhnow could be looking to maximize his value soon.
MLB Upside: 3rd Starter/Late-inning RP
Expected 2019 Level: Triple-A/MLB
The Astros feel very good about Perez’s future with the organization. I, however, am still unsure as to what to make of Perez. The positives are not hard to see. Perez is a soon to be a 23-year-old lefty with a plus fastball, a potentially plus changeup, and an above-average slider. His curveball is average, but he can throw it for strikes as a “show-me” pitch. Perez has a high-floor, as his repertoire would certainly play well in the bullpen if he fails to stick as a starter. Now, the negatives. Perez is undersized at 5’11” and 170 pounds and doesn’t have much deception in his delivery.
Perez was hit pretty hard and showed a lack of command in his brief stint with the Astros last year as advanced hitters were able to lay off his secondary pitches and sit on his fastball. The Astros organization appears to believe Perez can stick as a starter and will likely assign him to Triple-A Round Rock to refine his repertoire. A team that believes he can stick as a starter will likely bet on his upside. That said, as of this writing, and with question marks beyond Verlander, Cole, and McHugh, Perez may be valued even more so by Luhnow than he would have if McCullers not been lost for the 2019 season.
MLB Upside: League average starter
Expected 2019 Level: Triple-A
Stubbs rebounded from a dismal 2017 to post improvement across the board in 2018. In 340 at-bats, all in Triple-A, Stubbs slashed .310/.382/.455, with 19 doubles, six triples, and four home runs. In his minor league career, Stubbs has 35 stolen bases in 38 attempts. His line drive approach doesn’t project to add much in the form of power, but his ability to routinely barrel up balls should carry over to the next level. Defensively, Stubbs makes up for his small stature with elite athleticism for the position. He has thrown out 37% of base stealers and owns a career .995 fielding percentage.
Currently, the Astros plan on going into 2019 with Max Stassi and Robinson Chirinos. The last two “Astros catchers of the future,” Jacob Nottingham and Jake Rogers, have been dealt, leaving Stubbs as the lone MLB ready(ish) catcher in the system. Should the forever talked about a trade for JT Realmuto occur, Stubbs seems like a shoo-in to be dealt. Other than that, it would appear that Stubbs is very likely to make his big league debut in 2019 with the Astros, an idea I feel confident in saying the organization can live with.