Astros put high stock in recent haul of Minor Leaguers

Astros put high stock in recent haul of Minor Leaguers

HOUSTON -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow cast a wide net, grabbing as many prospects as he could from other clubs before Tuesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline, with hopes that most -- and the reality that maybe only some -- would become impact Major League players down the road.

While contending clubs were more than happy to pluck the few veteran players Houston had remaining on its roster -- familiar names like Carlos Lee, Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez -- in an effort to make a push to the playoffs, the Astros were just as eager to add much-needed depth to their Minor League system.

Luhnow pulled the strings on five trades in July, beginning early in the month when he shipped first baseman Lee to the Marlins for two prospects. J.A. Happ and Brandon Lyon went to Toronto a couple of weeks later in a 10-player deal, and Myers was shipped to the White Sox a couple of days later.

Soon, Rodriguez -- the last remaining member of the club that made it to the 2005 World Series -- and 27-year-old third baseman Chris Johnson were on their way out of town. When the dust settled, the Astros had acquired 13 Minor League players, two players to be named later, outfielder Ben Francisco and veteran closer Francisco Cordero.

"We are continuing to accumulate players who are better than the players we have in our system," Luhnow said. "More importantly, [we acquired] players that have a chance to play and help us out at the big league level and hopefully become impact players."

The Astros' Minor League system has generally been considered one of the weakest in baseball the past four or five years, though that is slowly changing. Houston has pumped talent into the pipeline through trades and the Draft in the past three seasons.

"We just continue to add to our depth," said Astros director of player development Fred Nelson. "As we go through, we'll have a chance to put our eyes on these guys up close from a developmental standpoint and see how they compare to the guys we have.

"It's a little bit hard for us until we've had a chance to see them, but we certainly added depth in the organization, and really [with] the types of things we did in the last year, we're going to be able to reap the benefits of that. Quality players are going to make the entire Minor League system strong, as we begin to continue to push guys through to the Double-A and Triple-A levels."

Of the 13 Minor Leaguers the Astros received in five July trades, eight were pitchers, including right-handers Asher Wojciechowski, Matthew Heidenreich and Joe Musgrove and left-handers Rob Rasmussen, David Rollins, Rudy Owens, Colton Cain and Blair Walters.

Houston also added catcher Carlos Perez, infielders Matt Dominguez and Bobby Borchering and outfielders Robbie Grossman and Marc Krauss.

Of the 13 players, six began their Astros careers with Double-A Corpus Christi, three are in high Class A Lancaster, two in Triple-A Oklahoma City and one each in low Class A Lexington and rookie-league Greeneville.

Dominguez, who came from the Marlins in the Lee deal, is known more for his defense than his offense, but with Johnson out of the way, there's an opportunity for him to return to the Major Leagues at some point soon.

Rasmussen, who, like Dominguez, is 23 years old, has been plugged into the rotation at Corpus Christi, and is 2-2 with a 5.78 ERA in five starts. He figures to compete for a spot in the middle of the Astros' rotation, perhaps in 2014.

In the 10-player with the Jays, the Astros landed pitchers Wojciechowski, Musgrove and Rollins and a young catcher in Perez.

Wojciechowski, who's 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA in his first two starts for the Hooks, could be the closest to the Majors of any of the players the Astros got from Toronto. He could be in big league camp next year, and perhaps in the rotation by the end of next season.

Musgrove becomes one of the Astros' highest-ranked prospects, but he was drafted in 2011 and is a few years away. Rollins, 22, was 10-1 with a 2.46 ERA over two professional seasons in the Blue Jays' system, and could be an intriguing arm to watch.

The addition of Perez gives the Astros catching depth, and he could be in the mix at the Major League level in just a couple of years.

In the Myers deal with the White Sox, the Astros got a pair of starters, in Heidenreich and Walters, who they believe are full of potential.

Heidenreich, a 6-foot-5 right-hander, is 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in his first two starts at Double-A, and had up good numbers throughout the White Sox system. The same is true for Walters, who was drafted in 2011 and has yet to pitch above the Class A level.

In trading Rodriguez to the Pirates last week, the Astros received two lefties in Owens and Cain, and an intriguing outfielder in Grossman, who was named Pittsburgh's Minor League Player of the Year last season after leading the Florida State League with 124 runs scored and 104 walks in 134 games. He's now the starting center fielder in Corpus Christi.

Owens, the Pirates' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2009 and '10, is the only one of the eight pitchers Houston received to begin his Astros career in Triple-A. He could push for a rotation spot in the next year or two.

Cain, a native Texan, is just 21 years old and has plenty of time to develop. He had a solid full-season debut last year, and is intriguing to the Astros because he's a lefty with a plus fastball.

Borchering, acquired from the D-backs in the Johnson deal, gives the Astros the kind of power potential they don't have much of, short of Telvin Nash. He had split this season between Class A Visalia and Double-A Mobile, hitting .247 with 23 doubles and 20 home runs.

Krauss, 24, has batted .283 with a .925 OPS and 15 home runs at Mobile, and will play left field in Corpus Christi, though Luhnow said he'll likely end the year in Triple-A. Krauss hit a long two-run homer in his first at-bat with the Hooks on Tuesday.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.