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Colton Cain and Scott McGough

I was planning on posting something with a more historical — going way back in the archives to the year 2009 — bent this afternoon, but with the trade deadline less than a week away and deals being made at a 2 Fast, 2 Furious pace, it only makes sense to go with what’s topical by discussing some of the prospects who are on the move. Pittsburgh and the Dodgers both beefed up their rosters in the hopes of some “flags fly forever” postseason glory, but, as we covered yesterday, the established big leaguers swapping laundry are nowhere as interesting — in the context of this site, naturally — than the recently drafted prospects hitting the road.

First, we have the Pirates overpaying Houston for Wandy Rodriguez. The money saved on moving Rodriguez and the addition of Robbie Grossman makes the trade a big win for the Astros, a franchise that I think will serve as a fantastic case study that will help answer the question “how long does it take to rebuild an organization?” over the next few seasons. One of the first steps to going from 100+ losses to competitive is figuring out how to flip bad contracts for useful parts. These useful parts tend to come in one of two standard archetypes: high ceiling/total bust floor lottery tickets OR average ceiling/big league backup floor near-ML ready talent. Ideally you can shed salary while picking up a combination of the two prospect types, though it is interesting to see that Jeff Luhnow and company have focused predominantly on the latter thus far. It’s too early to say that they are doing this as an organizational philosophy — there’s enough grey area between strictly adhering to an overarching philosophy and simply riding wherever the wave of the trade market takes you that as outsiders we can’t ever fully appreciate — but I happen to like Houston’s approach so far. The Astros have so far to come from a talent standpoint as an organization that adding cheap, controllable talent close to the big leagues will help buy time (and, as importantly, future payroll flexibility) while the players with star upside germinate in the minors.

Speaking of players with star upside, let’s finally tie this whole thing back to the draft. The Astros will get a full draft recap within the next few weeks/months, but, spoiler alert!, the addition of first overall pick Carlos Correa gives them the exact type of franchise-altering cornerstone talent that they’d be foolish to shop for on the trade market. The additions of overslot prep bats Rio Ruiz and Brett Phillips could also play major dividends down the road, though both players come with significant risk.

They stayed true to what I believe is their plan — we’ll call it the “hey, we owe it to our fans to not be terrible for years, so let’s instead try to identify a few cheap, young assets that the people of Houston can watch grow while we bide our time developing star talent in the minors that will make the fans thrilled that they stuck by our side during the lean years” —  by supplementing the high boom/bust factor of Correa, Ruiz, and Phillips with college position players (their draft was curiously short on arms, I’m now noticing) that should move quickly. Few better players embody the average ceiling/big league backup floor archetype better than second round pick Nolan Fontana, and later picks like Tyler Heineman and Dan Gulbransen also fit the mold. Brady Rodgers, the only arm drafted between rounds 2 and 8, is cut from the same cloth. Of course, after all that, it is worth mentioning that Lance McCullers (star-ceiling/big league floor) is proof that the two categories of prospects do not begin to describe all of the prospect types of the spectrum. We’re getting further and further (I reference this in my writing daily, yet still screw it up almost as often) away from my original point, so let’s get back to the recent trades before I get totally lost in the Houston draft wormhole.

Houston is clearly moving in the right direction, and I think their path, from terrible to slightly less terrible to better AND, hopefully, more willing/able to spend to, finally, consistently competitive in the wild AL West will be fascinating to follow. Grossman is a good player, lefthander Rudy Owens is fine, and, finally, Colton Cain was well worth a flier. Fun Colton Cain fact of the day: the newest Astros lefthanded pitcher (well, he’s as new as Owens but you get my point) was once ranked between Jeff Malm (Tampa) and Jonathan Singleton (Houston) on a list of top draft-eligible high school first basemen. I revisited that ranking last summer and wrote the following (non-bold was from last year, bold signifies pre-draft notes from 2009):

2. Colton Cain | Pittsburgh Pirates | 8th Round (2009)

3.13 ERA – 95 IP – 74 K/26 BB – 0.89 GO/AO

Cain is pitching well as a youngster (20 all season) in Low A with the added bonus of still not having a ton of mileage on his arm. His solid 2011 performance was preceded by good performances last year (strong peripherals). I like pitchers like Cain: guys with good enough fastballs to keep getting looks and secondaries that will either click and become legit big league pitches all at once or…not. Of course there is some middle ground between the two outcomes, but not as much as one might think. If you’re patient you may wind up with a three-pitch starting pitcher, but the risk here is fairly self-evident.

first thing that stands about about Cain is his very pretty lefthanded stroke; like a lot of the players on this list has an unusually strong arm for a first base prospect; because of that raw arm strength many scouts like him at least as much on the mound as at the plate; I like him as the prototypical two-way high school player that has the potential to really emerge once he concentrates on hitting full time; Texas commit

I really did prefer him as a hitter back in his high school days, but obviously the Pirates, and, by extension, now the Astros disagree with me. What nerve. I’ll stand by what I wrote last year — “if you’re patient you may wind up with a three-pitch staring pitcher” — though, due to a mostly uninspiring season in high-A (6.12 K/9), I’m less confident in that outcome than I was twelve months ago. As a two-way player (predominantly a hitter) in high school and a pitcher who has missed some developmental time after back surgery, there’s still reason to believe that the light bulb will go off and his low-90s fastball will be joined by a consistent curve and changeup. It is worth repeating that Grossman and the money saved made this deal worth doing for Houston; the addition of Cain, a player the Pirates once paid over a million bucks to pass on Texas, is the lottery ticket. The Astros can’t expect to win the jackpot here, but scratching off the ticket is fun enough in and of itself…plus you never know when you might win a few bucks for your troubles.

***

In the most controversial deal thus far, the Dodgers picked up Hanley Ramirez and Randy Choate from the Marlins for Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough. Eovaldi is a good get by the Marlins, especially considering the lack of money changing hands in this deal, though I think he ultimately winds up in the bullpen down the line. Take that analysis with a grain of salt, however, as I’ve never really met a Dodgers pitching prospect that I’ve particularly liked. I’m not so dumb to call any one of Zach Lee, Allen Webster, Eovaldi, Chris Reed, Garrett Gould, Chris Withrow, or Aaron Miller bad pitching prospects, but I think each one has been overrated by many of the national pundits. Always was, and remain, a big fan fan of Ethan Martin, so at least there’s that. Don’t hate me Dodgers fans!

The relevant draft piece to this trade is, of course, 2011 fifth round pick Scott McGough. McGough was the 164th overall pick and my own 139th ranked draft prospect heading into the draft. Here’s what I wrote both directly after (plain italics) and before (bold italics) the draft:

Oregon RHP Scott McGough has a fastball with excellent life, a much improved slider that has become an interesting future strikeout pitch, and enough of a low- to mid-80s changeup that leaves you thinking it could be a consistent above-average offering in due time. His profile reminds me a bit of former Angels reliever Scot Shields, but with a better fastball. Having seen both McGough and Reed pitch a few times each in conference play, I’m sticking with my belief that McGough has the brighter professional future.

Oregon JR RHP Scott McGough: 90-92 FB, peak 94-95; 78-79 CB; raw 83 CU; above-average 78-83 SL that flashes plus; potential plus 82-85 CU that is still very raw; working on splitter; great athlete; 6-1, 185 pounds

McGough hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire as a professional (control has been an issue at Rancho Cucamonga), but his career K/9 mark just under 10 in over 70 innings looks damn fine to me. His fastball remains a good pitch and he’ll flash enough above-average offspeed stuff to look like a future big league middle reliever. I’m still likely to look dumb for that McGough > Reed prediction, but if both wind up as solid big league pitchers, well, I could live with that.

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