The Houston Astros made a trade on Tuesday, sending career-fourth outfielder, Jason Bourgeois and veteran defensive catcher (a good one), Humberto Quintero to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for relief pitcher, Kevin Chapman and the always-mythical PTBNL.
Q and Bourgeois are fine bench players, but both are on the wrong side of 30 and it made absolutely zero sense for the Astros to hang on to them, being nowhere near contention. The team's savvy new GM, Jeff Luhnow, recognized this and did his best to acquire future potential major league contributors for their services.
The first piece of the deal, Kevin Chapman, is a left-handed relief pitcher. The 24 year old was one of the Royals top 20 prospects, possesses an above average fastball and big-time slider. In fact, Baseball America dubbed Chapman's slider the best in the Royals' system. His ERA in the minor leagues has been underwhelming, to say the least, but low LD%, high BABIP and a good ERA-FIP differential suggest he's been a bit unlucky. Chapman's K/9 rate of 12.4 indicate he can consistently miss bats, at least in the minors, which is a good quality to have. His ceiling is a late-inning reliever in the majors, with closer potential. His floor is LOOGY.
Chapman alone qualifies as a good return for the Astros, but then Brian McTaggart revealed this tidbit on Twitter:
Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said PTBNL will be "key component" of trade.— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) March 20, 2012
And Alyson Footer confirmed:
I'm getting impression that Chapman is projected to be 7th/8th inn reliever and that the ptbnl is a good one, not just throw-in.— Alyson Footer (@alysonfooter) March 20, 2012
Many are already reading between the lines of McTaggart's tweet and the quoted text of "key component", assuming the PTBNL is indeed "the" key component of the deal. While that'd be awesome, I'm leaning toward "key component" meaning another decent prospect – as opposed to filler, or a "throw-in", as Footer referred to – but not "the" key component. In other words, I think Chapman is going to be the best prospect the Astros receive in this deal. However; the PTBNL does indeed appear to be a prospect, which is much-preferred over a non-prospect.
PTBNL situations can be tricky. Usually the hold-up is either a case of A) a recently drafted player not being eligible to be traded or B) a list being passed on to the team receiving the PTBNL for them to ultimately decide which player they want in return. The Astros were presented with option B during the Hunter Pence trade last year and reportedly chose Domingo Santana off the Phillies' list, who is now a top 10 prospect in the organization.
I would imagine that this deal in particular will bring a PTBNL from the Royals' 2011 draft class to the Astros, but this is pure speculation, and because it's pure speculation, I may have just completed an exercise in futility by compiling a list of candidates to be the Astros' PTBNL. Below you will find a brief snapshot of a few 2011 Royals' draftees, one of which could soon become a Houston Astro.
Draft: 16th rounder from HS, 750K bonus
Tools: Advanced bat and approach for his age, average defensively
Ranks: 25th (BA) 39th (Royal Revival)
Draft: 20th rounder from JUCO
Tools: Small (5'7", 165), ridiculous speed (80++ on scout's 20-80 scale), all other tools below average/unpolished, Likely 4th OF/Pinch runner, but still young and has one elite tool
Stats: Hit .340 in rookie ball (.432 BABIP) with an ISO of .064, BB rate of 13%, K rate of 18%. 17/17 on SBs
Ranks: 31st (Royal Revival)
Position: Right Handed Pitcher
Draft: 3rd rounder from HS, 1.5M Bonus
Tools: Plus fastball, developing curve, advanced pitching approach for age, potential late inning reliever or 200+ IP guy in the middle of the rotation
Position: Right Handed Pitcher
Draft: 4th rounder from HS, 695K bonus
Tools: Good slurve, "Best secondary pitch" in Royals '11 draft class, according to Baseball America
Draft: 14th rounder from JUCO
Tools: Above average speed, potential to be "plus" power hitter, good arm in CF
Stats: .587 SLG and .247 ISO in 176 PAs in rookie ball show power potential, also hit .340 (.390 BABIP), stole seven bases, posted a BB rate of 8% and K rate of 16%.
Ranks: 30th (Royals Revival)
Despite Brickhouse and Smith being the most highly regarded prospects on this list, I prefer one of the bats instead. Neither Smith or Brickhouse project to be anything more than mid-rotation innings-eaters and the Astros have enough of those guys in their system.
My first choice would probably be Gore, followed by Toney, then Lopez. All Gore currently has going for him is his speed. Sure, he put up decent numbers in rookie ball, but his hitting tools are still undeveloped and given his weak arm, he doesn't have much upside defensively. However; he has one elite tool and that's his speed.
Speed alone doesn't get you very far in baseball if you can't get on base or play defense – just ask Jay Austin and T.J. Steele – but Gore's speed is beyond elite. Check out what his JUCO coach had to say about his speed tool:
Mike Kander Gulf Coast Head Men's Baseball Coach - "The fastest player in the country. A good comp for Gore could be Joey Gathright and he's the type of player that would've been a good fit on the 1978 Royals teams. He brings a whole new level of speed to the game putting up times to 1st base in the 3.49 range from the right side on a bunt and consistently in the 3.7-3.8 range on a swing. One coach in the conference who was an assistant for Florida State during the Deion Sanders years said that he never thought he would see a player with Deion's speed on the baseball field, then he saw Gore and said he's faster. Terrance like Toney brings a physicality from their football days to baseball with a aggressive approach. Also like Toney he is still pretty raw with the bat and has a below average arm but uses his speed very effectively on defense."
Any time your speed is mentioned in the same breath as Primetime's, you're pretty damn fast.
Gore hits the ball on the ground at a high rate, which paired with his speed could result in a lot of extra infield singles. Because of his limitations with the bat and the arm, his upside is relatively limited, but if he can continue to reach base anywhere near the rate he did during his first season in rookie ball (.447 OBP), his speed is could be a difference-maker on a major league team. At worst, he's a fourth outfielder slash pinch runner. I'll take my chances on a prospect with one elite tool, rather than one with five average ones.
Toney came from the same JUCO as Gore and is also a good athlete, but raw. He put up huge power numbers in rookie ball.
Lopez is supposed to have a very good bat, but with limited power and average defense.
Two other guys I've seen mentioned, from our very own Native Astro, are Brett Eibner and Will Smith. Neither played was drafted in 2011, but as previously mentioned PTBNL aren't limited to recent draft picks.
Eibner was a second rounder in 2010 with "four solid tools", according to BA. He's a good defensive outfielder with power potential and a plus arm, but strikes out far too often.
Smith was a seventh rounder in 2007 and is by all accounts, average. His ceiling is a back-of-the-rotation guy.
Overall, this was another very good trade for Luhnow and the Astros. It's nothing franchise-changing, but you can't expect too much in return for Q and Bourgeois. It's little moves like these that give me faith in Luhnow and the new regime. Every move counts and Luhnow continues to make smart ones. Now who's excited about the PTBNL being none of the guys I mentioned?!