This winter, the Astros and Colorado Rockies completed a deal that sent starting pitcher Jordan Lyles and outfielder/GIF machine Brandon Barnes to Denver for outfielder Dexter Fowler and a player to be named later. The famed PTBNL has been a source of optimism for Astros fans since Jeff Luhnow took over; it seems that in every deal he includes a PTBNL, hoping to grab an undervalued or overlooked player that could fit well into the Astros system. Also, a shoutout to Ed Wade for being the creator of Astros fans' love affair of the PTBNL; snagged Domingo Santana in the Pence deal as a PTBNL, and he's on the cusp of the majors as an impact talent.
The purpose of this post is to feature a few Colorado farmhands who could be realistic targets for the Astros' return. I am anticipating that the player will come from the Rockies' 2013 draft class. There is an MLB rule that states a drafted player cannot be traded until one calendar year passes, and the longer this plays out the more likely it is that the player comes from last year's draft. Therefore, most players in this piece are '13 draftees.
Also a spoiler alert: Conventional wisdom suggests that the Rockies won't part ways with any of their top prospects in this deal. That means I won't even entertain the idea of David Dahl, Ryan McMahon, Eddie Butler, Raimel Tapia or any other high impact prospects walking through that door.
Another note on prospects; fans of teams regularly overvalue their own guys, especially when it comes to guys down on the farm. I do this myself a lot and I see it in the comments on TCB. So, I'm, anticipating some rebuttals from Rockies fans on why (insert player referenced in this article) will never be dealt to Houston, and that's allright! They are more knowledgeable on their team's system than I am, and I would love to see some other discussions on players in the comments.
Pat Valaika, SS, UCLA/'13 draft (A+, Cal League)
Valaika was a 9th round pick out of UCLA, and has already shown how advanced of a player he is with a promotion to the Cal League. Valaika dominated the South Atlantic League before being promoted, hitting .370 and posting a 173 wRC+. He is definitely a middle infielder long term, and the only thing keeping him from staying at short is his arm strength. Add that to a solid offensive profile that he's shown at UCLA (he hit cleanup on that NCAA championship team last year) and in his short pro career, and it's not difficult to see a productive major league career in Valaika's future.
Sam Moll, RHP, Memphis/'13 draft (Short Season A, Northwest League)
Considering Moll puts myself in territory of being physicaly endangered by Rockies fans. As a 3rd round pick, Moll was a pretty promising draft prospect in general last year, and with the Rockies' focus on pitching depth maybe he's not a viable option, but I'm going to talk about him anyway because I like him. Moll is an undersized lefty who had a promising start to his pro career last season, posting a 29:10 K:BB ratio in 30 innings. Moll hasn't pitched yet for an affiliate this season due to injury, but he would be a nice addition to the Astros' pitching depth in the minor league system with a low to mid 90s fastball, a decent slider from the left side, and impressive control numbers.
Michael Benjamin, 3B, Arizona State/'13 draft (Class A, South Atlantic League)
Benjamin was drafted in the 13th round out of Arizona State University in last year's draft. He's currently hitting .328 with a .366 OBP in A-ball, so by the look of his statistics he seems pretty advanced and ready to move up a level. Benjamin has shown solid on base skills and plays a position that doesn't have a lot of impact in the Astros' system. Benjamin was the Sun Devils' best hitter in 2013, hitting 8 homers in a competitive collegiate conference.
Peter Tago, RHP, CA HS/'10 draft (Class A+, Cal League)
Tago is a prep arm drafted a while ago who has yet to apply his solid raw stuff into consistent production. Tago has some serious control issues, walking about equal to or more hitters than he's struck out in every year of his pro career. Tago is up to the Cal League right now, and has been converted to the bullpen where he's still having control problems. Interestingly, he hasn't allowed a home run yet. Tago still has a lot of raw stuff and athleticism, making him an ideal PTBNL candidate if the Rockies wave the white flag on the possibility of him figuring it out.
Michael Tauchman, OF, Bradley University/'13 draft (Short Season A, Northwest League)
Just from looking at Tauchman's stats across his 2013 baseball season, I get the sense that he's pretty similar to what Jeff Luhnow looks for in college players. In his final season at Bradley, Tauchman hit .425, walked more than he struck out, and stole 28 bases. That's a pretty sharp track record of baseball skill, even at a small school. In his pro debut last year, Tauchman hit .297 with a .388 OBP with 20 steals.
Tyler Matzek, LHP, CA HS/ '09 draft(AAA)
Matzek's pro career has been one of many ups and downs, a struggle between his tantilizing stuff from the left side and his inability to harness his control. Drafted with the 11th pick in 2009, Matzek still hasn't reached the majors, and is just now starting to see the possibility of a major league promotion after a relative improvement in his control. Long story short, Matzek is now at Colorado Springs in the PCL, just a step away from the major league level. He's narrowed his BB/9 to 4.8 in 2013 and now to 4.3 in a short sample this season. Control is still an issue for Matzek and he won't ever realize the full potential that his stuff promises unless the walks decrease, but he still has a lot of value as a pitcher. I included Matzek here because he would be a perfect guy to stash in the Astros bullpen now and hope he can give some good innings there with the hope of figuring it out as a starter. And yet, I still doubt the Rockies would be willing to part with him, based on how close he is and how much they've invested in him over the years. Matzek is the pipe dream of this piece.