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Astros Minor League Review: Lancaster Jethawks LHP Colton Cain

Colton Cain was one of the pieces acquired in the Wandy Rodriguez trade. Cain was a highly touted prep arm heading in to the 2009 draft, and it took an above slot offer from Pittsburgh to lure the Texas native away from his University of Texas commitment. So just how did Colton Cain perform in his second full season in pro-ball.

As the review of the Lancaster Jethawks marches on today we will take a look at left-handed pitcher Colton Cain. Before we get into how Cain performed this season for the Jethawks let’s first take a look at his past and how he’s performed up to this point. There was a lot of hype surrounding Cain heading into the 2009 draft, but do to a strong commitment to the University of Texas he fell to the eighth round where he was snagged by the Pirates. It took an above slot deal of $1.125 million to lure Cain away from Texas about a week before the signing deadline. Reports on his stuff were that he threw hard for a lefty and his curve flashed potential, but his changeup was a work in progress. He didn’t make his professional debut that season, and had back surgery in the offseason which delayed his professional debut until the latter half of the 2010 season in rookie ball.

Though his velocity was reportedly down from what it was prior to being drafted Cain still had an impressive debut in short-season ball. He made his full season debut in 2011, and though he didn’t dominate he still put up respectable numbers. He pitched 106.1 innings that season and had an ERA of 3.64 with a 2.6 BB/9 and a 6.9 K/9. Fatigue reportedly set in towards the end of that season and he was moved to the bullpen. He was shut down after five unsuccessful relief outings which skewed his overall statistics slightly. That catches us up to this season where Cain started in the Pittsburgh Pirates system at the High-A level.

Cain pitched 75 innings in the Pirates system and posted a mediocre ERA of 4.20 while recording only 51 strikeouts while walking 25. This led to the Pirates deciding to part ways with the young pitcher who they invested heavily in and once had high hopes for as he was packaged with Robbie Grossman and Rudy Owens in a trade to the Houston Astros to obtain lefty Wandy Rodriguez. He was assigned to the Lancaster Jethawks which isn’t quite the ideal place a pitcher would like to go to try and get back on track.

He pitched a total of 35.2 innings for the Jethawks and continued to struggle posting an ERA of 5.55 and an FIP of 5.00. His strikeout rate remaining about the same at 6.31 K/9, but his walk rate jumped up to 4.54 BB/9 with the Jethawks. He was more hittable in his time with the Jethawks as he went from allowing 8.16 hits per nine innings in the Pirates organization to allowing 10.35 hits per nine innings with the Jethawks. Though he did allow quite a few hits in Lancaster only nine of them went for extra bases (5 doubles, 4 homeruns.)

Cain’s biggest struggles this season came against right-handed hitting. He was solid against lefties and posted a 3.54 FIP with Bradenton (Pittsburgh’s High-A affiliate) in 23.1 innings pitched, and a 3.14 FIP in 16 innings pitched for the Jethawks. It was a different story against righties though as he posted a 5.45 FIP in 51.2 innings pitched with Bradenton and a 6.56 FIP in 19.2 innings with the Jethawks. Of the 14 homeruns he allowed this season all but one came against right-handed hitting.

That’s it in a nutshell. Cain’s 2012 campaign was disappointing one and he was unable to build upon a solid though unimpressive full season debut. Even though his total innings pitched only increased from 106.1 last season to 110.2 this season he was healthy for the most part and only missed a few starts in May. Heading into his draft year he was a lefty with nice low-nineties velocity with a solid frame to add a little more, but questions surrounded his off-speed stuff. Three years later those questions still remain as his curveball still flashes potential at times but is inconsistent, and he still hasn’t developed a feel for his changeup. In addition to this his fastball velocity also remains inconsistent. Still at age 21 this season he still has plenty of time to improve. Though it’s not the ideal situation he could repeat High-A ball this season with the Jethawks in an effort to get on the right track. He was the lottery ticket of the Wandy Rodriguez trade and even though the odds may be stacked against them it would be nice to see Jeff Luhnow and the Astros win big on Colton Cain.