added 03/31/2017 by Bob Hulsey
With all the excitement about the upcoming 2017 season, it's always instructive to me to look back on 'how we got here'. I enjoy reminding the kool-aid drinkers that most of the top performers during the Jeff Luhnow era were those he inherited from the much-maligned Ed Wade. Aside from Will Harris, the All-Stars the Astros have sent to the American League side for the Midsummer Classic were Jose Altuve, Jason Castro and Dallas Keuchel - all holdovers from Wade.
But there's a positive side Luhnow and his decision scientists haven't received credit for and that's the fire sale of 2012 that discarded pricey veterans for a bunch of prospects, many of whom had their cup of coffee in the bigs and then faded away.
Check off the list: Kevin Chapman, Matt Dominguez, Asher Wojciechowski, David Rollins, Carlos Perez, Paul Owens, Robbie Grossman, Marc Knauss, L.J. Hoes. Roster fodder.
But the best has finally arrived and they will impact the 2017 season. Joe Musgrove came to Houston in the July 20, 2012 mega-deal where the Astros sent pitchers David Carpenter, J.A. Happ and Brandon Lyon to Toronto in return for veterans Francisco Cordero and Ben Francisco with minor leaguers Wojciechowski, Rollins, Perez and Kevin Comer. Cordero (0-3, 19.80 ERA) was a salary dump much the same way Brock Osweiler was for Cleveland. Francisco (.247, 0, 5) was flipped to Tampa Bay a month later. What Luhnow wanted were the prospects.
Wojciechowski was expected to be the key asset in the deal but his big league mark is 0-1 with a 7.16 ERA before he was claimed on waivers by Miami and signed as a free agent by Arizona.
Rollins was claimed in the 2014 Rule V draft and the lefthander has compiled a 1-2 record and 7.60 ERA in 31 relief appearances with the Mariners. He's been property of the Cubs, Rangers and Phillies this winter.
Perez was dealt to the Angels for Hank Conger in 2015 and I think the Astros would be happy to have him back. In 173 big league games, the catcher has batted .229 with nine homers while providing a 1.9 defensive WAR.
That leaves Musgrove who was a supplemental first-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2011 and was in rookie league when the trade was announced. The 24-year-old righthander from El Cajon, CA, was said to be the second-best prospect of the five prospects acquired but, we were warned, would take the longest to reach the majors.
Musgrove made his big league debut in August of last year and made 11 appearances, including ten starts. He posted a 4-4 record with a 4.06 ERA but impressed enough to win a starting rotation job for 2017.
Musgrove has a four-seam fastball that he can push into the mid-90s with rising action and a slider that bites into right-handed batters. He also works in a sinker, curveball and changeup. He has above-average control and must learn to avoid home runs (1.3 per 9 innings pitched) to make the next jump from fourth-starter material to second or third. Still, a 98 ERA+ means he’s already league average with room to become a solid front-line rotation piece.
The next day, the Astros dealt veteran Brett Myers to the Chicago White Sox for three minor league pitchers – Matt Heidenreich, Blair Walters and Chris Devenski. Heidenreich rose as high as AA Corpus Christi but is now back in the White Sox organization in the low minors trying to revive his career at age 26. Walters, a lefthander, rose as high as AAA Oklahoma City where he made one appearance. He's also back in the White Sox farm system after being claimed by the Braves in 2014.
Devenski, meanwhile, rose steadily through the Houston farm system. The righthander from Cerritos, CA, via Cal State-Fullerton, who will turn 27 on April 8th, put up a winning record during each year in the minors yet was left exposed twice in the Rule V draft before the Astros added him to the big league roster for 2016. Bounced between the rotation and the bullpen, Devenski became the long relief man. He finished with a 4-4 record and 2.16 ERA in 48 games, earning him fourth place in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting.
His fastball rests in the low 90s but his slider sits in the low 80s which provides a noteworthy speed differential that forces hitters to commit early on which pitch they think is coming. Devenski showed amazing control with 20 walks in 108 innings. His 0.914 WHIP was one of the top marks in the majors.
Andrew Miller with Cleveland showed in last year's postseason the value of a reliever who could toss multiple relief innings in late situations. Devenski is a perfect candidate for this type of role if A.J. Hinch wants to turn away from his bullpen group of Luke Gregerson, Harris and Ken Giles. However, Devenski may prove more valuable as a starter if other rotation options fail to pan out.
Back when Luhnow was crafting the trades with Toronto and Chicago back in 2012, a lot of names were surely bandied about. Numbers were crunched and projections made. One could say that Wojciechowski and Heidenreich failed to live up to the expectations of the trade but they made up for it reaching deep into the farm systems to find Musgrove and Devenski.
If you want to look at it this way, the fruits of the Luhnow strip down are Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, Alex Bregman, A.J. Reed, Jake Marisnick, Musgrove and Devenski. Should they ever reach the majors, you could add Kyle Tucker, Daz Cameron and Francis Martes to that list. Just how big an impact these players will make remains to be seen but they are expected to play big roles for the Astros in 2017 and beyond.