Houston Astros: Trading Francis Martes wouldn’t be as bad as you think

Nov 5, 2016; Surprise, AZ, USA; West pitcher Francis Martes of the Houston Astros during the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 5, 2016; Surprise, AZ, USA; West pitcher Francis Martes of the Houston Astros during the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

The Houston Astros are on the prowl for another starting pitcher to add depth to their rotation. How much that will cost depends on who they bargain with and what they are bargaining for.

No one ever wants to part with what could be a future hall of famer for a temporary piece. The Houston Astros have been on the good side of that receiving Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen straight up. They’ve also been on the wrong side of it trading Joe Morgan who would go on to win two MVP awards in back to back seasons with the Cincinnati Reds.

But prospects are just that. Prospects.  The major league player you’re trading for has a track record. You know to a certain extent what you’re receiving. Hence multiple prospects being sent over for just this one player because you have no idea how prospects will do once they face off against the top talent in the game on a daily basis.

Francis Martes is the Astros number one prospect. General manager Jeff Luhnow has discussed having him pitch at some point this year, making it sound like Martes is not going to be considered in trade talks.

And there are plenty of rave reviews about him, all justified because when Martes is on, he’s unhittable. But his inconsistency and lack of control is a real source of concern.  Here is a list of his stat lines from starts this year at triple-A.

Looking at the list you can see he is quite boom or bust. The only consistent numbers you’ll see? Strikeouts and walks. He can make people whiff but he also really struggles to find the plate. Which is why you’ll see bizarre stat lines such as his second start of the year where he pitched four and a third innings with seven strikeouts, six walks and zero earned runs.

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Now those six walks were a season high, but here is a breakdown of the walks he’s issued in each of his starts this year.

  1. Three
  2. Six
  3. Three
  4. Three
  5. Four
  6. Four
  7. One
  8. Four
  9. Four

In 9 starts, only once has he thrown less than three walks. And if you think he’s just having a bad year, you’re wrong. He averages 3.5 Walks per 9 innings for his entire minor league career, which would be fine if he were 100-150 innings in. But this is over 353 innings, no longer a small sample size with growing pains. This consistent lack of control is disconcerting.

Martes’ ceiling is considered frontline starter. However he also profiles very much like Neftali Feliz, who was considered an ace in the making back when he was a young pup. While Neftali Feliz was slimmer, his pitching repertoire is identical to Martes. Consistently mid-high 90’s fastball with a power curveball and change up as his third pitch.

Martes can clearly blow the ball by people, as evidenced by his 38 strikeouts in 32 and one third innings this season.  But when you constantly are putting people on base with walks, you’re constantly having to rely on the strikeout to get you out of jams.

This leaves you vulnerable to the big inning when someone does put the ball in play. And if you can’t find the plate with runners on base, you may just start trying to throw it hard as you can down the middle and rely on your heat to get by.

And yes you can have starts where you walk six but give up zero runs like his second start of the year because of your strikeout ability, but you can also have starts like the one that followed where you give up eight hits, four earned runs, three walks and two strikeouts.

Great stuff is nothing without control. Just ask Rick Ankiel (Low blow I know. But you get my point.)

It’s not easy to give up your number one prospect. But if the Astros do trade Martes, that would make the level of talent we have to give up after him much lower. And if we can get a top tier talent like Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer or Jose Quintana, it would be well worth the loss. Prospects can lose their luster quickly.

Related Story: Recent Injuries Amplify Need For Another Starter

Remember how valuable AJ Reed was considered in 2015 after winning Minor League offensive player of the year? And now after 45 games in the majors, that shine has worn off a bit. Prospects are just that. Prospects. And when someone’s stock is high, it’s sometimes best to sell.