Phils' Prospects Not Helping In Houston - Yet

When the Phillies dealt for Billy Wagner last November, we all figured that nine months later, Wagner would be near the top of the league in saves and the Phillies pennant stretch would be well under way. We also figured that we would all forget who we gave up to get Wagner and that it didn't matter because the system was deep in pitching. Now, with the system spread thinner by trades, it's not a bad time to remember just what we gave up for Billy The (injured) Kid.

Last fall, with a minor league organization overflowing in good young pitching, it seemed easy to deal Brandon Duckworth, Taylor Buchholz and Ezequiel Astacio for Billy Wagner. After all, there were plenty more where they came from. Now, a few trades later, we're all wondering about just how much of that overflow of talent is left.

Brandon Duckworth hasn't proven himself to be a major league caliber pitcher yet. He's put up good AAA numbers again (4-3, 4.24 10 starts), but when he was in the majors, he was the same Brandon Duckworth that struggled with the Phillies. The Astros had Duckworth in the majors long enough to make six starts in 15 appearances and he went 1-2, 6.75 before getting a ticket back to New Orleans and the rigors of AAA baseball.

The fact is that Duckworth could potentially still become a decent major league pitcher, but it's doubtful. Had he been in Philadelphia this season, at most, he would have been working out of the bullpen and would have likely been shuttling back and forth between the majors and AAA, much like Geoff Geary has done this season. He may have also played the role that Elizardo Ramirez – another lost prospect – played when the Phillies pitching staff started to fall apart.

Taylor Buchholz has spent the full season at AAA New Orleans with not so great results. Buchholz (6-7, 5.34) in 17 starts has had a tough time adjusting to the AAA landscape. Still, he's young enough and has enough talent that with another season in AAA, he may still develop. The Phillies didn't figure that he would be ready for the majors much before 2006. The Astros are working with Buchholz to pitch a little more inside this season, but his control has stayed strong, walking 29 in 96 innings, while striking out 72.

While Duckworth and Buchholz are still potential major leaguers in waiting, the real loss may wind up being Ezequiel Astacio. The Astros have kept Astacio at AA Round Rock all season and he hasn't been dominating, but the Astros like what they see. At first glance, his 10-10 record for a team that is 25 games over .500 doesn't look too good, but look closer. Astacio has posted a 4.02 ERA in 25 starts and he has struck out 167 in 156 2/3 innings for the Express and opponents are hitting just .237 off of him. His problem has been isolated streaks of wildness. Although he has walked 48 – not a horrible number – he has hit seven hitters and has uncorked ten wild pitches. At times, he's right on, and at other times, it's a struggle. The 23 year old Astacio could well be moved to a closer's role at some point in the future, which is something the Phillies always kept in the back of their mind as well.

While the loss of Duckworth, Buchholz and Astacio aren't the worst losses of prospects this season for the Phillies, they are part of the issue. With the loss of other pitching prospects like Alfredo Simon and Elizardo Ramirez just to mention a couple, the Phillies really have strained the ranks of their young pitchers. There are still a number of pitching prospects to watch and the Phillies absolutely refused to even consider dealing either of their top two prospects, Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd.

For now, the deal between the Astros and Phillies seems to be a wash. Wagner has missed much of the season with various injuries and hasn't given the Phillies the closer that they thought they had. The Astros seemingly have nothing to show for the deal right now, but they did free up a lot of money that allowed them to pursue Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite. In that respect, you could give the upper hand to Houston, although those moves didn't do much for putting the Astros into the postseason chase. How different it all seemed for both teams just a few short months ago.

Philly Baseball Insider Top Stories