The Astros 2011 waiver claim of Harrell has already paid dividends. (Photo Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports)

Out of Options: Houston Astros (Harrell, Martinez, Maxwell, Wright)

Continuing my quest to scour all the players in various MLB camps that are out of options, we come to the Houston Astros. Not only are they rebuilding in an attempt to recapture the glory of the not-so-distant past, they are also transitioning to the American League West where they will play for the first time in 2013. Given that they are a team in flux on many levels, and considering they have made a sizable number of trades in recent seasons to acquire far more players than they have dealt away, Houston has seven players in camp that are out of minor league options. If they don’t make the Astros Opening Day roster, they will be available. If that happens, would any of these seven be a viable addition to the Kansas City Royals?

Let’s find out by taking a look at the last four on Houston’s list (for part the first three, click here).

Lucas Harrell

Harrell was the 4th round pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2004. His path to the majors was delayed by shoulder problems that robbed him of the entire 2007 season as well as parts of the 2006 and 2008 campaigns. Harrell made his major league debut in 2010 with Chicago but found himself on waivers at the beginning of July 2011. He was claimed by the Astros in short order and turned in the best minor and major league performances of his career the rest of the season. Last year he made 32 starts for Houston and wound up with a 3.76 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and 140 SO in 193.2 innings pitched. Harrell enters 2013 as the defacto “ace” for the Astros and by extension the 27-year old Missouri native is a lock to make the team’s Opening Day 25. It will be interesting to see how he handles facing AL batters for an entire year, but even with KC’s revamped rotation he’d be worth a look by Dayton Moore and the Royals if he inexplicably hits the market. After all his 106 ERA+ last season would have been second in the rotation behind only Jeremy Guthrie (for starters that threw more than 50 innings in Kansas City anyway).

Fernando Martinez

Martinez is already seven years into his professional career after the Mets signed him out of the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2005. For five straight seasons (2005-2009) he was a top-5 prospect in the Mets sysem and in 2010 checked in at #8. He also cracked Baseball America’s Top-100 four times (2006-2009) peaking at #20. A 0.281/.339/.454 hitter in 2,130 minor league PA, Martinez hit 0.237/.300/.466 in 41 games with Houston last year. All three of his slash stats represented career highs in the majors, but to put things into context he only played in 47 games with the Mets from 2009-2011. Like Harrell, Martinez was a 2011 waiver claim for Houston and he may pay big dividends if they can keep the injury bug away from him. 2012 was the first year of his professional career that he played in more than 100 games (131) which is a great sign for the 24-year old outfielder but all the injuries have taken their toll. He’s currently listed at the top of Houston’s depth chart in RF and figures to take the field there when Opening Day rolls around. That said, he can play RF (and LF), is young and despite all the physical ailments he’s endured over the past seven seasons still has a good deal of upside and potential. To this writer, he sounds like a possible upgrade and replacement for Jeff Francoeur if the opportunity were to present itself.

Justin Maxwell

For all the trades the Astros have made over the last two seasons that have rightfully garnered a good amount of attention, they have quietly gone about maxing a series of shrewd waiver claims. One of those was Maxwell who was claimed off waivers from the Yankees at the beginning of April last season. He went on to hit 0.229/.304/.460 in 124 games with Houston and in addition to the slash stats the Nationals 2005 4th round pick hit 18 HR with 9 SB, 32 BB and 114 SO. Maxwell is capable of playing all three OF positions but is currently slotted to be the Astros starting CF this season. Like Martinez he’s battled injuries but when healthy has an enticing combination of above average power and speed. On defense Maxwell has a substandard arm but is otherwise an asset defensively. The primary question that follows him is whether he can make enough contact against major league pitching, but Houston is in a position to give him plenty of time to prove himself one way or another. It would be a surprise if he hit the market, but Maxwell is probably worth a look by the Royals if he does. That’s even though his arm does make him a bit ill suited to man RF.

Wesley Wright

A 2003 7th round pick of the Dodgers, the Astros acquired Wright via the Rule 5 Draft in December of 2007. From 2008-2010 the left-handed reliever allowed 79 ER in 133.1 IP leading to a 5.33 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. However he put together a career best season in 2012 with a 3.27 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 54-17 SO-to-BB in 52.1 innings of work. It was the first time in five major league seasons that SO/BB moved above 3.0 (3.18 to be exact). Wright also turned in a career best BB/9 (2.9) and HR/9 (0.7). Those rates were augmented by his H/9 (7.7) and SO/9 (9.3). With 77 appearances Wright led the Astros pitching staff and there is no question the team will again rely on him heavily in 2013. Now 28 years of age Wright will need to prove he can follow up his breakthrough season. Like the three players above, he’s a lock to make Houston’s Opening Day roster, but he’s different from the others from the standpoint that he wouldn’t be a viable option to crack the Royals 25.

Tags: Fernando Martinez Houston Astros Justin Maxwell Kansas City Royals Lucas Harrell Wesley Wright

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