Friday, May 23, 2014

The Ghosts of Astros Past: The Matt Downs Edition

The Astros are in a rebuild.  The tear down is complete, and the build-up is on.  For the last few years, the Astros have been cycling through players, trying to find which are the effective ML players, and who can be discarded.  In this series (inspired by Wandy Rodriguez), we have a quick look at released or traded ex-Stros to see how they have done since their Astros career finished.  We examine whether any legitimate talent has exited the Astros organisation.

Russell Matt Downs was first drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 25th round of the 2003 amateur draft out of Shelton State Community College.  He did not sign, returned to school at the University of Alabama, and was subsequently drafted in the 36th round of the 2006 draft by the San Francisco Giants.  He appeared mostly as a pitcher and occasional infielder as an amateur.  He never pitched as a professional.

Downs remained in the Giants system until August 2010 whereupon he was claimed off waivers by the Houston Astros.  He played in the Astros system for until he was granted Free Agency at the conclusion of the 2012 season.

Downs had an unusual minor-league career.  After being drafted in 2006 by the Giants, he went to Rookie ball in the Arizona League.  He was a little old for the level (nearly two years), but he had a solid triple-slash line, hitting .310/.373/.452 in 196 plate appearances.  He struck out only 9 times, and walked 17 times.  He was promoted to Lo-A the following (2007) year, and again hit solidly (.338/.410/.537) in 336PA, but was also nearly two years old for that level.

Downs opened 2008 in Hi-A, where he recorded 489 plate appearances, batting .304/.357/.494 in the offence-friendly California League.  That was good enough for Downs to skip AA, and head to Fresno in the PCL for the last 22 plate appearances of the 2008 season.  In 2009, he opened the year at AAA Fresno, recorded 424 at-bats, and batted a solid .300/.343/.491.  He walked 25 times, but struck out 58 times.  He hit 14 home runs.

Note is made that, during the 2009 season, Downs was 1.6 years younger than the average player.  This solid AAA season earned him a late call-up with the Giants, where he recorded a .170/.250/.264 triple-slash in 60 plate appearances.

Downs' 2010 season was spent shuttling between AAA Fresno (where he recorded 228 PA, resulting in a .254/.348/.416 line) and the Giants, where he batted .244/.318/.372 in 88PA.  He was DFA'd in August of 2010, whereupon he was claimed by the Astros.  He shuttled between AAA Oklahoma City and Houston (compulsorily spending 10 days in the minors after being claimed), where he recorded identical .105 batting averages in each setting, spending time as a utility infielder and very occasional outfielder.

In 2011, Downs was given a decent look, remaining in the Majors for the whole year.  He recorded a solid .276/.347/.518 line in 222 PA's, good for a 137 OPS+.  He hit 10 home runs, and garnished a reputation for being clutch, which included two game-winning hits off the Reds' Nick Masset.  He led the Majors with 15 pinch-hit RBI's.  He was worth 1.2 fWAR that season, and things were looking good for the by-now-27-year-old.

However, Downs regressed in 2012, struggling to a .202/.253/.371 line in 191 PA in the majors.  He was demoted to AAA Oklahoma, where he also struggled (.267/.343/.389 in 102 PA).  He was subsequently granted free agency at the end of the year.

Downs signed a minor-league deal with the Marlins for the 2013 year, where he was assigned to AAA.  He took the field as a utility player in part-time duty, and recorded 301 PA for the 2013 year.  His line was less than impressive: .215/.282/.359 for a 65wRC+.

At the conclusion of 2013, he was released and opted to retire, despite apparent interest from a number of clubs.  As an interesting side-note, he was a witness to Tino Martinez's enthusiastic coaching practises whilst in Miami.  He remains retired at this time.

Despite Matt Downs' apparently unremarkable Major League career, he did pretty darn well for a 36th round draft pick.  His career fWAR stands at +0.6.  That said, the Astros released him at the right time, and did not live to regret their decision.