When you read about the pitching prospect the Cubs picked up yesterday from the Rangers, you’re probably going to see something like this:
“The Cubs acquired Barret Loux, the number six overall pick in 2010, from the Rangers.”
That is a sentence designed to make you very excited, but it is, unfortunately, a touch misleading. There’s a whole lot more we need to say about Loux (pronounced like loud with an x at the end) to appropriately quantify our true excitement.
First, tempering the excitement.
Although Loux was selected sixth in 2010, he was not necessarily believed at that time to be a top 10 talent. He was a big-time college pitcher, that’s true, but he was thought to be pretty signable (indeed, most believe he had an underslot, pre-Draft deal in place). Then, when the Diamondbacks discovered serious labrum and elbow issues, and when they looked ahead to the 2011 Draft, they decided to play hardball with Loux, and he went unsigned. When he was declared a free agent in November 2010, he signed with the Rangers for just $312,000. Keep in mind, free agency drives prices up, not down, because you can negotiate with the entire field of teams, rather than solely the one that drafted you. In other words, at the time he was finally signed, Loux’s value was not seen as anything close to a first rounder.
Further, when you read opinions on Loux from scouts, you get a fairly well-defined picture: has a fastball with some sink that sits in the low-90s, and has average secondary stuff that needs work. His upside is that of a back-end starter in the big leagues. None of that is the profile of a first round pick, which is understandable given that he lost some three or four MPH off of his fastball thanks to the shoulder/elbow injuries that scared the Diamondbacks off in the first place. He trailed off a bit in the second half in 2012, and spent some time on the DL with “fatigue.”
That all said, there are plenty of reason to be excited about Loux as a legit prospect.
First things first: his numbers in his two years of professional ball have been damn good. Obviously numbers don’t tell you the whole story (especially in a small sample size), but they’re a start. And Loux’s are very good: 3.62 ERA, 1.275 WHIP, 3.03 K/BB in 236 innings.
Physically, he’s a big guy – 6’5″ and 215 pounds. He’s just 23, and has only two years of professional experience, so there is still room for development.
Most scouts see Loux as the better prospect, between he and a healthy Brigham. Not everyone feels that way, obviously, but even those who see Brigham as the better prospect seem to acknowledge that they’re in the same range, and both are legit (though not top) prospects. In some ways, it depends on how you like your prospects: Loux has the better chance of sticking as a starter, while Brigham (when healthy) throws a bit harder and gets more swings and misses. But he’s got control issues that, so far, Loux doesn’t have.
You’ve also got to consider why this deal is happening. Apparently, when the Cubs and Rangers made their Geovany Soto deal, which sent the Cubs Brigham and a PTBNL (on which the Cubs are still waiting, by the way), they had a gentleman’s agreement to revisit the deal if Brigham’s elbow should give him problems. He was shut down after just two starts with the Cubs, so this trade is actually just the Rangers making things right. (Good on them, by the way.) And, here’s the thing: the Rangers have always liked Brigham. So the fact that the Cubs swapped a broken fringey arm for Loux shouldn’t be a signal to you that Loux is worthless. This is actually just the Rangers subbing Loux in for Brigham, which means that Loux is believed to be in the same range of prospect-dom as a healthy Brigham, which is to say he’s a legit prospect.
As far as where Loux fell on prospect lists, unfortunately the Rangers’ lists, for the most part, haven’t come out yet. MLB.com is the only post-season list on the Rangers I can find which includes Loux, and he comes in at number 18. As far as pre-2012, Loux was 25th on John Sickels’ list, but he didn’t crack any of Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, or FanGraphs’ lists. It’s fair to say his stock is up slightly since then, but the 18 to 25 range is probably fair (and that’s obviously an extremely good and deep system). That’s also where he’d probably fall in the Cubs’ system right now, too. Still would have liked to have seen more for Soto, but that ship has long since sailed.
All in all, Loux is a quality, though not top, prospect. That he signed in 2010 means it’ll still be another couple years before the Cubs have to make a 40-man roster decision on him, so there’s plenty of time to see what he’s got. He’ll start 2013 either at AA Tennessee or AAA Iowa, but, even if it’s the former, it’s fair to guess that the Cubs would hope to see him at AAA at some point next year.