At least every few weeks, when I sit down to write these profiles, it seems like I’m writing about an outfielder.
Granted, the Astros do have something of an outfield logjam at the higher levels of the minors, so it makes sense.
But this week’s Space Cowboys player profile sees us writing about another outfielder - this one who has been wallowing a bit due to injuries and the aforementioned logjam, but still has a few tools that are worth mentioning alongside a few that might cause some concern for his future in the Houston organization.
So without further, let’s dig into 26-year-old Space Cowboys outfielder Marty Costes, who returned to the Space Cowboys from the injured list on July 6.
The Astros originally selected Costes in the 25th round of the 2017 draft following a junior season at the University of Maryland where he hit .322 with a .977 OPS. However, he chose to return to Maryland for his senior year, hit just .235 with a .756 OPS. And despite those senior struggles, the Astros again took Costes, this time in the 22nd round, in the 2018 draft.
At the moment, this 26-year-old possesses a skillset that has a few positives, but also some glaring negatives that give me a little bit of pause as to his ability to contribute in the future, though he has been invited to Spring Training with the club in West Palm Beach each of the last few seasons.
Let’s start with the positives – because Costes definitely has several aspects to his game which the Astros covet.
To begin, the bat-to-ball skills are undeniable. Costes has long shown the ability to put the ball in play – obviously a prerequisite for most any major league career – with a career strikeout rate of just 15.3 percent. For reference, that would be just slightly higher than Jose Altuve’s rate of 14.6 percent – not a big number at all.
Next, there’s the plate discipline – which goes somewhat hand-in-hand with the low strikeout rate, since swinging at higher-quality pitches in the strike zone significantly increases a batter’s ability to make contact. And Costes has coaxed a walk at an 11.4 percent rate in his minor league career, drawing 113 walks in 989 plate appearances in four minor league seasons.
So, it’s clear that Costes has a good idea of the strike zone, which is a solid foundation for any baseball player. However, just making contact is not enough, especially in Major League Baseball and even at the higher levels of the minors. It needs to be consistent high-quality contact – and that is where I believe Costes’ game leaves much to be desired.
One of the first things that stands out is that while Costes makes a lot of contact, it is not often optimal contact. He has a career 51.2 percent rate of ground balls – the least likely type of batted ball to result in a base hit – out 664 career batted balls, according to Fangraphs. This year’s MLB average is 44.9 percent, for a rough comparison. The fly ball rate of 29.2 percent would be better than MLB average (23 percent, though the lack of publicly available exit velocity data makes it hard to discern whether those are being hit with any authority). And finally, the low line drive rate (19.6 percent) further drives home my questions, as a hard-hit line drive typically has the highest chances to be a base hit.
Simply put, Costes knows how to put the ball in play. But unless he has a late-blooming revelation on elevating the baseball on a more consistent basis to pair with the contact rate, I simply cannot see him putting together much major league time.
Between the existing depth in the outfielder in the Astros’ farm system and highly-touted 2022 draftees such as Drew Gilbert and Jacob Melton, I honestly find it hard to see Costes being able to do anything that makes him stand out enough to crack a major league roster in Houston – especially when coupled with the aforementioned batted ball profile which does not mesh well with the Astros’ current philosophy.
So ultimately, I think Costes’ future lies in an organization other than Houston. He will be a minor league free agent after next season. However, he is still just 26 years old. And I’m willing to bet there will be at least a few teams out there who would be willing to take a flier on him with his speed, plate discipline, and bat-to-ball skills.