Fans of the Houston Astros looking for reasons to feel positive about the club's direction should look no further than the team's current minor league system.
General manager Jeff Luhnow and his staff have made a significant impact on the team's talent level in the minors in just a short period of time. The organization's 2012 draft class alone saw an infusion of promising young talent that's already making its way up the minor league ladder.
And while fans like to pile on former general manger Ed Wade for a lack of impact moves with the team during his time, his staff actually left the team stocked with more than a few talented young prospects who will be contributing big leaguers for the team down the line.
The future is bright for the Astros, and that's something fans should be happy to hear.
Here are five Houston Astros prospects fans should get to know in 2013.
The Houston Astros' first-round pick has seen a steady progression in the minor leagues since the organization selected him with the eighth overall pick in 2010.
Delino DeShields, Jr. posted huge numbers between two levels of Single-A ball. Hitting leadoff most of the year, DeShields posted an impressive line of .298/.401/.439 to go with 10 home runs and 101 stolen bases.
If it weren't for Billy Hamilton (Cincinnati Reds prospect) stealing the spotlight (literally) and setting the Minor League Baseball record with 155 stolen bases this year, DeShields' 101 steals would've received more recognition from the industry.
He's one of the fastest players in the minors, and he should continue to be a five-tool contributor as he rises through the system.
There's a good chance the second baseman could spend most of the year at Double-A Corpus Christi in 2012. His defense could still stand to improve, and there's always a learning curve with the big jump to Double-A.
The 20-year-old could be ready to make an impact with the Astros by 2014. Speed translates immediately in the majors, and the team will need to infuse talent onto the big league club as soon as it's ready.
DeShields' progress has been a pleasant surprise for fans, and he should continue to be one of the prizes of the organization's farm system in 2013.
As far as upside goes, George Springer has the most of any prospect in the Houston Astros organization.
The center fielder killed pitching at Single-A Lancaster all year in 2012. His line of .316/.398/.557 to go with 22 home runs and 82 RBI was one of the most impressive power showings of any Houston farmhand.
The former Connecticut Husky has continued to display the five tools that made him the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft.
ESPN's Keith Law scouted Springer in the Arizona Fall League recently and had this to say (from ESPN Insider):
He's still got great bat speed, and he's holding his hands back and out, rather than in and tight as he did at UConn. He's an above-average runner with plus raw power, something he showed with a long opposite-field homer off a right-hander in Mesa last week.
Springer is currently playing for Houston's Arizona Fall League affiliate, along with several of the organization's best prospects.
The Astros will likely start Springer at Double-A in 2013, but given his age (23) and advanced development so far, he could be promoted at some point next season.
Springer could see some September at-bats in Houston in 2013, but fans shouldn't expect him to make a significant impact with the Astros until 2014.
The organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year had a major bounce-back year after a rough 2011. Mike Foltynewicz was one of the best arms in the South Atlantic League in 2012.
In 27 starts (152 innings), Foltynewicz won 14 games with a 3.14 era. His strikeout numbers aren't off-the-charts impressive, but his mix of stuff projects very well to Major League Baseball.
Mark Anderson of Baseball Prospect Nation offers this updated scouting report on the right-hander:
Dramatically different profile than 2011 report. Simple, consistent delivery with improved poise and maturity on the mound. Good presence. Plus makeup with increased competitiveness. FB and CH are both quality pitches right now and should continue to gain consistency. Potential ground ball machine with those two pitches. CB lags behind and may come up a little short but will be usable. Durable frame with potential to fill out a little more. Could be an efficient innings eater that competes extremely well with solid stuff. Number three starter ceiling and a higher floor than existed in 2011.
It was discouraging for fans to see the organization's first-round pick from 2010 perform poorly to begin his professional career, so for Foltynewicz to re-establish himself as a serious prospect is significant.
The organization needs more pitching (who doesn't?), but this is a young arm that shouldn't be rushed through the minors.
Foltynewicz is further away from helping the Astros than most fans would like to hear, but patience with this arm should pay dividends down the road.
Nolan Fontana was drafted by the organization in the second round of the 2012 draft and immediately placed in Single-A Lexington.
The organization started Fontana at a higher level than most draftees, who usually find themselves in one of the short-season minor leagues.
General manager Jeff Luhnow and his staff thought so highly of the former Florida Gator, they didn't think twice about the major promotion.
“We took several young players that are going to take some time to develop, but we also wanted to complement that with some players we believed had the ability and the skills to move quickly, get to the big leagues quickly and help us out here in the near future,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “And that’s the expectation."
Those were Luhnow's exact words when speaking to Zachary Levine of the Houston Chronicle about drafting Fontana in June.
The shortstop is an advanced player defensively and is capable of working deep counts. His 44:65 strikeout-to-walk ratio is jaw-dropping and a testament to his eye in the batter's box.
Fontana will likely join the Astros' loaded Double-A affiliate to start 2013, but he probably shouldn't get too comfortable there. He'll likely be the first player from the 2012 draft class to reach the big leagues.
Aaron West is years away from making an impact with the Houston Astros, but fans should remember his name going forward.
General manager Jeff Luhnow and his scouts might have uncovered a hidden gem in this 17th round pick from last June's draft.
The former Washington Husky entered the organization without the buzz the team's top picks in June had, but after a few weeks into his professional career this summer, he made his presence known.
West's numbers in 12 starts? Six wins, a 2.04 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 61.2 innings. His 59:9 strikeout-to-walk ratio and .218 batting average against were particularly impressive.
West spoke about how he attacks hitters to Andrew H. Martin of HeraldNet.com:
"I have been working the most on my changeup," he said. "But my fastball has probably been my best pitch, in and out at the knees and up when I need it to (be up), My changeup is coming around, especially to lefties. I get it to dive away and help me keep them off balance."
The right-hander is notable because his ceiling is as high as any arm currently in the system. He could move up much quicker than most expect, and he has top-of-the-rotation type of stuff.
His 6'1" 205-pound frame and late-round draft status will remind Astros fans of the team's former great, Roy Oswalt.