Houston Astros: The Top 15 Hitting and Pitching Prospects
When Ed Wade took over for Tim Purpura late in the 2007 season, he found an old roster that was falling apart and a minor league system that was beyond terrible. In a scant four seasons, the roster has turned over and is still terrible. However, he has used the draft, international scouting and a few trades to begin building a farm system.
Today, we are looking at the fruits of that effort. We will look at the Top 15 position player prospects and the Top 15 pitching prospects. The only rule is that they if that have played in Houston they will not be counted. The funny thing about prospects is that one person's hot prospect is another person's garbage. So, I tried to stick with the folks that the Astros have high hopes for.
15. Kody Hinze
Kody Hinze was never thought of as a big-time prospect. He was not highly drafted, but he has hit everywhere he has played. Of course, this year he entered everyone's radar after hitting .323 and 22 home runs in Lancaster in little more than half the season.
He was called up to Corpus Christi where he returned to more modest production. Although he is long on production, he is not perceived as a good prospect because of his limited defensive ability and the fact that others have done well in Lancaster and later faltered.
15. Chia-Jen Lo
Chia-Jen Lo was one of the first international signees under Ed Wade. He had limited college experience, but his live arm was supposed to get him to the big leagues in a hurry. Well, something happened on the way to that dream. He has been on the shelf most of the last two years with injuries. He still has a live arm, so he could still turn it around if he can ever get healthy.
14. Ben Heath
Ben Heath was taken in the fifth round in 2010 (well ahead of fellow catcher Chris Wallace) and he seemed to be the fair-haired boy that season. He finished the year in AA and seemed to be on the fast track. In the year since he has taken a back seat to Wallace's power. What's more, he lags behind Wallace defensively as well. He stands in this list because the Astros are very thin at catcher and he has shown promise in the past.
14. Ross Seaton
Ross Seaton was a third-round pick in 2008 and it is clear the organization still thinks very highly of him. They continue to throw him out there despite some ugly results. He had a very good season in Lexington in 2009, but blew up in Lancaster. That is to be expected somewhat, but he returned this year to Corpus Christi and still struggled. This year he will likely return there and must begin to show some promise or he may find himself out of the organization.
13. Jon Gaston
Jon Gaston was the seventh-round pick in 2008 and immediately impressed in 2009 by leading all minor leaguers with 35 home runs and 119 runs scored. Unfortunately, those came at Lancaster where it is very easy to hit. Since then, Gaston has been very pedestrian. He spent the last two seasons at AA where he didn't hit for average, didn't hit for power and struck out a lot. He needs to start doing something or he will be gone.
13. Adrian Houser
Adrian Houser was taken in the second round of this past draft. With all of the attention being paid to George Springer and Jack Armstrong Jr., he slid into the background. It's probably a good thing as he went a combined 2-4 with a 4.30 ERA in 47 minor league innings this season. He did strike out 44 hitters, so the stuff is there. He just needs to harness it.
12. Jay Austin
Jay Austin was the second-round pick in 2008 and it is easy to see what the Astros saw in Austin when they took him. He stole 53 bases in Lancaster in 2010 and has shown speed at his other spots.
Unfortunately, he has struggled to steal first base. He hasn't mustered an OBP better than .320 and that is particularly bad for someone with little power. Still, he is a plus defender and can wreak havoc on the basepaths, so the Astros won't give up on him yet.
12. Tanner Bushue
The official Astros website has Tanner Bushue rated as the seventh best prospect in the Astros system. That seems a little too high to me. There are some positives to be sure. He has an excellent strikeout to walk ratio and his FIP is considerably lower than his ERA. However, he has one of the highest home run rates among the pitchers on our list and he hasn't even made it to Lancaster yet. If he pitches there this year it could get really ugly really fast.
11. Michael Kvasnicka
Michael Kvasnicka was taken in the sandwich round of the 2010 draft. In other words, he was one of the two players the Astros selected after letting Jose Valverde go. Kvasnicka was moved to third base, but has committed 40 errors in only 141 games at the position.
He can also catch and play some first base as well. He is a polished hitter, but he has not shown the same power that he showed in college. It may develop yet and if it does he will be a good prospect.
11. Nicholas Tropeano
Nicholas Tropeano was a fifth-round selection in this year's draft. He represents a significant deviation from the Astros' normal scouting. He throws only 86 miles per hour, but has a devastating changeup. He had been compared to Dallas Keuchel when he was drafted, but Kirk Saarloos is a more apt comparison. Saarloos didn't stick with the Astros, but had several good years with the Oakland Athletics.
10. Jiovanni Mier
Jiovanni Mier was the first-round selection in the 2009 draft. He had a solid debut in short season ball, but has struggled the last two years in full season action. His conditioning and his defense has improved in that time, but the hitting just hasn't come around. He should start in Lancaster next season and hopefully the hitter friendly environment will jump start his career.
10. Josh Zeid
As it turns out, Josh Zeid will forever be known as the throw in in the Hunter Pence deal. As throw ins go, he is pretty darn good. In reality, this is one of those instances where the Astros hope to be buying low. Zeid throws in the 90s and has decent secondary pitches, but went through a rough 2011 campaign. Yet, when you look at the numbers you see he deserves a lot better.
9. Telvin Nash
Telvin Nash probably most closely resembles Pedro Serrano from Major League. In the scouting world, they call these players three-outcome hitters. They either hit a home run, strike out or draw a walk. Of course, that is always an exaggeration, but he is that kind of hitter.
He is young and can draw a free pass. The club is mesmerized by his prodigious power. The difficulty is that it hasn't translated into live action too often.
9. Jason Stoffel
Henry Sosa has certainly gotten more attention since he has finished the year in the Astros' rotation. However, management always saw Stoffel as the key guy in the deal. He is only 22 (reason he ranks above Zeid) and is extremely similar to Josh Zeid. He tantalizes with his cartoonish strikeout rate, but also walks a few more hitters than he should. If he harnesses that stuff he could be up by midseason in 2012.
8. Austin Wates
I know you are getting tired of hearing it, but Austin Wates is yet another prospect with a lot of athletic tools. The difference between him and the other athletic specimens is that he is actually showing some hitting skills as well. As you might imagine (by looking at the picture), he will likely never be a prodigious power hitter, but he appears to have enough power to keep teams honest. His contact ability and developing approach might make him an ideal leadoff man.
8. Dallas Keuchel
Dallas Keuchel is a stereotypical lefty. He doesn't throw very hard, but nothing he throws is straight. Of prospects with at least 100 innings, he has the lowest walk rate in the system (tied with Jake Buchanon). His K rate may seem a bit low, but as long as he keeps the ball in the ballpark and keeps his walk rate down, he has a chance to stick.
7. Ariel Ovando
Paul Bear Bryant once said that potential means, "they ain't done nothing yet." Baseball is a different animal. The Astros paid Ovando the largest signing bonus in franchise history until this year's draft. So, he has to be on this list. Scouts see him as being a Darryl Strawberry type of player. Astros fans will be dancing in the streets if that is true. He played his first professional ball at 17 this season. The results you see below are in limited action.
7. Vincent Velasquez
Vincent Velasquez was off to a brilliant start last season when he came up with a bum elbow. He had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and should be back 100 percent in 2012. He was the second-round pick in 2010's draft, so they think very highly of him. Given his solid performance in short season ball we should feel pretty good too.
6. Chris Wallace
Chris Wallace is the prospect equivalent of the little engine that could. He was taken in the 16th round (the lowest round selection of the prospects listed here) but all he has done is hit and play a solid catcher. He may not have the offensive numbers as some of the other prospects, but there is more of a chance to catch on at catcher with Jason Castro coming back from an ACL tear.
6. Jack Armstrong
Those of you that watched the Astros for a long time will recognize the name Jack Armstrong. He used to be a thorn in our side back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Funny how time flies by. Like most sons of big leaguers, Armstrong Jr. is stronger than his old man and he throws harder too. He has been clocked between 96 and 98 MPH. Unfortunately, his late signing and injury woes at Vanderbilt enticed the team to wait on his debut.
5. Delino Deshields Jr.
Delino Deshields Jr. is a similar player as his father. Scouts project him to have more power than his old man, but his game will be built around speed. 2011 was his first full season playing professional ball, but it was a struggle. Still, he will be 20 in 2012, so there is plenty of time for him to develop. He is already improving defensively. 2012 should show a lot of progress as he gets used to the grind of playing everyday.
5. Jake Buchanon
Jake Buchanon was the pitcher of the year in the Astros minor league system. That kind of recognition goes a long way. According the Houston Chronicle, Buchanon was the first Lancaster pitcher to have a sub 4.00 ERA since Brandon Webb. That's a long time. When he was called up to Corpus Christi he was even better. He doesn't have the pedigree that the other studs have, but performance is performance.
4. George Springer
George Springer officially made his pro debut, but we will not put up his numbers because he played in less than 10 games. He was called the best athlete in the draft, but some teams were scared away by some swing mechanics issues. Still, Springer added power, speed and patience together at the University of Connecticut. He appears to be the whole package.
4. Michael Foltynewicz
The Astros were thrilled when they drafted Foltynewicz and signed him early. The only club official that isn't thrilled is the tailor. The tailor probably had a nervous breakdown when they selected Michael Kvasnicka with the next pick. Foltynewicz has shown good poise on the mound, but next year he is slated to go to Lancaster. How he fares there will go a long way in determining whether he will be a top-notch prospect.
3. Domingo Santana
The theme continues with Domingo Santana. He is immensely talented. He has power to spare and looks to be able to run as well. Those that watch him in batting practice wow about his ability to hit it out of the yard to all fields.
Like most of the guys here, he hasn't shown it yet on the diamond. At least, he didn't show it in the Phillies' system. Santana went to Lancaster and immediately went nuts. Lancaster is hardly a neutral run scoring environment, but hopefully seeing results will get him going.
3. Paul Clemens
Paul Clemens wasn't one of the prime prospects for the Braves, but he has been a solid prospect. Brett Oberholtzer ranks higher because he has performed better and is two years younger. Yet, Clemens throws harder, so he could end up being a back of the rotation guy or a late-inning reliever before it is all said and done. Either way, he could be up as soon as 2012.
2. Jonathan Villar
In order to keep things in perspective, we should point out that Jonathan Villar committed 116 errors in 337 games at shortstop. In a 162-game season that would amount to almost 60 errors. Scouts say he is getting better and that he makes the impossible play look merely good. If he could only make the easy play.
Villar has power and speed to burn, but plate discipline is a huge issue. He is still very young, but one of these days the Astros are going to have someone that is more than a tease.
2. Brett Oberholtzer
He's two years younger than Paul Clemens and quite frankly he's a better pitcher right now. His numbers once he got to Corpus Christi looked bad on the surface, but his peripheral numbers point to more success. He likely will start in Oklahoma City next year and could be a member of the rotation by the end of the 2012 season.
1. Jonathan Singleton
Jonathan Singleton is one of the few prospects that combines impressive physical tools with actual production. His power numbers aren't there yet, but power usually is the one thing you can count on coming with age. His on base skills are excellent for someone that can't legally drink yet. He will likely go up to Corpus Christi next season which means he could be the Astros' regular first baseman by 2013.
1. Jarred Cosart
Jarred Cosart could be the Astros' ace as early as 2013. When he was in the Futures game he routinely hit 96, 97 and 98 on the gun. He has a good curve and a developing changeup. Even without the change he should be a good starter for a number of seasons. If the changeup is good enough to keep hitters honest, he could be an All-Star.