Houston Astros' Top 10 Prospects for 2015

Mike Rosenbaum@GoldenSombreroMLB Prospects Lead WriterJanuary 20, 2015

Houston Astros' Top 10 Prospects for 2015

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    The Astros' system took a hit last season with the graduations of George Springer and Jonathan Singleton to everyday players in the major leagues, and the organization’s failure to sign draft picks Brady Aiken and Jacob Nix cost them two of the class’ premier high school arms. Yet, it’s still a system that’s loaded with potential impact talent, from top to bottom.

    Top prospect Carlos Correa once again opened eyes with his bat last season, posting a .926 OPS with 20 stolen bases in 62 High-A games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in late June that required surgery. The 20-year-old has the makings of a future MVP candidate, and I have little doubt as to whether he’ll remain at shortstop.

    Mark Appel, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft, endured a rough year at High-A Lancaster, but the right-hander fared considerably better after a late-season promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi, and then ended his season on a positive note with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League.

    Outfielders Brett Phillips and Teoscar Hernandez both showcased a promising blend of power, speed and hitting ability last season at their respective levels, while Domingo Santana received his first taste of the major leagues.

    Hard-throwing right-handers Michael Feliz and Vince Velasquez both flashed their high ceilings in the lower minors, though the latter once again failed to stay healthy, while left-hander Josh Hader took home honors as the organization’s top pitcher.

    Meanwhile, Houston’s acquisition of third baseman Colin Moran from the Marlins shortly before last season’s trade deadline made fellow third-base prospect Rio Ruiz expendable, ultimately leading to him being moved along with right-handers Mike Foltynewicz and Andrew Thurman to the Braves for Evan Gattis in January.

    Here are the Houston Astros' top 10 prospects for the 2015 season.

How They're Ranked

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position Players

    • Body type/athleticism
    • Speed
    • Hitting mechanics, bat speed
    • Injury history
    • Statistical trends
    • Age vs. level: how well a player fared at a certain level relative to his age and that of the competition
    • Tools: number of projectable tools a player possesses in relation to his position, age and competition; present vs. future tool grades
    • Hit tool: In the evolution of the prospect landscape, the hit tool is the most importantbut also the hardest to project.
    • League and park factors
    • On-base skills: approach; strike-zone management; pitch recognition
    • Makeup/character
    • Defensive tools and skill sets; present vs. projected position
    • Place on organization's depth chart
    • Positional scarcity; up-the-middle potential 

    Pitchers

    • Body type/athleticism/strength
    • Mechanics: delivery; arm speed; release point
    • Age vs. highest level of experience
    • Injury history (durability)
    • Statistical trends
    • Arsenal quality and depth
    • Pitch projections: present vs. future grades
    • Hitability: How tough is he to barrel? Does he keep the ball on the ground/in the park?
    • Control/command: Is he usually around the zone? Does he effectively command his stuff? How much development/refinement is needed?
    • Pitchability: feel (and confidence) for using and sequencing entire arsenal
    • Approach: Does he fearlessly attack and challenge opposing hitters?  
    • Projection: Does he project as a starter? If so, what type? Or is he likely to be relegated to the bullpen? If so, why?

    Resources

Close Calls

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    Lance McCullers, RHP

    A.J. Reed, 1B

    Nolan Fontana, SS

    Tony Kemp, 2B

10. Derek Fisher, of

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    Position: OF

    DOB: 8/21/1993 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 6’1”, 207 lbs

    Bats/Throws: L/R

    Drafted: First round, 2014 (Virginia)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NR

    ETA: 2017

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5555554545

    Scouting Report

    After being selected with the No. 37 overall pick in last year’s draft, Fisher flashed his offensive upside in the Short Season New York-Penn League by batting .303/.386/.419 with 10 extra-base hits and 17 stolen bases in 41 games. Granted it was a relatively easy assignment for one of the college baseball’s better pure hitters, but Fisher also came off a long, grueling season that saw Virginia reach the College World Series.

    Fisher’s reputation as a prospect tease was furthered by his performance in the NYPL, as he showcased a very promising hit tool, as well as good speed, but failed to tap into the raw power that any scout who’s seen him hit knows is hiding in there, somewhere. The 21-year-old left-handed hitter has a quick, compact swing with plus bat speed, but his barrel path through the hitting zone is too linear and prevents him from creating leverage through contact.

    Fisher’s wheels could lead to him seeing time at multiple outfield spots early in his professional career, but his lack of range and fringy arm strength have him pegged for left field long term. However, it’s not a terrible idea to see what he has to offer in center, at least until his power emerges and makes him less of a tweener in left field.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (solid-average regular)Medium risk

9. Josh Hader, LHP

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    Position: LHP

    DOB: 4/7/1994 (Age: 20)

    Height/Weight: 6’3”, 160 lbs

    Bats/Throws: L/L

    Drafted: 19th round, 2012 by Orioles (Old Mill HS, Maryland)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 9 (Orioles)

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballSliderChangeupControl
    60455550

    Scouting Report

    Hader’s first full season as a member of the Astros netted him the organization’s Pitcher of the Year award, as well as top honors in the California League. Acquired from Baltimore at the 2013 trade deadline, Hader began the year at High-A Lancaster, where he posted a 2.70 ERA with 112 strikeouts against 38 walks and 76 hits in 103.1 innings. The 20-year-old left-hander struggled after moving up to Double-A Corpus Christi late in the season, however, as both his command and his ability to put away more advanced hitters were tested in the Texas League.

    Hader, at 6’3”, 160 pounds, is loaded with deception, as he’s rail thin with a low-ish arm angle and some crossfire to his delivery. The left-hander’s fastball reached the mid-90s more consistently this past season, sitting consistently in the 90-94 mph range, although his lack of durability prevented him from maintaining it deep into games. His changeup is his best secondary offering and helped him hold right-handed hitters to a .208/.310/.326 batting line last season, and he also throws a slider that flashes average but lacks consistency in terms of shape and pace.

    Hader’s command needs refinement and he’ll have to develop at least a serviceable breaking ball, but there’s something to be said for the 20-year-old left-hander’s success thus far.  

    Ceiling (OFP): 50 (No. 4 or 5 starter/long reliever)Medium risk

8. Domingo Santana, of

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    Position: OF

    DOB: 8/5/1992 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 6’5”, 225 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Signed: 2009 by Philadelphia (Dominican Republic)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 7

    ETA: Debuted in 2014

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    4555456050

    Scouting Report

    Santana received two cups of coffee with the Houston Astros last season, but he'll enter 2015 still in search of his first major league hit after going 0-for-17 with 14 strikeouts in 18 plate appearances. The 22-year-old fared much better at Triple-A Oklahoma City in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, batting .296/.384/.474 with 45 extra-base hits (16 home runs) and a career-best 12.5 percent walk rate in 513 plate appearances.

    While he’s struck out at an alarming rate (32.4 percent) over six minor league seasons, Santana still manages to make consistent contact and even improved his walk rate last year at Triple-A. His pitch recognition and approach are both a work in progress, but the natural ability is there to be a .250-plus hitter at maturity.

    Power will always be Santana’s calling card, as he’s tallied at least 12 home runs and 23 doubles in each of the last four seasons. His game obviously features too much swing and miss—he’s struck out at least 135 times in his last four seasons—but the plus raw power is real. Once he settles in at the highest level, the 6’5”, 225-pound right-handed hitter should be good for upward of 20 bombs.

    Santana’s size, athleticism and plus arm strength make him a perfect fit in right field, though his reads and routes require further refinement. The potential is there for multiple seasons with 20-plus home runs, but strikeouts likely will remain a problem during his career. That being said, Santana is still very young and will be given every opportunity to reach his potential.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (solid-average regular)High risk

7. Teoscar Hernandez, OF

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    Position: OF

    DOB: 10/15/1992 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 6’2”, 180 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Signed: 2011 (Dominican Republic)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NR

    ETA: Late 2016

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5050605555

    Scouting Report

    Assigned to High-A Lancaster for the 2014 season, Hernandez took advantage of the hitter-friendly environments of the California League to bat .294/.376/.550 with 58 extra-base hits, 75 RBI and 31 stolen bases in 96 games. The 22-year-old moved up to Double-A Corpus Christi for the final month of the season and held his own against older pitchers in the Texas League, with a .284/.299/.474 batting line and nine extra-base hits in 23 games.

    At 6’2” and 180 pounds, Hernandez has the potential to be a legitimate five-tool player, with his plus arm strength and defense in center field representing his strongest attributes at the present time. Those same tools could also support a move to either corner outfield position down the road, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t be allowed to stay up the middle for as long as possible.

    At the plate, the right-handed hitter has considerable swing-and-miss to his game, as evidenced by his 221 strikeouts in 185 games over the past two seasons. However, Hernandez’s quick bat and ability to make hard contact has allowed him to maintain a steady batting average during that time while also improving his in-game power frequency.

    I’m not completely sold on the 22-year-old’s potential to hit for average at the highest level. However, his potential to post 20-20 seasons at a premium position makes him a prospect to follow closely during the upcoming season.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (solid-average regular)High risk

6. Michael Feliz, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 6/28/1993 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 6’4”, 210 lbs.

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Signed: 2010 (Dominican Republic)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NR

    ETA: 2017

    2014 Stats

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballSliderChangeupControl
    65555050

    Scouting Report

    Feliz showed big stuff but struggled to command his arsenal in his highly anticipated 2014 full-season debut, as the 21-year-old registered a 4.03 ERA with 104 hits allowed and 37 walks against 111 strikeouts in 102.2 innings for Low-A Quad Cities. But for what it’s worth, Feliz’s ERA sat at 3.69 before his final two starts of the season.

    Feliz has a workhorse build at 6’4”, 210 pounds, but there’s also some effort to his delivery that prevents him from repeating a consistent release point and detracts from his overall control. That said, the right-hander still works comfortably in the low 90s with his fastball, and it’s easy to envision him sitting in the 94-97 mph range at maturity.

    Feliz’s slider is inconsistent but has at least solid-average potential, while his changeup projects as an average offering that might play up naturally with improved fastball command. The gap between Feliz's present and future is sizable, but there’s definitely a lot to like in the 21-year-old right-hander.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55/60 (No. 3 or 4 starter/late-inning reliever)High risk

5. Colin Moran, 3B

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    Position: 3B

    DOB: 10/1/1992 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 6’4”, 215 lbs

    Bats/Throws: L/R

    Drafted: First round, 2013 by Marlins (North Carolina)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 2 (Marlins)

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5545405550

    Scouting Report

    Drafted sixth overall in 2013 out of North Carolina, Moran spent most of 2014 playing in the Florida State League, where he batted .294/.342/.393 in 89 games but hit only five home runs. The 22-year-old was shipped off to Houston at last year’s non-waiver trade deadline in July as part of the deal for Jarred Cosart, and he finished the season by batting .304/.350/.411 with six doubles and two home runs in 28 games at Double-A Corpus Christi.

    A physically strong left-handed hitter, Moran features a smooth but not necessarily visually pleasing swing, creating excellent plane with the bat head through the zone, which, in turn, allows him to see the ball deep and use the entire field.

    Moran’s deep load with his hands makes him susceptible to good velocity on the inside half, but he has good plate coverage away and gets the barrel to pitches over the plate. He also rarely expands the zone or chases pitchers’ pitches, and his advanced pitch recognition should always result in lots of walks and a solid on-base percentage.  

    Moran lacks the raw power and power frequency typically associated with a corner infielder of his size, employing an upper-body and handsy swing that limits his lower-half use and impedes his ability to hit for consistent power. The only times he really turns on the ball with authority is against inner-half pitches from left-handed pitchers.

    As a below-average runner, Moran is in danger of having to move from third base if he loses a step. He shows moderate first-step quickness and fringy range at the hot corner, but he can make a play on anything within reach. His arm represents his strongest defensive tool and helps compensate for lack of range, as his clean-and-quick arm stroke generates crisp throws across the infield.

    Moran has the potential to move quickly through Houston’s system, but don’t expect him to be rushed to the major leagues if the power isn’t there.

    Ceiling (OFP): 50 (major league regular)Medium risk

4. Brett Phillips, of

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    Position: OF

    DOB: 5/30/1994 (Age: 20)

    Height/Weight: 6’0”, 175 lbs

    Bats/Throws: L/R

    Drafted: Sixth round, 2012 (Seminole HS, Florida)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NR

    ETA: 2017

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5050607055

    Scouting Report

    Phillips emerged as one of the game’s top breakout prospects this past season, as the 20-year-old claimed the Astros Minor League Player of the Year award behind a stellar .310/.375/.529 batting line with 29 doubles, 14 triples, 17 home runs and 23 stolen bases in 130 games between both Class-A levels.

    Phillips muscled up last offseason after failing to jump the yard in his first 376 minor league plate appearances between 2012-13, and his newfound strength, combined with an improved feel for turning on the ball, resulted in 17 long balls in 571 plate appearances last season. It’s hard to say how much power he’ll offer at maturity, but he should be good for upward of 15 home runs in a given season.

    The 6’0”, 175-pound left-handed hitter has a short, compact swing that produces hard contact across the whole field, though most of his power is to his pull side. He has some swing-and-miss to his game that should improve with experience against better arms, giving him a chance to develop at least an average hit tool. Meanwhile, Phillips’ above-average speed translates well on the basepaths, making him a threat to steal 15 to 20 bases and pile up extra-base hits.

    Phillips’ defensive profile is a clean fit in center and right field, and he split time between both positions last season. He has solid-average range and gets good jumps, while his incredibly accurate, plus-plus arm strength will serve as a weapon throughout his career.

    Phillips is likely to open 2015 back in the California League, but it shouldn’t take him long to graduate to Double-A.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (first-division player)High risk

3. Vince Velasquez, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 6/7/1992 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 6’3”, 200 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: Second round, 2010 (Garey HS, California)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 8

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballCurveballChangeupControl
    60556050

    Scouting Report

    Velasquez’s progression through the minor leagues has been delayed by a slew of injuries, and 2014 was no different, as the 22-year-old logged only 55.1 innings (15 games/10 starts) for High-A Lancaster. The right-hander was dominant when healthy, though, pitching to a 3.74 ERA with 72 strikeouts, and he held opposing hitters to a .223 average in the offensive-heavy California League.

    When Velasquez is at his best, the athletic, 6’3”, 200-pound right-hander is working in the 93-96 mph range with his fastball. The pitch explodes out of his hand but he also has a tendency to overthrow it, missing the zone both vertically and horizontally. His curveball is inconsistent but has average to solid-average potential, while his changeup is a plus offering with late dropping action and arm-side fade.

    The key for Velasquez is staying on the field. Should he be able to, the 22-year-old has the athleticism and stuff to be a solid No. 3 starter. If he can't, Velasquez’s enhanced stuff while working in short bursts gives him clear upside as a late-inning reliever, possibly even a closer.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (No. 3 starter/second-tier closer)High risk

2. Mark Appel, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 7/15/1991 (Age: 23)

    Height/Weight: 6’5”, 225 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First round, 2013 (Stanford)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 2

    ETA: Late 2015

    2014 Stats

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballSliderChangeupControl
    65656050

    Scouting Report

    Appel struggled mightily in High-A Lancaster’s rotation to begin the season, even spending a month trying to straighten things out in extended spring training. After his July 24 start, Appel was sitting on a dismal 9.74 ERA and 1.92 WHIP through 44.1 innings, with opposing hitters raking against him at a .372 clip.

    However, the Astros weren’t as concerned as the rest of the baseball world and promoted Appel to Double-A Corpus Christi for the final month of the regular season—a decision that potentially saved his campaign. Appel finally showed the promise that made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft (and the No. 8 pick in 2012) after entering the Texas League, as he pitched to a 3.69 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 38-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 39 innings.

    As a 6’5”, 225-pound right-hander, Appel’s fastball sits consistently in the 93-96 mph range with some sink and arm-side run. His slider registers around 84-88 mph with a good pace late break, but he can also get around the pitch at times and generate slurvelike spin, causing it to flatten out and catch too much of the plate. His changeup has come a long way over the last year and shows plus potential in the 83-85 mph range, thrown with fastball-like arm speed and late fade.

    Despite his potential for three plus offerings, Appel still has a ways to go in terms of his approach and feel for sequencing. His success after the late-season promotion to Double-A suggests that he might perform better when challenged, which, if true, means we’ll likely see him in the major leagues before the end of the 2015 season.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (No. 3 starter)Medium risk

1. Carlos Correa, SS

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    Position: SS

    DOB: 9/22/1994 (Age: 20)

    Height/Weight: 6’4”, 205 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First round, 2012

    Last Year’s Ranking: 1

    ETA: Late 2015

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    6060507055

    Scouting Report

    As one of the younger everyday players in California League, Correa continued to blow past all reasonable expectations last season, batting .325/.416/.510 with 32 extra-base hits, 20 stolen bases and a 45-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 62 games. He seemed bound for a promotion to Double-A before suffering a season-ending fibula injury in late June while sliding into third base. He underwent surgery shortly thereafter and will be ready by February for spring training.

    The 20-year-old right-handed hitter has a simple, direct swing that allows him to stay inside the ball and utilize the entire field. He’s batted at least .320-plus at both Class-A levels, while his advanced plate discipline and pitch recognition (12.3 BB%, 15.4 K%) has produced on-base percentages consistently north of .400.

    At 6’4”, 205 pounds, Correa possesses plus raw power but doesn’t swing for the fences, instead employing an approach that’s geared toward consistent hard contact and getting on base. Considering Correa’s age, it’s safe to assume that he’ll show more pop as he fills out, with the potential to hit upward of 22-25 home runs in his prime.

    Despite his large frame, Correa is an excellent athlete with the tools to stick at shortstop long term, including soft hands, good range and plus-plus arm strength that produces lasers in the mid- to upper 90s across the infield. Meanwhile, his profile on both sides of the ball could also make him an impact third baseman should he become too thick and/or lose a step, but that won’t be a concern for many years.

    Correa is a physically blessed player with present plus makeup and the potential for five average-or-better tools at maturity, and he’s still on the fast track to the major leagues despite the ankle injury. In general, the 20-year-old has one of the highest ceilings in the minors, with the potential to be a perennial All-Star and possibly even an MVP candidate in his prime.

    Ceiling (OFP): 70 (Perennial All-Star)Medium risk

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