Lexington, Kentucky is home of the Astros Low-A affiliate, the Legends, and perhaps my favorite minor league team to follow. I'm honestly not sure what it is that draws me to the Lexington box scores so much. Maybe it's the first taste of full season baseball? Maybe it's the first chance to get a solid sample size on true prospects? Or, maybe it's the chance to see what guys can do against real competition? I don't know what it is, but it truly is my favorite stage in the minor leagues.
Prospects can no longer hide their flaws once they reach Lexington. Those flaw are going to start getting exploited here. If you struggle against higher velocities, your going to see it here. If you struggle against breaking balls, this is your first full taste of them. If you have a tendency to give up fly-balls, that will be exploited (I'm looking at you Tanner Bushue). While AA is the true seperator between real prospects and wash-outs, Low-A is where a lot of young guys begin to emerge. It's the destination for high school picks who were highly touted the year after they were drafted(Lyles, Bushue, Mier, Meyer). It's the destination for mid round college picks in their second season as they begin to prove their worth is higher than their draft status (J.D. Martinez).
The South Atlantic League, Sally League, is primarily a pitchers league where pitchers are slightly ahead of the hitters and most of the parks suppress hitting a little, so keep that in mind when looking at some of these prospects. Maybe that's why so many pitching prospects emerge here? I like analyzing pitching prospects a little bit more, so maybe that's why I like this level?
Lexington is one of the few Astros minor league teams that posted a winning record at 71-68. They finished with 35-35 record in the first half of the season and the second half with a record of 36-33. That's kind of surprising that they were able to post a winning record in the second half the loss of J.D. Martinez and Kody Hinze going into a slump in the second half. But, guys like Jake Goebbert picked it up in the second half to help out the improved pitching from guys like Jose Cisnero.
The beginning of the season I noticed that this team was a bit older than the Lexington teams the Astros had fielded in previous years, which could be because of pressure from the Lexington organization to field a better team. Well, the product on the field was a bit more successful and still had a few interesing prospects to monitor. Lexington ended the season with the fourth best attendance in the fourteen team league, so they shouldn't be complaining all that much after this season.
I know J.D. Martinez was mentioned yesterday in the Corpus Christi Review, but being that he was actually named the team MVP as well as the MVP of South Atlantic League, I can't argue another player. His OPS of 1.030 is just plain ridiculous. He knocked in fifteen home runs in Lexington and if he would have stayed, he would have hit appoximately eight more for a total of 23 instead of the 18 total.
Team Cy Young
Jose Cisnero, right hander- What? Not Tanner Bushue? Yep! The 21 year old Cisnero started off slow in his first full season, but he really put it together in the second half. His ERA was 3.65 in 133 innings but it was 2.99 in 72 1/3 innings after the All-Star break. He struck out 126 batters and walked 65, so his command is going to be an issue going forward. He did walk fewer in the second half the season but also struck out fewer. He also has better groundball numbers than Bushue and even Lyles stellar season in Lexington last year. I'm beginning to like the idea of him skipping Lancaster and going strait to CC next season.
Players to Watch
Jake Goebbert, OF- Goebbert is an interesting prospect to watch. He set Lexington records in doubles and RBI's this season. He doesn't have much home run power, with just ten this season, but he can spray doubles around the outfield very well. He doesn't strikeout much and draws walks at a solid rate as well. With his solid plate discipline, he might be able to skip Lancaster since they aren't very many true prospects in LF going to CC next year.
Jimmy Paredes, second-base- Paredes has a lot of tools and could easily break out next season in Lancaster. He needs to cut down his strikeouts and draw a few more walks. But, he is capable of an OPS over .750 which is solid for a guy who is as good as he is defensively at second.
Kody Hinze, first-base- He is a true power threat who could really mash next year in Lancaster. He draws a ton of walks but strikes out too much as well. Those walks will allow him to continue posting solid on-base numbers. But, being old for his level, he will have to show a lot next year to be a true prospect.
Luis Cruz, left-hander- Cruz's electric fastball will carry him further up in the system but he has a steep hill to climb with how small he is. Either way, his 3.61 ERA in just shy of 100 innings combined with 88 strikeouts and just 26 walks is very good. It will be interesting to see what the Astros do with him next year as he and/or Jose Cisnero could be be vying for a chance to go to Corpus.
Yordany Ramirez, right-hander-The former outfielder who just couldn't crack the major league roster is now a pitcher. Sure, he's 26 already, but really he's just about on level with a 22 year old pitcher. He's raw on the mound but his arm is strong. It's probably too late for this to be a successful transition, but it's something to keep an eye on. He struck out seven and walked five in five and tw0-thirds innings in Lexington, and other than one rough outing, he pitched pretty well. He's going to have to keep the ball lower, though.
Players Who Disappointed
Jiovanni Mier, shortstop- His season is well documented in his struggles. While his second half of the season was decent mostly to the month of August were his OPS was .778, the season as a whole was a disappointment. I honestly think it is all mental with him and next season will be huge for him. His good plate discipline will translate well and that combined with being a year stronger and more prepared for the long season, he's primed to break out.
Jonathan Meyer, third-base- He didn't come into the season with a whole lot of expectations given last year wasn't that good, but his hot start raised the bar. There is really no way of sugar coating the athletic third-baseman's season and I'm not sure how well next year could go. He will have more muscle which could really help him add to his poor power numbers, but thats about it.
Tanner Bushue, right hander- The season wasn't a total disappointment, but it wasn't what was expected. His strikeout numbers were solid but he command isn't quite there yet. Add to the fact that he's susceptible to home runs and isn't a guy who will get a ton of groundballs, there could be issues moving forward. But, he primarily worked off two pitches, fastball and a curveball with plus potential, for the majority of the season.
Juan Minaya, right hander- The big projectable starter has great strikeout stuff but is having major issues commanding those pitches. I expect that he will advance to Lancaster, but if he can't iron out his problems with issuing walks, he could be yanked from the rotation quickly or even demoted back to Lexington. Heck, he might not even get the chance to be in the rotation to begin with. The leash is going to be short, shorter than it was on Brad Dydalewicz this season.
Best Outlook for 2011
Jose Altuve, second base- The litte guy is making big noise where ever he goes. He dominated the Sally for a second baseman. His .809 OPS is great for a guy at his position and what makes him even more valuable is that his defense has drawn great reviews. He has already gotten time in Lancaster and Jimmy Paredes will be taking every day at-bats in Lancaster, so Altuve will be in Corpus next season. That gives him the best outlook because he will be further up in the system than anyone else who spent the majority of the season in Lexington, other than J.D. I really think he'll succeed there because he doesn't strikeout and and has great contact skills. He probably won't post the same amount of power, though.
Now, insert your thoughts on the Lexington season and Snake Diggity will insert his predicted roster!