Let's look at how the Houston farmhands at class A Lexington did this season:
Catcher: Chris Wallace
had a monster 1st half and was promoted to AA. Ben Heath
had a fairly disappointing year, getting demoted from Lancaster and only hitting .245. The power still appears to be there, as he hit 5 HR in 51 games. Former 7th rd pick Roberto Pena, known for his defensive prowess, didn't light the world on fire (576 OPS), but at the tender age of 19, still has plenty of time to improve offensively.
1B: Telvin Nash
, 20, had a good year, blasting 14 HR in 74 games. Although his K rate was too high, he showed plus power and should be ready to move up to Lancaster. Tyler Burnett and Jhonny Medrano didn't do much to distinguish themselves.
2B: Delino DeShields Jr, 19, provided a mixed bag. The positives were that he showed some nice power (9 HR) and speed (30 SB) and appeared to get better as the year progressed. He also got solid defensive reviews. The negatives were that he struck out far too much.
SS: Jio Mier showed just enough to get promoted to Lancaster at midseason. Ben Orloff, an older player at 24, took over the SS job and did fine, finishing with a 733 OPS. He should be ready for utility duty in Lancaster next year. 2011 draftee Ruben Sosa floundered in a limited sample size late in the year.
3B: Former 1st round pick Mike Kvasnicka, 22, had a very disappointing year. He did not show the power expected of him, hitting only 4 bombs in 128 games. He also struck out too much. He'll still probably move up a level, but he'll need a huge 2012 to get his prospect status back to where it was.
OF: Both Dan Adamson and Adam Bailey had great starts and finished the year in Lancaster and Corpus, respectively. Midseason acquisition Domingo Santana, 19, had a great year, finshing with a solid 833 OPS. He'll be one to watch next season in Lancaster. A surprise promotion early in the year, Emilio King exceeded expectations. He got off to a scorching start, and while he did cool off somewhat, his 9 HRs, .293 avg, and 24 doubles were all very good stats. Bryce Lane struggled after a monster audition in Lancaster to finish last season, hitting only .238 in Lexington. Jordan Scott got a small stint in A ball and did fine, hitting .277 in only 47 ABs. Jay Austin
, after getting demoted from Lancaster, struggled mightily and his stock took a HUGE tumble. No longer considered a future MLB centerfielder after hitting only .203 in a repeat level, he'll try to resurrect his career in the Arizona Fall League. He's only 20, so it may be too earlier to completely write him off, but 2011 was not a good year for Austin. 2B/OF Enrique Hernandez, a 2009 6th round pick, battled injuries off and on all season, and had mediocre numbers, with a .247/.370/.667 line in 62 games. He'll need to be able to play SS or drastically improve his hitting tool to be able to continue to move up.
Rotation: With several very highly touted prospects in the rotation going in to the year, hopes were high. They turned in mildly disappointing numbers. Mike Foltynewicz, a former 1st rounder, turned in a 4.97 ERA. His numbers across the board leave something to be desired considering his draft status, but after factoring in his age, location of origin, and the fact that he stayed healthy, the year wasn't a total loss. I suspect Folty will start at Lexington again in an attempt to get him to dominate before moving up, although it wouldn't be ridiculous to slate him for high A.
Tanner Bushue, another former high draft pick, again battled injury and appeared to take a step back in his repeat year in Lexington. His innings, ERA, K's, and BAA all got worse. He'll need a big year in 2012 to regain his former hype. At 20 years old, it's not too late for him.
The underrated Ruben Alaniz turned in a solid year, going 7-10 with a 4.44 ERA. The kid with the best curveball in the system struck out 96 in 115 innings.
Carlos Quevedo, 21, turned in a solid enough year to move up to Lancaster next season. After getting rocked at a higher level, Luis Cruz
came back to the Legends and settled in nicely, going 5-4 with a 4.45 ERA and striking out more than a batter per inning. Alex Sogard, 24, rotated between the rotation and the bullpen and did quite well, with 112 Ks in 104.1 innings. He'll surely advance a level in 2012. Brad Dydalewicz had a disastrous 2011 and was rocked at every level he pitched. Juan Minaya took a huge hit as he pitched a 6.90 ERA in 9 starts over 28 appearances.
The bullpen featured some nice arms, highlighted by closer Jorge De Leon
and setup man Jason Chowning. Both finished with stellar numbers and should form the back end of Lancaster's bullpen next year. De Leon, as a member of the 40 man roster, could move quickly. Gabe Garcia, Dave Martinez, and Murilo Gouvea all had ERAs under 4 and should move up. 2011 marked the end of the Yordany Ramirez
to pitcher experiment after he struggled between the two A level teams. He was eventually released
All in all, it was a mildly disappointing year for the Legends. They went 24-44 in the 2nd half after an equally bad 1st half, finishing in last place. None of the highest profile prospects (Folty, Bushue, DeShields, Kvasnicka) took the giant leap Astros
fans were hoping for. That said, virtually every position was manned by a truly legitimate prospect, something that hadn't been the case the last few years. Several prospects (Santana, Nash) gave plenty to be excited about moving forward.
Next year's team should be solid if not improved. While tons will change between now and then, here's a guess at who should be on the roster to start next season:
C: Pena/Miles Hamblin- Pena repeats to work on his offense, Hamblin moves up from Tri-City. Neither is top 10 material but both are real prospects.
1B: Zach Johnson- Rafael Valenzuela could be here or they could ask Nash to repeat.
2B: DeShields- a repeat season will do him well; I expect a big year.
SS: Neiko Johnson/Ruben Sosa- pretty weak. Not expecting much here.
3B: Matt Duffy- could be a candidate to breakout. Put up solid #'s in Tri-City.
RF: George Springer- most will slot him in Lancaster, but with Santana, King, Adamson, and Nash all ready to advance, he may be better suited for Lexington.
CF: Austin/Andrew Muren- Austin desperately needs a good year. Muren didn't show me much in Tri-City. Jordan Scott or Justin Gominsky could slot here as well.
LF: Brandon Meredith/Chris Epps/Enrique Hernandez- both Epps and Meredith had solid debuts, expecting big things from Meredith. Hernandez will be a utility guy, playing the corner OF and 2B. He needs a big year to keep moving.
Rotation: Folty, Bushue, Jonas Dufek, Tom Shirley, Juri Perez. Folty and Bushue could use the repeat year. Dufek, Shirley, and Perez all showed potential at lower levels. Lots of questions about who goes where for pitchers. Tons of other players could end up here, with Jamaine Cotton, Luis Ordosgoitti, Adrian Houser, Jack Armstrong, Andrew Walter, Kyle Hallock, Nick Tropeano, Alaniz, Quevedo, Bobby Doran, Alex Sogard, Ricardo Batista, and a few others having a legit chance to be placed in Kentucky.
Bullpen: Adam CHampion, Travis Blankenship, Joan Belliard, Mitchell Lambson, Dayan Diaz, Garrett Bullock, Ryan Cole. Lots of college arms moving up from Tri-City. All did well in 2011. There's a lot of arms in the system that could end up here, but this guess is probably as good as any.