FanPost

2012 Astros Prospects Preview


Warning: this post is 4300 words long, so it's probably more for newbies than TCB regulars. I remember when I first started following the astros, I wasn't able to find a good in depth resource for all the prospects in the system. There just wasn't much out there beyond the traditional top 10 lists. So here's an overview of who Houston has in its system heading into the 2012 season. Among all of MLB, I think Houston's farm would rank somewhere in the late teens at this point, which is good when you consider that those rankings wouldn't include promoted players like Lyles, Altuve, etc. If the rankings were based on all players age 25 and under, I think Houston would rank a little higher, somewhere in the 10-15 range. With the top pick in the draft and few more pieces to sell (Wandy, Lee, Myers), a little luck could see Houston begin 2013 with a top 10 farm system and a rapidly improving big league team. So let's go through the prospects, by position, after the jump.


Catcher, along with shortstop, centerfield, and starting pitching, marks the most important position in any team's farm system. Being a premium position, any player who can stick there defensively while providing plus offense is extremely valuable.

For Houston, the position isn't a total disaster, but it isn't exactly flush with premium prospects. Here's the breakdown:

System Grade: D+

Viable Prospects (grade):

Jason Castro (C)

Chris Wallace - (C-)

Others:

Ben Heath - see below

Roberto Pena - see below

Rene Garcia - plus defender with no bat

Ernesto Genoves - did well last year in short-season

Miles Hamblin - 2011 draftee did well enough to move up

Bubby Williams - former 11th rounder hasn't developed

Kenny Diaz - late round pick has shown flashes; still young

Kevin Gonzalez - Houston native hopes to get more innings in short-season repeat

Cristian Moronta

Alfredo Gonzalez

I listed Jason Castro as a prospect because he is still young and has yet to establish himself in the majors (you'll see me do this throughout these previews), meaning most of his value is based on projected development, which to me is what defines whether or not a player is considered a prospect. He is the only player in this group who projects to be an everyday major leaguer. He profiles to be average to plus behind the plate, with average offensive ability. Much of his future performance hinges on how he recovers from both his major knee surgery and his most recent foot injury. Catcher is one position where injuries can really derail a prospect, as once the body breaks down, the player is finished defensively. Still, he's likely to be the primary starter in Houston this year and there are plenty of reasons to believe he can and will become a viable starting catcher.

Chris Wallace and Ben Heath are interesting prospects. Both are 2010 draftees who have shown flashes of plus offensive ability, but neither profiles as a very good defensive catcher and both have given reasons to doubt their offensive prowess. Wallace had his stock shoot up after a stellar 2011 that saw him post a 906 OPS in class A before being promoted up to AA, where his numbers dropped but he still held his own. If he can post the same #'s he did in Lexington while in Corpus, he will start to figure more prominently into Houston's plans. His ceiling features average defense and average on base skills with plus power. Heath garnered hype after a 2010 campaign that saw him post an 883 OPS between low-A and AA. His 2011 was a disappointment after he failed to post comparable #'s and was eventually demoted from Lancaster to Lexington. That said, I'm not sure why this was done, because while his Lancaster #'s weren't stellar, he didn't exactly struggle, posting a .262/.333/.441 line. Like Wallace, he appears to have 20 HR potential and his ceiling would be an everyday catcher featuring plus power. At this point, the odds are on Wallace topping out as a fringe MLB'er who can spot catch and DH, with Heath needing a rebound year to project to a big-league future. Pena is widely recognized as the system's best defensive catcher, with a few scouts quipping that the former 7th rounder is already major-league ready in that facet of his game. The flip side to that sunshine is that he has struggled offensively in both his pro seasons. He has been young for his league at every stop, and entering 2012 at age 19 with a year of full-season ball already under his belt leaves room for optimism. But unless he develops offensively, he won't get past AA.

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First Base is a position of relative strength in Houston's system. Here's the roster:

System Grade: B

Viable Prospects (grade):

Jonathan Singleton (B+)

Brett Wallace (C-)

Kody Hinze (C-)

Telvin Nash (C-)

Others:

Chase Davidson - monster #'s but old for league

Mario Gonzalez - very good year in DSL

Zachary Johnson - 2012 15th rounder had solid but unspectacular debut

Jesse Wierzbicki - versatility and good #'s tempered by age relative to league

Singleton is a consensus top 100 prospect and one of the organization's top 3. His ceiling is an all-star 1B who can hit 30+ HRs in addition to a solid on-base skill. He'll need to shred Lancaster (if he doesn't begin the year in Corpus) to keep his hype up. A great year could have him poised to make his Houston debut in 2013.

Again, I listed Brett Wallace as a prospect because he is still only 25 and has yet to establish himself in the majors, meaning most of his value is based on projected development, which to me is what defines whether or not a player is considered a prospect. I still believe Wallace will end up hitting at the big-league level, but it's becoming apparent that his power may never reach the point to justify him as an everyday first baseman. The leash for him has become short (this is certainly the last year he will be able to be considered a prospect), so there won't be much room for him to struggle in AAA or even in Houston (should he get that chance). Hinze is coming off of a monster 2011 that put him on the prospect radar. 2012 will tell whether last year was the classic Cali-league fool's gold or if he can be a legit player. Nash's plus power potential is mitigated by his injury history and K rate. That said, he matches all 3 of my personal criteria for a good prospect: he's young for his league, he has some hype from scouts (and from the org as a former 3rd rd pick), and he's put up good #'s when healthy.

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Houston's batch of 2B farmhands features 2 very good prospects but very little after that:

System Grade: C

Viable Prospects (grade):

Jose Altuve (B-)

Delino DeShields, Jr (C)

Others:

Josh Magee - took a big step forward with his performance in Greeneville

John Hinson - had a solid debut in Tri-City, but can't be labeled a real prospect until he carries that over

JC Thompson - old for Lancaster and has been disastrous in limited opportunities in AA

Enrique Hernandez - moved to LF but still young for league and hasn't been totally overmatched

Luca Martone

Jose Solano

Astros' fans know all about the meteoric 2011 rise of the diminutive Altuve, who held his own in Houston after moving up all the way from A ball. He still has work to do, but from the looks of things, he will stick in the big leagues and his ceiling features a solid combination of plus speed/basestealing, plus contact, double-digit HR power, and adequate defense.

DeShields' 2011 appears to be a disappointment until it's noted that he was playing against guys 2-3 years his senior. All the tools are still there, with elite speed a given and plus defense and on-base skills a possibility. He'll need to take a step forward in order to show development, but time is still on his side.

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Shortstop has come a long way in the last few seasons, but a disappointing 2011 by Jio Mier lowers the grade:

System Grade: C-

Viable Prospects (grade):

Jonathan Villar (C+)

Jio Mier (C-)

Marwin Gonzalez (C-)

Others:

Brandon Wikoff - never strikes out, versatile defender, already in AAA

Jean Batista - part of a deep group of high-upside Dominican teenage infielders

Jose Fernandez - part of a deep group of high-upside Dominican teenage infielders

Juan Santana - great DSL debut

Arturo Michelena - Dominican bonus baby

Luis Reynoso - Dominican bonus baby

Chan Moon - looking like a bust at this point

Neiko Johnson - UDFA showed good walk and baserunning skills

Ruben Sosa - 2011 draftee likely slotted for backup role in A ball

Alex Todd - 2011 draftee likely slotted for backup role in A ball

Ben Orloff - if he was 3 years younger he'd be a good prospect

In terms of ceiling, Villar may be the best prospect Houston has. He reached AA at a very young age and held his own. He has Hanley Ramirez type potential (although probably with less power). That said, the next dominant season he puts up will be his first. He's a fringe top 100 prospect who has an important year ahead of him. A good 1st half in Corpus will drastically increase his stock. He could be a perennial All-Star SS or a AAAA infielder.

Former 1st round pick Jio Mier has turned in 2 consecutive lackluster seasons. His development needs to be slowed until he shows improved offensive production. The defense appears to be there, so the ceiling for him to be an everyday MLB SS still exists, but another poor offensive showing in Lancaster will project him much more likely as a utility guy. Gonzalez, one of this year's Rule 5 picks, has potential to be a great backup SS if Houston can manage to keep him on the 25 man for the full year.

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The addition of Jimmy Paredes to the 3B prospect pool raised the grade, but it is still an area lacking a truly elite prospect:

System Grade: C-

Viable Prospects (grade):

Jimmy Paredes (C)

Jonathan Meyer (C-)

Mike Kvasnicka (C-)

Others:

Matthew Duffy - solid if unspectacular 2011 draftee

Darwin Rivera - took a step forward in GCL

Erik Castro - has put up good #'s when healthy

Kyle Redinger - needs to show something to keep career alive

David Flores - may get one last chance in AA at age 25

Tyler Burnett- likely will get lost in the shuffle

Fredwin Campusano

Paredes finished the year as Houston's everyday 3B. A versatile athlete, his Robinson Cano ceiling is matched with his lack of plate discipline, which could keep him from sticking in the majors. He's still young and skipped AAA entirely, so it will likely be 2-3 years before his fate is sealed. Personally, I am high on Paredes.

Meyer, a 2009 3rd round pick, has been young for every level he's been placed at and has managed to hold his own offensively despite being touted as a defense-first player. His offensive production has increased every season of his career. A good year in AA could send his stock soaring. His ceiling features plus defense and double digit HR power. Kvasnicka's draft status is the main thing keeping him on the radar. The 2010 1st rounder hasn't shown much, and even though there's been no mention of it, I wouldn't be surprised to see him moved back to his college position of catcher to add depth at that position, especially if Paredes and/or Meyer have a great 2012.

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Of course players will be moved around the OF positions, but for the sake of this article, I've placed the players where I think they will get the majority of their time. RF is 1st:

System Grade: C+

Viable Prospects (grade):

Domingo Santana (C+)

Ariel Ovando (C-)

Jake Goebbert (C-)

Adam Bailey (C-)

Jordan Scott (C-)

Others:

Chris Epps - big #'s in debut, but old for league

Brandon Barnes - has shown flashes but it's now-or-never time

Kellen Kiilsgaard - former Stanford star needs to stay healthy and perform

Bryce Lane - 2010 Lancaster #'s must've been a mirage

Jarrod McKinney

Garen Wright

Santana may end up being the jewel of the Pence trade. All of the traits of a star are there. He can hit, hit for power, and field his position. He strikes out too much, but as young as he is, there is plenty of time for him to correct the problem. He's a fringe top 100 type and if he gets placed in Lancaster, I expect him to excel.

Ovando started his pro career amidst massive hype after he received the largest amatuer signing bonus in franchise history. And while the season wasn't a disaster, it wasn't a rousing success either. He did show some good things, flashing power and not floundering despite being a 17 year old Dominican in stateside ball. But he struck out too much and missed time due to injury, both hallmarks of many a failed prospect. He's a long way from having his story written and just needs to improve each year; he still has star potential. Goebbert and Bailey are similar in that they both are college draftees who have steadily moved through the system, putting up good numbers at each stop. Both are likely to reach the majors, although it's more likely they top out in a 5th OF or DH role. If everything breaks their way, each could have a few years as an everyday player. Jordan Scott is player who has gotten some front office love and had a good 2011 season. He's probably going to be young for his league (again), so he's definitely on the radar. His game needs work, but the tools are there.

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Centerfield may be the strongest, deepest position in the system:

System Grade: B+

Viable Prospects:

George Springer (B+)

Austin Wates (C)

Jordan Schafer (C)

Jack Shuck (C-)

Javaris Reynolds (C-)

Jay Austin (C-)

Others:

TJ Steele - now or never time

Dan Adamson - needs to stay healthy but #'s have been good so far

Justin Gominsky - has tools but can he get enough playing time to work on his game?

Andrew Muren - has tools but can he get enough playing time to work on his game?

Grant Hogue - MiLB bench OF, may be due for release

Jose Vargas

Jose Monzon

Springer is arguably the top prospect Houston has. A top 100 type, he is the proverbial 5-tool player, with plus speed, 30+ HR power, on-base skills, a solid glove, and a good arm for CF. The sample size from his pro debut is too small to draw any conclusions. His performance this season will set the stage for what can be expected from him. I'm hoping for a poor man's Grady Sizemore.

Behind Springer is a slew of athletes with varied backgrounds. Wates has a big year coming up in the proving grounds of AA. I'm probably lower on him than most, because to me he hasn't proven to have the defense to stick in CF or the power to stick in the corners. Schafer, a former top 100 prospect, needs a good year to stay in the mix. Injuries and off-the-field incidents may end up being his undoing, but they also give me reason to believe that we haven't seen what he can really do yet; this is his last year to claim prospect status. Shuck is a classic bench outfielder. He gets on base and can man all 3 positions, and being left-handed will help his cause. Austin, a former 2nd rounder, has yet to put together a really good offensive season. He did have a decent AFL stint this year, so hopefully that is a sign of things to come. He has elite speed and Michael Bourn potential is there. He's only 21, but anytime a player spends 3 years in A ball, it's not a good sign. Reynolds had a respectable pro debut. He's too young to know what he'll become (a younger Austin maybe), but he's definitely worth following.

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The 'stros need the LF prospect pool to be deep since they will be adding a DH in 2013:

System Grade: C+

Viable Prospects:

JD Martinez (C+)

Fernando Martinez (C+)

Brandon Meredith (C-)

Others:

Emilio King - stock soared after big 1st full-season

Teoscar Hernandez - big year in the DSL probably has him poised for stateside ball

Jon Gaston - has shown flashes but it's now-or-never time

Rafael Valenzuela - needs to stay healthy but fits classic DH mold

Kelvin Vizcaino - Dominican bonus baby's story still ahead of him

Wallace Gonzales - 2011 overslot signing worth keeping an eye on

JD Martinez hasn't given anyone any evidence that he's anything other than a hitting machine. He even showed surprising power after his big-league promotion. Despite his knee arthritis he looked to be a good athlete for LF. If he can hit near .280 and put up 20+ HRs, he'll stick for sure.

Being the worst team in the league finally paid dividends when Houston was able to claim Fernando Martinez off waivers from the Mets. The former top 50 prospect is still very young and will be given a good opportunity with the Astros. Injuries have removed his 5-tool CF ceiling but there's still a chance he can be a very good corner outfielder. Meredith, last year's 6th round pick, is another player worth tracking. He's a good athlete who will need to add power to rise in the depth chart.

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Regardless of who ends up starting the year in the big-league rotation, the minor league starting pitching should be very strong:

System Grade: C+

Viable Prospects (grade):

Jarred Cosart (B+) - see below

Jordan Lyles (B) - see below

Mike Foltynewicz (C+) - see below

Adrian Houser (C+) - see below

Paul Clemens (C+) - see below

Brett Oberholtzer (C+) - see below

Jack Armstrong Jr (C+) - see below

Kyle Weiland (C) - could make Houston's rotation; last year as a prospect

Tanner Bushue (C) - 2009 2nd rounder must show improvement this year or stock will plummet

Vincent Velasquez (C) - 2010 2nd rounder recovering from major arm surgery and will be coddled

Michael Feliz (C) - very good GCL debut for big $ Int'l signee

Jose Montero (C-) - DSL bonus baby needs a rebound

Nick Tropeano (C-) - excellent debut for college draftee

Kyle Hallock (C-) - another 2011 draftee who had a great start

Jake Buchanan (C-) - POY will have to prove himself in AA

Ruben Alaniz (C-) - major sleeper with fantastic curve

Christopher Lee (C-) - 4th rounder struggled out of the gate, still young

Ross Seaton (C-) - still young but needs to show improvement

Dallas Keuchel (C-) - steady riser; anywhere from LOOGY to 4th starter

Jonas Dufek (C-) - another college lefty who I expect to rise steadily

Aneury Rodriguez (C-) - still may have a couple years of development, will be in AAA rotation

Evan Grills (C-) - sleeper lefty I'm watching closely

Luis Ordosgoitti (C-) - fantastic #'s in 2011; oddly bounced between levels

Brandon Culbreth (C-) - 2011 8th rounder struggled in 1st pro season

Harold Arauz (C-) - 'stros' biggest int'l signee of 2011

Edgar Ferreira (C-) - disappeared after getting hefty signing bonus and good 2010

Jamaine Cotton (C-) - surprised with rotation spot and good performance in Tri-City

Others:

BJ Hyatt - Has some heat, must stay healthy starting now

Jose Cisnero - huge K rate but prone to getting knocked around

Bobby Doran - 2010 4th rounder got bit by Lancaster

Tom Shirley - excellent #'s, injury history

Xavier Cedeno - great 2011 revived his career

Andrew Robinson - did he survive Lancaster?

Wes Musick - showed flashes, but time is working against him at this point

Francis Ramirez - good 2011 makes him one to watch in 2012

Juan Minaya - may be a #'s casualty

Carlos Quevedo - may be a #'s casualty

Robby Donovan - may be a #'s casualty

Zach Grimmett - may be a #'s casualty

Brad Dydalewicz - cannot think of a worse year a pitcher could have than Dydalewicz's 2011

Brandt Walker - former 8th rounder must stay healthy starting now

David Duncan - former 6th rounder must stay healthy starting now

Jonathan Aristil - probably destined for AAA relief role

Tyson Perez - decent debut for 2012 draftee

Euris Quezada - PED bust doesn't bode well

Reymin Gaduan

Ambiorix De Leon

Luis Abad

Johan Arias

Ricardo Batista

Yeudy Perdomo

Frederick Tiburcio

Starting in Houston and going all the way down to short-season ball, the system has a glut of players that project to be 4th or 5th starters. That can be viewed as good or bad, but regardless I think the depth of the pitching in Houston's farm is better than average.

Cosart has fantastic heat and good secondary pitches, but his k rate has been low thus far. As a top 100 prospect and one of the top 3 in the system, his development is extremely important to Houston.

At 22, the bulk of Jordan Lyles' development still lies in front of him. He held his own after being called up last season, but may benefit from some more time in AAA. For such a young player, his band of outcomes is fairly narrow, as I see him as at best a #2 starter and at worst a good #4.

2010 1st round pick Foltynewicz didn't blow the doors off of anyone last season in A ball. He was young for his league (and will be again this season), so he just needs to show improvement. As one of the few players with front-of-the-rotation upside, his development needs to be handled carefully. Based solely on last season his stock took a hit and he's probably seen as a future mid-rotation guy at this point.

Houser had a decent rookie-ball outing and all the ceiling is there. It'll be interesting to see where he is placed this season. If he is put in full-season ball and does well, his stock will soar. He could end up as a #2 if everything breaks right.

Clemens is one of 2 players who came from Atlanta in the Bourn trade who could be in Houston's rotation at some point this year. He'll be in spring training and unless he blows the front office away, he'll be in AAA to start 2012. He reminds some of Bud Norris, and that's probably his best case scenario.

Oberholtzer may be slotted for AA due to the number of starters vying for spots in Houston. He did well in Corpus last season and could end up as a September callup if he does well this year. Profiles as a mid-rotation type. I see him topping out as a good #3.

Armstrong has yet to throw a professional pitch but has the measurables and scout hype to be included on this list. His injury history prevented him from being a 1st round pick but with a good debut in Lexington or Lancaster (assuming he's allowed to start in full-season) he will get a lot of attention. He's one of the few players with true ace potential, but everything would have to go positively for him, especially staying healthy. I can also see him being moved to the bullpen down the road.

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Finally, here's the relievers:

System Grade: C

Viable Prospects (grade):

Rhiner Cruz (C-)

Josh Zeid (C-)

Jason Stoffel (C-)

Jorge De Leon (C-)

Others:

Chia-Jen Lo - once highly thought-of reliever had his career derailed by injury

Arcenio Leon - on 40 man, has heat, lacks control

Chris Hicks - needs to build on good 2011

Jason Chowning - Lexington's closer last year

Dayan Diaz - fantastic numbers in 2011 make him worth watching

Kyle Greenwalt - former member of the Lexington Five has fallen by the wayside

Mickey Storey - AAA reliever could help the big league team if he gets hot

Henry Villar - AAA reliever could help the big league team if he gets hot

Blake King - AAA reliever could help the big league team if he gets hot

Pat Urckfitz- LOOGY was on fast track but fell off last year

Cruz, the Rule 5 pick, is the classic flamethrower who lacks control. He's still young enough to improve, and with his velocity, the potential to be a big league closer still exists.

Zeid came over as the 4th piece in the Pence deal. He has a power arm but has yet to put it all together. Probably not closer material, but if he has a good year this season he could end up as a setup man.

Stoffel was the return in the Keppinger trade along with Henry Sosa. Could end up as a poor man's Huston Street.

De Leon is a former shortstop who converted to reliever 2 seasons ago and has pitched well. The former regime thought enough of him to protect him on the 40 man roster, and the current regime has yet to designate him when needing roster space, so that tells me he may have a future.

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Projected 2015 Roster:

Lineup:

CF George Springer

2B Jose Altuve

1B Jonathan Singleton

RF Domingo Santana

LF JD Martinez

DH Fernando Martinez

3B Jimmy Paredes

C Jason Castro

SS Jonathan Villar

Bench: OF Austin Wates, IF Jiovanni Mier, IF Marwin Gonzalez, C Chris Wallace

Rotation: Jarred Cosart, Jordan Lyles, Bud Norris, Brett Oberholzter, Paul Clemens

Bullpen: Kyle Weiland, Dallas Keuchel, Mike Foltynewicz, Jack Armstrong, Jr., Wilton Lopez, Rhiner Cruz, David Carpenter

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