Five Houston Astro Minor Leaguers Who Can Surprise In 2012

Umm, can you guess which one of these guys is on this list? (Hint: its not J-Mike).

Second verse, same as the first. Who are the players that may jump up and have that breakout season this year in the minors? Well, I'm glad you asked. For those of you not intimately acquainted with the entire Astros minor league system, I've provided some background info on each player listed.

1) Vincent Velasquez, RHP - First off, for those of you not into the minor leagues, who is he? Velasquez was a second round pick in the 2010 draft out of California. He was raw at the time, converting from shortstop in his senior year, but had a live arm. He had a pretty good debut after being drafted, but Tommy John surgery really squashed any momentum he had to be a big-time prospect.

This year will be more about proving he's healthy and getting innings in to get back into the groove. I wouldn't be surprised, because of that, if Velasquez went to Tri-City instead of Lexington this year. A year in the New York-Penn League could help him get back on track, against slightly more refined competition.

If he can put together 10 starts with good control and velocity, I think we'll all be pleasantly surprised. If he can put up some of the numbers he did pre-injury, it will be an unequivocal success.

2) Austin Wates, OF - Pppp-power, that's what I want. Wates has proven he can hit for average and draw a decent number of walks. If he's going to have an impact on the Astros roster in the future, he's going to have to hit for more power than he did last season.

Oh, wait, who is Wates? A third-round pick in 2010, Wates was a college outfielder from Virginia Tech. He profiles as a player who could possibly play all three outfield positions, but will probably slide into a corner spot. His best tool is his bat, though he hasn't hit for nearly the gaudy averages in the minors that Jose Altuve or J.D. Martinez did.

So, if we see that power number creep up to Hunter Pence-ian levels, his season will be a pleasant surprise. If he puts that together with an average like J.D. Martinez? Unequivocal success.

Oh, and it'd be nice if he shows he can stick in center field. All of that would certainly lead him in discussion for a roster spot by next season.

3) Roberto Pena, C - Again, who is this guy? A seventh round pick out of Puerto Rico, Pena is the son of former Astros big leaguer Bert Pena and was one of the top-rated defensive catchers in the 2010 draft.

There wasn't a lot to love about Pena's 2011 season. His bat was going to be a weakness since he was drafted. He's a defense-first guy, but he needs to hit more than .217 to move up the ladder.

Still, Pena was young for a guy in the Sally League at 19. If he can improve with the bat this season, hitting around .260/.330/.390, he could jump up pretty quickly on the organizational depth chart. I'm not totally sold that he can do it, but if he does hit better in addition to being a good defender, he's got a shot to pop.

4) Michael Feliz, RHP - Who? The hard-throwing righthander was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2010 for $400,000. He had previously signed with the Oakland A's for twice that, but was suspended for 50 games due to steriod use and had his original deal voided.

The stuff is there, but the results haven't been as good. This could be a good chance for Feliz to get a taste of full-season ball for the first time. I expect he'll have a bullpen role, but the strikeout rate will be telling. He was only at 7.80 K/9 in 45 innings last season. If he can raise that up over 9 K/9, that'd be a nice surprise.

5) George Springer, OF - Come on, you know this one, right? The 2011 first-round pick. No. 11 overall out of the University of Connecticut? Already popping up on Top 100 prospect lists?

His is an easy one. The expectations are high for Springer, despite not hardly playing at all. So, what would be a pleasant surprise for a player who's already so hyped?

Let's talk about a 20-20 season in the minors while playing a solid center field and making it to Double-A. That'd certainly be a breakout performance, justify his presence on those draft lists and show where Houston can expect him to end up in the majors pretty quickly.

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