The Astros had 20 call-ups last year: four infielders; three outfielders; three starting pitchers; and nine relief pitchers. The most likely type of prospect to be promoted then are relievers, which makes sense considering the volatility of relief pitchers and the eight spots they possess on the team. I don't expect that to be any different in 2012.
What's below is a list of 18 intriguing prospects that I think could be called up to the Majors at some point this year. With the exception of one play at high A all of the potential call-ups are at either AAA or AA. There are a lot of variables that going into call-ups, performance, injuries, etc. I've gone ahead put the players on this list in the order in which I see them possibly getting called up.
I didn't cover all the relief pitchers, because there's a lot of them and some of them have already either spent significant time in the majors or are of wiser age. In the case of Enerio Del Rosario and Jose Valdez, two guys I think could see time in the majors, EDR has pitched 63 innings at the big league level, and Valdez will be 29 this year.
Even without those type of guys there's plenty for you to go through here.
Jordan Lyles, 21: Getting sent down wasn't all that unexpected. At 21 he's got plenty of time to get Major League hitters out and probably some room to grow. Considering his age his 2011 results were so-so but encouraging. Some time in the Minors will be a good opportunity for him to refine his game further. I expect him to be one of the first pitching options called up to the Majors this year.
Anuery Rodriguez, 24: It appears Rodriguez is taking the Wesley Wright path. The 2010 rule five selection spent all last year on the Major League roster so the Astros could keep the rights to him. Rodriguez will start the year in AAA, and depending on performance he'll be at the head of the line in terms of call-ups.
Last year at the Major League level Rodriguez posted a 5.27 ERA, 4.70 FIP, in 85.1 innings, eight of which were starts. He relies on his fastball a lot, throwing it 70% of the time last year. As he should he's got an above average whiff PitchIQ score. His other offerings include a slider that he through 26% of the time and a changeup, 4%. With Lyles and Clemens in the mix for a starters call-up Rodriguez may ultimately end up being a bullpen call-up, as a long man.
Paul Clemens, 24: Really opened some eyes this Spring, albeit in only five innings still he seems to be the pitcher everyone is talking , and for good reason. Before being acquired in the Michael Bourn trade Clemens had a 3.75 ERA in 20 starts with Atlanta's AA affiliate in Mississippi. In five starts at Corpus Christi after the trade he posted a 2.35 ERA in five starts.
Why the success? His strikeout per nine and base on balls per nine between the two teams were almost identical, the biggest difference was hits per nine which was almost two hits lower. This led me to his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) which was .235 at Corpus and .304 at Mississippi. Checking park factors shows Mississippi actually being slightly more of a pitchers park, but overall the parks look similar.
Is the increased hype deserved? Maybe not, but he's on everyone's radar now. He'll likely duke it out with Lyles for a call-up gig. I know I have Rodriguez ahead of him, but I think Rodriguez has the advantage of possibly working out of the bullpen.
Dallas Keuchel, 24: Keuchel is one of those guys I get laughed at, by some of the minor league writers, for liking. In fact if you listened to this weeks podcast you know that David chided me for putting Keuchel in the same discussion as Clemens. When you look at Keuchel's numbers overall they're good, but his peripherals leave much to be desired, at least in the flashy sense.
WTH: If you could "steal" a pitch from any of your Astros teammates, what pitch would it be and whose?
CH: Keuchel changeup.
If you want an in-depth look at Keuchel, check out David's scouting report from last summer. The two things to note is that Keuchel doesn't walk anyone, 1.9 walks per nine in 394.2 minor league innings, and he's got a high ground ball rate, 52% or higher at each stop of his minor league career. At this point guys like Anuery Rodriguez, Jordan Lyles and Paul Clemens are probably ahead of him, but I wouldn't count him out.
Brett Oberholtzer, 22: Another player acquired in the Bourn trade. Oberholtzer also split time between Mississippi and Corpus Christi. Unlike Clemens, Oberholtzer saw an increase in his ERA and his BABIP. One positive, however, was the increase in his strikeout rate by almost two and half strikeouts.
The interesting thing about Oberholtzer was that before AA he had never had a strikeout to walk ratio lower than three. He got below that in both Mississippi and Corpus Christi. Due to age and where he's likely to start the year, AA, he'll be behind the other four on this list in terms of call-ups, but depending on performance he may sneak his way into the major league bullpen or rotation, at some point this year.
Juan Abreu, 26: David already took an in-depth look at Abreu after the Astros acquired him as part of the Michael Bourn trade. The story on Abreu has been his high 90's fastball and control issues. He's struck out 10.8 batters per nine innings and walked 5.4 batters per nine innings in 338 minor league innings. Between Atlanta and Houston's AAA clubs he posted a 2.18 ERA in 57.2 innings, which are the best results of his career. I expect him to be one of the first options called up for the bullpen.
Josh Zeid, 25: Another arm acquired via last summer's trade deadline, he was apart of the Hunter Pence deal. David again did a more in-depth look on Zeid. Good command, good strikeout numbers are his pluses. He's been back and forth between the rotation and bullpen in his minor league career. Some consistency in the bullpen will do him some good and allow him to possibly develop as a late inning reliever. He'll start the year in AA, but I expect to see him at some point this season in Houston.
Xavier Cedeno, 25: Another guy that worked in the rotation and bullpen last year. Released after the 2009 season by the Colorado Rockies, Cedeno sat out the entire 2010 season before pitching in the Puerto Rican Winter league and being picked up by Wade and Co. He must of found something because his peripherals improved across the board.
He had a 9 SO/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 2011, which are big improvements over his career minor numbers, especially the SO/9 which was over two strikeouts better. The 4.38 ERA between starting and relieving last year isn't great, but I'd like to see his numbers as a reliever. If anything he might prove to be a nice lefty specialist relief option. He'll be in AAA this year with a call-up largely determine by how well he's pitching and how well Fernando Abad or Wesley Wright is pitching.
Kevin Chapman, 24: Acquired from the Royals in the Humberto Quintero and Jason Bourgeois trade, Chapman is another lefty option with great strikeout numbers. He still needs to work on his command, but he may be the best left handed option in the Astros farm system. He'll start the year in AA and I expect some of the other lefties to get a go before him, but I wouldn't be surprised if he shoots past them based on performances.
Mickey Storey, 26: Acquired last summer from the Oakland Athletics for an undisclosed return, Storey pitched for the Redhawks last year with mixed results. He's had a great deal of success prior to AAA but seems to of struggled a bit with a 1.478 WHIP in 29.1 AAA innings. The problem appears to be giving up hits as his 9.1 SO/9 and 3.4 BB/9 are solid. His H/9 jump two hits and his HR/9 doubled from AA to AAA.
According to John Sickels before the 2010 season:
Mickey Storey, RHP, Grade C+: Amazing statistical performance at four levels last year, finishing strong in Triple-A pen. Could help in middle relief due to pinpoint command of curveball.
Also before the the 2010 season Baseball America rated Storey with the best control in the Athletics system. If he can pitch well at AAA this year we should see him at the majors some point in 2012.
Brett Wallace, 25, 3B: I almost forgot about Brick, and he could very well be the first player called up to the majors. Luhnow moving Paredes back to second base may of been motivated a little bit by wanting to get Wallace back at the third base position. Don't get me wrong, I like both moves. It increases both players value and Wallace didn't look entirely terrible at third base in the opportunities I got to see him play this Spring.
Wallace can hit, we know that, the problem seems to be that he's not hitting for power and struggles when pitchers pitch him in. His call-up, however, could largely depend on how well Chris Johnson performs this season. If Johnson is hitting well, Wallace will have to wait for an injury or trade before he's back in Houston.
Fernando Martinez, 23, OF: The Mets cast away has failed to live up to high expectations. Ranked in Baseball America's Top 100 prospects from 2007-2010 Martinez is still young, and has some time to figure it out.
Like J.D. Martinez, Fernando has to deal with same sort knee issues that will limit him to a corner outfield spot. Unlike J.D., Fernando has not had great results in the Minor Leagues. The one year he hit for an OPS over 800 was 2009, resulting in a call-up. He floundered in 100 plate appearances with the Mets and eventually had to have knee surgery due to a torn meniscus.
Scouts loved his ceiling, but less than stellar results and injuries explain why the Mets were willing to let him go, even with an option year left. Still the Astros poor Minor League system and his age puts Martinez at the head of the line in terms of possible outfield call-ups.
J.B. Shuck, 25, OF: One of those guys you love rooting for. His greatest asset is that he plays hard, and gets on base. He has very little power and is probably better suited for left field.
The one thing he can do well is get on base, maybe even steal a little not that a 50% success rate is all that inspiring. Think Hunter Pence if he traded in his power and arm for the ability to walk, that's J.B. Shuck. That's not to say he doesn't make a good reserve outfielder. Depending on Fernando Martinez's development he may be the first outfielder called up.
Jimmy Paredes, 23, 2B: Appearing in 46 games last year, Paredes showed why Ed Wade was willing to except him and Mark Melancon in exchange for Lance Berkman. Paredes .286/.320/.393 line at third base last year was in line with the major league average for third basemen last year. Unfortunately, that line was accompanied by a .383 batting average on balls in play which is ridiculously high. If he had started in the majors this year there was a good chance he would of done the same thing Chris Johnson did in 2011.
Still he's got plenty of untapped potential and will be working to tap into that potential as the starting second basemen for the Oklahoma City Redhawks. He's still got plenty of things to work on offensively and defensively, at the very least I see him getting a September call-up.
Chris Wallace, 24, C: Landon Powell is ahead of Wallace, but as we saw last year you can never have too many catchers. I don't foresee as much turnover as 2011, but Jason Castro and Chris Snyder are coming off injuries. All it takes is something to bite either catcher and a collision at homeplate and Wallace has an opportunity to be called up, Vader mask and all. Then again we could see the return of Carlos Corporan...Sorry I just shuddered.
Wallace played very well in the lower minor leagues, but struggled upon his promotion to AA last year. His weighted on base average (wOBA) dropped 60 points, from .391 to .331, and his caught stealing percentage dropped from 39% to 10%. The thing to keep in mind is that he skipped Lancaster, the Astros high affiliate, entirely. It's very possible we won't see Wallace at all this year, but if he can adjust to the higher competition level he may just be second in line.
Jake Goebbert, 24, OF: Like Jose Altuve, Goebbert made a similar ascension through the Astros minor league system. He started the year at A+ Lancaster where he actually produced worse offensive numbers there than his time in AA Corpus Christi. After 75 games in AA he was promoted to Oklahoma City to finish off the season.
He seems to have a good defensive reputation, however, he has spent a majority of his time in left field. He has had some time in right but still has double the amount of games in left. That probably doesn't bode well for someone with a mid-.700 OPS. He does take walks but does avoid strikeouts. Fernando Martinez, J.B. Shuck and Brad Snyder are likely ahead of him on the call-up list.
Jonathan Villar, 21, SS: Villar will start the year in AA. His defense, while still a work in progress, is what's going to eventually carry him to the majors. He struggled in AA last year both offensively and defensively.
Errors are not a good indicator of a players defensive prowess, but 23 erros last year for Villar is hard not to notice. Offensively he's never been much of star batting in the low 700's for a majority of his career. But there are things to like about him, he's young, he's fast and he's got some nice defensive upside. He'll need to make huge strides this year for the Astros to even think about calling him up, however, due to the lack of depth at the shortstop position I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility we see him in Houston at some point.
Jonathan Singelton, 20, 1B: Astro fans have been after this guy for two years. In 2010 his name came up constantly in Roy Oswalt trade speculation and last year in the Hunter Pence speculation. Singelton will start the year at AA, but could in a short time frame move up to AAA and possibly even the majors. With Brett Wallace playing third base, it appears Scott Moore will be tumbling around the first base bag for the Redhawks.
Already a good hitter, the one thing Singleton has yet to refine is his power. He's got loads of power potential, but has yet to tap into it. Last year between the Phillies A+ affiliate and the Astros A+ affiliate Singleton hit only 13 homeruns. Like many of the other guys on this list he's got a thing or two to work on before he gets that major league call-up, but like Villar there's not many alternatives in front of him.
George Springer, 22, OF: You may laugh, but Craig Biggio was drafted in 1987 and made his big league debut in 1988. Great players have a tendency to do those types of things and it's not out of the realm of possibility that Springer makes his debut with Houston towards the end of the summer. He'll be starting the year at high A Lancaster with few outfield prospects standing in his way.
Springer only played in eight games last year at low A Tri-City with poor results, however, he did have an encouraging Spring in the short time he was with the Major League camp. It's a long shot, but so was Jose Altuve.
Park Factors by Jeff Sackmann/Dan Szymborski - http://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/oracle/discussion/2011_minor_league_park_multipliers/
Fernando Martinez Injury History by Toby Hyde - http://www.metsminorleagueblog.com/fernando-martinezs-injury-history/
Inspiration, Feel-Good Story In Astros' system by Stephen Goff - http://www.examiner.com/houston-astros-in-houston/lhp-xavier-cedeno-evolving-into-inspirational-feel-good-story-astros-system
Minor League rosters by Alyson Footer - http://footer.mlblogs.com/2012/04/03/minor-league-rosters-set-plus-photos-from-the-astros-late-arrival-home/