Three new Astros teams will begin their seasons this week. There are a lot of players to keep tabs on, but here are 12 in particular to watch.
Note: I am only including people who are signed and ready to go. Fontana, Tucker, Heineman, and possibly Ruiz, Virant, or Hinojosa should be added to this list soon. The players are arranged by team.
1. Carlos Correa (GCL, shortstop) - Of course. He is our 1-1 pick and has lots of talent for a 17 year old. We shouldn't be too concerned if he has some rough days from time to time, but I expect him to show some flashes of his potential from day 1.
2. Brett Phillips (GCL, outfielder) - Phillips, who played CF in high school, was ranked the #98 prospect in the 2012 draft by Keith Law and # 103 by Baseball America. Phillips just turned 18. The Astros drafted him in the 6th round but paid him 4th round money, which may still have been a bit of a bargain.
3. Teoscar Hernandez (GCL, outfielder) - Hernandez is one of my personal favorites. Last year in the DSL he did three important things well: hit for power (27 XBH), drew walks (over 10% of plate appearances), and avoided excessive strikeouts (42 in 226 AB). Playing time might be an issue for him this year - there are lots of outfielders on the GCL roster - but I'll be watching to see how Hernandez adjusts to this next level. He turns 20 in October.
4. Michael Feliz (GCL, pitcher) - Feliz did fairly well in his stint with the GCL Astros last year (44 K's in 50 IP), and he is still quite young (turns 19 at the end of September). I'd like to see the Astros continue to give him opportunities to start.
5. Lance McCullers (GCL, starting pitcher) - This first round talent could dominate wherever he begins. A key question will be whether he can succeed as a starting pitcher, where his value is much higher than in the relief role. McCullers turns 19 in October.
More after the jump
6. Ariel Ovando (Greeneville, outfielder) - Ovando should be poised to shine more this year with a season at Greeneville already under his belt. Last year excessive strikeouts (51 in 170 AB) kept his numbers fairly low (.235/.283/.365). Ovando turns 19 in September.
7. D'Andre Toney (Greeneville, outfielder) - Toney, who is 20 years old, was part of the trade that sent H. Quintero and J. Bourgeois to the Royals. His results in low rookie ball last year were impressive (.340/.432/.587).
8. Adrian Houser (Greeneville, starting pitcher) - 2011 2nd round pick in the draft had solid results last year, when he split time between the GCL and Greeneville. Between the two leagues he ended up with 44 K's in 48 innings, with a 4.31 ERA. Houser is 19 years old.
9. Christopher Lee (Greeneville, starting pitcher) - This lefty was a fourth round pick in the 2011 draft. His performance at Greeneville last year was erratic, but lefthanders sometimes need additional time to figure things out. His strikeout rate (47 in 48.2 innings) is promising. Lee turns 20 in August.
10. Brady Rodgers (Tri-City, starting pitcher) - Rodgers doesn't have great velocity, but his polish could help him make steady progress through the minors. The Astros will need plenty of help in their MLB rotation the next few years. In a best case scenario, Rodgers, who will soon turn 22, could provide some of that help by 2014.
11. Vincent Velasquez (Tri-City, starting pitcher) - A 2010 round 2 draft pick, his development was stalled because of Tommy John surgery. Results at the end of 2010 were encouraging though (25/5 K/BB), and the talent is there. Velasquez just turned 20.
12. Joe Bircher (Tri-City, starting pitcher (?)) - Bircher, 21, was the first lefty starter the Astros drafted this year (10th round). Baseball America had him rated at # 421 in the country.
Others to watch: Brian Holmes (LHP, 21), Jobduan Morales (C, 21, acquired from the Marlins for Ruggiano), Javaris Reynolds (CF, 19), Wallace Gonzalez (OF, 19), Jean Batista (2B/SS/3B, 20), Andrew Aplin (CF, 21).
It should be a great year to watch the Astros' short season teams. Here's hoping that many of these players will succeed and that there will be some unexpected surprises as well.