The Astros farm system has improved by leaps and bounds over where it has been in years past. (To be simply gobsmacked, take a look at this piece I put together comparing this season to last.) Part of the improvement was certainly due to the infusion of new talent from this year's draft class and trade acquisitions, and part of it was due to highly regarded players from prior years living up to their hype. But some of the improvements came from unexpected sources at times. Let's look at the position players first.
First of all, there were several overachievers in the group. I don't think anyone can truly say that they were surprised by the terrific season of work from Domingo Santana, George Springer and Jon Singleton. But be honest. Did anyone really think that Delino DeShields would go from hitting .220/.305/.322 with 30 stolen bases and 73 runs one season to hitting .287/.389/.428 with an organization leading 101 stolen bases and 113 runs the next season? If you said yes, get a fire extinguisher because your pants are on fire. Ariel Ovando was a nice story for the season as a raw 18-year old (he turned 19 on September 15th) who started to really put things together at the plate. From hitting .235/.283/.365 in 2011 to .287/.350/.444 in 2012 was a very nice bump.
But there were several other position players who weren't really on anyone's radar that made statements this season as well. How about NDFA 2B Brian Blasik not only putting up a .318/.346/.424 batting line for Greeneville this season with a .981 fielding percentage and a 4.33 range factor, but also being named team MVP? Or there was Drew Muren, all 6'6" 195 pounds of him, getting bounced around the system and putting up a .291/.341/.409 combined batting line over three separate levels. And there was 2B Jose Martinez who, coming in to the season, had only played in six games since 2008 hitting .304/.362/.464 before his promotion to Oklahoma City. He was one of the system's top RBI men as well.
Speaking of RBI, let's look at Lexington 1B Zach Johnson. Johnson tied for the organizational lead with 108 RBI. To me, Zach Johnson was an unsung hero of the 2012 season. He worried far less about his batting average than he did about driving in runs and fielding his position. He only hit .238/.339/.406 but he led the organization with twice as many sacrifice flies as any other player, was tied for 10th in home runs and was second in doubles with 38. Looking at boxscores all year long, I can tell you that he drove in runs any way he could, even if it meant making an out in the process. He also put up a .988 fielding percentage with a 9.37 range factor which, even though I'm not a stats geek, seems pretty darned good.
And then there were those players who seemed to thrive once healthy and playing on a regular basis. Both 1B/DH Erik Castro and 2B Enrique "Kike" Hernandez showed what they could do at Lancaster the first full season of regular play following surgeries that disrupted their careers. Castro was the player who tied Zach Johnson for the lead in RBI with 108. Not only did he hit a more than respectable .285/.382/.511 with 27 doubles and 27 home runs, he was extremely proficient at first base with a .990 fielding percentage and 8.89 range factor. Hernandez, a good fielder as well, hit well enough with a .275/.318/.418 batting line, to merit an August promotion from Lancaster to Corpus Christi. He also hit a total of 27 doubles, seven triples and six home runs this season and he just turned 21. Many had totally forgotten about or written off players like these two.
Another couple of players overcame nagging injuries to put up good numbers as well and to fulfill our original expectations of them. Brandon Meredith did this season what we all expected from him last season as he hit .278/.377/.506 with 19 doubles, four triples and 15 home runs at Lexington. Meredith hit only one fewer home run than team leader Matt Duffy did in 217 fewer plate appearances. And Jio Mier, when well this season, performed much as we had expected him to when he was first drafted for the Lancaster team, hitting .292/.396/.409, a far cry over his 2011 numbers.
There were many other noteworthy performances this season, from Mike Hessman's 35 home runs to Nolan Fontana's 65 walks in only 49 games to Matt Duffy's 41 hit by pitches to Telvin Nash's 29 home runs (and 198 strikeouts) to Tyler Heineman's NYPL batting title, but I just wanted to point out a few of the difference makers for 2012.
Whether or not you believe that some of these players can sustain and build on their terrific performances, they are a part of the reason that the Astros minor league system was so successful this year. They helped to bring us respectability and hope for the future. For that, if nothing else, I salute them. The rest is lagniappe.