TCB Top 30 Astros Prospects: Part 1, Nos. 24-30

As part of our annual Top 30 prospect blowout, here are capsules and the podcast for Nos. 24-30.

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Once again, we're talking prospects here at TCB. This year, we're tweaking how we roll these out. In addition to our podcast (which you could have heard live Saturday night), we'll be posting capsules of all the players we discuss here. That includes their average grades, reader grades and even a few dissenting opinions.

In this hour, we've got Brooks Parker, Spencer Morris and Tim De Block discussing the list and prospects who just missed making it. They also explain the grading system and talk about rising and falling prospects from last year's list.

Who were the guys who just missed?

  • Chris Cotton - 65
  • Ariel Ovando - 64
  • Rudy Owens - 55
  • Gonzalo Sanudo - 48
  • Travis Ballew - 40
  • Austin Nicely - 38
  • Joe Musgrove - 33

And, now for our capsules on TCB's Top 24-30 prospects:

24. Tony Kemp, 2B, Quad Cities

Last year's rank: N/A

2013 stats: 75 games, 324 PAs, .273/.366/.345, 2 HRs, 22 RBIs, 46 runs, 21 of 32 stolen bases, 12% walk rate, 14% strikeout rate

Average grade: 4.00

TCB Reader grade: 4.29

Notes: The Astros apparently love short second basemen. What else could explain their accumulation of so many last year. In addition to drafting former Vanderbilt second baseman Tony Kemp in the fifth round this past summer, Houston traded part of its International Free Agent pool to the Cubs for Ronald Torrayes, who is 5-foot-7. Kemp is listed as 5-foot-6. That doesn't mean he's an inferior prospect, but it explains why a guy who flashed this kind of plate discipline in his first season in the minors is low on the list. Kemp will always be undervalued by traditional scouting, but has a chance to be a sparkplug at the top of the order.

Dissenting opinion by Ashitaka: What is this guy doing in the top twenty-five? Are we that enamored with Jose Altuve (who stunk last year, let's be honest) that we're grading positively for novelty now? Kemp drew walks and didn't strike out much, but what else did he really do? No power whatsoever, despite a bunch of his games coming with Tri-City, a team playing in a nice offensive park. He stole 21 bases, but he was caught 11 times too (66%, not good). He didn't hit for much average, despite good BAbip numbers, and he did all this playing against very low-level competition. Expecting an advanced, polished bat, I was thoroughly underwhelmed. I know, "In Luhnow we trust," but even he isn't perfect, and given Kemp's profile, it's going to take serious statistical results to climb the ladder (ala Jose Altuve). Altuve ripped his way through the Minors. Kemp's numbers would have made him just acceptable if he had posted them in the Majors, much less the low minors. I need to see more.

25. Tyler Heineman, C, Lancaster

Last year's rank: N/A

2013 stats: 104 games, 428 PAs, .286/.361/.476, 13 HRs, 71 RBIs, 67 runs, 2 of 5 stolen bases, 7% walk rate, 11% strikeout rate

Average grade: 3.75

TCB Reader grade: 4.43

Notes: The former UCLA Bruin was drafted in the eighth round in 2012. Since then, he's quickly moved up the hierarchy of Astros catching prospects, displaying a great rapport with the pitching staff and solid defense. The biggest question about Heineman, one that our own Anthony Boyer delved into during this detailed interview with the backstop, is his spike in power. Is it real? Will he be able to sustain it? With his decent walk rate, low strikeout rate and 15-homer power, Heineman could easily become a big league backup, if not challenging to be a starter down the line.

Dissenting opinion by CRPerry13: So, I gave Heineman a 2.5, after giving him a score of 3 last season. I have a very good reason. One that is unassailable, unapproachable, and understandable. See, Heineman has one strike against him that is just impossible to overlook, and that’s that his name is too close to “Heidenreich”. And so, when I was rating prospects, my eyes saw “Tyler Heineman” and my brain interpreted “Matt Heidenreich.” So I graded Heineman on the 8.23 ERA that he posted in 52 innings at Double A. Only...Heineman was not in AA last season. And he’s a catcher. A pretty good one, actually. So when I say I gave him a 2.5, what I actually mean is that I gave him a 4, and that a problem between the chair and the keyboard prevented it from being entered properly. Dang clerical errors. Always check your work, kids. (For what it’s worth, my grade did not affect his overall ranking. To a man, every writer for TCB gave him between a 3 or 4 ranking, and so my whoops had no impact whatsoever. Our thoughts on Heineman are quite uniform - he looks like a guy who could be a decent major league catcher, and he will need to use 2014 to overcome our skepticism over his sudden power breakout. Incidentally, Heidenreich ranked 66th on our prospect list. Not the same guy at all, it turns out.:

26. Josh Hader, LHP, Quad Cities

Last year's rank: N/A

2013 stats: 22 games, 107 innings, 2.77 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 95 Ks, 54 BBs, 6.8 hits per nine allowed

Average grade: 3.69

TCB Reader grade: 5.14

Notes: Acquired as part of the Bud Norris trade with Baltimore, the 19-year old Hader is a young, highly regarded arm. Hader left his hometown club, as he's from Millersville, Maryland, but the left-hander has potential to make Houston is new home soon. Hader still has some room to fill out, as he's only listed as 160 pounds at 6-foot-3, but he already hits the mid-90's with his fastball from a three-quarters angle. Hader only threw 22 innings in five starts with Quad Cities after the trade, striking out 16 and walking 12. Hader was pitching in his first full season in the pros and made it to Low A, so he's made good progress. How he handles the jump to Lancaster next season will be telling for his development.

Dissenting opinion: From David - Only three of us hung a "C" grade on Hader. Most went with at least a "C+," which doesn't seem like a big difference, but to me is all about the production/upside debate. Hader may have all the upside in the world, but it hasn't translated to production yet. His ERA was low, but his peripherals suggested a more average season. There's plenty of promise here, but to me, he's behind quite a few pitchers on the org chart, including a guy lower on this list in Kyle Smith.

27. Leo Heras, OF, Corpus Christi

Last year's rank: N/A

2013 stats: 101 games, 440 PAs, .299/.393/.505, 12 HRs, 47 RBIs, 88 runs, 13% walk rate, 19% strikeout rate

Average grade: 3.71

TCB Reader grade: 3.95

Notes: General Manager Jeff Luhnow has not been shy about exhausting all options to improve the Houston Astros. He's also said repeatedly how important having a Mexican presence can be for a city with a large Hispanic population. So, was it surprising when the Astros scoured the Mexican Leagues to sign Leo Heras and Japhet Amador last summer? Heras is older for a prospect at 23, but he's played at a relatively high level in the "Triple-A" level in Mexico. His stats there may have been inflated by the altitude, but his walk rate is no joke. He should provide a nice flier of a prospect who could develop into a bench player.

28. M.P. Cokinos, 1B, Lancaster

Last year's rank: N/A

2013 stats: 109 games, 495 PAs, .313/.395/.475, 13 HRs, 94 RBIs, 71 runs, 1 of 4 stolen bases, 9% walk rate, 8% strikeout rate

Average grade: 3.61

TCB Reader grade: 4.04

Notes: Have you gotten your #DailyDoseofCoke? One of the best stories in the Astros minor league system was Cokinos. An unheralded 31st-round pick out of St. Mary's in San Antonio, Cokinos has done nothing but hit since coming into the Astros system. The reason none of us heralded him last year was because he hit in Tri-City in a relatively paltry number of plate appearances. When he did the same in Lancaster, it was Small Sample Size Theater early, growing into something more and more impressive as he just kept raking and raking. The reason Cokinos is not ranked more highly is everyone here understands his limitations. He's not a great prospect. He's limited defensively, which means his margin for error is very, very small. He has to keep raking, keep hitting for power and keep his strikeout rate very, very low to stay on this list. It's a tall order, but it should be pretty fun to see if he can do it in Corpus next year.

Dissenting opinion: There were five of us who gave Cokinos a straight C grade, yet two writers gave him a C+/B- grade. I honestly like him based on character reports and his work ethic, however, the lack of tools limit any type of upside. He can hit, I'll give him that every day of the week, but can he hit for power? Nah, not really. And if he's limited to first base as he is right now, it's hard to project him as a hitter who can stick on a ML roster. However, if he can get a decent grasp of LF, he may have some potential as a high-OBP type pinch hitter who can handle a few spots on the field.

29. Kyle Smith, RHP, Lancaster

Last year's rank: N/A

2013 stats: 24 games, 127 innings, 3.67 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 117 Ks, 38 BBs, 8.4 hits per nine allowed

Average grade: 3.57

TCB Reader grade: 4.25

Notes: Did anyone think Justin Maxwell would return a Top 30 prospect when Jeff Luhnow plucked him off waivers two years ago? I mean, some hoped, but few thought it could happen after Maxwell got hurt early last season and missed most of the summer. But, the Royals bit and sent the Astros this 21-year old right-hander. Drafted in 2011, Smith was old for a high schooler at the time, but has progressed quickly through the Kansas City system. He reached HIgh A ball last summer, throwing well there and featuring solid stuff. In Anthony's interview with Tyler Heineman, the Lancaster catcher was very complimentary of Smith's offspeed stuff, which should bode well for him. He'll join a crowded group of arms competing for time in Corpus Christi next season and could emerge from the pack thanks to the tandem starter system.

Dissenting opinion by Ashrib: To be frank, I just don't see anything that Kyle Smith has to offer - statistically or stuff-wise - that lends me to believe he's anything better than a middle of the road minor leaguer. He's not a big guy (6'0, 170), his fastball sits at 88-91, and he was a 21-year-old in Single-A last year. I know John Sickels thought Kansas City gave up too much when they swapped Smith for Justin Maxwell, but he openly admitted liking Smith more than other scouts/prospect gurus. I'm inclined to believe a team wouldn't give up much for a career .228 hitter. Maybe (hopefully) I'm wrong, but I just don't see it.

30. Adrian Houser, RHP, Tri-City

Last year's rank: 28

2013 stats: 14 games, 50 innings, 3.42 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 39 Ks, 10 BBs, 10.3 hits per nine allowed

Average grade: 3.46

TCB Reader grade: 3.95

Notes: When he was picked in the second round of the 2011 draft, Houser was supposed to be the next Bobby Heck Special, a relatively unknown pitcher who was plucked after the first round and expected to become great. He was the next Jordan Lyles, the next Tanner Bushue (at least for a year or two), the next Vincent Velasquez. Except he didn't get the memo. Houser still hasn't made it into full season ball, three years after being drafted. After having a terrible 2012 season, Houser's numbers rebounded last season in Tri-City, but he still only threw 50 innings. The best thing about Houser's situation now is he doesn't have to be Heck's Next Big Thing. He can take time to develop, sitting below this list of more highly regarded starters, with better upsides and better performances, taking his time to see if his sterling 2013 numbers were for real.

Dissenting opinion by Ashitaka: I gave Houser a 4.0 grade, which was right in-line with you readers, but considering Houser was an Ed Wade pick and has been around for a while, yet he’s never tossed a pitch for an A-ball club, I can understand ,y fellow writers being down on him. It’s important to remember, however, just how young Houser was when he was drafted. At this point, he’s still going to be just 21 years old all season, so it’s far from time to give up on him. Keep in mind that he’s been developing in professional ball instead of college, and this means he’s right in-line with the ages of our recent college draftees. His peripherals are strong (notably his BB/9 improved hugely this year), he gets ground balls and he practically never allows home runs (0.17 HR/9 on his career!) To put that into perspective, in the last three years, Houser has allowed homers at a rate of just 3.8 homers for every two hundred innings. Folks, that’s bonkers-good. Batters had a tougher time taking him deep than they did Lance McCullers and his man-among-boys heat. Quite simply, the below-the-surface numbers say that, when he’s on, he’s very hard to make good contact against. Now throw in some other things like a career .338 BAbip and strand rates that have been lower than average, and there’s good reason to believe a breakout is still quite possible (fun fact; his career FIP is exactly one full run lower than his career ERA).

From the TCB podcast crew Happy Holidays! We'll see you in 2014.

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Next Scheduled Podcast Recording: 2014

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If you have an feedback for the show you can email me at timothy.deblock@gmail.com. And a big thank you to those of you that have given feedback in the comments, via email or by iTunes ratings. We really appreciate it.

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