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12. Michael Feliz, RHP, Tri-City
Last year's rank: N/A
2013 stats: 14 games, 69 innings, 1.96 ERA, 2.01 FIP, 78 Ks, 13 BBs, 6.9 hits per nine allowed
Average grade: 5.34
TCB Reader grade: 5.66
Notes: Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2010, Feliz netted $400,000 at the time. Then, he was suspended 50 games before actually signing for testing positive for a PED, coloring the excitement around him. If the suspension may have dropped his name from the prospect circles, his arm has moved it right back in. Feliz has a beautiful fastball, touching 97 MPH at times. He’s got a clean delivery and dominated in a small sample size in Tri-City last year. JSams did a great job of profiling him during the season here. There are plenty of concerns about pitchers in the low minors, but Feliz certainly shows enough promise to rank highly on this list.
Dissenting opinion From CRPerry - Feliz is a fantastic pitching prospect, but my grade of C+ (lower than everybody else's) is based on my reluctance to judge a player on only 69 innings of low-A ball. I expect he will rise into the consensus Top 10 of Astros prospect lists, perhaps by the 2014 offseason. But for me, it's too soon to put him ahead of pitchers like West, Wojo, NiTro, and even Thurman, who are closer to the majors and carry less risk.
13. Nicholas Tropeano, RHP, Corpus Christi
Last year's rank: 8
2013 stats: 28 games, 133 innings, 4.11 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 130 Ks, 39 BBs, 9.4 hits per nine allowed
Average grade: 5.11
TCB Reader grade: 5.22
Notes:The 2013 campaign feels like a lost season for Tropeano. Expectations were sky-high for him coming off a blistering 2012 campaign that saw him strike out 166 in 157 innings between Low A and High A. NiTro didn’t do anything wrong in 2013. He just didn’t look outstanding. Well, his ERA didn’t stand out. Everything else about him did. Tropeano struck out batters at a rate equivalent to his Lancaster numbers. He didn’t walk anyone (his walk rate stayed consistent at his last three levels). He didn’t strand a ton more runners, meaning his FIP stayed about the same as it was in Lancaster. Trouble is, a few different pitchers jumped him in the rankings as he was putting up a fine, if lackluster, season. Tropeano is still one of the most advanced pitchers in the system and will continue to impress this year with a chance to see the majors at some point.
Dissenting opinion from Tim: I have been tasked with Tropeano's dissenting opinion because I had a higher grade than everyone. Everyone else gave him a B- grade I gave him a B. Why? Because he has the best nickname in the minor leagues. It doesn't get any better than NiTro. He made a successful jump from Class-A Lancaster to Class-AA Corpus Christi. His peripherals in 2012 and 2013 were as identical as you're going to get from a prospect moving up a level. Oh, and did I mention he had the distinction this past year of getting a one-pitch strikeout. Tropeano doesn't get the play that Foltynewicz does because his average fastball velocity is four miles per hour slower, but he's got a better separation between his fastball and change-up. He should be at Class-AAA next year, just a breath away from his major league debut. Of all the pitching prospects close to the major leagues he might have the most impact for the Astros next year.
14. Preston Tucker, OF, Corpus Christi
Last year's rank: 14
2013 stats: 135 games, 601 PAs, .297/.368/.505, 25 HRs, 103 RBIs, 97 runs, 3 of 4 stolen bases, 9% walk rate, 15% strikeout rate
Average grade: 4.97
TCB Reader grade: 5.08
Notes: The genius of Jeff Luhnow as a scouting director/personnel guru is that he finds hitters and pitchers seemingly from nowhere. He doesn’t just draft consensus, toolsy guys and call it a day. He and his scouting staffs grind out the details to find guys with as many skills as tools. Such is the case of Preston Tucker, who comes from the Allen Craig, Jon Jay, Matt Carpenter school of un-sexy prospects who just hit and hit and hit. Tucker made it to Double-A last season, in his first full year in the pros after being drafted in the seventh round out of Florida. There, he hit well, posting solid averages, great walk rates and flashing enough power to play at the higher levels. Only George Springer had more total bases last season in the Astros minor league system than Tucker. He’ll get a chance to hit in Triple-A this season and he’ll get a chance to hit his way onto the Astros at some point, too. Not bad for a seventh round pick.
Dissenting opinion:From CRPerry - Tucker is not a "ceiling" guy; he's a "floor" guy, but that floor is unusually high. He reminds me of any number of "out of nowhere" Cardinals hitters. Tucker's career numbers are tracking with Allen Craig's minor league stats and are a fair bit better than Matt Adams' were. To me, Tucker's floor is that of an average major league RF, LF, or DH, with very little chance of being worse than that and a decent chance of being better. I ranked Tucker 7th on my Astros top 10 because I think his high probability of being a productive everyday player outweighs the ceilings of the higher-risk guys behind him like Santana, Ruiz, and Foltynewicz.
15. Aaron West, RHP, Lancaster
Last year's rank: 22
2013 stats: 26 games, 108 innings, 5.22 ERA, 2.56 FIP, 112 Ks, 17 BBs, 11.1 hits per nine allowed
Average grade: 4.80
TCB Reader grade: 4.47
Notes: This might shock you, but Aaron West is a bit of a TCB favorite. He’s been on twodifferent TCBpodcasts. He made it to the finals of our March Madness pool last year, narrowly edging out Asher Wojciechowski for the title. Oh, and he’s done interviews with our staff. Because of that, you might think that our ranking of him so highly is based on that love, not his results. If you’re judging West just on ERA, that might be true. But, all his peripherals were excellent in a tough league and home park. He raised his strikeout rate a tad and did not walk anyone. At all. In fact, the reason for his horrible ERA might be directly tied to his horrendous 58 percent LOB rate. If that’s league-average 70 percent, his ERA is 3.22 instead of 5.22. That’s why West is one of the safest pitchers in the system and one of the guys who may quickly find his way to Houston. Then, he can be everyone’s favorite and not just TCB’s.
Dissenting opinion from CRPerry13: West sustained a 2.56 FIP, a 24% K rate, and a 4% walk rate in 2013. In Lancaster. Again, I say, IN LANCASTER. In fact, West had the lowest FIP in the CAL league of any pitcher (100+ IP) since 2010. He accomplished this despite being just 23 years old. He drew early comps to Roy Oswalt after 2012, and some still say he has Top of Rotation potential. I didn't go all crazy on his ranking because he has a ways to go, but I am a fan of what he did in 2013 in a very difficult pitching environment. I graded him at 5.5, or just about a B; higher than the C+ average grade he received from the group as a whole.
16. Nolan Fontana, SS, Lancaster
Last year's rank: 16
2013 stats: 104 games, 499 PAs, .259/.415/.399, 8 HRs, 60 RBIs, 88 runs, 16 of 21 stolen bases, 20% walk rate, 20% strikeout rate
Average grade: 4.78
TCB Reader grade: 4.67
Notes: Kevin Youkilis may have been the Greek God of Walks. If he is, then Nolan Fontana is the Apache God of Getting On Base. All he does is get on base at a high clip. When there, he steals bases at an efficient rate. He also plays a premium defensive positions and first-hand reports suggest he can stick there. If he can hit for the kind of power he did this year, he's a prototype leadoff guy in a year. This year will be key for him, though. If Fontana can't sustain his contact rates against Double-A pitching, he won't make it.
Dissenting opinion from David - Of the thousands of players in MiLB last season, only 10 had at least 400 plate appearances and an on-base percentage higher than Fontana's. Of those ten, only two played below Triple-A or the independent leagues. Only five players in the Cal League had on-base percentages close to Fontana's, and none of them came within 150 plate appearances of him. What does all that mean? Fontana has an elite skill that is one of the most efficient at turning into runs in the majors. If he can post a .380 on-base percentage with the Astros despite hitting below .260, he's an All-Star level player. Add in the fact that all reports suggest he can stick at shortstop and Fontana is a highly underrated guy. No, he's not the best prospect on this list. His tools aren't great and there are concerns about his contact skills. But, he gets on base and he plays a premium defensive position. I'll take those skills over more ethereal tools any day of the week.
17. Asher Wojciechowski, RHP, Oklahoma City
Last year's rank: 17
2013 stats: 28 games, 160 innings, 3.32 ERA, 3.40 FIP, 131 Ks, 51 BBs, 7.5 hits per nine allowed
Average grade: 4.74
TCB Reader grade: 5.58
Notes:Of the players on our Top 30 list, only George Springer may be more major league-ready than Wojo. The 25-year-old made it to Triple-A last season, showing good strikeout rates and decent run prevention. He's got the body to eat innings and showed that last season, shaking off any injury concerns from his time in Toronto. Why isn't he higher on this list? It's all about floors and ceilings. Right now, Wojo looks like a very safe bet to start games in the majors soon. He's made it. But, he doesn't have overwhelming stuff. He won't wow anyone with his fastball or his breaking pitches. So, he gets hung with a middle-rotation label and moved here. But, of the upper tier guys hitting the majors, Wojo may have the best chance to be a good big leaguer. He's got more of a chance than Cosart, Obiehockey or any of them. The guy he kind of reminds me of is Wade Miller. Not real flashy, but has a chance to be a top-level pitcher on a bad staff.
Dissenting opinion from Brooks: I was a bit aggressive with Wojo after being acquired by the Astros in 2012, and he only solidified that with a strong beginning of the season in 2013. However, his peripherals took a nose dive when he was promoted to AAA. The 7 K/9 and 3 BB/9 aren't terrible, but the 32% GB% is a significant concern in my book as it's much lower than his career rate. That's not to say he can't or won't contribute to a major league team, because I still think he can, it's just that I don't think he can be the #3 I once thought he could be.
18. Andrew Thurman, RHP, Tri-City
Last year's rank: N/A
2013 stats: 12 games, 39 innings, 3.86 ERA, 3.73 FIP, 43 Ks, 11 BBs, 9.8 hits per nine allowed
Average grade: 4.52
TCB Reader grade: 4.98
Notes: Drafted in the second round last summer out of UC-Irvine, Thurman got overshadowed by another, higher Astros pitching draftee. But, in limited time in short season ball, the former Anteater showed why Houston invested in him. Flashing good stuff, Thurman posted a great strikeout to walk rate in 39 innings for the Valley Cats. He'll be tested this fall with a probable assignment to Lancaster, but if he can continue to flash his great control, Thurman should rise up this list pretty steadily.
Dissenting opinion by Anthony: The past few years, if you’ve been a Houston Astros fan, you’ve been a fan of the draft. You’ve turned your attention to videos and scouting reports and mock drafts. If you’re like some of us on staff, you spent far more hours than you care to admit watching high school boys throw balls and swing bats. You’ve learned to love ceilings. Ceilings are dreamy. Ceilings are sexy. Ceilings are gold. But not all players reach those ceilings, and so your hearts are broken. Repeatedly. So when the Astros went with high-floor college players in the first five rounds of the draft, you felt a little let down. But Jeff Luhnow knows a thing or two about the draft, and there’s a reason he took UC Irvine’s Friday night starter in the second round, and felt giddy when he did it. Simply put, Thurman was a mid-to-late first round talent with baseball skills. And in his first bit of professional baseball, he showed those skills off, striking out more than a batter per inning, and walking just 2.50 per 9 IP. That’s almost 4 strikeouts per walk, Okay, those aren’t Michael Feliz numbers, but they’re not half bad - and there’s still room to catch up to the 4.79 K/BB he had during his junior year in Irvine. With a mid-90s fastball that shows plus movement, two plus breaking balls (curve and slider), and a solid changeup, he’s a middle of the rotation pitcher who has a pretty good chance of hitting his ceiling, though it may not be as cathedral-high as some of us were dreaming on. Also fun: Fangraphs has no idea what side of the plate he hits from.
19. Danry Vasquez, RF, Quad Cities
Last year's rank: N/A
2013 stats: 129 games, 551 PAs, .284/.331/.400, 9 HRs, 60 RBIs, 59 runs, 11 of 19 stolen bases, 7% walk rate, 13% strikeout rate
Average grade: 4.43
TCB Reader grade: 4.82
Notes: How deep is the Houston farm system? When Vasquez was traded to Houston last summer as part of the Jose Veras deal, he was the fourth-best prospect in Detroit's system. Here, Vasquez barely cracks the Top 20. That's not a slight on him, as the lanky outfielder has plenty of upside. Vasquez doesn't fit the traditional sabermetric profile, as he doesn't walk a ton and makes plenty of contact. His power also hasn't translated to games yet and he steals bases, but does it inefficiently. However, that upside makes him intriguing. At 20, Vasquez is one of the youngest everyday players Houston has. He joined an already young Quad Cities team last year and gave the Astros yet another solid future player in that young core. Vasquez will need to continue developing and it would help if he flashed power next year in Lancaster. He also gives Houston organizational depth at the corner outfield spots, something they lack.
Dissenting opinion from CRPerry13: Regular readers know by now that I am a fan of scouting and mechanics, but that actual results mean more to me in the way I evaluate players. What they should do matters less than what they are doing. And Vasquez’ 4.7% BB rate, 103 wRC+, and lack of power AND speed at A-level ball fails to impress me. Yes, I know he’s only 19, and therefore he should not be totally judged by his statistics while playing with and against fellows who boast beards and beers. Thus, my C- rating instead of, say, F or G+. But there’s this other fellow who was also incredibly young and toolsy, with unlimited upside, and I had him in my Top 10 last season - Ariel Ovando. The same Ovando who is ranked in the 60’s on our 2013/2014 prospect list. I am now wary of super-young guys who the scouts love, but whose actual performance underwhelms. I just can’t get behind a player who hits .284/.331/.400 at single-A ball. Hopefully, he changes my mind in 2014.
20. Teoscar Hernandez, CF, Quad Cities
Last year's rank: N/A
2013 stats: 123 games, 565 PAs, .271/.328/.435, 13 HRs, 55 RBIs, 97 runs, 24 of 35 stolen bases, 7% walk rate, 24% strikeout rate
Average grade: 4.42
TCB Reader grade: 4.79
Notes: On Opening Day, Kevin Goldstein was nice enough to chat with TCB for a bit at MMP. There, the legend of Teoscar was born. Hernandez was a player Goldstein said to watch out for, causing us to follow him more closely. Of course, his assignment to Quad Cities with the rest of the Astros' Prospect Justice League also would have made his profile rise. He's got quite a few tools, flashing power, speed and good defense, but he's still got a ways to go. His strikeout rate is a bit high and his walk rate isn't high enough to offset it. Though his power has flashed, it hasn't shown up in a big way yet. Still, he's the perfect kind of player who could thrive in Lancaster, using his speed to hit triples, using his power to hit plenty of home runs and using that inflated run environment to finally put up the numbers to match his scouting reports.
Dissenting opinion from Ashrib: This quote from a May 16 Baseball Prospectus article sums up my feelings on Teoscar perfectly: "plus bat speed; plus power potential; developing plate discipline; hit tool still developing; plus overall defensive package in center field; sleeper prospect with arrow pointing up." In addition to his plus-plus name, Teoscar has all five tools. Granted, he hasn't put them together yet, but the potential is very exciting. It's easy to grade prospects like Mark Appel, because the stats reflect the stuff and you pretty much know what you're going to get. Guys like Teoscar are trickier - maybe he's Carlos Beltran; maybe he'll never even reach the majors. But his potential is too much to overlook.
21. Brady Rodgers, RHP, Lancaster
Last year's rank: 24
2013 stats: 29 games, 122 innings, 5.02 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 114 Ks, 23 BBs, 10.7 hits per nine allowed
Average grade: 4.36
TCB Reader grade: 4.33
Notes: Drafted in the third round of the 2012 draft out of Arizona State, Rodgers got overshadowed a little by the other players in his draft class. Carlos Correa was the phenom at the top. Lance McCullers was the bonus baby drafted lower than he should have been. Rio Ruiz was the best money can buy later on. What he's lacked in hype, though, Rodgers has made up for in performance. With a combination of control and a heavy two-seamer, Rodgers could move through the system pretty quickly. His ERA looked ugly last season at Lancaster, but his peripherals held up well. His catcher, Tyler Heineman, also raved about Rodgers' stuff and said he was one of the best pitchers he'd caught. He should join a stacked rotation in Corpus Christi that will feature Aaron West and Mark Appel, among others.
Dissenting opinion by Anthony: Tyler Heineman, Brady Rodgers, and Aaron West: A trio that has been together a long time. Though they were opponents in the Pac-12, they’ve been teammates since becoming professionals, and they all stand a pretty good chance of playing major league ball together. For all the love (deservedly) heaped upon Lance McCullers, Rodgers probably stands the best chance of any Astros 2012 draftee of having a prolonged major league career. His arsenal isn’t sexy - a low-90s fastball, a breaking ball that looks angry when it’s on, a serviceable changeup - but he commands it well, and he has what we call "pitchability." He doesn’t issue many walks, he strikes out close to a batter an inning, and when the Astros needed someone to make spot starts at Double-A and Triple-A, he was the one they called on to do it. Across all three High-A leagues, only four pitchers threw more than 100 innings with a better K/BB than Rodgers - and one was West. Brady may end up as a dominant reliever or a bottom-of-the-rotation pitcher, but you can count on him making it to the big leagues, and once he’s there, you can be reasonably assured that he’ll be successful.
22. Carlos Perez, C, Oklahoma City
Last year's rank: 15
2013 stats: 91 games, 356 PAs, .271/.332/.356, 3 HRs, 37 RBIs, 35 runs, 1 of 2 stolen bases, 8% walk rate, 14% strikeout rate
Average grade: 4.17
TCB Reader grade: 4.58
Notes: Picked up from the Blue Jays in that massive trade two years ago, Perez has climbed steadily through the system. He reached Triple-A last year and put up the kind of numbers fans can expect from him. He's not an offensive threat, but he features a good walk rate, doesn't strike out much and has little power. He is a very good defensive catcher, though, which is why he was at Triple-A last year. Houston left Perez unprotected for the Rule 5 draft and most predict he'll get taken by the White Sox.
Dissenting opinion by Ashitaka: My grade of 5.0 was a good bit higher than most of the other TCB writers, and I'm puzzled as to why. Sure, Perez didn't hit much last year, but since when is that the deciding factor for a catcher? Take Nolan Fontana (who I graded lower at 4.5, for the record); he didn't hit much either, plays a less-premium defensive position (as catcher is #1), but there is less certainty about his defensive ability, and he did his non-hitting in a much more friendly environment (A-Advanced instead of Triple-A, and the RedHawks home park in the PCL is actually a pitcher-friendly one, certainly unlike Lancaster's launching pad). Perez, meanwhile, is Major League-ready as a defensive player by all reports, and his defense is good enough to where he'll likely stick as a backup at least. That's a pretty high floor for a guy who was just 22 years old playing in Triple-A. Now add in the fact that, although he didn't do much with the stick in 2013, he does have some actual offensive ability and potential, and the fact that he didn't make the Top 20 (and Fontana did) leaves me scratching my head.
23. Andrew Aplin, CF, Lancaster
Last year's rank: 27
2013 stats: 128 games, 598 PAs, .278/.376/.424, 9 HRs, 107 RBIs, 102 runs, 24 of 30 stolen bases, 14% walk rate, 10% strikeout rate
Average grade: 4.13
TCB Reader grade: 4.49
Notes: Aplin is easily one of the better outfield defenders in the system. Drafted by the Astros in the fifth round in 2012, the center fielder made it to Lancaster in 2013. There, he continued to show the kind of power that blossomed in Tri-City in 2012 but was never present in college at Arizona State. Both Tri-City and Lancaster are fairly extreme offensive parks, though, which means Aplin's transition to Corpus Christi will be telling in 2014. Still, with his efficient success rate on steals and good walk rate, Aplin could become an offensive plus at a premium position pretty soon.
Dissenting opinion by CRPerry13: I like Aplin, I really do. But I don’t see a player who so many of my peers slapped a B- grade on. He has a tiny bit of power. He has good speed. By accounts, he plays good defense. He doesn’t strike out much. He does walk a bunch. He does everything that I like to see in an outfielder. But something makes me hesitate from ranking him as a "Top 100"-level player. Rather, a straight-C grade reflects my skepticism of an outfielder who only hits .278 in 128 games in the CAL League, and who plays home games at Lancaster’s launch pad. OK, yes, I just cited batting average as an evaluative stat. So sue me. Let me be perfectly clear - I think Aplin is a legitimate major league center field prospect. But given Lancaster and the CAL league’s offensive environment, Aplin’s 113 wRC+ doesn’t do enough for me to bump him up among the most drool-worthy farm hands.
From the TCB podcast crew Happy Holidays! We'll see you in 2014.
Next Scheduled Podcast Recording: 2014