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1. Carlos Correa, SS, Quad Cities
Last year's rank: 2
2013 stats: 117 games, 519 PAs, .320/.405/.467, 9 HRs, 86 RBIs, 73 runs, 10 of 10 stolen bases, 11.2% walk rate, 16% strikeout rate
Average grade: 8.90
TCB Reader grade: 8.93
Notes: He's 19. He's a former No.1 overall pick and he just might be one of the best prospects in baseball. In his first full season in the minor leagues, Carlos Correa did not disappoint. The heralded shortstop hit .320/.405/.467 with Quad Cities in 519 plate appearances. That was good for a wRC+ of 147, meaning he was about 47 percent better than his typically older peers. There are still questions about his development, like will his power show up in games and can he stick at shortstop long-term. But, his combination of speed (10 steals) and power (45 XBH) make him one of the few players in the system who could be a star hitter down the road.
Dissenting opinion by Ashitaka: Considering my love for Correa, I'm surprised to find myself dissenting from the majority on him. However, it's clear that after one season at A-ball, everyone else is ready to call him one of the five best prospects in baseball, and as one of only two writers to give him less than a 9.0 grade, I think it's premature. For all he does (very) well, there are still real concerns about his ability to remain at shortstop and his mediocre foot speed. Throw in the fact that the BP power hasn't translated to game power yet, and I feel more comfortable with him in the top 15 or so nationally. It won't take much next year to change my mind, however.
2. George Springer, CF, Oklahoma City
Last year's rank: 3
2013 stats: 135 games, 590 PAs, .303/.411/.600, 37 HRs, 108 RBIs, 106 runs, 45 of 53 stolen bases, 14% walk rate, 27% strikeout rate
Average grade: 8.35
TCB Reader grade: 8.42
Notes: Soon, we will all be witnesses to the George Springer Experience. The 24-year old destroyed the minor leagues last season, falling just short of the 40-40 club with 37 home runs and 45 steals between Double-A and Triple-A. Springer also flashed an elite walk rate in the high minors and cut down on his strikeout rate from previous stops. Those strikeouts, though, are what make his big league future uncertain. If he can limit those, as he did in Oklahoma City to some degree, Springer can be an offensive force. If he can't, he turns into a poor man's Mike Cameron. Either way, we will see what Springer can do in the majors this season, which means he might be the most exciting player on this list.
Dissenting opinion: Nope. I will brook no dissent on Springer. He is the best. He will remain the best. He will win 50 MVPs and all of the Gold Gloves. Get on board or get left in the dust.
3. Mark Appel, RHP, Quad Cities
Last year's rank: N/A
2013 stats: 10 games, 38 innings, 3.79 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 33 Ks, 9 BBs, 8.5 hits per nine allowed
Average grade: 7.85
TCB Reader grade: 7.70
Notes: The second consecutive No. 1 overall pick Houston made, Mark Appel came close to joining the Astros in 2012. He went back to school after refusing the Pirates offer and had a good year at Stanford. By making some tweaks in his delivery, Appel raised his stock and got picked by Houston at the top of last year's draft. In his pro debut, Appel didn't overwhelm, but he did showcase how polished he is for a draft pick. He struck out just under 9 K/9, but had a decent walk rate with Quad Cities. After two extended college workload seasons, the Astros shut Appel down after 10 starts last year. He should be back in Double-A this year with a chance to make it to the majors if things break right.
Dissenting opinion by David: I actually didn't rate Appel much differently from my colleagues. I volunteered for this dissenting because, well, I've never been a huge Appel fan. I'm skeptical of his ability to be a front-line starter and think he's destined for a mid-rotation spot for a number of years. Kyle Boddy expressed some skepticism himself of Appel here. His comment about Appel's high floor is what hits home. I think Appel is a very safe pick who will pitch in the majors for a number of years. I'm just not convinced he will ever be overwhelming or lead a staff. That's not bad, it's just a tad uninspired for a No. 1 overall pick. Think Kris Benson instead of Stephen Strasburg.
4. Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Oklahoma City
Last year's rank: 1
2013 stats: 90 games, 367 PAs, .230/.351/.401, 11 HRs, 44 RBIs, 42 runs, 1 of 1 stolen bases, 16% walk rate, 29% strikeout rate
Average grade: 7.05
TCB Reader grade: 6.75
Notes: What a rollercoaster year for Jonathan Singleton. After having a slight chance to break camp with the big league team, Singleton was suspended for a drug of abuse violation in the minors. That resulted in a 50-game suspension for the young first baseman. After hitting well in spring training, Singleton went to extended spring training for those 50 games. He came back and looked rusty all year. Some of that may have been due to the layoff and some of that may have been due to the increased competition. The most disappointing aspect to his season was the power he displayed in 2012 disappeared for the most part in 2013. Singleton will still walk a ton and thus have value, but for him to be an impact player worthy of this lofty ranking, he needs to hit the ball over the fence. Hopefully, 2013 can be chalked up as a lost season for him and he gets back on track in 2014.
Dissenting opinion by Ashitaka: I graded Singleton a bit higher than most of the other writers, and well higher than you fine TCB readers, at 7.5. On a list that's usually populated with upside, tools, #want, #rig and so forth, it puzzles me that Singleton has slid like he has, not so much in the overall ranking, but in public perception. Make no mistake; all the tools that made you love him are still there. Why is everyone so down on him? He immaturely smoked some pot and ate too much while he was forced away from the game he loves for the first time in his life? He was 21 years old, folks. How mature and responsible were you at 21? Remember that one prospect we had who immaturely had a DUI in the past? What was his name again? Ah, that's right; Hunter Pence. Mr. Heart-and-hustle, soul-of-the-team, positive-energy, community-do-gooding Hunter Pence himself. He could have killed himself or someone else. Moral of the story; young kids do dumb, dumb things sometimes. That can be fixed, and much more easily than holes in a swing or funky mechanics.
5. Mike Foltynewicz, RHP, Corpus Christi
Last year's rank: 9
2013 stats: 30 games, 129 innings, 3.06 ERA, 4.12 FIP, 124 Ks, 66 BBs, 8.6 hits per nine allowed
Average grade: 6.60
TCB Reader grade: 7.07
Notes: Flames shoot out of Folty's hand when he throws a fastball. He's got one of the best fastballs in the system and took a big step forward in 2013. By dominating the Texas League, Folty moved up this list from last year. The only problem is he wasn't quite as dominant as he should have been. He didn't strike out as many batters as he should have with that fastball and he walked quite a few, too. That led to the disparity in his ERA (run prevention) and FIP (predictive of future results). It's also probably why TCB graders were a little more bearish on him than the readers. Still, his fastball plays and at the very least, Folty will turn into a power arm at the back of the bullpen. If his secondary pitches develop some, he's got a shot to be a rotation mainstay very soon.
Dissenting opinion by CRPerry13: I graded Foltynewicz a B-, which was lower than his B+ average. I do think he will be a successful major leaguer, but I am concerned that his lack of command over his breaking pitches will confine him to a late-inning bullpen role. Everybody drools over a 100-mph fastball, but the majors are littered with failed starters who relied too much on the gas and didn't develop other weapons. He looks like shades of Brad Lidge (a high-octane starter all the way through AAA), which is valuable, but I'd be nervous about putting him in my starting rotation. I'm hoping for breaking ball improvement in 2014 to change my mind.
6. Lance McCullers, RHP, Quad Cities
Last year's rank: 6
2013 stats: 25 games, 104 innings, 3.18 ERA, 2.91 FIP, 117 Ks, 49 BBs, 7.9 hits per nine allowed
Average grade: 6.34
TCB Reader grade: 7.09
Notes: For all the questions surrounding Folty, there were plenty around McCullers heading into this season. He answered them all by putting up a great season in Quad Cities as one of the youngest players in the league. His strikeout rate was great and he did a good job of preventing runs and hits. Will he be able to keep it up at the higher levels? That depends on how his secondary stuff plays. This season moved him a long way toward shaking the "future reliever" label he was tagged with in the draft. McCullers will get every opportunity to start games in the minors and, at least in 2013, showed he can do that very well.
Dissenting opinion by Ashitaka: I'm legitimately worried about his mechanics, command profile, and his ability to stick in the rotation long-term. The command of what he has now (fastball and slider) is shaky at times, and he'll need to not only improve the command of those, but also come up with a change up; reports say the one he has now is so inconsistent its often a non-factor. I like him, and I think his stuff provides him a relatively high floor considering his present issues, but we've seen guys with great stuff flame out from command issues and lacking third pitches many times before. I'm not ready to anoint him as a future starter, much less a rotation anchor.
7. Vincent Velasquez, RHP, Lancaster
Last year's rank: 19
2013 stats: 28 games, 124 innings, 3.54 ERA, 3.01 FIP, 142 Ks, 49 BBs, 7.5 hits allowed per game
Average grade: 5.94
TCB Reader grade: 6.07
Notes: If Mark Appel is clearly the class of the Astros pitching system, then throw a blanket over Folty, McCullers and Velasquez. The three of them are so close, it's hard to pick a favorite. But, what Velasquez did is really encouraging. Stats can be misleading in the minors, but check out what Velasquez did last season. He had a silly strikeout rate. He hardly allowed any hits and did so with a decent walk rate, too. He got hit slightly harder in Lancaster at the end of the season, but since returning from Tommy John surgery, Velasquez has shown velocity on his fastball and solid secondary options. That should be enough to get him ranked this highly.
Dissenting opinion by CRPerry13: While my grade on Velasquez of 5 is not too far off from his average grade, it was the lowest of all grades given. In this case, it has nothing to do with his actual talent - I believe he has a true ace ceiling. My hesitation is more about the sample sizes involved. Though he certainly was drafted highly enough to warrant benefit of the doubt, it took him three years to really get his career going, and he only pitched 124 innings this season after totalling only 70 innings in 2010 to 2012 combined. By this time next year, he could be mentioned among the best pitching prospects in baseball. Or, he could be a nice bullpen piece. With too few innings to really judge, I took the cautious approach and graded him as if he would be just outside of a national Top 100.
8. Domingo Santana, RF, Corpus Christi
Last year's rank: 7
2013 stats: 112 games, 476 PAs, .252/.345/.498, 25 HRs, 64 RBIs, 72 runs, 12 of 17 stolen bases, 10% walk rate, 29% strikeout rate
Average grade: 5.87
TCB Reader grade: 6.03
Notes: The Player to be Named in the Hunter Pence deal with Philadelphia has made a steady climb through Houston's system. Once tagged as a guy who had more tools than production, Santana has flashed power and a decent walk rate for the second straight season. He's still relatively young at 22, but showed some serious power in the Texas League last season. He also is a fairly efficient base runner and should provide plenty of value at a corner outfield spot soon for Houston. However, the biggest question with Santana will always be his contact rates. He has to make contact more consistently than he did with Corpus last year in the majors. How well he adjusts to that will determine how far he goes this year.
Dissenting opinion by Brooks: I flip back and forth on how I feel about Domingo Santana like a 12 year old girl feels about her recent crush. The strikeout rate went up by about a percentage point (29.2%) and the opposite for the walk rate (9.7%). However, the power didn't drop off like I expected. He actually improved his ISO and his home run total. The power is real guys. The power is very real. But will he make enough contact to utilize it? That's my big struggle with him. I think he can against lefties, but with the rate at which he's going to see right-handed pitching, there's significant concern about his ceiling. I think there's a major league future there because he has the defensive tools to be great in right field as he's faster than you'd expect and has a great arm. The routes are also improving. So, he may end up being a platoon outfielder if he can't improve his contact rate against righties.
9. Delino DeShields, Jr, CF, Lancaster
Last year's rank: 4
2013 stats: 111 games, 534 PAs, .317/.405/.468, 5 HRs, 54 RBIs, 100 runs, 51 of 69 stolen bases, 11% walk rate, 17% strikeout rate
Average grade: 5.86
TCB Reader grade: 6.41
Notes: DDJ is one of the most polarizing players in the Astros farm system. He's so polarizing, we did a Question of the Week on him earlier this year, asking if he were drafted at a different spot, would he still be so polarizing. I think the answer to that is no. If we remove the expectations that come from being the No. 8 pick in the draft, DDJ's prospect status would improve. Look at what he did last season in Lancaster. He had a .405 on-base percentage and stole 50 bases. Even with a move back to the outfield, DDJ shows an impact profile with just those two skills. Without showing more power, though, he'll always be an afterthought. But, if he can get on base at an elite rate and steal bases like that, he might have a Kenny Lofton-esque future ahead of him in the outfield. That alone should make him one of the best prospects in the system.
Dissenting opinion by Ashrib: DDJ is the most polarizing prospect in the Astros system - maybe all of baseball. He has every tool you could ever want in a baseball player, and yet...there's just something about him that makes people unsure. For every scouting report drooling over his five tools, there's a quote about his questionable makeup. He's the ultimate risk/reward player, a guy with a ceiling in the stars but a floor under the ocean.
Go look at the 2010 draft, which was loaded. Of the top-10 players who signed, DDJ is the only guy not in at least Triple-A. Yeah, I get that he's really young. But he was drafted three years ago and had to repeat Single-A. That scares me. Plus, the Astros don't even know where to play him. He was drafted as an outfielder, moved to second base and now is moving back to the outfield either because 1) he can't play second or 2) Jose Altuve was extended. The 8th overall pick is switching positions to accommodate a guy who had a 1.0 bWAR last year? No thank you.
DDJ's .317/.405/.468 line from last year is impressive...until you realize that it was in the California League, which seems to operate in zero gravity. All the plate discipline and power he flashed last year vanished in the AFL in October. Baseball Prospectus dropped him off its top-10 rankings completely and don't seem to have favorable things to say when they do write about him. As with all prospects I grade poorly, I would love to be wrong. I just have no faith in DDJ.
10. Rio Ruiz, 3B, Quad Cities
Last year's rank: 10
2013 stats: 114 games, 472 PAs, .260/.335/.430, 12 HRs, 63 RBIs, 46 runs, 12 of 15 stolen bases, 10% walk rate, 19% strikeout rate
Average grade: 5.53
TCB Reader grade: 6.01
Notes: It's fascinating that this fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft saw his place on this list change not at all in 2013. He was 10th last year and he's 10th again. I'm not sure what that says about him, but right now he's still more promise than production. He hit okay for Quad Cities last season, but didn't put up power numbers or contact numbers that suggest a breakout. He struck out a tad too much, but he walked at a decent rate and showed off some base stealing ability. Combine that with good scouting reports at third base and Ruiz is a fine prospect, easily Houston's best at the hot corner. I suspect, though, that he won't maintain his spot next season. Depending on how he performs in Lancaster, he'll either shoot up the list or fall down.
11. Max Stassi, C, Houston
Last year's rank: N/A
2013 stats: 76 games, 323 PAs, .277/.333/.529, 17 HRs, 60 RBIs, 40 runs, 1 of 2 stolen bases, 5.9% walk rate, 21% strikeout rate
Average grade: 5.53
TCB Reader grade: 4.85
Notes: How did Max Stassi become the best catching prospect in Houston's system? It certainly wasn't thank to production overall, as he had a decent season in Double-A before getting called up to the big league team. It may have all to do with power and defense. Stassi got hurt a few times in 2013, pulling down his games played total, but he impressed Houston's front office enough for him to jump over other names when the Astros needed someone to fill in after a Jason Castro injury. Of course, Stassi's time in the majors was cut short by an errant fastball to the noggin. But, he should return fully healthy in 2014 with a chance to supplant Carlos Corporan as Castro's backup. In time, he might even show enough offensive ability to supplant Castro as the starter.
Dissenting opinion by Irish Pete: Stassi created a lot of buzz last year with his ISO in AA at .253. The power potential that made him a high draft pick for the Oakland Athletics seemed to be developing. There also high marks on his defense as he was rated "Best Defensive Catcher" from 2009-2012 in the Athletics System by Baseball-America. Stassi’s BB/K rate is only .28 which was fueled by a 21% K rate and a 6% walk rate. He reduced his strikeouts last year in AA, but his walks also came down. The biggest cloud hanging over Max Stassi’s career so far has been his injury history. He played his early part of his career with a shoulder injury that severely hurt his offensive stats (.229/.310/.380 at age 19 in the Midwest League with 141 Ks in 110 games). He finally elected to have surgery on the shoulder at age 20 in the 2011 season, which basically ended up as a lost year. He also missed time for being hit by a pitch in the shoulder and face in his short stint with the Astros last year. If his injurious past is behind him, the Astros stole him from the Athletics. Catching is a grind unlike any other position. It’s unsure whether Stassi can hold up to this grind yet or not.
From the TCB podcast crew Happy Holidays! We'll see you in 2014.
Next Scheduled Podcast Recording: 2014