My only 2 rules for "underrated" are: 1. not in most Top 20 lists, and 2. a legitimate reason to believe they could reach the major leagues. These aren't going to be guys you read about. These are guys who have been virtually forgotten that I believe may make some noise soon. Now for my Top 10:
1. Brandon Wikoff, SS - He could easily be released before the season starts, but there are a few things about him I really like. As a former 5th round pick, he's got a bit of a pedigree. He plays a premium position and can also field 2B and 3B. He strikes out very little (117 in 1187 PAs). It's a bit hard to figure where he will get everyday ABs with the number of highly thought-of prospects slated for AAA and AA, but if he gets another everyday chance, he could end up as a MLB utility infielder who doesn't strike out.
2. Tom Shirley, LHRP- He's been injury prone, but when he's pitched, he's put up excellent numbers(96 SO : 32 BB). Kenny Long is getting all the lefty reliever love on this site, but I think Shirley could rise almost as quickly and may have better stuff.
3. Michael Burgess, RF- Former 1st round pick? Check. Multiple seasons with at least 20 HRs? Check. Young enough to improve on his weaknesses? Check. Burgess was selected in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. He does strike out frequently, and there may be a crunch for playing time in the AA and AAA outfields, but there's reason to believe he could become an everyday RF down the road.
4. Ruben Alaniz, SP- Alaniz doesn't really have the pedigree or stats, but he has a reputation for a nasty curve and has been young for his league. If he finds himself in AA in his age 22 season and excels, he could start to figure prominently in Houston's future plans.
5. Ben Heath, C- He never followed up his stellar 2010 short season debut, but I still feel like he has a chance to become a solid backup catcher who can hit for power. HIs 24% career CS rate indicates he can stick at catcher, and he's shown enough offensively to make me think he can contribute. At this point it's doubtful he's ever a starter, and with the recently added depth at the position he may not get a proper chance, but since every team needs multiple catchers, I think he will get enough of a chance to move up.
6. Colton Cain, SP- He got 1st round money when he was drafted, so the talent is there, and with all the other SPs in the system, he seems to have fallen off a lot of radars. He lost 2009 to injury, but since then he has been respectable, and if he is placed in the proving ground of AA, I expect him to really make some noise.
7. Erik Castro, 3B/1B/DH- He's been old for his leagues, injury prone, and was not highly drafted, so there's plenty of reason to write him off. But he hit 27 HR last season, and he's put up good offensive #'s everywhere he's played. If (and this is a significant if) he can move up to AA and get enough playing time to prove he can hit the upper minors, he might be able to fill a void in the system that doesn't have many power bats in the upper levels. Regaining the ability to play 3B would also greatly increase his value.
8. Matt Heidenreich, SP- A former 4th round HS draftee, Heidenreich held his own in AA during his age 21 season, so that's where my optimism starts. As a trade acquisition, he obviously had something that caught Luhnow's eye. Another year in AA could serve as a breakout.
9. Chris Epps, OF- It's hard to get too excited about a 45th round corner outfielder who has been old for his leagues and never hit more than 13 homers in a season. But Epps knows how to take a walk, and in 136 career games across 3 levels, he has 19 HR. A good season in Lancaster or Corpus could serve as a breakout, and corner OF appears to be an area of opportunity in Houston's farm.
10. Michael Feliz, SP- He's probably gotten more publicity around here than anyone else on this list, but I still feel he is vastly underrated. Now that he will be surrounded by 1st and 2nd round draft picks (Comer, Musgrove, Houser, Velasquez, McCullers, etc.) it will be even harder for him to stand out. But I also think being flanked by big names will give him an opportunity to make a name for himself by outperforming them (funny enough, Feliz had an identical ERA to McCullers in the GCL this season, at the same age).
Which Astros' prospects to you think are underrated and/or poised for breakouts in 2013?