Much has been made about the AAA affiliate over the past several weeks, but very little has actually been about the roster. Jim Crane has made the relationship between the Astros and the RedHawks a hot topic with him consistently discussing streamlining the organization by bringing their AAA affiliate closer to home. However, OkC immediately took offense to the comments and came out with statements of staying put and having no plans of moving.
Just yesterday, reports began to swirl that the Astros are in discussions to buy the New Orleans Zephyrs and are willing to move after they are purchased. Coincidentally, their Player Development Contract ends in 2014, the same year that the OkC contract ends.
Between that situation and the new tandem pitching philosophy, the RedHawks are bound to get plenty of attention this season. But, will any of it be good attention? Both situations have potential to go either way and with a few notable prospects inhabiting the dugout, fans will be keeping an eye out for what is going on in triple-A.
The pitching staff is the highlight of this team. There are eight starters that will be partaking in the rotation in: Dallas Keuchel, Rudy Owens, Jose Cisnero, Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer, Paul Clemens, John Ely, and Jordan Lyles.
Most eyes will be on Lyles who is working to straighten a few things out that the front office has set out for him. Despite being the one with the most major league experience on the roster, only Jonathan Villar beats him in youth. So, there is still plenty of time for him to put it all together. Lucas Harrell says that Lyles challenges everyone in terms of stuff, but Lyles tends to lack trust in his stuff at times. Triple-A is his opportunity to put it together.
There are members of the front office who are pretty high on Ely and he may be first pitcher called up, even ahead of Lyles possibly. He looked good in spring and will need to continue to impress to get stick out enough to win a spot in the real rotation over the coming months given all the depth.
Cosart easily has the best fastball on the team, but the opinions on him vary wider than the state of Texas and he has his work cut out for him. He'll get every opportunity, but the mechanics continue to need work and he won't be going anywhere fast until he controls his fastball. Although, his leash is longer than Clemens who many are already talking about going to the bullpen.
ObieHockey, Owens, and Keuchel are all pretty similar pitchers and need to try and differentiate themselves. Each pitcher has done things that make their names known in the organization but none are can't miss prospects. When this rotation finally settles out into a traditional setup, I wouldn't be surprised if only one makes it. My bet is on Obie.
Kevin Chapman and Josh Zeid are the touted bullpen prospects on the roster but their chances will likely be limited early on in the new system. Tony DeFrancesco will have his hands full trying to give them work in critical situations since they have to potential to handle those at the major league level with giving work to Jose Valdez and C.J. Fick who are more likely to be the ones called up to replace the ever volatile reliever corp in Houston. Wes Musick rounds out the bullpen after shoving his name into discussions last year until injury. His age likely means he won't get a chance to go back into a rotation, but his left handedness buys him time to make a name for himself.
This is a rather un-inspiring group that consists of Jason Jaramillo, Cody Clark, and Chris Wallace. Only Wallace can be considered a prospect. He has nice power but still doesn't carry much of a bat and there are pretty significant questions regarding his defense and ability to control a running game. Clark was a free-agent signing and has a nice arm but has never done enough with his bat to be anything to watch for. Jaramillo is probably the front man on the team with one of the more consistent, yet un-impressive, bat and major league experience.
There won't be much versatility with the infield in OkC with Jonathan Villar being the biggest name and really only capable short-stop. Once again, everyone will keep an eye on his ability to pick up the skills of the game since we already know the tools are there. Jake Elmore will back him up and probably get most of the time at 2B. David will be rooting for him to be called up at some point to play SS. Jose Martinez will be working in at 2B and 3B. He is a Jeff Luhnow guy and some skills and tools as well as grit to come back to baseball after a family tragedy. Brandon Laird will be at 3B and 1B. Will he continue his hot spring? He'll need to. Marc Krauss will be a 1B/DH bat and maybe even get some time as a corner OFer. He impressed with monster power after the trade last season before being one of the coldest hitters on the team to end the season.
There will be some speed in the outfield with Che-Hsuan Lin, Jimmy Paredes, Robbie Grossman, and Trevor Crowe. With Crowe, Lin, and Grossman all having the ability to play CF and Paredes having the tools to do it, the combinations should be pretty interesting. Paredes will get most of the time in RF and Grossman will probably get most of the time in CF. Crowe will get most of the time in LF with Goebbert serving as the backup for the corners and Lin in CF. Once JD Martinez returns, the outfield will be pretty crowded but will provide some offense to a group that will probably struggle in that department.
Tony D. was kept around for good reason. He's a good coach and gets this organization philosophy. His teachings will be big in preparing some of these up and coming prospects to fit the organization, particularly Paredes and Villar since Grossman already fits the profile. Hitting coach Leon Roberts has his work cut out for him to refine some nice tools and pitching coach Steve Webber will probably have a lot of fun coaching a very good group. Tom Lawless will round out the coaching staff and I imagine will be in Villar's and Paredes ear quite a bit working on their fielding.
The team will rely heavily on the pitching staff that could be one of the best in the Pacific Coast League and capable of leading the team to the playoffs, but will the offense follow suit? There is some talent to do so, but it will probably be very streaky. Villar, Laird, and Paredes could provide highlights at the plate and plenty of headaches.