Minor League Preview: Lancaster Jethawks

J. Meric

An extensive look at the Lancater Jethawks' (the Houston Astros High-A Affiliate) opening day roster. Includes: lineup projections, best tools and two sleepers.

Summary

The defending California League Champion Lancaster JetHawks have officially announced their Opening Day Roster for the 2013 season. The interesting names range from top prospect, Delino DeShields Jr., to former Astro, Morgan Ensberg (infield coach). Below is a snapshot of the full roster:

Catchers: M.P. Cokinos, Tyler Heineman

Infielders: Delino DeShields, Matt Duffy, Nolan Fontana, Zach Johnson, Raoul Torrez, Rafael Valenzuela

Outfielders: Andrew Aplin, Chris Epps, Brandon Meredith, Drew Muren, Preston Tucker

Pitchers: Travis Ballew, Luis Cruz, Chris Devenski, Jonas Dufek, Mike Foltynewicz, Theron Geith, Alex Gillingham, Tyson Perez, Carlos Quevedo, Brady Rodgers, David Rollins, Thomas Shirley, Blair Walters, Aaron West

This year's installment has a lot of new faces, but may be even more talented than the 2012 Championship edition. Chris Epps is the only returning player who hit 10+ HRs for Lancaster in 2012, but newcomers Tyler Heineman, Preston Tucker, Nolan Fontana and Brandon Meredith should help soften the blow of the Springer/Santana promotions. Returning DDJ and Aplin will also help.

The 2013 pitching staff is also pretty stacked, starting with Mike Foltynewicz. Folty is one of the Astros top pitching prospects, equipped with frontline stuff. The Astros decision – which apparently, they lost sleep over – to send Folty to one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the Minor Leagues is an interesting one. How he handles the challenge will tell us a lot about Mike Foltynewicz, the man, and the pitcher. Matter of fact, it'll be interesting to see how all of these guys handle the launching pad that is Clear Channel Stadium. Whether you're a player, or a fan, it's important not to get too discouraged by inflated ERAs, because it's expected in Lancaster.

If it seems like there are a lot of starting pitchers on the staff, it's because there are. We're really doing this tandem starting thing, aren't we?

Hitters

Lancaster isn't littered with the boppers they started last season with, but they have a lot of guys who are going to have good at-bats and get on base, which will be a pleasant sight for anyone who attends a Jethawks game – Telvin Nash, Domingo Santana and George Springer combined for nearly 500 strikeouts last season.

All eyes will be on DDJ, as he looks to pick up where he left off in 2012, when he finished .287/.389/.428 with 12 homers and 101 stolen bases. If all goes well, he won't be in Lancaster by the end of the season.

How will Tyler Heineman follow his .358 batting average in the New York-Penn League? More importantly, how will his reputation of staff-soothsayer hold up when his pitchers give up a bajillion home runs? The switch-hitting catcher was an eighth-round pick in 2012.

Will Nolan Fontana continue to get on base at .400+ clip? He's another guy who's in line for a quick promotion. He was the Astros second-round pick in 2012.

Will Andrew Aplin and Preston Tucker continue to mash in their first full professional seasons? Tucker tied for third most home runs in the New York-Penn League, with eight – 30 could be within reach at Lancaster. Aplin (5) and Tucker (7) were both taken in the 2012 Draft.

Pitchers

Folty is the staff ace, while Rodgers and West are two-a and two-b. All three have at least MOR upside. Rodgers and West both have good command, keep the ball on the ground, and should at least be able to tread water in the tough pitching environment. Rodgers (3), West (17) were both drafted in 2012, and enjoyed successful seasons. West was one of the pleasant surprises of the draft class, after seeing a jump in his velocity post-draft.

Ballew is an intriguing reliever, who Mike Fast mentioned a few months back, and I don't know about you, but when Mr. Fast talks, I listen. He's a smaller guy, who kept the ball on the ground and sported a good strikeout rate in his first taste of pro ball. He was a 23-round pick in 2012, and has an interesting array of pitchers for a reliever. He features a low-90s fastball, a potentially-above average curveball, a two-seamer and improving change-up.

Chris Deveniski is, of course, known for his 16-strikeout no-hitter. He's a guy to keep an eye one, although I think his no-hitter was an aberration, and Lancaster may be very unkind to him.

Alex Gillingham is an extreme groundball pitcher, acquired in the Wilton Lopez trade. He's a guy who may stand out in a tough League, for keeping the ball in the ballpark.

Carlos Quevedo is a guy who never walks anybody, but has susceptible stuff, and may get blasted in Lancaster. Blair Walters, also acquired in the Brett Myers trade, will get blasted in Lancaster – sorry.

Sleepers

Brandon Meredith is Brooks' pick for breakout player, which makes sense. Look for the best power hitter on the team to benefit from the ballpark where an ordinary pop-up can turn into a home run. That said *pours one out for Jonathan Gaston*, beware of the Lancaster power numbers.

Thomas Shirley is my sleeper from the Lancaster team. You won't find him on any prospect lists, but I think he has a real chance to emerge this season. Drafted in the ninth round in 2010, the lefty is blessed with a monster frame (6'5", 220). He's produced everywhere he's pitched, always has a good K/rate, and keeps the ball on the ground. The only caveat: he's been one of the older guys on every team he's pitched on (he's 23.5 right now). He's also dealt with some injuries in the past. Still, look for him to have a good year in Lancaster, whether it's out of the bullpen, in the rotation, or part of one of the tag-teams.

Top Prospects

Mike Foltynewicz (5), Delino DeSheilds Jr. (6), Nolan Fontana (10), Brady Rodgers (23), Andrew Aplin (24), Aaron West (29) and Tyler Heineman (30) all appear on the list of Baseball America's Top 30 Astros Prospects.

Projected Lineup

Tyler Heineman (C), Zachary Johnson (1B), Delino DeSheilds Jr. (2B), Matt Duffy (3B), Nolan Fontana (SS), Brandon Meredith (LF), Andrew Aplin (CF), Preston Tucker (RF), Chris Epps (DH)*

No. 1 Starter - Mike Foltynewicz

No. 2 Starter - Brady Rodgers

No. 3 Starter - Aaron West

No. 4 Starter - Chris Devenski

No. 5 Starter - Alex Gillingham

Closer - Travis Ballew

*Not in order

Best Tools

Best Hitter for Average - Tyler Heineman

Best Power Hitter - Brandon Meredith

Best Strike-Zone Discipline - Nolan Fontana

Fastest Baserunner - Delino DeShields Jr.

Best Athlete - Delino DeShields Jr.

Best Fastball - Mike Foltynewicz

Best Curveball - Mike Foltynewicz

Best Slider - Brady Rodgers

Best Change-up - Travis Ballew

Best Control - Brady Rodgers

Best Defensive Catcher - Tyler Heinemen

Best Defensive Infielder - Nolan Fontana

Best Infield Arm - Nolan Fontana

Best Defensive Outfielder - Andrew Aplin

Best Outfield Arm - Andrew Aplin

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