Minor League Preview: Quad Cities River Bandits

Carlos Correa is the crown jewel of Quad Cities roster- and the Astros' entire farm system. - Bob Levey

An overview of the Astros' inaugural squad in Quad Cities, highlighted by budding stars from the lauded 2012 draft class.

Summary

In Lexington's time as Houston's Low-A affiliate, the club rostered very little high-end talent. Legends fans may be bitter, as Quad Cities has been handed a host of top 100 talents in their first year with the Astros organization. The roster, released over the weekend, is as follows:

Catchers- Jobduan Morales, Roberto Pena

Infielders- Carlos Correa, Chase Davidson, Ryan Dineen, Carlos Perdomo, Rio Ruiz, Joe Sclafani, Jesse Wierzbicki

Outfielders- Teoscar Hernandez, Ariel Ovando, Jordan Scott, Terrell Joyce

Pitchers- Lance McCullers, Jr., Vincent Velasquez, Colton Cain, Joe Bircher, Daniel Minor, Kyle Hallock, Mike Hauschild, Brian Holmes, Jordan Jankowski, Cameron Lamb, Mitchell Lambson, John Neely, Gera Sanchez

With only a few players from Lexington's 2012 club returning to Low-A, Quad Cities will field a relatively young team this year, and multiple teenagers appear poised to start. The team is bound to be a marquee attraction for scouts, as three 2012 draft picks, Carlos Correa, Rio Ruiz and Lance McCullers, Jr., who have appeared on top 100s, appear slated for full playing time with the River Bandits.

The league change is relatively negligible, as the Midwest League is comparable to the SAL as a hitting/pitching environment. The park in Quad Cities has graded out as pitcher friendly in recent years, with similar league-relative factors to Lexington's home field, but it surrendered far fewer home runs than Lexington in 2012 which can be important to keep in mind when evaluating power output.

The River Bandits may be the most exciting team in the organization on paper. What should we expect from the talent in Quad Cities, high-end and otherwise?

Hitters

The names that jump off the page in Quad Cities' opening day lineup will undoubtedly be Carlos Correa and Rio Ruiz- and for good reason. Correa, just 18, has impressed scouts in his early professional experience. The young shortstop continues to flash a true five-tool profile, highlighted by his rocket arm and plus raw power. Though elite offensive numbers might not be fair to expect off the bat, they would not be surprising. Scouting reports on Correa's defense will also be important, as his future position is still under debate.

Ruiz is another tantalizing raw talent who the Astros signed for an overslot seven-figure bonus in the 4th round in 2012. Flashing plus raw power and capable third base defense along with bat speed, Ruiz could have gone in the first round had it not been for a freak blood clot derailing his senior season. A potential first-division regular, fans should give Ruiz time before expecting him to rake, as he is young for the level and was robbed of valuable development time while sidelined last year.

Past Correa and Ruiz, Quad Cities will be home to a number of other young, high-upside hitters- particularly in the outfield. The $2.5 million dollar man, Ariel Ovando, will make his full season debut with the River Bandits, looking to build on a successful 2012 that saw him hit .287/.350/.444 with 6 home runs in Greeneville as a 18 year old. Ovando, who reportedly came into camp with about 15 pounds of new muscle mass, will presumably start in right field for Quad Cities, is still just 19 and could really burst onto the scene by holding his own in the Midwest League.

Ovando will be joined in the outfield by Teoscar Hernandez, whom Keith Law recently tabbed as a potential sleeper in the system. Teoscar raked in the DSL two years ago, posting a gorgeous .274/.360/.487 slash line with 7 long balls, 16 steals and a 16.1% K rate. He was unable to carry that success stateside last year in the GCL, but will play the 2013 season at age 20 and has the offensive tools to make an impact. Hernandez will need to show the advanced approach that made him a hit in the DSL again to break out, but could shoot up lists in a hurry if he does.

Rounding out the position players group are some more established faces such as Jobduan Morales, a soon to be 22 year old catcher with fantastic plate discipline and athleticism, and forgotten man and club elder statesman Chase Davidson, who disappeared in 2012 after dominating the Appy League out of college in 2011. A few familiar names returning from Lexington will repeat low-A in 2013, such as slap hitting outfielder Jordan Scott and ex-UNC Tar Heel Jesse Wierzbicki. The mix of returning, older talent and elite young guns could make Quad Cities one of the more dynamic lineups in the low minor leagues.

Pitchers

There is no question who the main draw in the Quad Cities rotation will be, as no other hurler on the staff can rival the raw stuff of Lance McCullers, Jr., last year's 41st overall pick. McCullers will presumably be joined in the rotation by the very promising Vincent Velasquez, 2012 draftee Daniel Minor, Colton Cain (who spent most of 2012 in High A), and Wake Forest product Brian Holmes. All of these pitchers can be seen as potential MLB starters through the right lens- McCullers, Jr. is a potential frontline starter with his wicked fastball/curveball combo, Vincent Velasquez could fit in as a #3 starter with his athleticism and velocity, Holmes and Minor both had very strong debuts after being middle-round selections in the 2012 draft and Cain has flashed mid-rotation quality stuff in the past despite shaky statistical performance.

The River Bandits will also carry a few interesting names as bullpen arms. Minor league rule 5 selection Cameron Lamb was signed out of Australia a few years ago by San Francisco and has seen little action since, but has a great pitcher's frame and could force his way onto the radar. Jordan Jankowski, a 23 year old, 6'1" righty, struck out 53 Appy league hitters in 32 and 1/3 innings for Greeneville last year after being a 34th draft pick of the Astros for a second time- the first coming in 2008 when he was fresh out of Pennsylvania high school, and the second last year after he finished up his amateur career with Catawba College. Mike Hauschild, who debuted with Greeneville in 2012, posted similarly gaudy strikeout totals and had a freaky ground out/air out ratio of 5.25 after signing as the 2012 draft's 999th selection out of Dayton. Mitchell Lambson, who was effective as a lefty reliever last year for Lexington, will begin the year in Quad Cities as well.

This will be the first taste of full season ball for a majority of the major pieces on the River Bandits' staff, including top prospects McCullers and Velasquez. The challenge of the full season grind will be a good litmus test for intriguing, older talents such as Minor, Holmes and Jankowski who will look to move up the ladder quickly. The lack of more experienced starting pitchers is uncharacteristic of Houston low-A clubs in recent years, and pitchers like Kyle Hallock and Joe Bircher might be asked to step into the rotation if one or more of the younger starters falters.

Sleepers

Teoscar Hernandez- Though he was a mild disappointment in 2012, Hernandez possesses a very intriguing set of tools that could make him an offensive threat and potential regular in left field. The key for Hernandez will be replicating the excellent strikeout and walk rates he posted in the DSL stateside, as OBP is an important component of his upside.

Jobduan Morales- With the lack of catching depth in the system, the Astros could really be helped by the emergence of a player like Morales. Acquired for Justin Ruggiano early last season, Morales is 5'10", 190 pound switch-hitter who has shown an advanced approach and above-average contact ability and modest power at short-season levels. Morales is a tad old for the level as he turns 22 in June, but could work himself into the team's plans with a successful campaign.

Brian Holmes- A 6'4" left hander drafted in the 13th round in 2012, Holmes carved up New York-Penn League hitters in his professional debut, allowing just 39 hits in 66 and 2/3 innings. Though already 22 years old, Holmes could make his stay at Quad Cities a short one and move up the ladder in short order by making a good impression in his full season debut.

Projected Lineup

Batting Order

1. Jordan Scott, CF

2. Carlos Correa, SS

3. Rio Ruiz, 3B

4. Chase Davidson, 1B

5. Ariel Ovando, RF

6. Teoscar Hernandez, LF

7. Terrell Joyce, DH

8. Joe Sclafani, 2B

9. Jobduan Morales, C

Starting Rotation

1. Lance McCullers, Jr.

2. Vincent Velasquez

3. Daniel Minor

4. Brian Holmes

5. Colton Cain

Next in line- Kyle Hallock, Joe Bircher

Bullpen

Middle/long relievers- Cameron Lamb, Kyle Hallock, Joe Bircher, John Neely, Gera Sanchez

Setup Men- Mike Hauschild, Mitchell Lambson

Closer- Jordan Jankowski

Best Tools

Best Hitter for Average- Carlos Correa

Best Power Hitter- Ariel Ovando

Best Plate Discipline- Jobduan Morales, Jordan Scott

Fastest Baserunner- Teoscar Hernandez

Best Athlete- Ariel Ovando

Best Fastball- Lance McCullers, Jr.

Best Breaking Ball- Lance McCullers, Jr.

Best Change-up- Brian Holmes

Best Control- Daniel Minor

Best Defensive Catcher- Jobduan Morales

Best Defensive Infielder- Carlos Correa

Best Infield Arm- Carlos Correa

Best Defensive Outfielder- Jordan Scott

Best Outfield Arm- Ariel Ovando

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