It's been a banner year so far for the Astros' farm teams, now chock full of talent and depth from trades and the last two drafts under Jeff Luhnow. Corpus Christi owns the best record in the Texas League, Lancaster has already clinched the first half division championship, and Oklahoma City and Quad Cities have winning records.
To supplement the success we've already seen from the full-season teams, a younger crew of prospects will start play this week, starting with Tri-City's first game of the season last night as the New York-Penn League began play. The three teams that start this week boast their own notable prospects, though they are much younger and unproven in professional ball, even with their talent. The beginning of short-season games is one of my favorite times of the minor league year; when checking MILB.com every night, I'll get to see the progress of eight minor league teams instead of four. So who are some of the names to know on Tri-City, Greeneville and the GCL teams?
Kevin Comer, RHP, Tri-City
Acquired: Drafted by Toronto (1st round, #57) in 2011; traded to Houston in July 2012
Comer was the PTBNL in the 10 player mega-deal between Houston and Toronto last summer. His numbers haven't been spectacular in about 50 professional innings and he's very raw, but that's expected as cold weather pitcher from New Jersey. He can hit mid 90s with his fastball and has a potential plus curve. The Tri-City assignment is deserved and aggressive at the same time, as he'll be facing college-age hitters two or three years older than himself.
Adrian Houser, RHP, Tri-City
Acquired: Drafted by Houston (2.9) in 2011
Like Comer, Houser hasn't posted a great ERA in professional ball, but he's pitched over 100 innings since being drafted so the assignment to Tri-City makes sense. Looking a little closer, Houser has posted an impressive strikeout rate (8.3 K/9) and has only allowed one home run in his career. His fastball velocity can jump to the mid 90s but he sits around 90-91, and is also developing his curve and changeup. It feels like Houser has been around forever, and I'm not sure why he didn't start in Quad Cities, but he could be ready for a breakout year.
Michael Feliz, RHP, Tri-City
Acquired: Signed as international free agent in 2010
Feliz was one of the Astros' top international signings in 2010, signing for $450,000. He had a great stint in the GCL last season, posting a 1.64 ERA in 38 innings. He moved up to Greeneville and struggled a little bit, though he put up the best strikeout numbers of his career with a 9.6 K/9 in 26 innings there. He's very projectible at 6'4'', 210 lbs. The Tri-City assignment is deserved, and we'll see how he does against hitters who are a few years older than him.
Jose Fernandez, SS, Tri-City
Acquired: Signed as an IFA in 2009
Though Fernandez hasn't done a lot with the bat in his professional career, it says a lot that he's playing in Tri-City at twenty years old, even without great numbers. He's posted a paltry .231 average with only one home run for his career, which began as a seventeen year old in the GCL in 2010. There's something here that the minor league department likes, even though it hasn't show up yet on the stat sheet.
D'Andre Toney, OF, Tri-City
Acquired: Drafted by Kansas City (14.5) in 2011; traded to Houston as a PTBNL in May 2012
Another PTBNL on the Tri-City squad, Toney is a high upside centerfielder who's shown a little bit of everything in professional ball. In 446 plate apperances, he's slashed .287/.383/.429 with 22 stolen bases and he's kept his strikeout rates at a reasonable 22.2%. Toney has done well so far with the bat, and it will be interesting to see where he plays in the outfield in Tri-City with 2013 draftee James Ramsay on the roster.
Chris Lee, LHP, Greeneville
Acquired: Drafted by Houston (4.9) in 2011
Lee hasn't established himself in pro ball yet, but his draft round gets him mentioned here. This will be his third season to pitch in Greeneville. He hasn't had a lot of success, posting a 6.12 ERA in 57 innings, though his strikeout numbers are encouraging at 8.8. He has a projectible frame at 6'3'', 175 lbs., touched 94 with his fastball when he was drafted, and throws a developing slider. I would've liked to see him start at Tri-City but he could get there with a good start in Greeneville.
Juan Santana, 2B, Greeneville
Acquired: Signed as an IFA in 2010
Santana has a few things working for him; first is his age. He's a step away from playing against college-age players in Tri-City as an eighteen year old, which says a lot. He also performed well in his first season stateside, posting a .268 average in the GCL while keeping his strikeouts down. He didn't walk much, either, and his power is a question mark, but he's off to a great start considering his age.
Darwin Rivera, 3B/OF, Greeneville
Acquired: Signed as an IFA in 2008
Rivera has shown some good power in professional ball. He received 205 at-bats at this level in 2011, but was back in the GCL for the entirety of 2012. He's hit nine homers in his professional career and slugged .396 so the power is developing, but he hasn't walked much and struck out a lot.
Wallace Gonzalez, OF, Greeneville
Acquired: Drafted by Houston (29.9) in 2011
A stud tight end recruit who was committed to UCLA, Gonzalez was a surprising sign in 2011. He has a ton of tools, with great raw power, a great arm, and good speed for his size. His 6'5'' 240 lb. frame pretty much says it all. He's super raw and hasn't shown much stat-wise in pro ball, though he did slug .384 in the GCL last year. Hasn't gotten on base much, but he's certainly one to keep an eye on as one of the highest upside position players in all of the Astros' lower minor league levels.
Javaris Reynolds, OF, GCL
Acquired: Drafted by Houston (7.9) in 2011
It's nearly impossible to differentiate a lot of the performances of the international signees from Latin America on the GCL roster, many of whom are playing in the States for the first time. Their Dominican Summer League stats don't mean much (GCL stats don't really either) so it's tough to find any notable names. There are a few U.S. players on this team, many coming from high school. One is Reynolds, an athletic, toolsy centerfielder who was drafted two years ago. He hasn't performed well so far, and he only tallied 28 at-bats at this level last year, but his fairly high draft round and tools will get him on this list.
Brett Phillips, OF, Quad Cities
Acquired: Drafted by Houston (6.1) in 2012
I'm kind of cheating here, as Phillips just joined full season Quad Cities a couple of days ago. But his real season has just started, so he gets on the list. Phillips, who projects to be a leadoff man at the next level with his speed, isn't projected for much power though his .720 OPS in the GCL last season suggests some potential there. He's very toolsy and it's a good sign that he's been moved up to full season ball at such a young age.
Joe Musgrove, RHP, Not Assigned Yet
Acquired: Drafted by Toronto (1.46) in 2011, traded to Houston in July 2012
The second of the high upside pitchers acquired from Toronto on this list, Musgrove is a projectible righty at 6'5'', 240 lbs. He's apparently rehabbing an injury at the moment and hasn't been assigned to a team yet, though I expect him to start in Greeneville. An aggressive move to Tri-City isn't out of the question, but he's only thrown just over 40 innings in his career so Rookie league makes more sense. He throws his fastball in the low to mid 90s and also uses a curve and changeup, the former being the better pitch. Musgrove has as much upside as any pitcher in the Astros system.