Springer. Singleton. Foltynewicz. Correa. McCullers. DeShields. The top names in the Astros organization have followed similar paths- with the exception of Singleton, all were drafted in the first round, and all but Correa were drafted from the continental United States. Being heavy on American-born players is far from an issue, and it's the norm across Major League Baseball, but some of the game's very best had a different route to the bigs- one that starts with putting pen to paper on a minor league contract at the age of 16, one that starts with 10 AM games on sun-drenched fields in the Dominican. Such is the journey of the international prospect- a trail walked by players like Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Gonzalez and Felix Hernandez.
The Astros have generally stayed pretty quiet in the international market. Other than Ariel Ovando, they've been very hesitant to shell out seven-figure bonuses, and other than Jose Altuve, it has been some time since a player signed internationally ranked near the top of their prospect lists. Though that still isn't the case at this point in time, there are a few players in the low minors rising quickly who could break into the upper echelon if they stay on the same developmental paths they have started on.
The first name who has stood out to me in the short season early going is Jandel Gustave, a wiry right hander with an extremely live arm who has, despite still being a bit wild, shown improvement with his command. Reportedly touching 99 MPH with his heater despite weighing just 160 pounds, Gustave walked 94 hitters in his first three pro seasons (73 and 2/3 IP), but has trimmed his walk rate down to just 12 in 22 and 2/3 innings in 2013. Not exactly Maddux-esque command, to be sure, but it's a big improvement in a short period of time and with continued development he could become a very valuable commodity given his present plus velocity and further projection. He has frustrated Appy League hitters, who are batting just .154 against him, and he has already racked up 24 strikeouts. He's more a live arm than anything else at this point, but at least now he's a live arm who can get the ball over the plate.
Gustave has understandably been overshadowed by another right handed hurler who has gone from sleeper to bona fide top 15 prospect this year- 19 year old Michael Feliz, who is pitching to hitters 2 and 3 years his senior in the New York Penn League. Unlike Gustave, Feliz has a very mature build at 6'4" and 210 pounds and uses his thick trunks to drive the ball at speeds up to 98 MPH. He pairs his fastball with a plus slider with classic drop-off-the-table shape, and so far NYPL hitters have been baffled. With a sterling 1.07 ERA and 32/4 K/BB ratio in a league that he is young for, it's only a matter of time before he draws leaguewide attention. I currently have him ranked as my #10 Astros prospect. It's not too soon to get excited.
A final prospect who I think bears watching is a shortstop who is new to being of legal age, 18 year old Luis Reynoso, who is manning the left side for the GCL Astros. He's far from setting the world on fire statistically, though he has some positive markers, including a high walk rate and workable strikeout figures. However, it's more his traits that jump out on film, combined with the club's confidence in him as demonstrated by his GCL assignment that have me excited about Reynoso. He's a natural shortstop with an ideal frame for the position- his actions are smooth, and his hands soft. He gets to the ball in a hurry both in the field and at the plate, and he has enough athleticism to turn on the ball and drive it. He doesn't have particularly noisy tools, but there's enough here to get me excited about Reynoso. I think he's a shortstop, I think he can hit, and I think he has at least gap power in his frame, which has projection left. He's a toddler in prospect years, but if he continues to hold his own in the GCL he could draw an assignment to Greeneville next year where we can get a better view of what Houston really has in him. Though he's tough to get a hold on, I currently have Reynoso ranked in the back end of my top 20 Astros prospects.
The Astros system has built up depth in a hurry and Reynoso and Gustave are likely to be buried in the rankings until if and when they have breakouts in full season leagues, but picking sleepers is one of the most enjoyable exercises in prospecting, and these three are horses that I'd be willing to bet on.