Factoring in 2013 performances and playing time allotment, comments from Luhnow, Crane, and Porter, and my own intuition, here are my predictions for the 2014 Opening day roster for the Astros' 4 full-season minor league affiliates.
AAA Oklahoma City Redhawks:
Bench: Krauss, Perez, Elmore, Heras
Rotation: White, Folty, Clemens, Doran, Owens, Buchanan, Cisnero, LeBlanc
Bullpen: Sogard, Fields, Zeid, Stoffel
Out of the system: Simunic, Torrez, Jose Martinez, Ruben Sosa, Lin, Day, Berger, Musick, Blair Walters, Guduan, Ed Gon, Ambriz, Weiland, Urckfitz, Seaton, Andrew Robinson, Wikoff
Comments: A lot of these predictions are based on fallout from predicting the big league roster. Singleton at 1B and Amador at DH are really the only certainties. It's really hard to predict which AA outfielders will move up to AAA. Tucker, Heras, Santana, and Burgess could all be justified, but each could also probably use additional time in AA. I went with Santana because he's had a full season in AA already and played well, not to mention that he will be on the 40 man roster. If the Mexican League is equivalent to AAA, then Heras will just be competing against the level he did most of last season. This roster lacks a true CF, but I could see any and all of Heras, Wates, Santana, and Paredes splitting it up while trying to increase their value. Torreyes is probably the least ready to move up to AAA, and it's hard not to see Jose Martinez get another chance, but I think Torreyes is the better prospect.
The AAA rotation will be stacked no matter how the big league team shakes out. There's a ton of variance in how it could end up looking, but Folty is highly likely to headline a group of 8 SP that all could reach Houston next year. It was very hard to leave Andrew Robinson out, but I just couldn't find anyone to cut. Urckfitz and Seaton also probably still have value, but on a staff this deep there was just no room.
AA Corpus Christi Hooks:
Bench: E. Hernandez, R. Garcia, Sclafani, Epps
Rotation: Tropeano, K. Smith, Rodgers, West, Rollins, Heidenreich, Alaniz, Cruz
Bullpen: Long, Quevedo, Dufek, Ballew
Out of the system: Clements, McCurdy, E. Castro, Burgess, Muren, Hallock, Escalona, Geith, Lamb
Corpus' roster is very likely to be one of the best overall in the entire minor leagues. There's a small chance they could be hurt by placement, if for example DeShields starts his CF experiment back in Lancaster or Tucker is placed in AAA. Regardless, there will be loads of talent. All 8 position guys poised to get the bump from Lancaster are potential breakout candidates. Ballew, Smith, West, and Rodgers are as well. Depending on the Rule 5 outcome and big league roster, Castro, Muren, and Hallock may still have life in their careers, but not in this scenario.
High A Lancaster Jethawks:
CF T. Hernandez
Bench: Wierzbicki, Pena, Elkins, Scott
Rotation: Appel, McCullers, Velasquez, Minor, Cain, Hader, Bircher, Holmes
Bullpen: Lambson, Sanchez, Jankowski, Hauschild
Out of the system: Perdomo, Gillingham, Devenski, R. Martinez, T. Perez, M. Dimock, Shirley
Comments: Another stacked roster. The possibility exists that Houston's High A affiliate, in the most hitter-friendly league in baseball, will feature 3 Top 100 SP prospects in Appel, McCullers, and Velasquez. Appel could easily skip up to AA, but I think he makes a handful of starts as a Jethawk first. McCullers could repeat QC if the powers that be aren't ready to expose him to the Cali League or they think a recent college draftee is more ready. Basically every position player on this roster is a potential breakout candidate. Correa could become the top prospect in baseball if his power jumps like I think it will. Ruiz could get a bump up to Top 100 status. Borchering has a chance to put himself back on the map. If Vasquez's power shows up, look out. I'm sure most people think Nash will be released, and it's hard to argue, but I think the front office's affinity for power will push them to give him one more chance. If you're picking between Telvin Nash, Justin Gominsky, and Terrell Joyce, does it really matter? Nash has an elite tool and it's hard to give up on that. Again, there's going to be some very talented players and interesting prospects left without a spot.
A Quad Cities River Bandits:
Bench: Nelubowich, Gingras, Mayfield, Ramsay
Rotation: Thurman, Feliz, Houser, Comer, Emanuel, Westood, Minnis, C. Cotton
Bullpen: Osborne, Sanudo, Christensen, Morton
Out of the system: J. Morales, Genoves, Moronta, Blasik, Gominsky, Joyce, Quezada, J. Cotton, Minaya, J. Perez, Gouvea, Rodriguez, Ordosgoitti, Walter
Comment: Here's where the roster gets a lot less certain and features a lot less talent. Gregor is the only position player listed that is guaranteed to start in full season ball. Batista, Davidson, and Moon have bounced around their entire careers, and the rest of the players didn't do well enough in short-season to make it certain that they move up. Tyler White is one to keep an eye on. Phillips and Ovando are just as likely to start in EST as QC. Those last 3 pitchers on the left out list all are very good prospects.
The pitching staff will be much better off and will likely feature a heavy dose of the group that dominated short-season with the ValleyCats in 2013. Feliz and Thurman are big time breakout candidates. Crazy that I was unable to justify spots for Fant, Grills, Lee, Paulino, and a few others.
There will be a ton of very talented players left behind in Florida and the DR next April. Here's a list of the notables:
C: Nottingham, Matute
1B: Mejia, Gomez, MacDonald, E Santana
SS: Reynoso, Estrella, Fernandez, Trompiz, Michelena, Franco, Mauricio, W Amador
OF: Ovando, Phillips, Martin, Roa, Tavarez, Payano, Lucas, Mitchell, Mathis
P: Musgrove, Montero, Lee, Paulino, Franco, Nicely, Armstrong, German, Fant, Grills, Arauz, Garcia, Franzua