b31c's Top 20 Astros Prospects for 2014

In honor of John Sickels releasing his Top 20 Astros list today (or tomorrow), I figured I'd go ahead and publish mine:

1) Carlos Correa, SS, Grade A: Possesses superstar tools with a potentially plus hit tool, plus raw power, a plus glove & a plus-plus arm. Makeup is definitely plus-plus; terrific work ethic, very mature, has a team-first mentality. Am optimistic that he stays at SS in the long-term, but you really couldn't ask for much else in a prospect.

2) George Springer, CF, Grade A-: Borderline A. I've been conservative with Springer in the past, but the reality is that although he possesses worrisome contact skills, his floor is still quite high. It's essentially a sure-thing that he'll play above-average to plus defense out in CF, steal 25-30+ bags per season, get on base at a good clip, and, if he makes enough contact, hit 20-30 HRs per. Now, if he straightens up his 2-strike approach and makes more contact, he will be a perennial All-Star. That's the question mark with him going forward.

3) Mark Appel, RHP, Grade A-: Borderline A. Appel is the most polished arm in the minors, and also possesses a high ceiling -- obviously this is why he was the 1st pick in the draft. His fastball will sit in the 94-95 range and will touch 96 occasionally with a little 2-seam movement on it. At present his slider is a plus pitch and his go-to one. The changeup is a tad bit behind the slider but with further development, it projects to be a plus offering, as it has great late fade on it, and is a weapon against lefties. His makeup is great and his control & command are both solid to above-average, and he has the frame of a workhorse. At worst, he's a good #3, but he could be a borderline ace if he puts it all together.

4) Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Grade B+: Borderline B. The 2013 season hit no one harder in the Astros system than Singleton. He was suspended 50 games for smoking marijuana, and when he came back, he was out of shape. To his credit, though, he still lived up to his calling card and got on-base, and still displayed his tremendous raw power here & there, just not nearly as much as he did in 2012. His swing is just loaded with torque and although he's not a good athlete, he stays balanced at the plate with that vicious swing, and can hit HRs to all fields. He may not hit above the .260-.270 range, but his aforementioned on-base skills will make up for that. Glove at 1B is average and he doesn't have the arm, nor the mobility to play LF. Will need to hit lefties better, but I'm still a believer that he could be an impact bat in our lineup, capable of hitting 25-30 HRs per season.

5) Mike Foltynewicz, RHP, Grade B: Borderline B+. Folty has the looks of a frontline workhorse with his size, strength & athleticism, and he has a truly plus-plus fastball to work off of. When left up in the zone, it becomes an easier pitch to hit, but when it's commanded correctly and kept down in the zone, it's almost an unhittable pitch, as the sink on it can be devastating. His curveball flashes every now and then and could be an above-average pitch, but more times than not, it doesn't have a sharp break on it. The changeup also flashes here & there but Folty can't command it to save his life and it's a flat pitch more than half the time. His control is poor, and to avoid being sent to the bullpen, he'll need to make some real progress there, along with his secondaries. Has the upside of a number 2 starter and the floor of a tremendous reliever, but I think he'll be an underachieving #3 when it's all said & done.

6) Vincent Velasquez, RHP, Grade B: Very tempted to bump Vince up to a borderline B+, but he still has yet to pitch above Low-A, so to be conservative with him is likely the wise thing to do. The fastball will sit in the 93-96 range and has touched 97, and there is some movement on it as well. The changeup is a Major League-ready pitch, as it's above-average at present, and will likely be a plus pitch in time. The breaking ball, however, is frustrating. Velasquez has the delivery to stay on top of it, and when he does it looks like more than just an average 3rd pitch, but more times than not it comes out fairly loose, and is no better than a mediocre pitch at present. Has an athletic 6'3" frame, and his aforementioned mechanics are sound & repeatable. Control & command are both solid. Could be a number 2 starter if he can get the breaking ball to be more consistent, but if he doesn't, he could be a borderline #3 with good strikeout numbers.

7) Domingo Santana, RF, Grade B: Nobody in the system may have as much raw power as Santana does, as he's a physical presence at 6'5" 230. His greatest attribute is that he can easily hit long balls to all fields, and actually excels when he's able to get fully extended and smack one out to RF, but that doesn't mean he has Brett Wallace-itis and can't hit inside pitches, because he can. His arm is easily plus out in RF, and he's a good athlete for his size. His on-base skills have gradually improved, and should get on the basepaths at an above-average clip. His contact skills are concerning, as he will punch out too much, but he is still quite young, and will just be 21 when he starts out at Triple-A in April. Possesses Jermaine Dye-like upside.

8) Lance McCullers, Jr., RHP, Grade B: Despite having the 2nd fastest fastball in the system, McCullers might have the best one. The tremendous action it has up in the zone can make it an extremely enticing pitch to chase, and when batters do, they almost always miss. LMJ's curveball is his go-to pitch, and it has the potential to be a borderline plus-plus offering. It was thought of as more a slider when he was drafted, but it's clear now that it's a power curve, and when commanded properly, cannot be touched by right-handed batters. The changeup is a much, much different story, though. Simply put, it's not a good pitch at all, and some scouts & evaluators think it may not even have the potential to be average. The control is pretty good for someone who throws as hard as he does, but his command needs work. His delivery is worrisome, as it's a max-effort one, which leads people in the industry to think he is destined for the bullpen. Will likely glide through the minors with his elite FB-CB combo, but he really needs to make some progress with his changeup if he wants to have a good shot at living up to his #2 upside.

9) Rio Ruiz, 3B, Grade B: The lone 3B prospect in the system struggled mightily in the 1st half of 2013, but after some mechanical adjustments with his swing at the mid-way point, he absolutely tore the cover off of the ball in the 2nd half. His hit tool projects to be above-average, and his raw power is a tick below plus. He knows balls & strikes, and is more than willing to take a walk. His arm is plus, but if it weren't for his glove, I would have probably swapped him with McCullers. The glove, to put it nicely, is mediocre at-best, and people in the industry are concerned that he may ultimately have to move to 1B because of his lack of lateral quickness. Has middle-of-the-order potential, but his long-term position is unknown, at this point.

10) Delino DeShields, Jr., OF, Grade B: DDJ had a bit of a down year in the extremely hitter-friendly California League power-wise, as he tallied just 5 HRs, as opposed to 12 in 2013. His line-drive swing is very sound and it leads evaluators to think that he has a chance to hit .300 in the big leagues. His speed is easily plus, and can wreak havoc on the basepaths, though he needs to refine his skills more when it comes to stealing bags. He'll be playing CF at Double-A this year, and while he has more than enough speed to stick there, he'll really need to be great with his glove, as his arm is below-average. His makeup is questionable, as scouts have seen him show very inconsistent effort out in the field, and have led some to think that it'll handicap him from reaching his ceiling. A big year in the Texas League would likely shut the doubters up.

11) Michael Feliz, RHP, Grade B-: Borderline B. Feliz possesses a big fastball that has reportedly touched 98, and has good plane on it as well. He does a good job of throwing it for strikes, but he'll need to command it better in time. His slider is a little bit inconsistent, but when it's on and commanded well, it's a plus pitch. His changeup has some potential, but he doesn't throw it enough for scouts to get a good projection of it. He's a good athlete at 6'4" 220, and with his stuff and already good control, has the upside of a #3 starter, maybe a #2 if he can improve both his changeup & command.

12) Max Stassi, C, Grade B-: I want to bump Stassi up to a borderline B, but his extensive injury history and one year of production make me want to stay conservative with him. His plus raw power was put on full display in the Texas League, and he impressed with his defense as well. His approach at the plate is a little too aggressive for my liking, but he should still get on base at an average clip. He'll likely fall in the .250-.260 range with his batting average, but his ticket to the majors is his power and defense. May break camp with the big league team, may not, and may ultimately be dealt due to Jason Castro blocking him, but it's all good presently, as he still needs some time at Triple-A. Could be a good regular behind the plate.

13) Teoscar Hernandez, OF, Grade B-: Borderline C+. The toolsy Hernandez was a sleeper entering 2013, and impressed a lot of people in the industry with his power, speed & defense. He has above-average raw power, and may even have some 20/20 potential in him, but he's still raw at the plate. Defensively, he has the range and instincts for CF and the above-average arm and power potential for RF, but it remains to be seen which position he will play in the long-term. His contact skills need a lot of work, but he's still young, and has a lot of upside.

14) Asher Wojciechowski, RHP, Grade B-: Borderline C+. Wojo is a mountain at 6'4" 240 and has the ability to be a workhorse innings eater in the big leagues. Both his fastball & slider are above-average pitches, but his changeup is non-existent, which leaves him with just two pitches. His command is decent, but not good enough for me to think that he could be a mid-rotation prospect. I see him as a very good set-up man in the long run, as he'll fastball will tick up into the mid 90s coming out of the pen, and batters wouldn't have enough ABs against him to get ahold of his slider. His ceiling is probably as a #4/5 starter, but again I see him as a long-term 8th inning guy.

15) Nick Tropeano, RHP, Grade B-: Borderline C+. Trope took a step back in 2013. His straight fastball became quite hittable and his lack of a 3rd pitch was exploited by advanced Double-A hitters. His changeup looks like a plus offering but he throws it more than he should, and paid for it at times when he left it up in the zone. His control is good but his command was very spotty, another reason why he struggled. He's 6'4" 205, and could perhaps become a good #4 who puts up solid strikeout numbers, but his lack of a 3rd pitch may expose him further in Triple-A. Have always liked him since he was drafted, but like Singleton, he really needs to bounce back in 2014.

16) Josh Hader, LHP, Grade B-: Borderline C+. Hader is a very projectable & athletic southpaw that was acquired from Baltimore in the Bud Norris trade. His fastball will sit in the low 90s and will occasionally touch 94 & 95, but late into games he struggles to maintain that velocity, most likely due to his slight frame. His changeup is a good- looking pitch, and could be above-average in time. He has a 3/4 slot delivery but like Vince Velasquez, he struggles to stay on top of his breaking ball for some reason and is nothing more than a flashy pitch right now. His control isn't terrible but his command needs work, and his mechanics are kind of all over the place. Hader has the upside of a #3 starter, maybe slightly more if his breaking ball and command develop.

17) Nolan Fontana, SS, Grade C+: Borderline B-. My instincts tell me to bump him down to just a straight C+ but he has so many great skills, particularly in areas that help teams win games. His incredible plate discipline is well-documented, as he eclipsed 100 walks in 2013, and also struck out two times less than he walked, which is always very impressive. He has some speed and is a sound base-stealer on the paths. His defense is nothing special but it's no worse than average. Could become a regular, but it's more likely that he becomes a very good utility man.

18) Danry Vasquez, OF, Grade C+: Borderline B-. Acquired in the Jose Veras trade, Vasquez is one of the more frustrating prospects in the system. He has always had the strength and the swing to produce good power numbers but he just hasn't. To his credit, he does have a solid approach at the plate and a good hit tool, but that's about it. His glove is very spotty and his arm is average, which will ultimately push him to LF in the long-term. He's very young, so there's still time for the power breakout that evaluators have been waiting for to happen, but for now, he's an underachieving prospect.

19) Andrew Thurman, RHP, Grade C+: The 2013 2nd rounder is polished, and primed to rise through the system quickly in 2014. He has three solid pitches and solid command to go with a nice 6'3" frame, but I want to see him do well in pro ball first before I bump him up to a B-. Has the potential to be a #4 starter, but the Astros have the reputation of getting more velocity out of their pitchers, and Thurman would shoot up my board a good bit if they could get him to increase his heater from the low 90s into the mid 90s.

20) Jacob Nottingham, C, Grade C+: This is my big sleeper heading into 2014. Nottingham is a good athlete and has above-average raw power to go along with a strong arm. His receiving skills need a lot of work, but he has good knowledge of the strike zone for someone his age, and has the tools to perhaps one day play every day behind the plate.

Appreciate any & all feedback. Didn't rush this like I did with my shotty top 10 list I did a few months back.

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