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Prospecting: The Receivers

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The Floridian Third on the Legends in homers
(behind Pence and Caraballo)

There's still a chance that Koby Clemens could end up at catcher, but we'll ignore him (for now), and ignore also Humberto Quintero, who is either a major league backup or a AAAA player:  his days as a prospect, I think, are over.










  • Ralph Henriquez Was at the Ryan Camp; In Sickels' book

.215 BA/.246 OBP/.342 SLG  at Rookie Greeneville in 2005; 46K/6BB/1HR w/ 158 AB
Henriquez was the Astros' second round pick last June, and like their first round pick, had a rocky summer.  Sickels says he was "undone by poor strike zone judgment," and that almost seems an understatement.  Still, Henriquez has yet to turn 19, and is undoubtedly still possessed of the defensive skills that were touted last spring when MLB.com wrote how well he blocked the ball and handled pitchers.   And Henriquez had plenty of offensive success at Key West High where he led his team to the state championship while batting .478.  

If according to the devil's advocate it's a little half-cocked to crown someone like Kevin Davidson or Mitch Einertson King of the System after an MVP year in the Appalachian League, the contrapositive would be that a poor year for an 18-year old player with tools may not mean all that much, either.  Henriquez has time, and good catchers are hard to find.

  • Lou Santangelo Was at the Ryan Camp; In Sickels' book
.268 BA/.336 OBP/.519 SLG at A Lexington in 2005; 86K/24BB/14HR w/ 239 AB
So when it's all booked and written, we might find that Henriquez in 2006 was Santangelo in 2005.  Lou--who attended Biggio's alma mater for a time before transferring to Clemson--had a crappy debut with Tri-City in 2004 after being drafted in the fourth round that year.  But he posted a 67-point increase in average, a 37-point increase in OBP and a 153-point increase in slugging while making the jump from Short A to full season.  On Deck likes him a lot, cyphering in such a way that he's 13th on their list of organizational hitters with 120 2005 AB's or more.

Sickels isn't quite so convinced, giving him a C, and writing that Santangelo "has a lot of holes in his swing that will be exploited at higher levels," and that besides ". . .his footwork isn't the best, and he is not particularly mobile behind the plate."

  • J.R. (aka Justin) Towles Was at the Ryan Camp; In Sickels' book
.346 AVG/.436 OBP/.549 SLG at A Lexington in 2005; 29K/16BB/5 HR w/ 162 AB
Towles got a late start at Lexington in 2005, but hit the ground running, going 4 for 5 with a homer in his second game.  By the end of the season, he would lead the Legends in average and onbase percentage, and would trail only Hunter Pence in slugging.

Like Santangelo, he faced a rough time of it at Greeneville in 2004, and if anything, Towles' rebound was even greater.  On Deck grades the two-time Oakland Athletic draft pick who re-entered the draft in time to be picked by Houston as second highest among those with at least 120 at bats, ahead of even Pence.  (Keep in mind that On Deck weighs youth very heavily, and that Towles is nearly a year younger than Pence, so that the site may not be making quite the judgment it appears to--On Deck would probably agree that Pence still has the higher ceiling.)

Sickels says that Towles has good strike zone judgment despite the 2:1 career K/BB ratio, and that he has "gap power" which of course is similar to, but better than, "warning track power."

It's on defense where the sources seem conflicted.  Baseball America, in their Top Ten feature calls Towles the chain's best defensive catcher, but elsewhere say that

"[h]e's got arm strength, but his footwork and mechanics keep him from posting good times to second, or from being more than a decent receiver."

Sickels is torn, himself, saying that "people inside the organization praise his glove," but also that "observers from other teams say he is too raw."

Which itself is kind of funny, because I thought the 'Stros stressed catcher's defense more than most systems. . .

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this short list is who's missing, and (besides Clemens and Quintero) that would be Hector Gimenez.  The system almost seems to have passed Mr. Gimenez by.  He hit .273 with 12 homers for Corpus Christi in 2005, but it was his second straight year at Double A, and he's yet to play an inning at the AAA level.  He's fallen out of the Baseball America list, out of Sickels' book, and (worst of all), he wasn't invited to the Ryan camp.  I think, however, that the Astros may very well force the issue with Hector:  start him at AAA Round Rock, and let him sink or swim.  Gimenez is thereby in a strange spot: a good start and an injury to Chavez or (God forbid!) Ausmus, and he could get the call over Quintero (who has issues himself).  But a bad start, and he could be looking for work.

Funny game, this baseball.