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Prospecting: The Infield

Father visits him at work often Not the Astro farmhand who's last
alphabetically all-time, believe it or not.

  • Jonny Ash Was at the Ryan Camp; In Sickels' book

.320 BA/.395 OBP/.473 SLG  at A Lexington in 2005; 20K/25BB/8HR w/ 256 AB
.320 BA/.365 OBP/.436 SLG  at High A Salem in 2005; 15K/14BB/1HR w/ 225 AB
Jonathan Ash was just one of several talented Astros farmhands who began the year together at Lexington, and excelled while leading the Legends to within a game of a South Atlantic League first half divisional championship.  And when that group--which includes Ash, Patton, Pence,and Zobrist--lost the first half tiebreaker to Hagerstown, it seems as if they were promoted en masse to High A Salem, as well.

 If the quartet seemed complementary to each other, it's because they were.  What Jonny Ash brought to that group--and what he could bring to an Astros organization that should be emphasizing  his skills--is a solid grasp of the strike zone and the ability to take a walk more often than a whiff.  During his two years in the Astros' system, and at three different levels, Ash has maintained an AVG no lower than .297, and an OBP no lower than .365.  The second baseman also kicked in a little bit of power both over the fence and into the gaps in 2005.   The bad news is that Ash spent four years at Stanford University before getting drafted by the 'Stros in 2004.  2006, if it is spent at AA as I think it will be, is likely to be the first season where Ash will be regularly facing competition superior to what he faced while in the PAC-10.   But if he can get it done at Corpus Christi. . . .

Sickels says that Ash's arm is not superior, although he has a quick release.    

  • Koby Clemens Was at the Ryan Camp; In Sickels' book
.297 BA/.398 OBP/.477 SLG at Rookie Greeneville in 2005; 26K/18BB/4HR w/ 111 AB
.281 BA/.361 OBP/.438 SLG at Short A Tri-City in 2005; 5K/4BB/0HR w/ 32 AB

While Roger Clemens was leading the NL in ERA last season, his son Koby was leading the Greeneville Astros in onbase percentage.  When Koby was drafted, and Phil Garner went on about how he'd

. . . been watching him for the last couple of years out here, and he's been hitting it off the walls in left field.   I see a lot of players coming out of high school and college, and Koby can stand with any of them right now. We may see him here in the big leagues in not too long a time away.
it seemed like hyperbole, and well . . .it still seems a little bit that way.  But if anyone had any doubts whether the younger Clemens was worth an eighth round pick, his offensive performance during his first professional should help dispel them.  Sickels does say that Koby needs to watch the weight to stay lithe on his feet, and he did make 12 errors, so the eventual defensive position for the younger Clemens may be a tale still to be told.  Still, it appears the kid can hit, and everything else can be worked around.

  • Brooks Conrad In Sickels' book
.263 AVG/.347 OBP/.481 SLG at AAA Round Rock in 2005; 104K/52BB/21 HR w/ 418 AB
.234 AVG/.372 OBP/.416 SLG at AA Corpus Christi in 2005; 15K/16BB/2 HR w/ 77 AB
I remember getting into a little disagreement with sometime-contributor Bill Gilbert over Conrad's status--whether Brooks was a bona fide prospect or not, and it appears that the Astros and John Sickels have a similar disagreement as well.  Despite posting a career high 21 homers at AAA Round Rock last year--and for that matter, being name Round Rock's team MVP in 2004--the Astros did not invite the second baseman to the Ryan camp. d

 The fact that Conrad is already 26 probably had something to do with that, as well as the Biggio/Burke logjam at Conrad's position with the major league club.  Sickels says that Conrad shows "a broad range of offensive skills" and that he is likely a "better overall player than some guys who have long careers in the majors."  I think that it is a certainty Conrad will have a very good year at Round Rock in 2006; but it would take nothing less than a catastrophe for a spot to open up for Conrad at the major league level.  A trade to another organization is to be frank what might be best for Brooks Conrad.  But the likelihood of that will be determined by Purpura's perception of the Astros needs, and of course, what other teams might be willing to give up for a 26-year old second baseman without a cannon arm or oodles of God-given power. . . .


  • Tommy Manzella At the Ryan Camp; In Sickels' book
.232 AVG/.260 OBP/.295 SLG at Short A Tri-City in 2005; 40K/9 BB/0 HR w/ 220 AB
Manzella was picked in the third round of last June's draft, and had been a teammate at Tulane of first round pick Brian Bogusevic.  And like Bogusevic, Manzella endured a rough debut professional campaign.  Baseball America says that Manzella has the organization's strongest infield arm, and represents the Houston farm's best defensive infielder.  But the numbers say he was somewhat overmatched at Tri-City, and that's not a good thing for a player coming from a major college program.   I imagine the Ryan camp will foreshadow much personal instruction and much work for Mr. Manzella, as it's hard to make a case that he should start 2006 at Lexington, and if not, that would leave extended spring training as the route that Mr. Manzella will take. Being a third round pick, Manzella will get plenty of chances from the 'Stros, but his poor 2005 half-season has already put him behind the eightball.  
  • Ben Zobrist At the Ryan Camp; In Sickels' book
.304 AVG/.415 OBP/.413 SLG at A Lexington in 2005; 35K/47BB/2 HR w/ 247 AB
.333 AVG/.475 OBP/.496 SLG at High A Salem in 2005; 17K/377BB/3 HR w/ 141 AB
Love that boost he gave his numbers after the promotion.  Lack of power or no, and age 25 or no, it's pretty clear that Zobrist is the system's best infield prospect.  His strikeout to walk ratio is needless to say outstanding; he steals bases at a 3:1 clip, and he hits .300 with gap power.  Now he has to do it at Corpus Christi, but as of right now, I'd say Ben Zobrist is the freakin' man.

Being a second baseman (and not a particularly strong-armed one), he faces the same ceiling as Conrad, but Zobrist has a year in the hole for the Biggio/Burke situation to rectify itself.  2008 seems like a long time from now for Chris Burke and Brooks Conrad, but as an ETA for Ben Zobrist, it probably seems just about right.