Farmstros and I teamed up to analyze the Astros 2008 Rule IV draft. With one full season of play in the minors under their belts, it seemed a good time to check in with Bobby Heck's first draft class and see how they were doing (that's Jordan Lyles to the right).
This would also be a good place to talk about the AFL Rising Stars game if anyone watched it. It's currently sitting on my DVR, and hopefully I'll get a chance to watch and try to break down Castro's play in it, before he was sent home to rest for the rest of the offseason.
The Top Ten
1st Round (No. 10 overall), Jason Castro, C. It seems that Castro is everything the Astros were expecting when they spent the No. 10 pick on him in June 2008. He continues to hit for average and the reports I read are that his defense and handling of pitchers is above average. The left-handed swinger split the 2009 season between Lancaster and Corpus Christi. He homered in the Futures Game in St. Louis. He was named by Baseball America as the third-rated prospect in the California League and the sixth-rated prospect in the Texas League. He has struggled at the plate this fall in Arizona. However, I wonder how much of that is from his overly long season. He left Corpus at the end of August to play for the United States in Europe for the baseball World Cup. After Europe, he reported to Arizona for the Fall League in less than 10 days, and was recently sent home from the AFL to rest. Castro has a chance to break camp next spring as the Astros catcher, but I expect he will start the year at Round Rock.
1st Round Supplemental (No. 38 overall), Jordan Lyles, RHP. With the promotion of Bud Norris to the big leagues, Lyles becomes the top prospect in the system. He struggled out of the gate for Lexington in 2009, but by the end of the season he was the Legends’ ace, and Baseball America rated him the sixth-best prospect in the South Atlantic League. Lyles, who was drafted out of high school, will only be 19 on opening day 2010, but he seems headed for AA Corpus Christi.
2nd Round, Jay Austin, OF. After struggling in his 2008 short-season, Austin showed flashes of brilliance for Low A Lexington in 2009. The left-handed hitter had 22 doubles and 23 stolen bases in 101 games for the Legends to go with a .267 average. He did miss two stretches during 2009 with injury. I assume he will be in the Lancaster outfield in 2010, and I am curious to see if he can stay healthy and how he hits and runs there.
3rd Round, Chase Davidson, 1B. The Astros couldn’t sign Davidson out of high school as he decided to go to the University of Georgia. He started 31 games and batted .231 for the Bulldogs. He should be draft eligible again in June 2011.
3rd Round Supplemental, Ross Seaton, RHP. After one full season, the 20-year old isn’t as highly regarded as his Lexington teammate Lyles. (He was left off of Baseball America’s top 20 South Atlantic League prospects list) However, he was the second or third best starter for Lexington all season. Baseball America mentions his need to use the lower half of his body more to improve as a starter. Where will Seaton be in 2010? That is a good question. I get the feeling Houston is reluctant to send him to Lancaster, which is tough on pitchers, but he may not be AA-ready. [David's note: It was really maddening how inconsistent Seaton was. In his last four starts, he posted Game Scores of 62, 5, 61 and 58. He also gave up 18 unearned runs, which suggests he may not handle adversity well yet. I think Seaton is still learning how to be a pitcher but don't know a good place to start him next season.]
4th Round, T.J. Steele, OF. Steele has been impressive when he has been healthy. However, he missed the end of the 2008 season and several segments of 2009 with hamstring issues. He batted .345 in 2009, but he only played 50 games for Lancaster. I assume he will be in California in 2010 trying to stay healthy.
5th Round, David Duncan, LHP. Duncan started out the season getting shelled and./or injured in Lancaster. After a brief rehab at Tri-City, he was more steady at Lexington in 11 appearances (10 starts). I can’t imagine him being sent back to Lancaster. My guess would be more Lexington in 2010.
6th Round, Jack Shuck, OF. Shuck was the most consistent outfielder in Lancaster in 2009. He played 133 games and as a rule, he was the lead-off batter for the JetHawks. He batted .315, scored 98 runs, had 30 doubles and 18 steals in 27 attempts. I expect he will be leading off for the Hooks in 2010. [David's note: Shuck turned into one of my favorite players last season simply because he does a few things very well. Shuck doesn't have much power but is a high-contact guy who doesn't strike out and steals bases at a good clip. I compared him to Juan Pierre last season and he didn't do anything to prove me wrong]
7th Round, Jon Gaston, OF: Gaston set the Lancaster franchise record for home runs in a season with 35 in 2009. With one of the highest park factors in the minor leagues, Lancaster is a hitter's paradise, which suggests Gaston's numbers (.278/.367/.598) could be the product of his environment. On the other hand, of all the players who have gone through that launching pad, Gaston had the best season power-wise, which has to mean something. It will be interesting to see how he handles Corpus Christi next season.
8th Round, Brad Dydalewicz, LHP: Dydalewicz may have been the most surprising member of the Big 3 that came out of this draft. The lefty isn't a hard thrower, but gets a ton of ground balls (33% of TBF). That also means he doesn't give up home runs, as he had just six allowed in his 22 starts. The flip side is he also doesn't miss many bats, striking out just 78 in 110 innings. The lefty also played through an oblique strain that forced him to miss a few starts in April, but put up a solid first full season.
9th Round, Luis Cruz, RHP: Cruz is a diminutive fireballer that scouts seem to love. He has good movement on his fastball, but needs to learn how to be a complete pitcher. In 78 1/3 professional innings, Cruz has struck out 6.9 batters per 9 innings but walked 3.3 per 9. The 19-year old repeated rookie ball again in 2009 with less success, but that was mainly due to a penchant for giving up home runs. Cruz still profiles as a very good pitchers and may end up at Lexington next season.
10th Round, Jarred Holloway, LHP: Holloway had a somewhat successful short-season run in 2008, but missed the entire 2009 season with an injury. No telling where Holloway will start next season, but it might be Lexington.
The Best of the Rest
14th Round, Chris Hicks, RHP: Hicks doesn't appear to be one of the 'best,' but there is something hidden in his terrible numbers from Lancaster. By neutralizing his stats, his ERA falls down from 6.12 to 5.37 and his FIP of 4.82 is even lower. Add to that his K/9 rate of 7.2 and you have a pitcher with potential. Lancaster is just such a tough place to pitch, it's a wonder anyone can survive. I could definitely see Hicks joining Lyles and Duncan in the Corpus rotation next season and surprising people with a breakout performance.
17th Round, Andrew Simunic, 2B: Simunic is what he is; not a great prospect, the 24-year old is a polished, collegiate hitter who adds depth to the system. Over 270 plate appearances between Lancaster and Lexington, the second-baseman hit .287/.398/.305. The big problem for Simunic moving forward is he has absolutely no power. None. Whatsoever. Still, in an organization lacking middle infield depth, he could be a fast riser, though I don't see him making an impact at the major league level.
19th Round, Ashton Mowdy, RHP: Another in the minor-league reliever trend, Mowdy pitched in 41 games between Lexington and Lancaster last season. The 23-year old got absolutely destroyed at High-A (2.11 WHIP, 9.30 ERA), but pitched very well at Lexington (8.1 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 0.79 WHIP). Which Mowdy will show up in 2010? It just depends on where he is put. I'd lean towards Lancaster being a problem with evaluating him long-term, but the Oklahoma native does show promise.
26th Round, Shane Wolf, RHP: It's hard to be disappointed at a 26th round pick who makes it to High A ball in his first full season. Wolf also struck out 101 in 121 1/3 innings, more than Hicks, with a lower ERA than his higher-drafted teammate. The other thing Wolf excelled at was not giving up walks. In 179 1/3 career minor league innings, Wolf has only given up 42 walks for a rate of 2.1 BB/9. The 22-year old also doesn't give up home runs, with just 12 in his minor league career. Wolf did get bounced from the JetHawks rotation mid-season, but was back in by the end of the year and started 17 games overall.
48th Round, Danny Meszaros, RHP: Meszaros is probably the most highly-touted 48th round pick in Astro history. To wit, he's the only 48th round pick that has ever played in the minors for the Astros. Meszaros made his way up to AA this season, pitching 61 2/3 innings for the Hooks with an ERA of 3.36. His K/9 rate in Corpus of 7.0 dropped his minor league career rate down to 10.1, but his walk rate has held steady at 2.5 in almost all his stops. Meszaros is an older prospect and will be entering his Age 24 season in 2010. Still, it's not out of the question to see him in the big league bullpen as soon as next season.
11th Round, Jacob Priday, DH: The big slugger from Missouri retired last season and was placed on the Restricted list by Lexington. Priday totaled just 121 plate appearances in the minors after signing in 2008. The Astros were probably hoping for a little more from their 11th round pick (Michael Stutes, Brandon Douglas and Conroe's own Kyle Walker were all chosen after Priday in the 11th)
15th Round, Phil Disher, 1B: Disher had many people ogling his power numbers (13 HR, 36 XBH in 318 PA, Tri-City) after the 2008 season. The 24-year old was supposed to be a polished, collegiate bat to add some thump to the minor league system. Unfortunately, though, Disher suffered through a series of injuries in 2009 that held him to 128 plate appearances. The power also disappeared, as Disher managed just six extra-base hits at Lexington.
18th Round, David Flores, 3B: It's getting later in the draft ,where you don't expect every player to become a superstar. But Flores has been particularly bad, though he's been good with the glove. In283 plate appearances at offense-heavy Lancaster, Flores managed a line of .242/.288/.371. In fact, Flores was actually bumped from the lineup in favor of Lexington call-up Ebert Rosario and shortstop Gabriel Suarez.
31st Round, Philip Rummel, RHP: This is another one of the Lancaster pitchers you have to look hard at to see the hidden potential. Rummel had an ERA of 6.58 in six starts with the JetHawks and wasn't really that good. He was serviceable, though, and if he can learn from that experience, he could make an interesting bullpen arm someday.
Overall Grade: This turned out to be a pretty good draft by normal standards, as at least three of the picks seem destined for the major leagues, with a handful of other guys showing solid potential. Of course, with the Astros recent track record in the draft, this was a slam-dunk, home run, hole-in-one winner (all sorts of mixed metaphors there...sorry).
Not as many misses in the first 10 rounds in this draft, either. Even the misfire of not being able to sign Davidson worked out, as the Astros received a supplemental pick in the third round of the 2009 draft. Austin still needs work, and hasn't displayed the power potential that the Astros projected for him in the second round, but he's still very, very young. The pitching that Houston got out of this draft alone will make a difference, as Lyles, Seaton and Dydalewicz all have potential to sail through the minor leagues.
Final note from Farmstros: The Astros drew the short straw last off-season when Boston purchased the Salem minor league team and Houston ended up with a High A team in Lancaster, California. The park in Lancaster is regarded as one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball. The 2008 draft class will be feeling the Lancaster effect in full. For example, it seems that the strategy in developing the pitchers in the 2008 draft is to have them avoid Lancaster entirely. Daniel Meszaros jumped straight to Corpus Christi in 2009. Indications are that Jordan Lyles will do the same in 2010. There is some question as to whether Seaton is ready for AA, but I will be surprised if he ends up in Lancaster. Actually, I agree with the idea David ran past me that Seaton may start at Lexington before jumping to Corpus Christi in late May.
On the hitting side, it will be interesting to see how Gaston and Shuck do in Whataburger Field. They put up stellar numbers (as did Koby Clemens) in Clear Channel Field. How they will do against stronger pitching in a less hitter-friendly park is yet to be seen.
I imagine that the Astros' brass is working to get back to the Carolina League in 201l.