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A Decade of Astros Player Debuts

My post yesterday was made in haste because I reacted to the suggestion that the Houston Astros must make new inroads into international scouting. Now, having some time to become more objective, I decided to look at the past decade and see how many players the Astros had debut in the majors, what the league average was and how Houston compared. I also looked at average age of the rookie and how they were signed, hoping to get a better sense of where the Astros were developing the most players.

What I found was interesting, if not conclusive. The results are after the jump...

The three types of players I looked at were international free agents (IFAs), Rule IV drafted players (high school and college) and Rule V drafted players.

This is what the chart came out to look like, with the data obtained from Baseball Reference.


Houston Debuts       Avg. MLB   Avg. Age
Year Total (H) IFA Draft Rule V Age Total Per Team Age Diff.
2000 9 0 6 1 25.11 204 6.80 24.81 -0.30
2001 6 2 2 0 23.17 199 6.63 24.25 1.08
2002 7 0 5 0 26.14 204 6.80 24.68 -1.46
2003 6 1 4 1 26.17 182 6.07 24.65 -1.52
2004 4 0 3 1 24.25 208 6.93 24.46 0.21
2005 6 1 3 0 25.83 206 6.87 24.37 -1.46
2006 7 2 4 0 24.57 220 7.33 24.43 -0.14
2007 7 2 5 0 23.43 211 7.03 24.61 1.18
2008 3 0 2 1 25.67 238 7.93 24.95 -0.72
2009 5 1 3 0 24.60 168 5.60 24.77 0.17
Totals 60 9 37 4 24.8937 204 6.80 24.598



The column for difference just shows whether the Astros were over or under the league's average rookie age for a particular year. If the number is negative, the were above the age and positive means they were under it by however many years.

Nine IFAs in 10 years isn't a bad number, but it's hard to realistically tell what caused that. Considering most of the international players took 5-7 years to reach the majors, the lag time on money invested there is considerable and not really conclusive in a smaller sample size (10 years).

The jump in IFAs reaching the majors from 2005 to 2007 is interesting. Of those five players, three were Venezuelan (Fernando Nieve, Hector Gimenez, Juan Gutierrez) and two were from the Dominican Republic (Wandy Rodriguez, Felipe Paulino). Nieve, Rodriguez and Gimenez were all signed in 1999 while Gutierrez signed in 2000 and Paulino signed in 2001. The data isn't any more conclusive if you include everyone from this decade. While Wilfredo Rodriguez and Carlos Hernandez were both from Venezuela, they signed in 1995 and 1997 respectively. Rodrigo Rosario signed out of the Dominican in 1996 as did Sammy Gervacio in 2002.

It's an almost even split between players signed out of Venezuela and the Dominican over this time frame. In fact, adding in players included on the 40-man roster, it is exactly even, with six signees from each country. The latest player to be signed internationally to make the 40-man roster is Wladimir Sutil, who was signed out of Venezuela in 2003.

So, any reaction or results from the Astros de-emphasizing the Venezuelan academy are not evident. It also shows increasingly that the Astros did have a presence in the Dominican, they just haven't seen the same kinds of results.

I looked further into the minors to see if that data shows anything different. Realistically, though, looking too deep into the farm system can be problematic, but I wanted to be thorough. At Double-A are two IFAs: Douglas Arguello (Nicaragua) signed in 2001 and Jhon Florentino (DR) signed in 2003. Both have moved up steadily but still need some time before they can make the majors. Further down the depth chart at High A, Leandro Cespedes (DR) signed in 2004 and Ebert Rosario (DR) signed in 2005.

The first player signed by Purpura just barely made High A this season, and wasn't very good there. Rosario hit .250/.312/.336 in an absolute launching pad that the locals nicknamed The Hangar. Not predictive of future success, is it? Low A sees more Purpura signings and even boasts a couple out of Venezuela in Arcenio Leon, Antonio Noguera, Reinaldo Pestana and Federico Hernandez. The first two are relievers who may or may not move up next season and the second two are catchers. Hernandez has a good reputation for his defense but hasn't hit enough to even get excited about. Jose Trinidad (DR) also is in Low A and signed in 2005, as did Ricardo Bonfante out of Colombia.

More Purpura signees were in short season and rookie ball, but it's hard to project them out very far. Sure, Jose Altuve looks good and was a Purpura signee out of Venezuela, but none of these players are close enough to get an accurate read.

If anything, the problem Purpura had in Latin America was scouting, not monetary investment. Maybe the two go hand-in-hand, I don't know. It also may be a case that the Astros didn't have the money anymore to sign more talented players and had to project guys a little more. Either way, while there was no drop off in number of signees, there was a definite drop in talent level, which is now showing itself in promotions through the system.

Are Ed and Bobby doing any better? It's hard to tell. What is encouraging, though, is Chia-jen Lo. Signed out of Taiwan, he was one of Glen Barker's first gets and has shown good movement towards the majors. The Astros have hopes that he may turn into a starter, but have been keeping him in the bullpen to this point. It'll be interesting to see if they send him to Round Rock to start for a while, maybe teaming up with Wesley Wright. Not impressive yet, but still a good sign that things are turning around.

Other notes on this chart:

  • The Houston rookies were older than their contemporaries more often than not. This wasn't a product of Hunsicker or Purpura early in the decade, as the Astros farm system had been a little depleted by that point. It is interesting that the league-wide average age holds so closely to 24.5. Just reaffirms my contention not to consider anyone over 25 a true prospect.
  • The Astros were also under the average rookie count per team in every season but two (2000 and 2002). As the decade wore on, they were close to debuting the league average, but never quite made it. Note, these rookie numbers don't mean the players contributed a great number of at-bats to the team's season. Even if they had 15 plate appearances, they'd be counted. That explains why the league numbers seem so high, but not really why the Astros numbers are lower.
  • One disturbing trend is the number of drafted players making an impact at the major league level. The decade in Astros drafts was apparently not kind. Too often, the Astros only got two or three players to contribute out of the draft, which doesn't take nearly as long to show results as IFAs. You can see how the 2004 draft was a productive one, since 2007 had four members from that draft class make their debut. Still, far too few draft picks were making it to the majors during the past decade.
  • Interestingly, the Astros only used four Rule V picks, the last being Wesley Wright. I would have thought that number to be higher, but instead it just shows how the Astros can overlook more cheap talent.