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Friday Astros Minor Thoughts

Another Friday, another edition of the finest minor league thoughts I can muster. Today, we’ll cover a possible team in Sugar Land, more draft talk, an easier-to-read Top 10 prospect list and questions about local collegiate players.

Stay till the end to catch an important note about an exciting development over at Farmstros. If you must go over to his site first, you must. But you can also stay till the end of my column. Either way, the news is very cool.

As first reported by Channel 2 in Houston, the Sugar Land city council recently approved a measure that paved the way for a minor league baseball stadium to be built there. The council gave a 90-day window for investors to seek a deal with a minor league team that would begin play in a new stadium starting in 2012. (h/t to John Lopez)

There were no plans or leads as to which team the Sugar Land group might partner with. I contacted the Astros front office for comment, but they haven’t gotten back to me yet. I may be making something out of nothing here, but follow this timeline:

  • Round Rock affiliation deal ends after 2010 season.
  • Nolan Ryan is named minority owner of the Texas Rangers
  • Ryan Sanders owns Round Rock (and Corpus Christi); Nolan is partner in company
  • Astros are not in talks to renew agreement at this time, according to Kirk Bohls
  • This story hits about Sugar Land possibly building a Triple-A caliber stadium

There’s a lot of speculation in ordering events like this, but I can definitely see a scenario develop where both the Rangers and Astros reach an agreement that they’d rather own their Triple-A affiliates outright. The Boston Red Sox set this trend in motion a couple years ago when they purchased the Salem Avalanche (then an Astros affiliate).

Depending on how binding the Rangers’ contract with Oklahoma City is, I could forsee a situation where Houston keeps Round Rock until 2012 and then buys and moves a team to Sugar Land or simply creates an expansion franchise. Note too that a Triple-A franchise will become available once the Portland Beavers are forced out of their stadium for Major League Soccer.

Back in 2003, the Ryan-Sanders group bought the Edmonton Trappers of the Pacific Coast League and brought them to Round Rock. At the time, the Trappers were the Expos top minor league affiliate, so the Astros simply traded them the New Orleans franchise.

I can see a situation where Texas, Houston and San Diego (Portland’s major league affiliate) all agree to trade teams, essentially. Texas would get Round Rock, Houston could get and move Portland while San Diego takes over Oklahoma City. That’s not ideal for the Padres, but they didn’t have a lot of possibilities in any case.

That’s not even touching on whether or not minor league baseball could survive in Houston. I know the Rangers like having a Double-A team in Frisco, but would Houstonians go see minor league ball? Would the Astros simply ‘promote’ Corpus to Triple-A and keep Sugar Land as the Double-A team?

Before I get too far down that rabbit hole, let’s pull it back to the beginning. This is simply a 90-day window to explore options. With no word from the Astros on their intentions and no further evidence that anything will happen with Round Rock, I’m going to cool off a bit. After all, jumping ahead of myself once on a negotiations window is enough for one offseason.

Instead, let’s jump to some draft talk. I have linked to his blog on occasion, but one big source of information during draft time is Baseball Beginnings, which is run by John Klima.

Just a little background on him from his website. Klima has been an award-winning baseball writer in the past, penned two books about baseball and appeared in the 2007 Best American Sports Writing Anthology. He has written for many different publications, but he's most focused on baseball scouting now. Through years as a writer then broadcaster, Klima has developed a network of scouts and coaches he can talk to and have helped him learn to scout on his own. His website is one of the best around for scouting reports and interviews with amateur players. I found a ton of information on his site when I was recapping the draft last summer.

What I really like about his scouting reports is that he mixes video in with the normal reports, so you can see what he's talking about. As you can tell, I'm a big fan of this kind of verification instead of just deferring to authority.

At any rate, Klima was out scouting some of the 2010 draft prospects at the Major League Scouting Bureau's Showcase at the Urban Youth Academy in Compton. He broke down the players into two groups: position players and pitchers. The guys I'm most interested in are right fielder Mike Lorenzen, catcher Jake Hernandez, right-hander Kyle Richter and left-hander Griffin Murphy.

All these guys are high schoolers, but Lorenzen is really intriguing. A power bat on the corners that can play good defense? The Astros haven't had a guy come up like that since Richard Hidalgo. I'm not sure whether the Astros will be in on any of these guys, but since they have somewhat of a California bent to some of their top selections (Castro, Mier), it's possible they will be in on someone from this group.

Keith Law's take on the weekend was also interesting, though only subscribers can read. He liked the same players I did, with a few additions like Vincent Velasquez, Christian Yelich and Tony Amezcua.

That last name may not be familiar to you, but it was the start of a discussion by Andy Seiler about Baseball America. Seiler posted a very detailed scouting report he had done on Amezcua in response to this note from BA claiming not much was known going in about Amezcua. He also brings up some of the same things I have in the past few months; namely, don’t just blindly trust BA because they’ve been doing it for years. Try to come up with your own ideas by reading as many different people as possible. It’s definitely an interesting thought. On another tangent, Project Prospect is trying to start a project to create a community of scouts. You readers out there would talk on forums, Twitter and the like as you watched the Jamison Taillon’s of the world play this spring. Then, you could all talk about what you saw to try and come to a consensus. I really like this project. If you are interested and have the time, I highly encourage you to check it out.

Finally, Jonathan Mayo weighs in on the weekend, but doesn’t add much more information than in the previous stories. Mayo’s gift is for networking and talking with scouts. His job and TV appearances don’t leave him much left over to do as much in-person scouting, but he still knows quite a bit about analyzing prospects. He’s easily one of the best mainstream prospect guys I’ve read.

Enough general draft talk, let’s get into some specific players. Like John Simms from my old hometown. Sure, he goes to the ‘rival’ high school now, but that doesn’t mean the Astros can’t draft him. Here’s some video on Simms, courtesy of Klima.

Here's a quick video from Seiler about a guy we've talked about quite a bit, Christian Colon. Impressions?

Another guy who bears watching is Tyrell Jenkins from Henderson. Klima does a lot of these videos, but I always perk up when I see players from Texas. Heck and Co. have shown a tendency to not focus on in-state talent. Instead, they rely on a great network of scouts in places like California or Georgia. I’m a sucker for local guys. I follow all the U of H and Rice players once they turn pro and give points to any Astros prospects from in-state. Still, I like the fact that ownership isn’t steering Heck to draft local products. Instead, they can take the top player on their board. So far, that’s worked out pretty well.

Here’s another quick note from Klima, at the bottom of a notebook-style column on the Arizona Fall League. Astros relief prospect Evan Englebrook is mentioned briefly, but certainly not glowingly. I’m not as high on Englebrook as some of you around here (clack, I seem to remember you mentioning him once). He was old for his level, both in Double-A and Triple-A in 2009 and has only pitched moderately well the past two seasons. Englebrook has battled a couple injuries and is a good depth guy to have at Round Rock, but I just don’t see big things from him. I always enjoy being surprised, but am not sure how much attention to pay to Englebrook.

We have linked to the Hardball Times prospect lists before, but here is a succinct listing of all 30 teams. I can’t remember if they were ranked the first time these came out or not, but the Astros at 21 isn’t bad, considering where they’re coming from. I still haven’t gotten my BA handbook (definitely should have ordered the electronic copy), but I’m sure the Astros will be lower than that. What it also means is that the Astros system may lack depth, but it no longer lacks upside at the top of the heap. Guys like Lyles, Seaton, Austin, Bushue and Mier are all young and playing well in (somewhat) limited time. If they continue to progress, we could really have something here.

The third part in a series of articles over at THT meant to quantify outfield defense mentioned a couple Astros farmhands. Both were because Lexington's Steve Brown had the best left field arm by the numbers last season. I've got to admit, I haven't been real high on Brown the past two seasons. He's been hurt quite a bit, but does show some good speed. The Astros also tend to bat him in the middle of the order, which I don't understand. His defense will keep him on the field for a couple more seasons, but he's down on my list of guys to watch.

Seiler also had a live chat recently, where he answered some of my questions (along with many others not from me). Of note for us was his thought that Rick Hague can stick at shortstop if needed, but that he could move off position if needed. With Mier holding down shortstop (presumably), would Hague slide to second? Or does a move to the hot corner make more sense?

The reason I asked him about Texas A&M is I'm going to make more of an effort to attend Aggie games this spring, in part so I can do some first-person scouting for all of you. I'll be there tonight as A&M takes on Seaton Hall, with Barrett Loux starting for the Aggies (he's the guy Seiler mentions). Right now, I'll contain my write-ups and thoughts on these games to that writing space. If all of you are interested enough, however, I'll switch them over here.

I’ll end with this note from Farmstros. There will be a special Spring Training correspondant over there for the Astros: Jonathan Fixler. The catcher who bounced all around the system last season will provide updates for Farmstros through the spring about catching all these talented young pitchers. I don’t know what I’m more excited for, the Quest for 3,000 syllables or the Fixler Files. Either way, we all win.