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Friday Astros Minor Thoughts

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If you haven't been able to tell, I really enjoy covering the minor leagues. I even have a (very neglected) blog on the subject. I could talk about the Astros farm system every day. But, I try to control myself and think I'm going to settle on writing a Friday column with all sorts of little tidbits throughout the season. Sometimes, like this week, a couple of the stories I picked up for this were already FanShotted. I hope you don't mind seeing them twice. At any rate, let's get to the good stuff:

With the debut of some college seasons, talk of the June draft is starting to percolate. The Astros have four picks in the first two rounds in the 2010 draft. Judging from this article, the best they will get the best bang for those picks by taking hitters, either college or high school. If they have to take a pitcher, it's better to take a high school arm than a college one. If you look at Bobby Heck's profile since joining the Astros, he's already following a very similar model. He's picked a college bat high, high school position players, high school arms and not one college arm in the top three rounds. Either his people have broken down this kind of data, or he just intuitively understands how to get good value from the draft. Whichever it is, I feel even better about the Astros prospects.

Interestingly, over at insidethebook.com, Tangotiger makes the point that any pitcher outside the top 25 college and high school arms is like throwing darts blindfolded. Everyone talks about Mike Piazza being found in the 62nd round as evidence that you can find value late. In the future, though, it's going to be late-round pitchers who have the best chance to make the majors. Look at a guy like Danny Meszaros. Because There's No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect (TNSTAPP), pitchers from late in the draft have an easier time flying up the organization. If there are injuries which hurt depth, there's an even greater chance. Now, I'm not suggesting that teams will start finding stars in the 40th round. But Tango's article does suggest that it's easier to find big-league pitchers late than you'd expect.

I know there are some good people doing stat-oriented prospecting, but it's still jarring to see someone on MLB.com use things like ISO when discussing Mike Stanton. I was kind of surprised to see Stanton ranked so highly, since he strikes out a ton. Still, clubs are always searching for power and Stanton seems to have that in droves. I still don't know if he's much different than Mike Jacobs, though. I guess he's cheaper, at least.

Let the Bryce Harper talk continue. The 17-year old made his debut for the College of Southern Nevada and hit his first home run in Game No. 4. Here's a video of it.

Mayo also has an article up talking about his predictions for the 2010 draft. His list of the top 10 players in the 2010 draft isn't a suggestion of when they'll be picked, but one of the most talented. If the Astros ended up with Zach Cox, would you be happy? If Cox and Harper are both sitting there at eight, who do you pick? I'm sure the Astros could move Harper off to either second or third if they needed to (I'm not sure his defense would be better than Castro's). If Harper comes in with a price tag 2 million over Cox, does that influence your choice? I like the idea of taking Cox simply because he's a polished college bat that could arrive in a year and a half a la Ryan Zimmerman. Harper may have more upside, but he's also very overhyped to this point. I could see him falling a bit on merit once scouts see him in college.

On second thought, this tweet from Lincoln Hamilton at Project Prospect makes me less excited about Cox. A 29% strikeout rate? Yikes! That's almost as bad as Willy Taveras...oh, wait, that was yesterday's post. It's still early in the evaluation process, but I think I like the idea of taking a college hitter with the eighth pick. If he can play third or second, that's great. A power-hitting first baseman also wouldn't hurt (depending on how you view Phil Disher -- I'm not high on him).

I found a great new draft site by Andy Seiler. He's already done a couple mock drafts for 2010 and has the Astros landing a high school outfielder in LaVon Washington and two high school arms with the first three picks. Interesting stuff, to say the least. I would almost bet they don't go outfielder with that first pick, unless Houston really would move him to second base. I still see them going third base at the top but the 'best available player' card is also in play.

A big tip o' the hat to Farmstros for linking to this article in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Some interesting tidbits about guys like Brad James and Johnny Ash, or the "Mayors of Corpus Christi." The real conversation starter for me is why in the heck everyone is so hyped up about T.J. Steele. This just started happening this offseason, where Tal Smith goes around and tells guys like Richard Justice that Steele is Cesar Cedeno 2.0. I might be missing something here, but Steele has been injured. A lot. He didn't play nearly a full season in 2009 and injury concerns dogged in through college. I know evaluators fall in love with talent over production in the minors, but I'm a little tired of this rhetoric with Steele. Remember when Mark Prior was the second coming of Cy Young and Kerry Wood was a new Nolan Ryan? How'd that work out?

Earlier this week, McTaggart tweeted this note about the Venezuelan Winter League championship. While Gustavo Chacin may end up on the big league roster, it's more likely that he ends up at Round Rock. His line in the VWL championship (7 inn, 6 K, 5 H) shows he can still be an effective pitcher at times. If he's healthy, he definitely adds solid depth to the Triple-A rotation.

The Astros have also signed an 18-year old first baseman named Mesac Laguna out of Nicaragua. Houston's Nicaraguan scout Leo Guevara said Laguna has a powerful arm, can hit for power and is athletic. He'll start next season in either the Venezuelan or Dominican Summer Leagues. Guevara also compared him to Jose Offerman and Carlos Gomez, which doesn't seem to gibe with the whole 'powerful' thing or the whole 'first baseman' thing. Also of note: Guevara mentioned the Astros expect to sign four or five more players out of Nicaragua next season.

If you're in the Houston area Friday morning, you can be part of the Astros' team picture. Well, it's a picture taken by the team of you and 1,499 of your closest friends all wearing red for a good cause. I'm in meetings all day and 90 minutes from MMP. Anyone that goes, feel free to keep us updated on how it turns out.

One quick programming note: I'm waiting on the Baseball America and Sickel's books to come in before I can start writing about the possible returns for Oswalt and Berkman. I'm hoping to get each next week, but don't know for sure. If you have the Top 100 list from BA or Sickel's Top 50 lists, shoot me an email.