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Astros of the Future - Midseason 2010

A couple of years ago, the Houston Astros did not have a healthy organization.  If you were to project a lineup of future Astros listing only prospects, a frightening number of positions would have been filled by fringe prospects who might never make it to the major leagues, let alone start every day at the big league level.

Today, that story is different.  Following three solid drafts under scouting director Bobby Heck, the organization is now stocked with good (though not great) prospects at almost every position.  You can see the bones of a strong roster being formed through intelligent drafting, and although there is a general lack of grade A impact prospects, there is depth and breadth in the farm system now.

Savvy trades at the deadline could add those impact prospects the organization needs, but even without them, the future is much brighter now than it was back in 2008.  Let's take a look at who we might see manning each position in a few years.

C: Jason Castro.  Castro is a plus defensive catcher with plus on-base skills.  He projects to have Major League average power down the road, but hasn't shown it yet.  Prospect Grade: B+.  Alternate: Ben Heath.

1B: Koby Clemens.  With plenty of pop in his bat and above average patience, the real question about Clemens is whether he can make enough contact to succeed.  Prospect Grade: B-.  Alternate: Kody Hinze.

2B: Delino DeShields.  Could become a plus defender with plus speed, plus on-base skills, and a little pop, but is raw and far from that ceiling.  Prospect Grade: B-.  Alternate: Jose Altuve.

SS: Jiovanni Mier.  With serious questions about his bat but none whatsoever about his glove, Mier still has much to prove in the minor leagues.  Prospect Grade: B-.  Alternate: Wladimir Sutil.

3B: Michael Kvasnicka.  We'll have to see how he produces in the minors, but he could have plus on-base skills and 20 HR power down the road.  Prospect Grade: B-/C+.  Alternate: Chris Johnson.

LF: J.D. Martinez.  He can hit, but how much of it will translate against tougher competition, and can he adjust his swing to take advantage of his raw power and put more balls in the air?  Prospect Grade: B-/C+.  Alternate: Jack Shuck.

CF: Jay Austin.  With plenty of speed and a little power, the question with Austin is whether he can refine his hitting ability enough to start at the next level.  He's very young, so he has plenty of time to figure it out.  Prospect Grade: B.  Alternate: T.J. Steele.

RF: Jonathan Gaston.  The power he displayed at Lancaster hasn't appeared anywhere else yet, but he's a good athlete, and his plate discipline is improving.  Prospect Grade: C+.  Alternate: Brian Bogusevic.

SP1: Mike Foltynewicz.  Folty has the upside to become a true ace, but needs to refine his breaking ball and establish a track record against pro hitters. Prospect Grade: B.

SP2: Jordan Lyles.  He profiles more as a no. 2 starter, but Lyles is a relatively safe bet to become an above average major league starting pitcher.  Prospect Grade: A-/B+.

SP3: Tanner Bushue.  The biggest question about Bushue is where his fastball velocity will end up, but he has an excellent curve and plenty of projection left in his frame.  Prospect Grade: B.

SP4: Dallas Keuchel.  With good command and a fastball which produces plenty of groundouts, Keuchel could be contributing to the back end of the big league rotation soon.  Prospect Grade: B-/C+.

SP5: Kyle Greenwalt.  Greenwalt's results have never matched his peripherals, but those peripherals are solid, and there's plenty of reason to believe he will become a good no. 4 starter down the road.  Prospect Grade: C+/C.

Setup: Daniel Meszaros.  Not your typical back end reliever, Meszaros doesn't do it with high heat, but you can't argue with the production.  Prospect Grade: B-/C+.

Closer: Henry Villar.  Like Meszaros, Villar's best pitch isn't his fastball, but he still strikes out plenty of batters, and does it without walking many.  Prospect Grade: B-/C+.

This is a solid group of prospects, and I particularly like that most of the position players have decent alternates.  Three positions of weakness immediately jump out at me: Shortstop, corner outfield, and starting pitcher.

The minor league system is essentially a one-trick pony when it comes to the shortstop position, and if Mier's bat busts, there are no other solid prospects in the waiting.  Signing 2010 draft pick JaCoby Jones would help, but I'm still skeptical that the Astros will be able to do so.  Recent international signing Jean Carlos Bautista could also shore up the position, but he isn't ready for rookie ball, let alone the major leagues.

Corner outfield is a little better, but it strikes me that we're thin on impact power bats in general.  J.D. Martinez and to a lesser extent Jonathan Gaston could fit the profile, but they're anything but sure things, and most analysts probably wouldn't rank them above Grade C+ as prospects at this point

There is decent depth at starting pitcher, but pitchers are notoriously unreliable, and there is a steep dropoff in high-upside arms after Tanner Bushue.  There are several pitchers from the 2010 draft class and the Dominican Republic who could help in that department, but they are largely unknowns at this point.  This is a problem which could solve itself, but it can never hurt to add more pitching, so the organization should always be open to acquiring arms.

Fortunately, there is help at two of those weaker positions already present in the majors; Felipe Paulino and Hunter Pence are both young and will be under team control for years to come.  Still, I won't be satisfied until we have more potential frontline starters and middle of the order power hitters in the system.  Those are notoriously expensive on the open market, and as such I don't like that it's our biggest organizational weakness.

With that said, this is a good core of prospects, and they should start emerging at the big league level beginning this season.  By the end of the 2013 season, the majority of those who will ever make to the big leagues should already be there, forming the new core of the Astros for years to come.