Make or Break Year for 2008 Draftees

2012 will mark the 4th full year for the 2008 draft class, which is the current front office's first and for many fans marked the point at which the farm system began to improve. Of the 52 players Houston drafted, 18 remain in the system. 3 have made their big league debuts. So far, no player drafted higher than the 10th round has flamed out completely. For most of the remaining players, I believe that 2012 represents a make or break season, especially when you consider the talent that has accumulated around and behind them through the 2009-2011 drafts and various trades. Here's a run down of who is left and where they stand:

Jason Castro- 2011 was a lost season, but he's already in the bigs and is penciled in as the starting catcher in Houston next year. Profiles as an average bat and above average defender, provided he fully recovers from his knee injury.

Jordan Lyles- Made his big league debut in 2011 and is likely to be a part of Houston's rotation for the foreseeable future. Profiles as a #3 starter.

Jay Austin- 2011 was a step backward, as he started in High A (repeating) and was eventually demoted back to Lexington, where he continued to struggle. Is participating in the Arizona Fall League for the 2nd consecutive year to try and regain some of his value. A plus athlete in CF, he just hasn't hit well enough to advance past A ball. Next season may be his last chance to turn things around before he becomes a totally forgotten man behind other CFers in the system like Springer, Wates, etc.

Ross Seaton- Continued to advance, moving up to AA in 2011. He struggled, but showed flashes of what got him drafted in the 3rd round. Likely due for a repeat season in AA in 2012, he needs to show improvement to continue on the path to the bigs. He's still fairly young, so he will probably have at least 1 more year before being labelled a bust. At this point he probably projects as a 5th starter or long reliever.

TJ Steele- 2011 was a success in the sense that Steele was able to finally stay relatively healthy, but the season was a failure in terms of on-field performance. At this point, Steele is an afterthought among farmstros outfielders and will probably be slated for backup duty in Corpus. Barring a drastic turnaround, it's unlikely he ever sets foot in Minute Maid.

David Duncan- the former 5th rounder has bounced around A ball and was even released before being resigned this year. The 6'9" lefty is a long shot to be very relevant, and 2012 likely represents his last season as a professional unless he stays healthy and makes a very good shoing.

Jack Shuck- Shuck has progressed quickly through the system and made his debut in Houston this year. His total lack of power has been balanced by his on-base skill and ability to play all 3 OF positions. He'll be in the mix to be one of the backup outfielders in Houston next year, which is where he profiles to stay long term as a 4th or 5th OF.

Jon Gaston- the former minor league HR leader continued his downward trajectory, struggling mightily in a repeat year in AA. He has shown good defense and power, but strikes out far too much to continue to advance. Like Steele, he'll likely be slated for backup duty in Corpus next year, which will probably be his last chance to turn things around. At this point a major league career looks unlikely.

Brad Dydalewicz- Another players whose stock fell in 2011, the former Lexington 5 member had a distastrous 2011. It's unclear what went wrong, but if he doesn't show signs of life in 2012, he's destined to be released.

Luis Cruz- An interesting prospect who is still fairly young, Cruz began 2011 on the DL before struggling in Lancaster, which got him demoted to Lexington. There, he did quite well. He'll likely get another chance in Lancaster next season, but he may have to make it as a reliever. If he struggles again, it's probably the end of the road.

Chris Hicks- Hicks had a resurrection after being out all of 2010. He pitched in relief for Lancaster and Corpus and put up great numbers. He's currently in the AFL, and if he isn't added to the 40 man roster, there's a small chance another team could take a flyer on him in the Rule 5 draft. If not, he'll begin in AA or AAA with a chance to make it to Houston by the end of the year. I for one wouldn't mind seeing him transitioned back to starting. For now, he projects as a solid late-inning reliever.

Andy Simunic- struggled in AA before getting demoted back to Lancaster. He's never really put up very good hitting stats, and though he has played many positions, he doesn't appear to have the glove to justify everyday playing time. May get a chance as a bench player in Corpus but his career is in serious jeopardy.

David Flores- Flores started 2011 in AA, was unable to hit, and was demoted back to Lancaster, where he showed why putting stock in #'s put up in High A is a fool's errand. THere's still some hope that he can figure out AA, and this year will likely be his last chance, if he's even given that much. He may be a bench player in Corpus, with his career hinging on his ability to seize limited opportunities.

Shane Wolf- Another 2008 draftee who started in AA and ended in Lancaster. It may be the end of the line, and if he is given another shot, he'll absolutely have to show massive improvement to keep his big league hopes alive.

Nate Pettus- A supposed power arm who missed the entire season due to injury. Wherever he starts the year, he'll need to stay healthy and be a very good reliever to keep moving.

Zach Grimmett- The 28th rounder spent 2011 in Lancaster, splitting time between the bullpen and the rotation. While he wasn't completely overmatched, he certainly didn't change anyone's perception about his potential. With the talent expected to be in Corpus next season, I expect him to be a numbers casualty.

Rene Garcia- A plus defensive catcher, he's been to big league training camp, but struggled offensively the last few years. May get a chance as the backup in AA or again in Lancaster, but if he doesn't show drastic offensive improvement, 2012 will probably be his last in Houston's system.

Danny Meszaros- After rocketing all the way to AA in his first year, Meszaros took a pretty big step back in 2011. Still, his one plus pitch may be enough to get him to Houston. He's likely to start the year in AAA, and if he gets back on track, he could see HOuston sometime next year. He's an older prospect for his experience, so if he struggles again next season, the leash probably won't be long enough to keep him around.

What say you? Which 2008 prospects are you going to watch closely next year? Which ones are underrated? Overrated?

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