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Revisiting Baseball America's 2006 Pre-Season Houston Astros prospect rankings

The Houston Astros went to their first World Series in 2005, but behind the scenes, a decade of bad drafts and a lagging international scouting scene were beginning to show the cracks in the foundation.

Seeing a homegrown prospect like Jose Altuve wasn't always such a rare occurrence in Houston.
Seeing a homegrown prospect like Jose Altuve wasn't always such a rare occurrence in Houston.
Bob Levey

I still remember the day in late October when I woke up, padded out to the dining room for some Sugar Frosted Flakes, and saw my parents putting all of our belongings into cardboard boxes.

They had mentioned that we would be moving, but seeing our entire lives crated up and marked with tidy labels like "Living Room" and "Master Bedroom" finally brought home what that would entail. Gone would be our large bay window. Gone would be the tree I used to climb in the backyard. Gone would be all of my friends; my entire world.

On the verge of tears, I asked them why we had to move away from such an incredible house, where old memories lived and new ones were being made all the time. My father put his arm around me and told me that the house, while beautiful, had a bad foundation. There were cracks in it, and it was sinking into the earth. Within a few years, he said, the structure would deteriorate.

Maybe he didn't say exactly that, but that was the idea.

The 2005 Houston Astros remind me of that old house. Even while they were putting up great seasons and going deep into the playoffs - even winning the National League pennant that season - they were built on a bad foundation. The system that had produced Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman, Morgan Ensberg, Roy Oswalt, and Brad Lidge wasn't churning out prospects anymore. The rookies developed in-house who made the 2005 postseason (Willy Taveras, Chris Burke, Ezequiel Astacio) weren't at quite the same level. Houston's farm system was ranked 22nd among the 30 teams. The big league squad was being patched together with short-sighted trades and free agent signings.

A few bad drafts, combined with subpar development and other teams' increased productivity in Venezuela - an area where the Astros had once dominated - had left cracks in the foundation, even while the big league club was celebrating its greatest success on the field.

Before the 2005 season, Tim Purpura stepped in as the team's General Manager after a surprise resignation by his predecessor, Gerry Hunsicker. But Purpura wasn't able to immediately address the cracks in the foundation, because his attention was turned to the big league roster. Before his departure, Hunsicker had declined second baseman Jeff Kent's option, and the team had to wait until January before outfielder Carlos Beltran decided to turn down their contract offer.

After reading Joe Posnanski's article about each team's top prospects in 2006 and cringing at the idea that Jason Hirsh was listed as #1 for Houston (#52 overall), I was inspired to turn to Baseball America's Top 10 Houston Astros Prospects list, written prior to the 2006 season, to see how well these prospects turned out.

Like Posnanski's article, I'm more interested in looking at the prospects themselves, not at Baseball America's rankings system. BA does a great job of integrating the opinions of scouts, development personnel, general managers, and more, and is a great source to see the top consensus on prospects.

So here we go, the top ten Houston Astros prospects prior to the 2006 season:

1. Jason Hirsh, rhp
MLB Debut: August 12, 2006
Current Team: Out of baseball

At 6'8", 250 pounds, Hirsh was a presence on the mound. With a fastball in the low nineties and good breaking pitches, he had the potential to dominate minor league hitters. After being traded to the Colorado Rockies as part of the Jason Jennings deal, however, he suffered through a string of injuries - a broken right fibula and a sprained right ankle in 2007. Rotator cuff inflammation in 2008. Despite a decent showing in Colorado in 2007, he ended up throwing only 165.2 innings in the big leagues, spread over three seasons.

Hit or Miss: Miss

2. Troy Patton, lhp
MLB Debut: August 25, 2007
Current Team: Baltimore Orioles

At one time, Patton was considered a top-of-the-rotation prospect for Houston. After going to Baltimore as one of five players traded for Miguel Tejada, however, he got banged up with injuries - including labrum surgery in 2008 - and lost much of his velocity. The Orioles were patient with him, and their patience seems to be paying off, as he's been worth 1.4 wins over 85.2 innings in 2011 and 2012 out of the bullpen. Despite what seems like an extremely long developmental process, Patton is arbitration-eligible for the Orioles for just the first time in 2013, with Super 2 status, and recently turned 27.

Hit or Miss: It's still early, but it looks like he's finally a Hit as a middle reliever.

3. Fernando Nieve, rhp
MLB Debut: April 4, 2006
Current Team: Cleveland Indians

Nieve was one of the last players to make it to the big leagues from the Houston Astros' Venezuelan baseball academy - a list that includes Johan Santana, Bobby Abreu, Richard Hidalgo, Carlos Guillen, Freddy Garcia, and Melvin Mora. With a low-to-mid-nineties fastball and an aggressive cutter and slider, Nieve suffered control issues at the big league level and eventually had Tommy John surgery in 2007. His big league output has been maddening, becoming something of a Three True Outcomes guy. He's bounced around the minors between the Mets, Astros, and Dodgers the past few seasons, and was recently signed by the Indians as a non-roster invitee.

Hit or Miss: Miss

4. Jimmy Barthmaier, rhp
MLB Debut: June 27, 2008
Current Team: Out of baseball

They say there are no true pitching prospects, because one tweak and a player can vanish forever. It's been a trend among Astros pitching prospects on this list, and Barthmaier is no different. Barthmaier turned a successful A-ball season (SAL Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star, Baseball America Low Class A All-Star, two-time SAL pitcher of the week) into a reputation as a solid pitching prospect, but between injuries and control and command issues, he ran into issues at nearly every level. He's been limited to just over 10 major league innings, all for Pittsburgh in 2008, and bounced around in the low minors for the Nationals in 2012.

Hit or Miss: Miss

5. Eli Iorg, of
MLB Debut: Never
Current Team: Out of baseball

Another injury-plagued minor league career, plus two years of missionary work in Africa, stretched Iorg's timeline unreasonably. A gap hitter with a plus arm, his power numbers in the low minors looked impressive until you considered his age. When he finally reached Triple-A in 2009, he was overwhelmed in just 44 plate appearances, posting a 209/227/302 line, and never made it to the majors.

Hit or Miss: Miss

6. Hunter Pence, of
MLB Debut: April 28, 2007
Current Team: San Francisco Giants

Pence was coming off a 2005 season in which he'd been named the Astros Minor League Player of the Year, and Baseball America had named him the best batting prospect and the best power prospect in the South Atlantic League, which makes his #6 ranking a bit puzzling. The following season, 2006, he led all Astros minor leaguers in runs (107), home runs (31), RBI (106), and total bases (314), and was again named the Minor League Player of the Year. He provided value for the Astros from 2007 until his trade to Philadelphia in 2011, and won a World Series title in 2012 with San Francisco.

Hit or Miss: Hit

7. Felipe Paulino del Guidice (as Felipe Paulino was then known), rhp
MLB Debut: September 5, 2007
Current Team: Kansas City Royals

Paulino, another Venezuelan Academy graduate, had moved up into the #2 prospect position in 2008, before a pinched nerve caused him to miss the entire season. When Brian Moehler went down to injury in 2009, Paulino was called up to start against the Cincinnati Reds. Through six innings of work, he gave up just three hits and two walks, no runs, and struck out six in his no-decision. He wouldn't really hit his stride until 2010, when he learned to cut down on the long ball and was rewarded with a 3.44 FIP. He struggled in 2011 after being traded to the Rockies for Clint Barmes, but rebounded after Colorado sold him to Kansas City, experiencing a breakout with the Royals before Tommy John surgery sidelined him in July 2012.

Hit or Miss: Hit

8. Juan Gutierrez, rhp
MLB Debut: August 19, 2007
Current Team: Kansas City Royals

Also from the Venezuelan Academy, Gutierrez didn't really hit his stride until after he was traded to the Diamondbacks in 2007 as part of the package for Jose Valverde. That season, he showed an obscene deviation in HR/FB ratio, which helped him to a 3.00 FIP and consideration as Arizona's closer entering 2008. Constant shoulder trouble has plagued his career, and in 2011 he underwent Tommy John surgery. With a mid-nineties fastball and two plus breaking pitches, he remains an intriguing bullpen arm, but the book is decidedly still out on him.

Hit or Miss: Miss (for now)

9. Brian Bogusevic, lhp
MLB Debut: September 1, 2010
Current Team: Chicago Cubs

It bears mentioning that Bogusevic was still listed as a pitching prospect on this list. Drafted in the first round (24th overall) out of Tulane, he struggled in the minors before being converted to the outfield in 2008. His 182 big league plate appearances in 2011, with a 287/348/457 line, hinted at great things to come, but he struggled greatly in 2012, despite a few interesting peripherals. Granted free agency in November as a victim of the Astros' youth movement, I'm not convinced that we've heard the last of Brian Bogusevic. The Cubs signed him to a minor league deal in November.

Hit or Miss: Miss (for now)

10. Josh Flores, of
MLB Debut: None
Current Team: Out of baseball

Flores had just come off a 335/383/520 season in Greeneville when this list was published, and it's no wonder that scouts and development personnel were bullish on him. In 2006, he struggled in Lexington before exploding in Salem in 2007 (325/388/500 in 276 plate appearances), but with his promotion to Corpus Christi, the wheels came off the bus. Flores struggled at the Double-A level before undergoing knee surgery in 2009, and was never quite able to tap into his power after that. To put things in perspective, Lancaster has a well-deserved history of inflated power numbers. In 2010, Flores' ISO with the Jethawks was just .066, far down from the .175 he'd posted in Salem three years earlier.

Hit or Miss: Miss

Interestingly, Ben Zobrist did not make this list. Of all the prospects in the Astros system at the time, Zobrist was the one who has contributed most at the big league level. With good plate discipline, positional flexibility (but useful positional flexibility... which is to say he's good at many positions, unlike most utilitymen), and just enough pop in his bat, Zobrist has been worth almost 25 wins in over 3,000 plate appearances since going to the Devil Rays in 2006 as part of the trade that brought Aubrey Huff to Houston.