It's a young season. But, we're reaching the point in the season where samples are starting to carry weight. Prospects have settled in to their respective levels and really showing their skills for the level.
With that in mind, a prospects stock is really starting to take shape. The trade market starts to really heat up in about a month and professional scouts are in a flurry gathering reports on as many prospects as they can so that their GM's have the most accurate information when it comes to negotiating trades.
Which Houston Astros prospects have used their early opportunities this season to improve the way front offices will view them? How much more value can they bring in comparison to this year? Will you settle for five prospects who have taken their game to the next level?
This is not a list of any order. Just five prospects.
This one is possible to get two responses.
1. Well, he already had good stock.
2. Duh, the guy has been awesome!
To respond to point one, he was considered one of the better pitching prospects with Nick Tropeano, Lance McCullers Jr., and Jarred Cosart. However, there were rational arguments for both sides of how people rated him. There were grades out there for him from C+ to B and he came out as a B in our TCB rankings. Either way, he was by most accounts the fourth best pitcher in the system, lagging behind all the three previously mentioned.
Yes, he's been lights out. He started the season in Lancaster and after two games of struggling, Folty began to stand out. In seven games, he pitched 26 innings with a 3.81 ERA. The impressive stat was that he struck out 29. That is off set a little by the fourteen he walked, but seven of those were in his first two outings. After those games, his K/BB ratio was 22/7. That's a bit prettier. He had a GB% of 47% and a BABIP of .365. So, you could say those numbers could have improved, but then again, his FIP was 5.00.
He then was the man to get call to fill the opening at AA when Asher Wojciechowski was promoted to AAA. Afterall, he was heavily considered to be placed there to begin with. But with depth, he was pushed out and it's not a bad thing to give a guy who has the stuff to dominate the level to get the mental challenge of that environment. In his debut, he struck out nine using almost exclusively his lethal fastball/slider combination. That start had the Astros community buzzing.
It's not so much the success that has his stock up this spring. It's his stuff and command. For the last two springs, Folty has come into the spring and shown significantly improved stuff. Last year he came out hitting 95-97 as his top velocity. This year he's hit 100 on occasion. That's a bit of difference considering he would only run it up to 95 two years ago with a random 97. The biggest difference, two years ago he didn't command it. Last year he did on occasion. This year he is.
Then there's that slider. Coming out of HS, it was the curve that people liked. Now, he's developed the slider where it's way ahead of the curve. Sharp bite, good velocity, and locates it well. You factor in the curve and changeup, and Folty is now arguably the best pitching prospect in the system and a solid B grade. Continued success could see him as a B+ by the end of the season.
Jeff Luhnow bought low on Wojo last season in the Toronto trade and I mentioned that he could turn into a very good pitcher if his velocity get back to what it was when he was drafted. The velocity drop and the fact he was having to repeat the FSL last year dropped his stock from when he was at the Citadel. Good job Luhnow. That velocity is steadily getting better and his success is coming with it.
In his six games in AA Corpus Christi, he pitched 26 innings with a 2.08 ERA with a 27/7 K/BB ratio. Very good control and good strikeout rate. It's exactly what we all wanted to see. To give you confidence in his numbers, he posted a 2.34 FIP. He also had a 54% GB rate and that's significantly higher than his career line which sits in the low-mid 40% range. Downside to that is it takes a little longer for those numbers to average out. Since his promotion to AAA, his ERA is miniscule 0.90 but his K/BB rate and GB% have both suffered.
We rated him as a C+ prospect this off-season. If he can continue his success into the AAA level, he could be in Houston later this year and rated as a B-. I would currently list him as a strong C+/B-.
Teoscar started popping up on a few radars in 2011 when he was arguably the best hitters on the DSL squad that year. However, optimism was very suppressed given the nature of the DSL and the failure rates coming out. He then hit decently last year in the GCL and was given a random late season call up to Lexington. That's when a few eyes shot to him. He posted respectable numbers there in the handful of games. This off-season, people started talking about him as they had finally got a chance to see his tools against respectable competition.
This season he hasn't disappointed. His tools have shined bright and he's being talked about as a toolsy sleeper. He has the speed right now to stick in center field, but he has the arm to be a weapon in right field. He has been challenged as a RFer by teams and he's been able to throw out twice as many runners from right than center.
He's not going to draw a lot of walks and he's going to strike out a good bit, but he's shown some intriguing power. He can turn on some pitches, but even when he hits a line drive, he has the speed to take two consistently. And if not, he's a perfect 9 for 9 in stolen base attempts. He's a sleeper for sure, but I'm comfortable giving him a C+ grade now based on reports on his tools.
I'd be hard pressed to find a hotter hitting bat this season that is still in the Astros minor leagues, Jimmy Paredes was his competition. Krauss had been through ridiculous hitting streaks before, most notably, right after he was brought in via trade. So, it's not so much as that is why his stock is up. It's something a bit different.
I'm going to give you some statistics. Coming into this season, Krauss had a career strikeout rate of 22.7%. Not terrible for a power hitter. He even posted a 13.6 BB% rate to make that even more tolerable.
Now, I'm going to throw the small sample size disclaimer. This season, those numbers are 15.4% and 16.2% respectively. Yep, he has a 20/19 BB/SO ratio. More walks to strikeouts after 123 plate appearances.
Let's take a look at the wonderful stringer data that minorleaguecentral.com provides. It's not the most accurate which is why I use it for getting ideas for possibilities. If you want concrete data, other sites are better, but they provide data you won't find elsewhere. For example, Krauss swung at 8.4% of balls outside of the zone and only made contact with 25.3% of those. This year, he's being more disciplined and swinging at just 4.6% of balls outside of the zone and making contact with 72.7% of those.
Given the nature of inaccuracy with stringer data and the small sample size of this season's data, concrete conclusions can't be made. But, there is some data to suggest that he's being more disciplined and laying off more pitches that are borderline or outside the zone. And, he's doing better at making contact on those borderline pitches. Hmm....it seems I remember hearing somebody pretty prominent in the Astros organization talking about the 3-2 count and it being ok to lay off borderline pitches in those counts.
Yep, I'm giving the fifth and final spot to a reliever. The emphasis on reliever development has been stunted with the use of tandem pitching, so when someone like Ballew shines in it, you need to take notice. The emphasis with tandem pitching is eight starters and one single closer. Ballew was given that starter role this year and and he's latched onto it and has dominated in it, even going as far as striking out every batter he faced in a two inning outing.
Ballew was a 23 round pick and nobody puts much value on that kind of draft round. However, he was talked about as a potential sleeper and he showed why last year by posting great strikeout numbers in Tri-City last season. He was given the aggressive assignment to Lancaster and he hasn't skipped a beat by 13 innings in 11 appearances with a 4.15 ERA and a 4/22 BB/SO ratio. His FIP is a much better overall number at 2.70 and his ERA is inflated by a .417 BABIP. Yeah, he's been lights out in Lancaster.
He's not a big guy, just 6 foot and 165 pounds. Those aren't the usual pitcher frames that work in Lancaster. You think of a guy with good height and the ability to get a downward plane on a fastball to keep the ball on the ground. Not with Ballew. He is able to generate good movement and induce groundballs when he needs them. Look for him to a fast moving reliever prospect.