Last week, in the wake of the Astros trade that sent a flabbergasting five minor league starting pitchers to the Phillies in exchange for reliever Ken Giles and a young shortstop, I wrote about how despite the massive exchange of prospects, the Astros system still boasted enviable depth. I focused mainly on starting pitching depth, as it related to the trade, but the depth goes way beyond the typical Top 100 lists and those just on the bubble.
In digging around for interesting minor leaguers to target in my
second job Fantasy Dynasty League, I discovered some standout performances and tools among some little-known and certainly un-ranked Astros batting farmhands.
By no means am I a scout. A couple of these guys I had not heard of until conceiving of this article. I won't speak towards their defensive projection or ultimate ceiling. But each of these gentleman accomplished at least one feat during the past minor league season that requires notice from Astros fans, to put them at least onto the fringes of the radar screen when thinking about the Astros' farm system.
Disclaimer: the ranks presented ignore some context - for example, the California league is far and away a crazier offensive environment than the Florida State League, and so statistical rankings for a CAL player are going to be unfairly higher than a counterpart in the FSL. Regardless, the individual performances discussed here are noteworthy enough to mention.
Stat Glossary is below.
Tyler White, 1B/3B/DH (AAA)
White is less under-the-radar than he was a year ago, when he was the trendy "watch this guy" pick of only the deepest-looking prospectphiles. But after dominating the PCL in every concievable way, followed by an MVP-worthy dismantling of the Dominican Winter League (.293/.419/.500 with 7 HR in 42 games), he deserves not only your attention, but the attention of major league pitchers as well.
Why he might succeed: White walks more than he strikes out and seems to have top-notch hit tool. He was quite literally the most valuable batter in AAA during 2015.
Why he might not: White has no true position. He's a born DH, but without the top-flight power typically associated with the position. Maybe he can be Billy Butler? Seems more likely he can be James Loney. Either way, it looks like he'll have a major league career, starting in 2016.
Jon Kemmer, OF (AA)
The Astros drafted Kemmer in the 21st round of the 2013 draft out of Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon, GA. Where? Exactly. That's why he wasn't a big prospect. But Kemmer has been wrecking baseballs since turning pro, including a 130+ wRC+ across two levels in 2014 with 16 homers. But his 2015 season was eye-popping. Among qualified batters (a smaller sample than the ranks presented below), Kemmer was the most valuable offensive producer in AA, with a .327/.414/.574 line.
Why he might succeed: Kemmer can flat-out hit. He has batted consistently as a pro and he's not terribly old for his level (24). Steamer thinks he could be a nearly-league-average major league hitter right now.
Why he might not: It's fair to worry about that 2.5% walk rate last season at Advanced A.
Chase McDonald, OF (A+)
Lancaster bombers unite! While compatriots were quick to point out that other batters came out of nowhere to blow up at Lancaster, like Koby Clemens and Jon Gaston, McDonald has not been a one-hit wonder. While the .313 Isolated Power score he posted en-route to .279/.358/.592 with 30 home runs in 105 games is certainly not indicative of his true ability, his 151 wRC+ was only a slight improvement over the huge 141 wRC+ he posted last season at Quad Cities.
Why he might succeed: Because it's hard to write off a guy who hasn't posted a wRC+ lower than 120 during his professional career, cracking the 150's as a 23 year old.
Why he might not: Double A is a big test, and he has some serious strikeout woes. That Batting Average translates to about .200 in the major leagues right now.
J.D. Davis, 3B (A+)
Also not quite an unknown; Davis is the highest-drafted player on this list, coming to the Astros in the 3rd-round of the 2014 Draft. But nobody really talks about him outside of lurid Astros prospect lechers. And as a 3rd-baseman, his numbers make him quite interesting. 26 Home Runs from a third baseman, even at Lancaster, is worth chattering about.
Why he might succeed: Big power from a fairly shallow infield position
Why he might not: That strikeout rate. He doesn't quite walk enough to make up for a K-rate that will eclipse 30% in the bigs.
Jamie Ritchie, C (A)
I hope somebody in the comments can tell me how good this guy's receiving skills are. Steamer projects that Ritchie could have a 9.4% walk rate in the major leagues right now, after only 39 games at Advanced-A. His 21% walk rate at Quad Cities was tops of all Single-A batters, and it wasn't close.
Why he might succeed: if he sticks behind the dish, that lopsided BB/K rate will definitely play in the majors.
Why he might not: Not a lick of power yet. He'll need to rely on that plate discipline and the hit tool to have a prayer.
Johnny Sewald, CF (A-)
Sewald was a 14th round pick of the Astros in the 2015 draft from Arizona State. Don't worry if you didn't know that - I had to look it up. But he went straight to Tri Cities and had no trouble adjusting to pro ball. He displayed elite patience, and added 31 stolen bases in 70 games.
Why he might succeed: So far so good. Plate discipline and base stealing ability are the makings of a decent leadoff hitter
Why he might not: The major leagues are really far away.
Bobby Wernes, 3B, (A-)
The Astros seem to like their college hitters later in the draft. Wernes (no, I don't know how to pronounce it either) was selected in the 30th round of the 2015 draft, from Dallas Keuchel's Alma Mater, the University of Arkansas. He adjusted to the pros by posting the best On-Base percentage and 2nd-highest Batting Average in all of the Low-A leagues.
Why he might succeed: Well, he led Low A in OBP and was 2nd in Batting average, so there's that.
Why he might not: Power? Zero home runs as a pro, and five in 179 games in college. Speed? Three stolen bases as a pro and eight in college.
ISO - Isolated Power. All of the extra bases earned by a batter via a hit, divided by the number of At Bats. Equates to Slugging % minus Batting Average
wRC+ - A measure of a players' total offensive contribution in terms of runs created for their team compared to the average player at the same level of competition. The stat has been reconfigured, expressed as a percentage compared to 100, where 100 is a level-average player. A 151 wRC+, for example, contributes 51% more value offensively than the average player at the same competition level.