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Astros Prospect Report: Starting pitchers step up; looking for 2015's Brett Phillips

Your daily look at the previous night's Minor League happenings.

Look! An actual photo of an unheralded, pertinent prospect!
Look! An actual photo of an unheralded, pertinent prospect!
Timothy DeBlock, God bless him

AAA Fresno Grizzlies: 8-7 loss to Las Vegas (NYM)

-> Joe Sclafani: 2-for-3, BB, 3 R
-> Matt Duffy: 2-for-5, HR, R, 4 RBI
-> Jon Singleton: 2-for-5, 2B, 2 R
-> Alex Presley: 2-for-5, 2B
-> Matt Dominguez: 1-for-3, 2B, 2 RBI
-> Preston Tucker: 1-for-4, BB, RBI, R
-> Max Stassi: 0-for-3, BB
-> Nolan Fontana: 0-for-4, BB

SP Luis Cruz: 5.0 IP, 3 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 5 K
RP Darin Downs: 1.0 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 1 BB, 1 K
RP Kevin Chapman: 0.2 IP, 3 ER, 2 H, 1 BB, 1 K (blown save, loss)
RP Jason Stoffel: 1.1 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 2 BB, 1 K
RP Jordan Jankowski: 1.0 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 0 BB, 2 K

Cruz didn't pitch terribly, but a pair of long balls (which accounted for all three of the runs he gave up) sunk him. Still a nice outing, peripherals-wise. Nine of his 15 outs game via strike out or ground out. Averaged 16.2 pitches per inning.

#SingletonWatch is off to a nice start; six hits (half of them doubles) in four games. Just two strike outs, perhaps most importantly, as well. Strike out rate under 15% and this beard? Things could be looking up for Swingin' Jon Singleton if this keeps up.

Big League Joe has only played in two of the team's four games, which dismayed me a bit considering that I view Duffy (certainly) and Dominguez (partially) as less-important playing time needs. I want to see him in there everyday, and you probably do, too (unless you're still miffed about that March Madness thing). If he keeps hitting, though, they won't be able to keep him out of the lineup. Two singles, a double and a walk in seven trips to the dish so far. People (outside of TCB, at least) aren't talking about him yet, but his positional versatility is huge, and he has some real hitting skills. He could be a Marwin Gonzalez upgrade before long, and Marwin isn't too shabby at all as-is.

Six walks for Fontana in four games. Sounds about right. Did you know he's sitting at 234 walks on his career now, in 223 games? If he proves able to hit for even a passable average, he'll find a role somewhere, somehow, in the Majors. He's a guy with positional flexibility and one incredible tool (walk-drawing isn't one of the traditional five tools, but you get what I mean); if he's this year's breakout, we could see him in the Majors very soon (of course, then we'll have to listen to Ashby pick at how many pitches both he and Grossman take...)

AA Corpus Christi Hooks: 4-0 win over Tulsa (LAD)

-> Brandon Meredith: 2-for-4, 2B, 2 RBI
-> Leonardo Heras: 2-for-4, 2B, 2 RBI
-> Tony Kemp: 2-for-4, BB
-> Telvin Nash: 1-for-4, BB, solo HR
-> Conrad Gregor: 1-for-4, R
-> Brett Booth: 1-for-4
-> Colin Moran: 1-for-5
-> Teoscar Hernandez: 0-for-3, BB, R
-> Carlos Correa: 0-for-5, SB

SP Lance McCullers: 5.0 IP, 0 ER, 4 H, 3 BB, 7 K (win)
RP Travis Ballew: 2.0 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 0 BB, 3 K
RP Daniel Minor: 1.0 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 1 BB, 0 K
RP Tyson Perez: 1.0 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 K

Boy is this team stacked or what? The first time the offense doesn't go off (and it's not like they really struggled or anything), the pitching steps up and tosses a shutout. The Hooks have outscored their opponents 30-8 on the season so far.

McCullers is the hero tonight, obviously. While far from perfect, you have to be pretty happy about this for a first start in AA from a 21-year-old with serious command issues. I've been as critical of him as anyone around here (and I don't hate him by any stretch), but he's really something of a high-floor prospect. His heater and breaker are legit. That's what separates him from the departed Folty, a one-trick pony. McCullers has the fastball and breaking ball to get MLB hitters out right at this moment, even if he would be a gas can. It will only take a small command refinement to lock in his future as an effective reliever. We're hoping for more, of course.

Love me some Tony Kemp. I just don't know if I see a future for him with the Astros. Second base is locked up, where does he play? Well, he played left field on Saturday night, so that will be something to watch. The question is if his arm will let him do that in the Majors. If not, he's got to be trade bait at some point, right?

A bit of intrigue to follow with the Hooks are the two 1B/DH guys. They're basically polar opposites; Nash has the crazy, traditional power who is highly-questionable as a hitter, while Gregor is a great hitter with highly-questionable power. If only we could perform some unholy ritual and stitch them together into a godly baseball-killing zombie golem. Short of that, though, we'll have to watch and see if either of them can figure out their respective missing pieces. If one of the two can figure things out, the system will grow in depth. Both are off to solid starts, despite Nash striking out three times in this game. Still, his strike out rate in four games is now 25%; not great, but not awful for someone with his power. Two big, interesting breakout player candidates here. Two sides of the same coin.

A+ Lancaster JetHawks: 2-1 win over San Jose (SFG)

-> Chase McDonald: 2-for-3, BB, R
-> Chan Moon: 2-for-4, 2B
-> Jose Fernandez: 1-for-2, BB, RBI
-> Jobduan Morales: 1-for-4, RBI
-> James Ramsay: 1-for-4
-> J.D. Davis: 1-for-4
-> Marc Wik: 0-for-2, 2 BB
-> Brett Phillips: 0-for-0, R (pinch-runner)

SP Troy Scribner: 6.0 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 1 BB, 8 K
RP Tyler Brunnemann: 2.1 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 2 BB, 0 K
RP Frederick Tiburcio: 0.2 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 0 BB, 2 K (win)

2-1 game in the Hanger? Yes, it can happen! Tied at one after plating a run each in the second inning, Lancaster walked off in the ninth; McDonald singled and was pinch-run for by Maverick, who worked his way around the bases, eventually scoring the winning run on Morales' two-out single. There were just three extra-base hits in the entire game. Who says you can't pitch in Lancaster?

Not Troy Monkey-Fightin' Scribner, that's who not! That's a WHIP of 0.500 and an 8-to-1 K/BB ratio, folks. If Scribby (work-in-progress nickname) isn't the type of guy you want to pull for, you might want to check and make sure your soul is plugged in.

And then after six innings of that, The Brunnemann arrives to the sound of drums and ominous Latin chanting. In his glorious magnanimity he even allowed two runners to reach base for free, and still they could do nothing. Still they were helpless. Can anyone stop The Brunnemann? No. No they cannot.

He wouldn't be as out-of-nowhere as Phillips was last season, since he actually had a pretty solid year with Quad-Cities, but McDonald is one of the MiLB staff's pick to click this year. Six hits in four games so far. Plenty of window seats available on the train if you get aboard early. Big Macs and fries served in the dining car at noon.

A- Quad Cities River Bandits: 7-2 win over Clinton (SEA)

-> Jacob Nottingham: 3-for-4, 2B, HR, RBI, 2 R
-> Bobby Boyd: 2-for-3, SB, R, 2 RBI
-> Alfredo Gonzalez: 1-for-3, BB, R
-> Derek Fisher: 1-for-4, RBI, R
-> Nick Tanielu: 1-for-4, RBI, R
-> Thomas Lindauer: 0-for-3, BB, R
-> Alex Hernandez: 0-for-3, BB

SP Austin Chrismon: 6.0 IP, 1 R (0 ER), 2 H, 1 BB, 3 K (win)
RP Eric Peterson: 2.0 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 0 BB, 1 K
RP Ryan Thompson: 1.0 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 0 BB, 2 K

I see a pattern; we knew that Fresno wouldn't be doing the piggyback/tandem rotation thing, but the other teams seem to be holding off on it. Notice that two of the three starters for the teams below AAA went six, instead of the usual five max, innings, and all were followed by a fairly normal string of relievers, rather than a second starter looking for 3-4 innings. Something to follow and keep in mind.

Speaking of the starter, great first outing for Chrismon. Quick recap on his debut last year; ground ball rate better than 50%, 2.06 BB/9, and a key member of last year's Tri-City team that made it to the final game of the championship round. We see more of the same here; just the one walk and eight outs on the ground. He's not flashy, but I like him, and he could move quickly.

More than that, though, Nottingham might be the star today. He has great raw power and a solid chance to stick behind the plate, but his lottery ticket prep pick status were on full display during 2013 and 2014. Now he's in full-season ball for the first time and if he breaks out, his name will skyrocket onto all kinds of prospect lists. Great athlete, football recruit before signing on (sounding like Phillips to anyone else?), and a catcher to boot. Read what Subber10 had to say about him at the time of the draft. Follow him here on Twitter. This could be the year; six months from now, we could be talking about him as one of the better catching prospects this franchise has had since Biggio. It's all to him, though.

Here, click this link to go to John Sickle's pre-2014 preliminary prospect piece. Look at what he says about Nottingham. Now look right under Nottingham and see what he says about Phillips. Hmmm...

Rough comp for Bobby Boyd might be Andrew Aplin. Looks like a legit CF defender, some definite solid baserunning ability, walks, reasonable strike outs. He's hit so far, too. Another name to keep on your radar and see if he can break out in full-season ball this year. Not a guy anyone is projecting as a starter in the Majors, but you never know.

Today's Scheduled Starters

AAA: Brady Rodgers vs. Zach Stewart
AA: Mike Hauschild vs. Matt Shelton
A+: Adrian Houser vs. TBD
A-: Brock Dykxhoorn vs. Lukas Schiraldi