We've already taken a look at the "star-studded infield" in Fresno and the "marquee pitching" in Corpus Christi this week. As we turn our attention to the 2016 Lancaster Jethawks roster, however, most fans aren't likely to be quite as excited.
A lot of players, with a lot of question marks, will take the field in the desert for the Astros' High-A California League affiliate this year. It would be fair to say that this team leans more heavily toward "interesting" than "exciting." But there are some exceptions.
After the last out is registered on Opening Day, there is one quartet of youngsters you won't find going out to any after-hours parties: Right-handers Akeem Bostick and Elieser Hernandez, outfielder Jason Martin, and shortstop Kristian Trompiz will all be under the age of twenty-one at the beginning of the season.
Bostick, a third-round pick by the Texas Rangers in 2013 who came to Houston in the Carlos Corporan trade, is on his second trip to Lancaster. In thirteen games there in 2015, he posted a disappointing 4.63 FIP and 6.72 K/9, but he's also shown a nice aversion to walks thus far in his career, and a lot of scouts still like the arm.
Hernandez was signed as an international free agent by the Astros in 2011 out of Venzuela. He has compiled a 1.07 WHIP as a minor leaguer, with a 8.34 K/9 and a 2.43 BB/9. In 45.2 innings in Quad Cities in 2015, he posted a 3.29 FIP, 9.07 K/9, and 2.17 BB/9.
Trompiz, another Venezuelan, has been promoted very aggressively by the Astros since joining their system. His 87 wRC+ and 19.2% strikeout rate in 2015 in Quad Cities doesn't jump off the page at you, but when you consider that he won't turn twenty-one until December of this year, you start to understand that the Houston front office must see something in him.
Martin is perhaps the best-known of the four among Astros prospect-watchers, at least on Crawfish Boxes. The former eighth-rounder has been something of a polarizing prospect the last few years, but again, the fact that he's in high-A ball five months shy of his twenty-first birthday should say something for how the Astros' brass sees him. After battling injuries in 2015, it will be very telling to see how he bounces back this season.
A few other tantalizing names to watch this season:
Eric Peterson (RHP) - The 6'4" righty doesn't have much name recognition. After all, he was just a 37th-rounder out of North Carolina State in 2014, and has pitched solely in relief as a pro. But in 62.2 innings in Quad Cities in 2015, he had a 2.76 FIP, a strikeout rate of more than 10 batters per 9 innings, and a BB/9 rate right around 3.
Jamie Ritchie (C) - This will be Ritchie's second trip to Lancaster, where he finished the season in 2015. At each of his minor league stops, he's posted a wRC+ over 140, and don't expect a full season in Lancaster to put an end to that pattern.
Garrett Stubbs (C) - Having two catchers on this list is certainly noteworthy, particularly given how barren many believe the position to be in the Astros' system. Stubbs was an eighth-round pick by the Astros in 2015 out of USC, and his first season of pro ball went well. Despite being known as a defense-first catcher in college, in the Midwest League, he paired a 111 wRC+ with a ridiculous 1.9% strikeout rate and a 13.6% walk rate.
Bryan Muniz (1B) - A twenty-second rounder out of Southeastern University, Muniz put together a wholly-impressive 2015 season, posting an OPS over .800 in both the New York-Penn League and the Midwest League. His power has largely been to the gaps thus far in his career, with just eight home runs as a professional, but Lancaster should help that along nicely.
Nick Tanielu (3B) - Tanielu has put up a wRC+ over 125 in each of his professional seasons thus far: A 129 in Tri-City, followed by a 128 in Quad Cities. A solid defender at the hot corner, Tanielu is another guy that many have been waiting to develop power - even back to an injury-shortened career at Washington State. If anything can give that part of his game a boost, the California League may be just the thing.
Alejandro Garcia (OF) - Garcia joins Martin and Bobby Boyd as one of three true center fielders on this Jethawks roster, which should make for some fantastic defense in the windswept Hangar. After being signed out of Cuba last year, Garcia absolutely destroyed the Dominican Summer League, with a wRC+ of 233 (or 133% better than league-average.) Of course, at twenty-three years old and with experience playing in Cuba's Serie Nacional, he was quite literally a man among boys. His first taste of stateside ball should be very interesting, and while a 24-year-old in the California League doesn't look like an aggressive placement at first glance, when you consider that he's only been a professional for about nine months, it starts to look a lot more impressive.