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Astros Minor League Preview: Corpus Christi Hooks

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Coming off two straight first-place finishes, Corpus looks to keep winning ways going

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Scottsdale Scorpions at Glendale Desert Dogs
Garrett Stubbs will look to lead the offense and the pitching staff in 2017
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

All good things must come to an end eventually. The Hooks will try to stave that off for another year.

There have been good times in Corpus Christi for Hooks fans in recent years, as the team has finished in first place in four of the last five seasons. Prior to that run, the club finished between sixth and eighth place in the eight-team Texas League in six of the seven seasons from 2005 through 2011.

The team got it done on both sides of the ball last season, posting the league’s second-best team ERA while also scoring the second-most runs of any club. Top prospects played a large role in the success, with Alex Bregman, Teoscar Hernandez, Derek Fisher, and J.D. Davis all playing 60 or more games and posting OPS totals over .800 for the club.

The rotation was led by Francis Martes, who posted a 3.30 ERA in 125.1 innings, and Keegan Yuhl (3.04 ERA), Edison Frias (2.44 ERA) and David Paulino (1.83) each made strong 60+ inning contributions.

All of those guys, save Davis, have moved on now, and the roster is notably thinner on top prospects heading into 2017. The club is far from bereft of talent, however, and with some breakout performances, the Hooks should be able to make a strong run at another playoff berth.

Starting Pitchers

Though the big name prospects have advanced, the rotation should be deep, if unspectacular. Headlining the group is the solid one-two punch of Trent Thornton and Dean Deetz. Both cracked the TCB Top 30 Prospect list this year (25th and 30th, respectively) after strong performances in the harsh California League and small stints with Corpus late in the year.

Thornton posted a 3.40 FIP and a miniscule 0.98 BB/9 in seven outings with the Hooks, and Deetz dominated in a pair of games with the club, punching out 17 batters and walking just two in 12 innings of work. Rogelio Armenteros, who just missed our list (#32) after a strong showing with Lancaster, will get a full taste of Double-A competition to prove himself.

Cy Sneed also returns to Corpus after posting a 3.50 FIP in 25 games during the 2016 season, and one more small step forward could see him form a great quartet of starters with Deetz, Thornton and Armenteros.

Following those names are a group of interesting guys looking to make a splash. After missing all of 2015 due to injury, Kyle Smith was eased back into things last year as he struggled to find his form again. Joshua James, an unheralded 34th-round pick, has pitched admirably so far and will get a big test with the jump to Double-A. Kent Emanuel, a third-round pick who hasn’t lived up to expectations yet, returns to the Hooks as well, looking for an eye-opening breakout performace. The towering Canadian Brock Dykxhoorn rounds things out at the back end.

Relief Corps

While the bullpen lacks notable names and flashy stuff, solid performers abound. Jacob Dorris spent time as Lancaster’s closer last season, going 10-for-10 in save opportunities and posting a 3.43 ERA in the desert. Though his command wobbles, he misses a lot of bats, with a career 13.2 K/9 across all levels, including an intriguing showing in the Arizona Fall League in 2016.

23rd-round selection Ryan Thompson joins him after posting solid numbers for two clubs last season, including a 2.86 FIP in 40 innings on the bump for Corpus Christi. Michael Freeman, a 7th-round pick southpaw, returns to Corpus, too, after hitting the first major bump in the road in his development last year.

Position Players

J.D. Davis returns, though it’s unsure how long he will remain. He’s likely ready for Triple-A, but the logjam caused by A.J. Reed needing more seasoning with Fresno and the Astros’ unwillingness to throw in the towel on Tyler White and Colin Moran means playing time for corner infielders would be hard to come by for Davis there. The Hooks will gladly welcome his boomstick back to the lineup for however long the Astros hold him there.

Speaking of playing time for corner infielders, Jon Singleton is moving back down to Corpus for the same reason, and, perhaps, at least partially because he simply stunk it up in Triple-A last year. This could be his last shot to show the club that he’s not going to be one of the biggest prospect disappointments in franchise history.

Two of the most interesting prospects in the system, fast risers Garrett Stubbs and Ramon Laureano, return to Corpus, at least initially, after strong late-season showings with the club in 2016. Notably, Laureano’s hitting didn’t slump much after moving out of Lancaster and joining the Hooks, and his ISO actually increased a bit with the move. Expect him to be one of the keys to offensive success for the club.

Stubbs, likewise, actually saw improvements in several offensive categories with the move up to Double-A, and reports are optimistic about his ability, if not his durability, behind the dish.

Things drop off after that, but solid tools are still to be found. Jamie Ritchie will bring his huge propensity for drawing walks to Corpus, where he’ll try to prove he can hit enough outside of A-ball to be considered a serious prospect. Drew Ferguson, something of a sleeper after an intriguing showing of pop and speed with Lancaster, will try to do likewise. Cuban Alejandro Garcia will continue to try to make a name for himself stateside, and Mott Hyde will try to redeem himself after a tough first crack at Double-A last season.