As the 2010s opened, the Astros, simply put, were in awful shape. The big league team was a shell of the squad that had made numerous playoff appearances in the first decade of the millenium, and the farm system ranked among the worst in the game. Over the coming years, as we all know, things would begin to change rapidly- these changes came from the bottom up, and over the course of the last ten years dozens of highly hyped prospects have come up in the organization, eventually forming the juggernaut that we have become familiar with in recent history. With the 2020s just around the corner, here are my selections for the best Astros prospect at each position in the last ten years- this is not a list of the players who went on to the most major league success, but rather those who achieved the highest level of notoriety on the farm.
C- Jason Castro, Stanford, Astros prospect 2008-2010
The 10th overall pick in the 2008 draft, Castro was consistently placed on Top 100 lists during his minor league tenure, being lauded for his advanced defense, arm strength, and powerful, disciplined hitting. After first debuting in 2010, Castro then missed time with injury before entrenching himself as a legitimate starter at the big league level, posting five consecutive seasons of at least 2.2 fWAR between 2013 and 2017. Since Castro’s graduation, the Astros haven’t had a catcher in their ranks that can approach his pedigree, though the club hopes that 2019 first-rounder Korey Lee could be up to that task.
Honorable mention: Jake Rogers
1B- Jon Singleton, Millikan High School (CA), Astros prospect 2011-2014
The Astros rebuild began in earnest in the summer of 2011, when the team shipped out longtime stars Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence in an effort to restock the team’s farm system. These deals brought future numerous future big leaguers into the fold, including Jarred Cosart, Brett Wallace, Jon Villar and Domingo Santana. Also among the returns was hulking, left handed first baseman Jon Singleton, fresh off of a .387 OBP in the Florida State League, who was seen at the time as one of the best prospects in the Phillies organization. In the Astros organization, Singleton quickly made good on his power potential, socking 21 homers for Corpus in 2012, and ascended the rankings rapidly, eventually becoming a top-50 prospect before his debut. From there, things turned sour. After a drug suspension, Singleton signed a controversial 5 year, $10M contract in 2014 and was promoted to the big leagues soon after, but posted a 37% strikeout rate and .168 batting average in 95 games, resulting in an assignment to Triple-A in 2015. Singleton managed a mediocre .254/.359/.505 line with 22 homers that season, followed by two more Triple-A campaigns where he hovered around the Mendoza Line. He retired after the 2017 season, with a career .171/.290/.331 line in the big leagues.
Honorable Mentions: A.J. Reed, Brett Wallace
Second Base- Jose Altuve, Venezuela, Astros prospect 2007-2011
Jose Altuve’s ascent is stuff of legend at this point- the diminutive infielder signed for a paltry $15,000 bonus in 2006, after having been overlooked due to his size and refusing to take no for an answer at tryouts. From that point, Altuve has done nothing but hit at every level of professional baseball. It took some time for evaluators to look past his lacking size, but Altuve erupted offensively in 2011, silencing much of the doubt. Assigned to High-A Lancaster to start the year, he hit .408/.451/.606 in 52 games there, adding 5 homers and 19 steals, before a promotion to Corpus Christi where he continued his torrid pace with a .361/.388/.569 line and 5 more bombs. There were some questions about his power, but at this point nearly every evaluator had a plus-plus grade on his hit tool, and as we know now, the power would come in time. A consensus top-100 prospect at the time of his call-up, Altuve is head-and-shoulders the best Astros prospect to have played primarily second base as a minor leaguer- certainly in the decade, and perhaps in club history.
Shorstop- Carlos Correa, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Astros Prospect 2012-2015
The #1 overall selection in the 2012 draft, Correa oozes pedigree and might be the best overall prospect that the Astros had over the last decade. The 6’4” shortstop was seen as a five-tool talent, and the only real knock against him as a farmhand was his inability to stay on the field, a problem that has followed him to the majors. As he ascended the ladder, Correa showed a combination of advanced defense, prodigious arm strength and highly disciplined hitting. His power didn’t really manifest until he reached the majors, but evaluators were always confident it would come, and he was consistently rated among the best prospects in the game while eligible.
Honorable Mention: Jiovanni Mier
Third Base- Alex Bregman, Louisiana State, Astros prospect 2015-2016
Coming off the Brady Aiken debacle atop the 2014 draft, the Astros absolutely needed a win in 2015, picking 2nd and 5th overall. The Astros opted for Bregman at #2 ahead of options like Dillon Tate and Brendan Rodgers, and he’s rewarded them with 20.5 fWAR through age 25. Bregman’s time as a prospect was brief, as he reached the majors in his first full pro season, but he nonetheless ranked as a top 25 prospect in the game entering 2016 and pushed up a bit further in midseason updates before a summer call up to the big leagues, never striking out above a 10% clip in the minor leagues outside of an 18-game stint in Triple-A.
Honorable Mention: Colin Moran
George Springer, University of Connecticut, Astros prospect 2011-2014
The second Ed Wade draft pick, and fourth Wade acquisition, on this list, the Astros stole Springer at 11th overall in the monumentally stacked 2011 draft, which included stars like Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Trevor Bauer, Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez and Jose Fernandez. Springer had excited scouts for years with loud tools, but never exploded statistically at UConn which gave some evaluators pause, as they were concerned he’d have too much swing and miss to capitalize on his raw ability. Springer did strike out quite a bit in the low minors, but his impact on the game was nonetheless massive, with huge home run and stolen base totals. He was able to tone down the strikeouts a bit in the upper levels, and after a 37 homer, 45 steal campaign across Double and Triple-A, he was seen as roughly a top-30 prospect in the game.
Derek Fisher, University of Virginia, Astros prospect 2014-2017
Much like Springer, Fisher was an ACC player whom evaluators had been tantalized by for years, but never really put it together in college. Hampered by injuries at Virginia, Fisher had trouble at the plate and wasn’t able to put his plus power and speed on display enough to solidify a high first round draft position. This allowed the Astros to snag him at 37th overall in 2014, and he quickly took off in pro ball. In his first trip to full season ball in 2015, Fisher put up 22 homers and 31 steals while walking at an 11% clip, exciting evaluators who had never doubted his tools. After maintaining that production into 2016, Fisher moved into the top half of top 100 lists, eventually debuting in 2017. His swing has ended up being rather exploitable at the big league level, but he still has a chance to be an everyday outfielder for some length of time.
Kyle Tucker, HB Plant High School (FL), Astros prospect 2015-2019
The follow-up to the Alex Bregman selection, Tucker went 5th overall in the 2015 draft ahead of names like Andrew Benintendi on the back of his sound swing mechanics, size and tools. With plus power and above-average speed out of a 6’5” frame, Tucker made for a dreamy right field prospect and many saw him as an above average hitter as well. Following a 20-20 season in 2018 in just 100 minor league games, he moved into the upper level of prospects, and built on that stock further with a 30-30 campaign this past year. Tucker has been ranked as high as the top 10 by some at certain points.
Honorable mentions: Brett Phillips, Daz Cameron, Domingo Santana
Jordan Lyles, Hartsville HS (SC), Astros prospect 2008-2011 - At the dawn of the decade, the Astros’ farm system was positively barren, with Lyles and Castro being the only real prospects of note nationally. Lyles enjoyed a lengthy stay as #1 in the organizational rankings, showing a strong three pitch mix out of a clean delivery and 6’5” frame. While Lyles always displayed feel for pitching and strike throwing ability, he was never able to miss many bats in the minors which held him back from reaching the higher levels of top 100s, but he cracked them in multiple seasons and was viewed as a safe mid-rotation starter. As he got established in the big leagues, injuries struck, but he has been a solid starter when healthy as a big leaguer.
Lance McCullers Jr., Jesuit HS (FL), Astros prospect 2012-2015 - A decorated prep player with big league bloodlines, McCullers was part of Jeff Luhnow’s first draft class at the helm of the Astros organization, being selected 41st overall. When drafted, evaluators loved McCullers’ mid-90s heater and swing and miss curve, but questioned if his delivery would allow him to throw enough strikes to start. McCullers quieted those concerns with mechanical adjustments and the development of his changeup, and he became a consistent top 100 name by the time he cracked the majors, which came after just 32 Double-A innings.
Mark Appel, Stanford, Astros prospect 2013-2015 - A prototypical starting pitching prospect, Appel oozed potential at Stanford with easy velocity and two secondaries that flashed plus. His performance was good but not great in college which gave some onlookers pause, but scouts consistently liked what they saw and he was drafted in the top 10 twice, including first overall by the Astros in 2013. This pick was a well documented failure, but at the time of the draft Appel was a top 50 prospect in the game to most. His stock steadily declined from that point- while he showed flashes of brilliance in the minors, he was largely terrible, and was eventually traded to Philadelphia before retiring soon after.
Francis Martes, Dominican Republic, Astros prospect 2015-2017 - For a minute there, in the time leading up to the 2015 draft, Frankie Tuesday was the #1 prospect in the Astros system. Acquired in the trade with Miami for Jarred Cosart, who very nearly made this list, Martes showed an explosive three-pitch mix and strike throwing ability that had many thinking he was a potential top of the rotation starter, and he was a consensus top-50 prospect for a time. Since then, a PED suspension and injuries have derailed his career, though he’s still in the Astros organization and appears to be nearing good health. Having just turned 24, the book is far from closed on Martes, but it’s fair to say his star has faded significantly.
Forrest Whitley, Alamo Heights HS (TX), Astros prospect 2016-present - The current top prospect in the Astros system, Whitley is one of the few players on this list to have cracked top 10 overall rankings. After his historic 2017 campaign in which he reached Double-A as a teenager and struck out 143 in just 92 and 1⁄3 innings, Whitley was seen by most as the best pitching prospect in the game. While his stock has waned since then thanks to a stimulant suspension and inconsistency issues, he appeared to be back on track in the latter part of 2019 and remains a blue chipper in the eyes of most.
Honorable Mentions: Jarred Cosart, Vince Velasquez, Michael Feliz, Joe Musgrove
Sammy Gervacio, Dominican Republic, 2006-2011 & Chia-Jen Lo, Taiwan 2009-2014 - These names have become something of a punchline to Astros fans, as they consistently populated organizational rankings in the early part of the decade, when competition was meager. Both were seen as potential late inning relievers at one point in time or another, but Gervacio’s strike throwing ability evaporated in the upper levels and Lo’s stuff fell off a table after injury troubles.
Mark Melancon, University of Arizona, Astros prospect 2010 - The long time closer barely qualifies for this list, but sneaks in after being acquired in the Lance Berkman trade with the Yankees in 2010. Melancon was more or less big league ready when he came over and spent very little time in the minors with Houston, but was seen as a future late inning reliever at the time.
Josh Hader, Old Mill HS (MD), Astros prospect 2013-2015 - Acquired in the Bud Norris trade with Baltimore, Hader worked as a starter with the Astros organization but many evaluators had him pegged as a reliever at the time. While there are many that still believe Hader could start, he’s impossible to leave off this list considering the success he has enjoyed in the pen to date. The Astros ended up moving on from Hader fairly quickly, moving him to Milwaukee in the Carlos Gomez deal after just two years in the system, but he was a top-10 organizational prospect for Houston and went on to become a top 100 name.