Ok readers (Astros fans, and non-Astros fans); prepare yourselves for a very optimistic look at the Astros’ top prospects. For the last several years Houston has maintained one of the worst farm systems in all of baseball, a few years before that (2000, 2001) Houston had one of the best farm systems in baseball. The farm went bad, by bad drafting, failure to sign picks, and trading away prospects. However, last offseason Houston replaced their GM with Ed Wade the man behind the Phillies recent success (he drafted Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, etc, and snagged Shane Victorino in the Rule V draft), they also made Bobby Heck their Scouting Director (he’s the mastermind behind the Brewers farm system, coincidently next on my schedule). So, a lot of changes were made to change the philosophy behind building the farm system. Player changes were also made, as Houston traded three of their top prospects for Miguel Tejada, and another prospect for Jose Valverde. In fact only three prospects included in Baseball Americas top 10 list last season are on mine this season, and one of them falls outside of the top 10. Gone are players like Troy Patton, Matt Albers, and Juan Gutierrez, but the Astros put Heck, and Wade came through in their first season in office giving Houston a great 2008 draft, and five of those recent draftees are on this list. Good things are happening for the Astros, and should continue with Wade, and Heck leading the organization.
Minor League notations in descending order
*AAA/AA signifies triple A, and Double A respectively… duh
*A+ signifies high A ball
*A- signifies low A ball
*A signifies a prospect played at both high, and low A ball throughout the course of the season
*a signifies short-season A ball
*R signifies rookie league
*MLL signifies minor league level last season
*Also winter league stats have been combined with 2008 season stats for players with the “w” next to MLL
Houston Astros Top 15 Prospects
1. Jason Castro C Age: 21 MLL: a/w
Castro is the first of five 2008 draft selections among Houston’s top 15 prospects. At first Castro was viewed as a big reach for the Astros (who took him with the 10<sup>th</sup> pick), but Castro has played great the last several months, and has been especially good in the Hawaii fall league. Jason Castro is a good overall catcher, he can hit, has great plate discipline, and can/could hit for some solid power in the future. He also prides himself with his defensive ability behind the plate, and range, his arm to second base is not great, but certainly adequate, Castro also has some speed. In 2008 Castro has been hitting well posting numbers of .300/.404/.430/.833 (batting average, on base %, slugging %, and OPS which stands for on base % + slugging &). Castro has not been showing his power, but his plate patience striking out 46 times, while walking 32 times. Castro will develop into an above-average catcher, both offensively, and defensively.
2. Brian Bogusevic OF Age: 24 MLL: AA/A+/w
Bogusevic was taken as a RHSP with Houston’s first round pick back in 2004, but after 3 ½ mediocre minor league seasons the Astros decided to take him off the mound, and throw him into the outfield. Bogusevic excelled posting an amazing clip of .347/.431/.508/.939 (BA/OBP/SLG%/OPS), mostly at AA Corpus Christi. Bogusevic should become a solid starter in the outfield, either as an above-average center fielder offensively, with average defense or, as a solid right fielder offensively, with superb defense, and a great arm – comparable in a way to Hunter Pence, but Pence has more power potential, and Bogusevic has better plate discipline. He will likely start 2009 in AAA, but should compete with Michael Bourn for the center field job in spring training. If Bourn struggles, though, do not expect the Astros to hesitate to insert him into the lineup.
3. Jordan Lyles RHSP Age: 18 MLL: a/R
Lyles was taken in the first supplemental round of 2008 (so, Houston’s second pick), and like Castro experts balked at Houston’s selection. Also like Castro, Lyles proved those experts wrong by excelling last season, especially in the rookie league before moving to short A season for a couple of games. Lyles has advanced command for his age, as he commands all three of his pitches already. Lyles’ throws his fastball up to 90 right now, but should see his velocity increase, possibly to 94, as he refines his mechanics. Lyles has the potential to be a #2, or 3 starter one day, but that will not be for a long time. If Lyles starts next season in full season low A, do not expect him to put up great numbers, he is still way too raw for that league. I expect him to be apart of extended spring training, and then pitch the second half of the season in short season A, before finishing the last month in low A.
4. Drew Sutton 2B Age: 25 MLL: AA/w
Nobody in Houston’s system has flown up my radar like Sutton has the last month in the Arizona Fall League (AFL). In 564 (a full major league season) at-bats this season in AA, and the AFL Sutton has put up numbers of .328/.421/.553/.974 – which are some of the best numbers put up by anyone in the minors. Sutton has also hit 24 homers, while stealing 23 bases, and although he has struck out 104 times, he has also walked an impressive 91 times. Now Sutton is not without his questions, he was 25, and still in AA, but the AFL has pretty stout competition, as it consists of the very best prospects of every organization, and I feel as though his 2008 numbers should be considered very seriously. Sutton will start 2008 in AAA Round Rock because he is blocked at second by Kaz Matsui, but should be the first prospect called up in case of an injury, he can play second, third, shortstop (although I would prefer others at short), and will likely see some time in both corners of the outfield.
5. Felipe Paulino RHSP/RHRP Age: 25 MLL: AAA
Were Paulino not injured for all of 2008 he would not be on this list, because he would have spent the whole season with the Astros. However, he pinched a nerve in spring training, and did not make it back to the major league team before the season ended. There is a lot to like about Paulino, he throws his fastball up to 100 mph, and also possesses a curveball. Unfortunately Paulino still cannot consistently command his pitches, and he is also prone to injury. The Astros still want to see him make it as a starter because he has a really high ceiling there, and their greatest weakness is in the rotation. I think they should just cut their losses, and throw him into the bullpen. Valverde will be a free agent next season, and would be extremely expensive to resign for 4 or 5 years, so if they make Paulino their future closer now he will be ready when Valverde leaves – and the Astros can collect on the two first round picks they would collect from Valverde, see how I am filling holes left, and right, someone make me the GM.
6. Bud Norris RHSP Age: 23 MLL: AA
Bud Norris is a very good pitcher, he throws his fastball between 94, and 91, he also throws a plus curveball, and he also has great poise on the mound. In 2008 Norris threw in 80 innings in an injury shortened season at AA. While healthy he struck out 84 batters, while posting a 4.05 ERA. Some fear he is a reliever in the majors because of his weak change up, but I still think he can be anywhere from a #3-#5 starter.
7. Chris Johnson 3B Age: 24 MLL: AAA/AA/w
Johnson is another position player currently playing in the AFL. In 2008 he hit for numbers of .304/.340/.463/.803. All of which are solid, except his OBP of .340. Johnson struck out 100 times, while walking only 27 times a K:BB rate of nearly 4:1. Johnson also does not hit for the kind of power you would like to see from a third basemen, hitting only 14 HRs last season. I can see Johnson as a more athletic version of Ty Wigginton in the majors, but probably with lower power numbers, so you take your pick of the two of them. He [Johnson] could use another year in AAA to get used to near major league hitting before taking the dive into the majors, and I would rather see Geoff Blum, or Sutton coming up to replace an infield injury next season.
8. Mitch Einertson OF Age: 22 MLL: AA
The award for prospect I am irrationally really high on goes to… this guy. In an ideal world there is nothing not to like about Einertson he has tremendous power potential, some speed, a great arm to use from right field, and has shown flashes of being a solid overall hitter in the past. Unfortunately in reality Einertson is a yo-yo offensive force, who hit 24 homers in half a season in the Appalachian rookie league back in 2004, and hit .305 with 11 homers last season, but also goes through bad slumps, and mediocre seasons like in 2008 when he hit .262/.313/.427/.739. Now I refuse to give up on Einertson, he is only 22, and will likely start 2009 back in AA, where I expect him to start hitting where he left off, finishing the season 13 for 29 in his final ten games.
9. Ross Seaton RHSP Age: 19 MLL: R
Seaton slipped deep into the third round on draft day because of signability issues, but Houston scooped up the Texas native, and signed him due to a mutual interest in making Seaton an Astro. Seaton has great stuff throwing a 94 mph fastball, which he gets good sink on when throwing his 2-seamer. Seaton also throws a good slider (up to 85 mph), and a change up which should become an average pitch. Seaton was also a good hitter in high school, but should stay on the mound with Houston, as he already has three good pitches. Seaton could be a #2, or 3 starter in the future, but it is far too early to know much for sure.
10. Jay Austin OF Age: 18 MLL: R
Some will have Austin much higher than this, but I do not feel comfortable putting him higher than some of the others listed before I see him perform well in pro ball. Austin is a very toolsy 2008 second round draft pick, but failed to do much of anything well in the rookie league after being drafted. Right now it is way too early to say what Austin could become, but he has the potential to hit for average, and power, he will likely be a plus fielder, with plus or better speed, and a plus arm.
11. Brad James RHSP Age: 24 MLL: AA
James has all the makings of a starter in the major leagues. He throws a heavy sinking fastball that ranges 92-94 mph, he also throws a breaking ball, and changeup, all of which he throws for strikes. However, James took a step back in 2008 pitching in only 93 innings, before finishing the season injured. In those 93 innings James struck out 45 batters, while posting an ERA of 4.45, and a WHIP of 1.53. James should become an effective back-end of the rotation starter in the future, but it is going to take him a little longer to get there now.
12. Phil Disher 1B Age: 23 MLL: a
Disher was taken in the 15<sup>th</sup> round of the 2008 draft. In short season A ball he hit .304/.381/.536/.916 while hitting 15 home runs. Disher did strike out 77 times in only 280 at bats. Disher is on this list based on those numbers alone, but it is too early to say what he could do in the majors, he’s someone to keep a watch on, and could end 2009 in AA.
13. Samuel Gervacio RHRP Age: 23 MLL: AAA/AA
Gervacio is not a future closer, but should become a solid middle reliever, and possibly a setup man. In 2008 he pitched 73 and a third innings while striking out 90 batters.
14. Polin Trinidad LHSP Age: 24 MLL: AA/A+
Trinidad had the best season of any Astros minor league pitcher. He pitched 169 innings in 2008 while striking out 109 batters. In that time he recorded a 3.14 ERA, and 1.10 WHIP. I am still unconvinced Trinidad can become an effective big league starter, if he does start it will be as a fourth or fifth starter at best, but most likely he’s a left handed reliever in the future.
15. Jordan Parraz OF Age: 24 MLL: A+/w
Parraz has a lot of tools; he can hit/for power, has speed, can field, and has an arm. However, he is now 24, and the highest level he has played at is high A. In 2008 Parraz hit .281/.388/.396/.784. He hit 9 home runs, while striking out 93 times, and walking seventy times, Parraz also stole twenty three bases. Parraz could become a major league starter, but I think his future is as a multi-faceted fourth outfielder.
Strengths: Houston has a lot of good position players in their farm system. Castro, Sutton, and Bogusevic should all become starters for Houston. The 2008 draft was a big step in the right direction for Houston, as they drafted a number of younger players with high ceilings in Lyles, Seaton, and Austin.
Weaknesses: Houston does not have anyone to put into their rotation right now, something that they desperately need. They also lack a sure future all-star, except for maybe Jason Castro. Another problem is, Houston lacks any names beyond these fifteen, there is no depth to their farm system, a problem only remedied by time, and several good drafts… put one tally down for Houston.
Next Up: the Milwaukee Brewers