Houston Astros Top 20 Prospects for 2014
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2014 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. In theory, most Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or unanticipated problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Carlos Correa, SS, Grade A: I love this guy. The only negative is that he won’t steal many bases, but he will hit for average, get on base, will steadily improve his power production, and is a very, very good defender at shortstop who would be an elite gloveman at third base if he moves there eventually. He also has tremendous makeup and is still just 19.
2) George Springer, OF, Grade A-: Borderline B+. I love this guy too. He makes the game fun to watch with his power, speed, and defensive ability. He’ll draw walks too. He will also strike out quite a bit and may never be a .280 hitter, but even with a so-so average his broad range of skills and tools will make him a highly productive regular at the least and possibly an All-Star.
3) Mark Appel, RHP, Grade A-: Borderline B+. I like what I saw from him at Quad Cities: this guy is a major league pitcher if he avoids injuries. A superstar? No. But a safe bet to be a good solid starter who will log 200 innings with better-than-league average performance. Given the vagaries of the draft process, that has a lot of value.
4) Mike Foltynewicz, RHP, Grade B+: Higher upside than Appel, but more risk of a command-related failure. Could become a number two starter if he gains greater consistency with secondary pitches. Could be a tantalizing-but-ultimately-disappointing reliever if he doesn’t.
5) Lance McCullers, JR, RHP, Grade B+: Like Folty, McCullers could become a number two starter if his changeup and command continue to progress. High-leverage relief is also an option and would fit his bloodlines.
6) Vince Velasquez, RHP, Grade B: A holdover prospect from the Ed Wade administration and a good one, stayed healthy and showed sharp command of 90-95 MPH heater and very good changeup in A-ball. Breaking stuff still needs work but he’s made a lot of progress. Potential number three starter if that continues.
7) Domingo Santana, OF, Grade B: Another Ed Wade acquisition who has progressed, Santana has flaws with an aggressive approach but is still just 21 years old and knocked 25 homers in Double-A. Won’t hit for a high average, but raw power is possibly huge and he is young enough to develop his pure hitting skills further. Great arm too. High risk guy but I am growing to like him more.
8) Michael Feliz, RHP, Grade B: Dominated New York-Penn League with mid-90s fastball, slider, changeup, and better than expected command. Aggressive grade for a short-season pitcher but I like him too and see number three potential. He’s not far off from McCullers and Folty.
9) Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Grade B: I am not the biggest Singleton fan in the world because I don’t think his production has quite matched his hype and that’s a real problem for a first base prospect. He looked hopeless in Triple-A but may have been distracted by off-field issues. His potential is obvious though and at age 22 he still has lots of time to work out his problems on and off the field.
10) Rio Ruiz, 3B, Grade B: Slow start in Low-A but was outstanding in the second half of the season (.297/.354/.521 is excellent in the Midwest League) and could make a LOT of noise in Lancaster this year. I think he will turn into a good fielder too.
11) Delino DeShields, OF, Grade B: Borderline B-. I have been known to overrate speedy bloodline players in the past (ahem, Dee Gordon) but I think there is some prospect fatigue with DeShields and people forget he’s still just 21. Double-A transition will be interesting, and the pressure for him to hit as an outfielder will be greater than if he’d stayed at second base.
12) Asher Wojciechowski, RHP, Grade B-: One of the great tragedies of baseball life is the fact that Harry Caray is dead. Can you imagine how much fun he would have with names like "Wojciechowski" and "Foltynewicz" on the same roster? Woj does not have Folty’s upside but he throws strikes and could turn into the solid inning-eater that Jordan Lyles was expected to be.
13) Max Stassi, C, Grade B-: "Max Stassi" sounds like an East German import technopop band from the late 1980s. Instead he is a strong defensive catcher with a power bat, a low walk rate, and a propensity for freak injuries. Which does sound rather Warsaw Pact if you ask me.
14) Nick Tropeano, RHP, Grade B-: "Tropeano" sounds like some sort of fighter jet designed by a NATO European industrial consortium. "The new Tropeano will replace the Panavia Tornado in RAF service in 2019" or something like that. This Tropeano is a workmanlike inning-eating strike thrower who adapted reasonably well to Double-A and seems very Cardinaly to me.
15) Josh Hader, LHP, Grade B-: Acquired in the trade with the Orioles and Astros fans seem to really love him. I like him a lot; he’s made huge progress since being a high school pitcher with an 84 MPH fastball two years ago, gaining 10 MPH. I’d like to see fewer walks. He could become a number three starter with further progress.
16) Kyle Smith, RHP, Grade B-: Acquired from the Royals when Jeff Luhnow realized that they would break the uniform budget unless they got more players with boring names into the farm system. Some people are down on Smith because he doesn’t throw 97 MPH, but he throws strikes with three pitches and knows what he’s doing. Potential number four starter.
17) Andrew Thurman, RHP, Grade B-: Reminds me of Tropeano with strong command of three decent pitches and profiles similarly as an inning-eater type.
18) Danry Vazquez, OF, Grade B-: Acquired from the Tigers. Can he show more power? I think he can. He makes contact and I think he can be more than the .280/.400 SLG guy he has been in Low-A.
19) Teoscar Hernandez, OF, Grade C+: Domingo Santana pitched in a lower key. Lots of tools here, has less raw power than Santana but a bit more speed, similar problems with contact.
20) Nolan Fontana, SS, Grade C+: Extremely reliable defensive infielder who draws walks and has excellent makeup. Can he handle Double-A pitching? That will determine if he becomes merely a utility guy or a possible David Ecksteinish regular with more walks.
OTHER GRADE C+: Kent Emanuel, LHP; Tyler Heineman, C; Leonardo Heras, OF; Brady Rodgers, RHP; Preston Tucker, OF; Aaron West, RHP.
OTHERS: Japhet Amador, 1B; Andrew Aplin, OF; Jake Buchanan, RHP; MP Cokinos, 1B; Bobby Doran, RHP; Luis Cruz, LHP; Jandel Gustave, RHP; Adrian Houser, RHP; Chris Lee, LHP; Jason Martin, OF; Jacob Nottingham, C; Brett Phillips, OF; James Ramsay, OF; David Rollins, LHP; Ronald Torreyes, 2B; Austin Wates, OF.
I have to say that Jeff Luhnow and the people he have hired have done a fine job acquiring talent in trades and through the draft. It is also true, and a point I think that is underappreciated by people who don’t follow the team closely, that some of the top guys here like Springer, Folty, and Santana were drafted or otherwise acquired under Ed Wade. Luhnow has bolstered depth to a huge extent, but his predecessor deserves some credit as well.
Depth is the key word here. The Astros are aggressively mining talent from every possible location: colleges and high schools in the draft, more investment in Latin America, Mexico, trades with other clubs. The sabermetric bent in some of their drafting decisions is obvious: players with good strike zone judgment and college pitchers with impressive K/BB ratios seem to be emphasized, which is all very Cardinalesque. But tools and upside aren’t neglected, as the drafting of Correa, Ruiz, and McCullers in 2012 shows.
I don’t know the exact rankings yet since I have half the teams left to analyze, but overall the Astros farm system has to be rated among the deepest in the game. Compared to where they were five years ago, that’s a huge improvement and the team is much better positioned for long-term success.
So when does all this farm system talent turn into wins on the big league field? When does "long term success" become real? No one knows for sure of course. The first Wade-influenced wave with Jarred Cosart, Springer, Santana is arriving now but it will be another year before the broader depth in the Luhnow group begins to percolate.
2014 is going to be another long year, and probably 2015 as well. But keep the faith, Houston fans, I think there is a lot to look forward to.
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