We continue our review of the pre-season Top 20 Prospects Lists today with the Houston Astros. Remember, this is a review of the PRE-SEASON LIST. It is not a new list. These are pre-season grades.
1) Carlos Correa, SS, Grade A: Was hitting .325/.416/.510, wRC+144 in 293 PA in High-A until going down with an ankle injury. He was living up to the grade.
2) George Springer, OF, Grade A-: Borderline B: 345 plate appearances in the major leagues, hitting .231/.336/.468, wRC+126, 20 homers. Doing exactly what he was expected to do until getting hurt: hit for power, strike out a lot, and be fun to watch.
3) Mark Appel, RHP, Grade A-: Borderline B+. Horrible in the California League (9.74 ERA, 40/11 K/BB but 74 hits in 44 innings), controversially promoted to Double-A and immediately turned his season around (3.69 ERA, 38/13 K/BB in 39 innings). Scouting reports improved along with the numbers. I’d make him a strong B or weak B+ right now but want to study him in more detail and he may wind up a mid-rank B+.
4) Mike Foltynewicz, RHP, Grade B+: Some command issues in Triple-A, 5.08 ERA in 103 innings, 102/52 K/BB. In the majors, pitching relief with 4.63 ERA, 11/5 K/BB in 12 innings. No question about the stuff.
5) Lance McCullers, JR, RHP, Grade B+: 5.47 ERA with 115/56 K/BB in 97 innings at High-A Lancaster, 95 hits. Excellent strikeout rate, still has some control issues which this environment will punish.
6) Vince Velasquez, RHP, Grade B: 3.74 ERA with 72/23 K/BB in 55 innings at Lancaster, 2.08 ERA with 19/2 K/BB in nine innings in Double-A. History of injury but his stuff is quite good and he’s more than held his own this year. Don’t overlook this guy.
7) Domingo Santana, OF, Grade B: Hit .296/.384/.474 with 16 homers, wRC+125 in Double-A. Unable to make contact against big league pitching in brief trial. Huge power but still an unrefined hitter. Also still very young at age 22.
8) Michael Feliz, RHP, Grade B: Low-A Midwest League, 4.03 ERA in 103 innings, 111/37 K/BB, 104 hits. FIP much better at 3.31. Reports are positive and so far he’s living up to this grade.
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. Results: .178/.292/.356, wRC+ 86 in 308 major league PA, 12 homers. Off-field issues look resolved. I think he will come around and be a solid player but it may take another 300 at-bats to work through.
10) Rio Ruiz, 3B, Grade B: Hitting .293/.387/.436, wRC+119 in 602 PA in High-A, 11 homers. Decent year, helped by the park and league of course but in line with what he did last year in the Midwest League.
11) Delino DeShields, OF, Grade B: Borderline B-.236/.346/.360 in 507 PA in Double-A, 108 wRC+, 54 steals. Note that despite the weak-looking slash line, his overall production is above-average for the Texas League.
12) Asher Wojciechowski, RHP, Grade B-: 76 innings in Triple-A, 4.74 ERA with 59/21 K/BB, 89 hits allowed. Not a great year but has been hampered by nagging injuries, a lat strain and a sore forearm.
13) Max Stassi, C, Grade B-: Hitting .247/.297/.378 for OKC, nine homers, 22 walks, 103 strikeouts in 425 PA, wRC+72. Quite disappointing, must develop a better grasp of the zone.
15) Josh Hader, LHP, Grade B-: Impressive season for Lancaster, 2.70 ERA in 103 innings, 112/38 K/BB, 76 hits. Command problems in Double-A so far, 6.30 ERA with 24/16 K/BB in 20 innings. But overall he’s done very well. Grade B at least and possibly B+.
16) Kyle Smith, RHP, Grade B-: 4.34 ERA in 95 innings in Double-A, 96/25 K/BB, 92 hits. Caution flag is 14 homers but overall he’s held his own in Double-A at age 21. Holding steady.
17) Andrew Thurman, RHP, Grade B-: 5.38 ERA with 107/40 K/BB in 115 innings in Low-A, 122 hits. FIP is much better at 3.74 but even so he has not been as effective as hoped for an advanced college arm.
18) Danry Vazquez, OF, Grade B-: Hitting .291/.353/.407 in 475 PA in High-A, 101 wRC+. I thought he could show more power than that in the Cal League environment, but he continues to make contact with a pretty swing.
19) Teoscar Hernandez, OF, Grade C+: Hit .294/.375/.530 with wRC+ of 137 in 455 PA in High-A, then .284/.299/.474 with wRC+118 in 98 PA in Double-A. BB/K ratio has collapsed against better pitching though his production numbers remain good for the league. Will need more time.
20) Nolan Fontana, SS, Grade C+: Hitting .262/.418/.376 in 305 PA in Double-A, wRC+138. Continues to show outstanding on-base skills.
It is very trendy to bash the Astros right now. I have theories about why that is true, but the patterns of meme distribution within the media, and between said media and "baseball insiders," is an epistemological pathology we can discuss another day.
There have obviously been some public relations missteps this year with the Brady Aiken and Bo Porter situations standing out in particular, but in my opinion the efforts to rebuild the farm system are making very good progress. Part of this is holdover from the Ed Wade administration (Springer, Singleton, Folty) but efforts of the current front office are percolating upward quickly, beginning with recent draftees like Correa, Tropeano, and McCullers, trade acquisitions such as Hader and Colin Moran, and aggressive investments in Latin America.
New names to add to the list would include second baseman Tony Kemp (a speedy on-base machine), outfielder Preston Tucker (24 homers and 35 doubles between Double-A and Triple-A) plus first baseman A.J. Reed and outfielder Derek Fisher from the 2014 draft. Mark Appel has looked a lot better since moving up to Double-A. If you want a deep sleeper, shortstop prospect Joan Mauricio is someone to watch in the coming years.
The Houston system looks like one of the top farm aggregations in the game today, certainly in the top five and plausibly ranking third behind the Cubs and Twins. Success is the best PR, and when these efforts bear fruit at the big league level, nobody is going to remember the controversies of 2014.
I know it is hard for fans to be patient. Extensive rebuilding efforts can take years, but to put an organization on a sound footing for consistent success is not an overnight process. The system has clearly improved over the last two campaigns.