Houston Astros Top 20 Prospects for 2015
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 2015 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. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least major league regulars, if injuries or other 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. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don’t make it at all.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for the full analysis 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: Age 20, hit .325/.416/.510 in 62 games in High-A before going down with a broken leg. Perhaps the top position player prospect in all of baseball, a multi-tooled, multi-skilled shortstop with excellent makeup who can hit for average, hit for power, steal bases, and play sound defense. Just needs to stay healthy.
2) Mark Appel, RHP, Grade B+: Age 23, tale of two seasons, horrible in High-A (9.74 ERA, 40/11 K/BB but 74 hits in 44 innings), looked much better in Double-A (3.69 ERA, 38/13 K/BB in 39 innings) and in Arizona Fall League. Performance does not always match the stuff but he seems like he can be a fine number three starter. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
3) Michael Feliz, RHP, Grade B+/Borderline B: Age 21, posted 4.03 ERA with 111/37 K/BB in 103 innings in Low-A. Aggressive grade but this is an arm I believe in, Midwest League observers very positive about current stuff (up to 96, plus breaking ball) and projection for more. High upside stands out. Like I said, I know this is aggressive and Lancaster will challenge his command.
4) Vince Velasquez, RHP, Grade B/Borderline B+: Age 22, posted 3.74 ERA with 72/23 K/BB in 55 innings in High-A. Plus fastball, plus change-up, breaking stuff has potential, excellent dominance ratios. Main issue here is health, long track record of injury. I could go B+ if he was more durable. Another high upside arm.
5) Domingo Santana, OF, Grade B: Age 22, hit .296/.384/.474 with 16 homers, 64 walks, 149 strikeouts in 443 at-bats in Triple-A, fanned 14 times in 17 big league at-bats. Loads of potential, continues to hit well against older competition but contact issues were glaringly apparent in short major league trial. Big potential as a power hitter if he can solve that. Too soon to conclude that he can’t.
6) Brett Phillips, OF, Grade B: Age 20, broad base of tools and skills, hit .310/.375/.529 with 17 homers, 14 triples, 23 steals, 50 walks, 96 strikeouts in 493 at-bats between Low-A and High-A. Fine overall athlete who does a lot of things well, future power development is uncertain but he’s not punchless. Some think he might get stuck as a tweener without more power but overall he has more strengths than weaknesses.
7) Josh Hader, LHP, Grade B: Age 20, posted 2.70 ERA with 112/38 K/BB in 103 innings in High-A, 6.30 ERA with 24/16 K/BB in 20 innings in Double-A. Cal League reports more impressive than small-sample size Texas League reports. Everyone praises live body and 90+ fastball, reports vary on his curve and change. Some see number three starter, other more of a relief arm.
8) Lance McCullers, RHP, Grade B/Borderline B-: Age 21, posted 5.47 ERA with 115/56 K/BB in 97 innings in Lancaster, 95 hits. Didn’t make huge progress but still posted strong dominance ratios with plenty of stuff to back it up. More dominant in relief outings and some see him as a closer, but I think I would let him start a while longer to see if he can make that work.
9) Derek Fisher, OF, Grade B/Borderline B-: Age 21, compensation round pick from University of Virginia, hit .310/.386/.419 with 17 steals in 42 games in pro debut in short-season ball. Across-the-board tools, should eventually show more power to go with batting average and running skills, possibly one of the steals of the ’14 draft.
10) Teoscar Hernandez, OF, Grade B-/Borderline B: Age 22, hit .292/.362/.535 with 21 homers, 33 steals in 486 at-bats between High-A and Double-A. Serious problems with contact and strike zone judgment in Double-A (2/36/95 BB/K/AB ratio) put some caution in the mix. Tools are all good or better, similar issues to Santana but with more speed and less power.
11) Colin Moran, 3B, Grade B-/Borderline B: Age 22, hit .296/.344/.397 between High-A and Double-A, Miami’s 2013 first round pick acquired in Jarred Cosart trade. As expected the former North Carolina star hits for average but not much home run power to this point. Defense is better than expected but reports on his overall package have taken a downward tick since college.
12) Tony Kemp, 2B, Grade B-/Borderline B: Age 23, undersized second baseman with oversized skills, hit .316/.411/.449 with 41 steals, 73 walks, 67 strikeouts in 528 at-bats between High-A and Double-A. Good athlete, strong for his size (5-6), reliable defender. Not sure how he fits in Houston but he’s been excellent so far and has lived up to what he did at Vanderbilt.
13) J.D. Davis, 3B, Grade B-: Age 21, third round pick in 2014 from Cal State Fullerton, hit .293/.371/.508 with 13 homers in 73 game debut between New York-Penn and Midwest Leagues. Can hit for power and average, needs more defensive polish but tools should work there, could end up being a better player than many drafted in the first two rounds.
14) A.J. Reed, 1B, Grade B-: Age 21, second round pick from University of Kentucky, hit .289/.375/.522 with 12 homers in 68 games between New York-Penn and Midwest Leagues. Impressive power, will have to see about contact, nice trio of advanced college hitters with Fisher and Davis.
15) Conrad Gregor, 1B, Grade B-/Borderline C+: Age 22, fourth round pick in 2013 out of Vanderbilt, split 2014 at three levels so he is easy to overlook but hit combined .311/.404/.509 with 16 homers, 68 walks, 80 strikeouts in 450 at-bats. Fine glove, not as much home run power as Reed, will have to prove he can show sufficient pop against advanced pitching. Mark Grace would be his maximal upside.
16) Nolan Fontana, INF, Grade C+: Age 23, hit .262/.418/.376 with 61 walks in 66 games in Double-A. Marginal tools with spectacular feel for the game, good defense, excellent eye for getting on base. Should be good utility player.
17) Max Stassi, C, Grade C+: Age 23, hit .247/.296/.378 in 101 games in Triple-A. Fundamentally sound defensive catcher although injuries have lessened his tools and overall impact. Won’t hit for average or OBP but could last a long time as glove-oriented backup with some power. "Max Stassi": good name for a West German import tech band from 1983.
18) Danry Vasquez, OF, Grade C+: Age 21, I keep expecting this guy to blossom but it keeps not quite happening, hit .291/.353/.407 in the Cal League. Pretty swing, makes contact, doesn’t strike out much, young. Still interesting.
19) Preston Tucker, OF, Grade C+: Age 24, hit .282/.352/.481 with 24 homers, 57 walks, 120 strikeouts, 35 doubles between Double-A and Triple-A. Not toolsy but has always hit for solid power, could be valuable role bat.
20) Kyle Smith, RHP, Grade C+: Age 22, posted 3.95 ERA with 127/37 K/BB in 123 innings between High-A and Double-A. Stuff is average/fringy but advanced pitchability and strong makeup give him a chance to exceed physical expectations.
OTHER GRADE C+: These players are interchangeable with spots 16-20 above depending on what you want to emphasize. This section of the list should be viewed in a tier fashion.
Akeem Bostick, RHP; Kent Emanuel, LHP; Jason Martin, OF; Daniel Mengden, RHP; Joe Musgrove, RHP; Franklin Perez, RHP; Thomas Shirley, LHP; Asher Wojciechowski, RHP
OTHERS: Andrew Aplin, OF; Luis Cruz, LHP; Matt Duffy, INF; Tyler Heineman, C; Elieser Hernandez, RHP; Jordan Jankowski, RHP; Francis Martes, RHP; Joan Mauricio, SS; James Ramsay, OF; Jamie Ritchie, C; Brady Rodgers, RHP; Troy Scribner, RHP; Ronald Torreyes, 2B; Derick Velazquez, RHP; Tyler White, 3B-1B
Although the Astros don’t have as many impact talents as the Cubs, this is still a strong farm system well positioned for the future, the near future. Keep in mind that they recently traded top prospects Mike Foltynewicz and Rio Ruiz plus Nick Tropeano and Andrew Thurman.
Want hitters? You have Carlos Correa, probably the top position player prospect in baseball. The 2013 and 2014 drafts brought in advanced college hitters Derek Fisher, J.D. Davis, A.J. Reed, Tony Kemp, and Conrad Gregor. Colin Moran was picked up in trade. This is like a whos-who list of battle-tested college hitters who won’t need long terms of development but could be regulars. Nolan Fontana, Preston Tucker, Andrew Aplin, Matt Duffy, Tyler Heineman, and Ronald Torreyes could all slot soon as useful role players.
You prefer upside toolsy types? You have Brett Phillips, Teoscar Hernandez, and Domingo Santana, three more players who could all be regulars if they develop the skills to make their tools work. Danry Vasquez fits in that category, too. Jason Martin is a long way off but some sources see him as a breakthrough candidate with premium athleticism who must be watched closely. Joan Mauricio is a toolshed who could be above-average as both a defender and hitter at shortstop although that’s several years off.
You want pitching? This is murkier but there is still a lot to like here, beginning with enigmatic-but-talented Mark Appel. There’s some chance he could wind up like Luke Hochevar or Mike Pelfrey but Appel looked much better late in the season and still has to rank as one of the more advanced pitching prospects in the game. Vince Velasquez, Michael Feliz, and Lance McCullers all have high upside as well. Josh Hader draws mixed reviews but you have to like what he’s done so far and there is mid-rotation potential.
Kyle Smith, Thomas Shirley, Luis Cruz, Brady Rodgers, Kent Emanuel, Jordan Jankowski, and perhaps undrafted signee Troy Scribner could all be ready for major league opportunities as back-end starters or relief options soon. At lower levels live arms such as Franklin Perez, Francis Martes, and Elieser Hernandez merit close attention in the coming years.
All told, this is a very deep system with a variety of talents percolating at all levels.