Monday, November 30, 2009

TEAM #27 – Houston Astros

Castro should be the Astros’ backstop by season’s end

The Houston Astros are next up in our series of team prospect rankings. Up from dead last in last season’s rankings, the Astros barely edged in front of the Detroit Tigers, in our rankings, predominantly on the strength of their Top 3 vs. the Tigers’ Top 2. The point is, an argument could be made in either direction, and it is still a system lacking high-upside players and consisting of too many ranked Minor League Relief Pitchers. Many of the second tier players are old for their League—a characteristic left over from 2001/2002 when the Astros were without a Hi-A affiliate. Additionally, there are an extraordinary number of position players that are defensively limited to either first base or left field. While the draft produced a solid haul for them last June, it too lacks high upside players outside of Mier. All told, while it may no longer be the weakest system in baseball, the Astros still have a long climb to the top.

Grade A–

1) Jiovanni Mier, SS (2009 Performance Scores – Power 66; First Base Rate 66; Discipline 50; Speed 61)

Mier comes in as the organization’s Top rated prospect, more or less by default. While it would be easier to justify Castro for this spot, we still don’t see Castro as much more than a League average backstop, and that isn’t a high enough ceiling for us to put him at #1. With no apologies to Tim Beckham, Mier was the first prep shortstop, drafted in the first round, since Justin Upton went #1 overall in 2005, that we felt had both a first round bat and first round glove at that position. If you want an idea of how rare it is, not since 1992 and 1993 when Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez were selected in back-to-back years, has a first round prep shortstop become a Major League regular at that position (28 selections in between). That’s not to say that Mier is the next Jeter or Arod, because he lacks much more than line drive power, but his offensive performance in the APY was encouraging. In an organization with limited ‘star’ upside, Mier becomes an easy choice for the top spot.

2) Jason Castro, C (2009 Performance Scores – Power 52; First Base Rate 66; Discipline 64; Speed 36)

We felt the Astros were making a need pick when they selected him 10th in 2008, as we felt he was likely a late first round talent. In two professional seasons, we have been pleasantly surprised with his performance, and now look upon him as a high-floor average Big League talent. Castro has solid tools across the board, with an above average approach to plate discipline. While we found his AZFL performance somewhat disturbing, we look for him to open 2010 at AAA, with a likely late season call-up and as the favorite for starting backstop duties in Houston in 2011.

3) Jordan Lyles, RHP (2009 – Dominance 72; Stamina 72; HRrate 49; Control 61)

Considered by many as one of the bigger ‘reaches’ in the 2008 draft, Lyles rewarded the Astros with a performance that graded out as the Top Pitching Performance in the SAL in 2009. Lyles is an extremely polished pitcher, for his age (actually younger than Shelby Miller, Matt Hobgood, and Zack Wheeler; and shares a birthday with Tyler Matzek—all first round high school selections from this year’s draft), as he used a low-90s fastball, with a plus change and a developing curve to fan 167 SAL hitters in 145 IP, while only walking 38. Without an overpowering fastball, it will be important that Lyles continues the development of his secondary offerings, as it will become increasingly difficult to keep hitters off balance as he moves up the ladder. The hitter friendly environs at Lancaster will be a difficult challenge—if that is the Astros choice for 2010, or perhaps they will skip him to AA. In either case, we will have a much better idea as to Lyle’s ability to excel in the middle of a Major League rotation, by this time next year.

Grade B

4) Jay Austin, OF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 37; First Base Rate 56; Discipline 63; Speed 64)

Austin compiled nearly League average numbers, as one of the youngest position players in the SAL in 2009. While he possesses little in the way of power, he does make decent contact and has above average plate discipline skills. Speed is his top skill, as he has swiped 37 bases in just over 600 ABs over the last two seasons. While Austin doesn’t have an extremely high ceiling, he does project as a Big League regular or 4th OF type, with a reasonable certainty of reaching that level. In an organization bereft of significant position player talent, that makes him one to keep an eye on. Playing in Lancaster should help his offensive numbers in 2010.

5) Ross Seaton, RHP (2009 – Dominance 28; Stamina 73; HRrate 48; Control 57)

The most enigmatic prospect in the organization, the 6’4”, 210lb, Seaton boasts significant raw ‘stuff’ including a fastball that sits in the low 90s, a plus Slider and at least an average Change. What makes one scratch their head though is, how someone with that stuff can only fan 5.8 batters per 9IP in the SAL? Perhaps more discouraging was that right-handed hitters batted nearly .280 against him. There is still a ton of potential here, as we can see Seaton as a mid-rotation innings eater, but 2010 will be critical for Seaton to improve upon his dominance.

6) Chia-Jen Lo, RP (2009 – Dominance 79; Stamina 29; HRrate 49; Control 32)

Six players in, and we have our first Relief Pitcher. Because of his upside, we prefer Lo to Sam Gervacio, the other Reliever in the Top Ten. The 23yo can dial up his fastball into a mid-90s offering, comfortably sitting in the lo-90s. Lo also has an adequate Change and Curve, but does struggle at times with control on both pitches. The Astros see Lo as their likely future closer, but we would like to see more before anointing him such. Nonetheless, he looked good in Arizona this Fall, is likely ticketed to open up 2010 in AAA, and could see Houston by season’s end.

7) Sam Gervacio, RP (2009 – Dominance 77; Stamina 27; HRrate 48; Control 46)

We are only at #7 on this list, and we are already have seen two Relief Pitchers that likely have an upside as 8th inning guys. As the saying goes, “Houston we have a problem.” The good news, Gervacio is pretty much a sure bet to return to the Houston bullpen to open up 2010, so his ‘certainty’ quotient is rather high. The bad news is, that despite his career ratio of more than 11 Ks per 9IP, he still has trouble getting out strong left-handed hitters, so it isn’t likely that he will ever achieve much success in more than a set-up role.

Grade B –

8) Tanner Bushue, RHP (2009 – Dominance 59; Stamina 65; HRrate 48; Control 63)

Bushue came on in his Senior season, to vault past more highly regarded pitchers and become the Top player, available for the draft in 2009, in Illinois. The Astros thought enough of him to grab him a round or two earlier than most expected him to go. They were not disappointed by his debut, as he dominated GCL hitters in 5 late summer starts. Given his, extremely athletic, 6’4”, 180lb frame, there is every reason to project him to add a couple of ticks to his already low-90s fastball. The question is whether or not he can improve upon, what at the moment are, below average secondary offerings. It is likely that Bushue gets a taste of full-season ball at some point this summer. Unlike many of the Astros’ prospects, there is at least some upside here.

9) Jonathan Gaston, LF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 79; First Base Rate 37; Discipline 26; Speed 75)

I can hear the howls of the Houston faithful already, as Gaston led the Minor Leagues in both Home Runs and Total bases in 2009, yet comes in at only #9 on this list. The problem is that once you adjust for Lancaster, and the fact that he was 22yo, his 2009 Performance score ranked only 25th among hitters in the CAL. When you couple that with a relatively disappointing NYP debut in 2008, a two-year strikeout rate of 27.9%, and defensive limitations that will require him to remain in either LF or at 1B, there isn’t a lot of expectation that Gaston will develop into a bona fide Major League regular. He will be a 23yo in the TXL in 2010, and Gaston will have to really improve his contact rate if we are going to change that opinion.

10) Jose Altuve, 2B (2009 Performance Scores – Power 66; First Base Rate 67; Discipline 79; Speed 80)

Certain to illicit howls from the ‘scouting’ community is our fondness for the diminutive (5’5”, 150lb) secondbasemen. However, here at Diamond Futures when you post the 1st, 3rd and 2nd best age-adjusted performance scores in your respective League for the last three seasons, we will give you your ‘props’. Altuve posses good speed, rarely strikes out, makes good contact and even hits for surprising gap power. If he were 6” taller, we would be speaking of him in terms of the Astros second basemen of the future. Unfortunately, he is not, and in the last 60 years, only three players under 5’6” (Ernie Oravetz, Albie Pearson and Freddie Patek) have accumulated 200 or more Major League At Bats. In other words, the odds are ‘tall’. Nonetheless, the fans in Lexington should have fun watching Altuve in 2010.

11) T.J. Steele, OF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 53; First Base Rate 45; Discipline 59; Speed 52)

Steele suffered through a 2009 season marred by nagging injuries that limited him to 179 ABs. When he did play, he posted virtually League average numbers across the board. Given the fact that he is arguably the best defensive outfielder in the system, those numbers will be playable if he is able to hold them, as he moves up. In a system marked by a lack of ‘toolsy’ players, Steele is one of the ‘toolsiest’. 2010 should present a huge opportunity to move up the rankings, as he will be more age appropriate in AA, and hopefully healthy.

12) Jonathan Meyer, C (2009 Performance Scores – Power 39; First Base Rate 49; Discipline 28; Speed 36)

We will admit to being surprised when the Astros selected Meyer after the third round. We felt that he was a ‘projection’ pick that would likely go at least a round or two later, as some saw him as a potential Pitcher, others a corner IF, and still others behind the plate. We don’t see a bat that is capable of playing at either corner infield position, so if he isn’t a pitcher, then look for him to be a strong-armed, defense-first Catcher. 221 APY ABs did little to ease our concerns about the bat. Still this is an organization that is thirsting for tools, and Meyer has a few to work with.

13) Jack Shuck, OF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 28; First Base Rate 74; Discipline 79; Speed 69)

Another player that the scouting community gives the cold-shoulder to, Shuck makes no apologies for what he is…namely a solid defensive OF, with excellent plate discipline, good speed, and a solid ability to make contact. The problem is that there is virtually no power here, so the upside appears to be that of a 4th OF type. Shuck is never going to be a star at the next level, but he has the potential to develop into a solid roster contributor.

14) Telvin Nash, 1B (2009 Performance Scores – Power 56; First Base Rate 31; Discipline 29; Speed 31)

Nash is a one tool guy. Fortunately for him that tool is raw power, and his kind of power will keep teams interested for quite some time. The downside is that he is relatively limited defensively to first base, so he is going to have to hit. His 2009 debut was less than encouraging, as he not only whiffed at a 29.2% rate, he only hit 1 HR in 142 ABs. We aren’t big believers in Nash, but at least he is a player with a decent upside.

15) Koby Clemens, C (2009 Performance Scores – Power 78; First Base Rate 53; Discipline 41; Speed 49)

Perhaps no other player typifies the Astros organization better than Clemens. When the Astros selected Clemens in the 8th round of 2005, it was assumed that it had as much to do with his famous father as it did Clemens’ skills. Yet Clemens has posted a five year career with its share of ups and downs, has typical been a bit old for his league, and has maximized a relatively mundane skill set. 2009 was his best year, from a statistics standpoint. Clemens is still young enough that we don’t dismiss him. Nonetheless, there isn’t much of a ceiling here either.

Grade C+ Prospects – 16) Enrique Hernandez, 2B; 17) Brian Bogusevic, LF; 18) Dallas Keuchel, LHP; 19) Matt Nevarez, RP; 20) Chris Johnson, 3B; 21) Collin DeLome, LF; 22) J.D. Martinez, LF; 23) Jonathan Fixler, C; 24) Brad Dydalewicz, LHP; 25) Arcenio Leon, RP; 26) Jonathan Mejia, SS/3B; 27) Rene Garcia, C; 28) Tommy Manzella, IF; 29) Andrew Locke, LF; 30) Evan Englebrook, RP;

Grade C Prospects –

Yorman Bazardo; Chris Blazek; Robert Bono; Luis Bryan; Eric Castro; Leandro Cespedes; Jose Cisnero; Gil de la Vara; Mitch Einerston; Kyle Greenwalt; Chris Hicks; B.J. Hyatt; Brian Kemp; Juri Perez; Sergio Perez; Colton Pitkin; Wladimir Sutil; Polin Trinidad; Jose Vallejo; James Van Ostrand; Henry Villar; Brandon Wikoff.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the players performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.


  1. I don't understand why Fernando Abad is not listed. He has dominated everywhere he's pitched the last 2 seasons, and hasn't been too old for the leagues he has been in. People make a big deal about the park factor in Lancaster, but Abad pitched very well there. He also had a pretty nice AFL. It seems like he has a chance to be a starter, right? What am I missing?

    Also, I am a little surprised Henry Villar is ranked so low. I'm not sure what he should be doing that he is not.

  2. Abad was in a handful of players that ended up on the outside looking in of the 'C' Prospects. The biggest knock is the continued tracking about 1 year older than we would ideally like to see for each League. It is hard to gauge where he really is at when that occurs. We did like what happened when he finished in the TXL, but his Krate has been down so far in the DWL this Winter. The overwhelming majority of his time was spent in the CAL where he finished with an age/park adjutsed rank of #71 among pitchers in the League--That usually doesn't excite us.

    As to Villar, he too, like a lot of Astro prospects is pitching about 1 year behind where we would like to see him, but the biggest knock against him is that he is destined for a relief role (really only has 1 secondary offering), and doesn't have the kind of fastball (usually Hi-80s) that you would like to see to succeed there. His performance ranked #69 in the SAL this season.

    All that being said though, it is an organization without a lot of strength, so even minor improvements could change any of these players outlook within the organization. We just don't see a lot to get excited about when you compare them vs. the Minors as a whole.

  3. what about chris he pitching after his injury.....this guy is a lefty specialist if i have ever seen....any info out there

  4. I think Chris blazek has huge upside. Before his injury he was in the arizona fall league. He is a lefty specialist that throws in the low 90's with a solid change and slider. He should have been listed as hire that a C.