Well, a couple of weeks ago, xcrunner51 shared with all of us his thoughts on the state of pitching in the Houston Astros organization.
Since he announced that his thread on under-the-radar prospects in the system
would be the last one that he would make for a while, I'll provide an assessment of the Astros' position players. He did inform me that he'd be making a full-on assessment after the season.
Since analyzing every single player by position would be ultra-long (which I now realize after attempting that twice, and it would probably end up being longer than my recaps) and ultra-tedious, I will, instead, try out a ranking system (by position) of where I think each player stands in the hierarchy of the Astros' minor-league system. Of course, I'll provide some justification of why I ranked them where they are.
Also, anyone older than 26 is not eligible for consideration. Sorry, Mike Hessman.
And now, without further ado... and, as always, feel free to contribute your thoughts to my list. Obviously, it's not a perfect list, and I'm no Jim Callis. But I like to envision myself as being Jim Callis/Kevin Goldstein/Keith Law status sometimes. (Ha! As if.)
Assessment: With Matt Dominguez and Rio Ruiz entering the fold at 3B, catcher is now undisputedly the weakest position in the system. You could say there still needs to be some LHPs in the system, too. I totally agree with that, but I'm talking position players, not pitchers. There aren't really any guys on the full-season teams that could be considered legitimate prospects. Out of that crop, Roberto Pena and Chris Wallace may be the best two, and they're both really fringe guys, to be honest. The best hope in the future would either lie with the short-season teams or somewhere in the 2013 draft.
1. Tyler Heineman, Tri-City
2. Jobduan Morales, Tri-City
3. Ernesto Genoves, Greeneville
4. Roberto Pena, Lexington
5. Jair Fernandez, Oklahoma City
There's gonna be some shuffling across the system with word that Jason Castro's repaired knee has been sore. The pain could be severe enough to land him on the DL. Stay tuned.... and yes indeed, Jason Castro has landed on the DL for the first time this season.
Heineman was drafted in the 8th round this year. He's not a power hitter (1 homer in 3 years at UCLA), but as a polished bat from a prominent college program, his approach at the plate is most likely the best at the position and arguably the system. That, and his excellent defensive prowess puts him above Morales, in my opinion. He threw out 22 of 46 basestealers during the college season. Oh, and also, he was hit by a pitch 18 times during the season. Tack on 3 more with Tri-City, and we may have our next Craig Biggio.
Morales, acquired in the Justin Ruggiano deal, might have the biggest upside of the group. A switch-hitting catcher, he's showing signs of becoming a nice hitter moving forward. His defense is still very-much a work in progress right now. He didn't get a full-season assignment, mainly because he's so raw defensively. Not to mention that he was splitting time with a college catcher, and as we all know, college players tend to be more polished, and thus, will move quicker. Oh wait, he's doing that again this year, you say?
I thought Genoves showed enough progress to move up to Tri-City. So, him repeating Greeneville came as a bit of a surprise. Mainly because of the glut of catchers at the lower levels. He has steadily improved on offense, and his defense has become adequate.
Pena is a great defender. A great hitter? Not so much. He is only 20, though, so he may improve somewhat on offense. But .250 (maybe .255) may be the high-water mark for him. 33% of base-stealers caught is actually a career-low for him. He's never caught fewer than 30% in his career. Unless he shows a modicum of improvement on offense, though, he'll be nothing more than a defensive-minded backup.
Jay Fernandez has just parlayed his unheralded signing into a promotion to OKC. After flirting with getting released during the 1st 2 months of the season, he got some starts since Chris Wallace was underwhelming and has been locked in at the plate. A career backup, Fernandez is a much steadier defender than Wallace and is surprisingly showing a pretty good amount of pop.
In Wallace's defense, he's showing signs of life. He burst onto the scene with 20 homers in his first full professional season, but has looked pedestrian this season. I hope the hometown guy (who, being from Cypress, happens to be from my neck of the woods) gets a chance with the Astros. An offensive-minded catcher, his arm is average at best. He projects as a backup, but he could be a halfway decent in-house option at DH.
Assessment: Jonathan Singleton, and it's not even close.
1. Jonathan Singleton, Corpus Christi (Baseball America #1)
2. Brett Wallace, Oklahoma City
3. Telvin Nash, Lancaster (BA #10)
Remember when we all thought that Chase Davidson would take the Astros system by storm last season? Well, he's languishing on the Tri-City bench with a .156 average right now.
As I've said, Singleton has more or less lived up to his top prospect billing.
Wallace has split time at 3B and 1B this season, and I'll just place him at 1B here. There's really no reason why he's still in OKC at this point. Maybe working on his versatility at shortstop?
Nash still has a reasonably high upside, but he seriously
needs to un-learn his homer-or-nothing mentality. Still very much on pace for 200 strikeouts.
Zach Johnson being where he is at 24 means he's going to be just another guy. Shame. I would've liked to see how he'd fare against more age-appropriate competition.
Assessment: A big boost has been the breakout season of Delino DeShields. He is certainly playing his way on to some top 100 lists right now. Jose Martinez has taken 4 years of horror and frustration out on the Texas League. 2B has definitely been one of the positions of strength in the system.
1. Delino DeShields, Lexington (BA #8)
2. Jimmy Paredes, Oklahoma City
3. Jose Martinez, Corpus Christi
4. Austin Elkins, Tri-City
5. Enrique Hernandez, Lancaster
DeShields is flirting with a possible 15/100 season. For all the hype that Billy Hamilton is getting, DeShields is probably having just as great a year as Hamilton. He's putting up better numbers in low-A (albeit in a repeat year) this season than Hamilton did last season. Oh, and the best part: His OBP is getting ever-so-close to .400!!!
Paredes, back at his natural position, could give DeShields and George Springer a run for their money as the best athlete in the system. He's got some pop, we know that. But I'd like to see him incorporate his speed more into his offensive game. And yes, like all of you, I would like to see him refine his approach. And then there's the news that he's likely going to get reps in the outfield. I'm all for that.
Jose Martinez, once a highly-touted prospect in the Cardinals system, has come back with a vengeance. Having to deal with an unspeakable tragedy and injuries
stalled his career big-time. I'm definitely rooting for him to get the call-up to Houston. Jeff Luhnow is seeing the Jose Martinez that he saw as a member of the Cardinals front office.
Austin Elkins is evoking comparisons to Ben Zobrist. 2B, Dallas Baptist, Astros farmhand, has surprisingly good power, good speed.... you get where I'm going with this? He's another one of the gamers that dominate the Tri-City roster. IMO, he's emerging as an early sleeper.
What I've learned this season from listening to Lancaster games.... don't sleep on Enrique Hernandez. Yes, his ceiling seems to be pretty limited. And yes, his splits are very much a product of Lancaster. But I can see him being a pretty good utility guy down the line. This isn't some 23/24-year-old guy... he's still only 20 (turns 21 on August 24). He could move to Corpus, but he's young enough to repeat Lancaster without really damaging his upside.
Assessment: Strongest position by far. #1 pick, a toolsy 21-year-old who made an unfortunate decision, a former 1st-rounder looking to get his career back on track before getting hurt, a guy who was touted as being the best defender at the position in the 2012 Draft, a Korean import who looks to be coming around offensively, and a high-upside youngster who probably should be with one of the short-season clubs to get some regular playing time. Decisions, decisions.
1. Carlos Correa, GCL Astros
2. Jonathan Villar, Corpus Christi (BA #4)
3A. Jiovanni Mier, Lancaster
3B. Nolan Fontana, Lexington
4. Chan-Jong Moon, Lancaster
5. Jose Fernandez, Lexington
Correa's struggled so far. What a bust. Seriously though, GCL statistics mean almost nothing in the grand scheme of things. For all I know, he could hit .450 in Greeneville next season, get promoted after a month, then tear apart Lexington and Lancaster to put himself in position to reach Corpus in 2014 at the ripe old age of 19. However, if Villar, Mier, or Fontana put their stamp on the SS position in Houston, Correa could be looking at a position change in his future.
After a terrible start to the season, Villar had rebounded very nicely... until he decided to fight the bathroom door after striking out and ended up breaking his hand, an injury which might cost him the season. D'oh! Maybe next time he'll learn to use a bat if he wants to take his frustrations out on an inanimate object. His power was starting to manifest itself, as those signs were becoming somewhat obvious towards the end of last season. I think his ceiling power-wise will be 20 homers, with a couple seasons of 25+ mixed in. Possible September 2013 call-up?
Jio Mier was having an excellent season before getting injured. It truly sucked that he went down so early in the season, because he needed a renaissance year in the worst way possible and was well on his way to having one. He'll most likely make up for lost time by getting at-bats in the fall and winter leagues. He could start in Corpus next season, but he'll have to watch out for Nolan Fontana coming up very hot on his tail. Mier's best tool at the plate has been his discipline. He showed signs of becoming a much more consistent hitter and a more dependable fielder before going down.
Given the fact that Fontana jumped straight to Lexington, I don't think that he'll spend more than 2 years in the minors. 3 years tops. His offense was probably suppressed by the BBCORs, but I think he'll be good enough with the bat going forward. I think he (or Andrew Aplin) might already have the best discipline in the entire system. Best defensive shortsop in the 2012 Draft. That's all I hear right now on his defense. Fontana could be on a Talladega-like track to the majors if he starts in Corpus next season.
Although he's been in a bit of a slump as of late, Moon looks like he's making some really encouraging strides with the bat. He's always been known as a better defender than a hitter. I'm glad he's getting a chance in Lancaster. Because this is the deepest position in the organization, he will have to continue proving himself at each level. Either that, or he may need to move to 2B.
Fontana is probably taking the lion's share of the playing time at short in Lexington, and I think that Fernandez should be getting regular playing time in Tri-City, but he'll stick in Lexington because John Hinson is on the DL and Ruben Sosa is serving as the utility guy. So, Fernandez is the only other true shortstop on the roster. Only 19, it looks like he's being groomed to be the regular SS for the Legends in 2013. Has the potential to be a good defender. Bat is adequate for his age. Displays some pop.
Assessment: The additions of Matt Dominguez and The River have greatly bolstered a position that I thought gave catcher a run for its money as the weakest in the system.
1. Rio Ruiz, GCL Astros
2. Matt Dominguez, Oklahoma City (BA #4, Marlins)
3. Matt Duffy, Lexington
4. Jonathan Meyer, Lancaster
Since he's just starting out, it's pretty hard to put an ETA to Houston on Ruiz. I would say 2016 at the earliest. With the health scare that he had to endure this year, it would not surprise me if he stayed in the GCL all season. Greeneville may be where he's headed next year. Could be the best Astros 3B since.... Morgan Ensberg? Ken Caminiti? Enos Cabell????
Dominguez has always been known as a great defender. I don't think anyone denies that. There are, of course, the questions of whether he'll ever hit enough to become a viable regular. I think his bat will turn out to be average, at best. He should contend for the 3B job next spring. No more Chris Johnson please, thank you.
Duffy is rather old for Low-A and probably needs a promotion to challenge him. There's really nothing much in his way, and he seems to be advanced enough to hold his own in Corpus.
Meyer is a slick fielder, but like Dominguez, will he ever hit well? A sub-.400 slugging percentage in Lancaster is not getting it done. I really expected him to be in Corpus right now.
Since there's about 600 of them, I'm making a top 15 and place them where their skills fit best.
Disclaimer: This segment will be a little more arbitrary than the infield positions. Does not include Preston Tucker. He'd probably be 8th or 9th on this list.
Assessment: There's about 6 guys on this list who could be starting and starring (well, a couple of them actually possess true star potential) in Houston anywhere from 2013 to 2017. The most notable name of them all... not really a surprise, is it? Of course, staying true to the emphasis on up-the-middle talent, there are quite a few guys that project to be CFs.
1. George Springer, CF, Lancaster (BA #3)
2. Domingo Santana, RF, Lancaster (BA #6)
3. Ariel Ovando, RF, Greeneville (BA #15)
4. Andrew Aplin, CF, Tri-City
5. Brett Phillips, CF, GCL Astros
6. Austin Wates, CF (LF?), Corpus Christi (BA #18)
7. Terrell Joyce, LF, Greeneville (SLEEPER ALERT)
8. Brandon Barnes, CF, Oklahoma City
9. D'Andre Toney, CF, Greeneville
10. Wallace Gonzalez, LF, GCL Astros
11. Teoscar Hernandez, RF, GCL Astros
12. Drew Muren, CF, Corpus Christi
13. Mike Kvasnicka, RF, Lexington (BA #25)
14. Brandon Meredith, LF, Lexington
15. Javaris Reynolds, CF, GCL Astros
You may be wondering why I put 4 GCL outfielders on this list. Well, those guys' ceilings are through the roof. Of course, there is a very good chance of a couple, or even all of them, them flaming out. Phillips and Reynolds are both plus athletes. Gonzalez is probably more nimble than a typical 6'5", 240 person. Oh, and he could be a possible masher. Hernandez flashed some five-tool potential at the Academy.
Springer and Santana top this list, and after them, it's really not that close. Springer has put 5 of 5 tools on display this season, and Santana is now terrorizing the California League the way we all expected him to. Yes, their high strikeout rates leave something to be desired. But Springer may be one of those guys who can sustain a high BABIP at the major league level. He should be heading to Corpus soon. Santana, given his age, will probably be in Lancaster through August, and should get a couple of weeks at the most in Corpus at the end of the season.
Ovando has cooled off somewhat after blazing out of the gate. The potential is limitless for the record bonus baby. It's all about developing some consistency. Toney hasn't shown the power yet in moving to a much more neutral league offensively. He may be one of the 5 fastest players in the system, though.
Joyce is a man-child. It won't be long until he taps into his immense raw power. Remember, he hit 11 homers in 42 games during the JUCO season. He could also be an option at DH or first.
Aplin has really made the New York-Penn League look way too easy. He's a guy that I think will skip Lexington in order to go straight to Lancaster next season.
Where Austin Wates ultimately ends up, I honestly don't know. He's spent time in left in deference to Drew Muren (who's in center) in Corpus lately, but he has a good enough arm and has the speed to play center. He may need to keep hitting if he can't stick as a CF. On a contending team, he'd be a #4 outfielder. In this system, he could provide a nice bridge to George Springer in Houston, then he'll settle down in one of the corners until Domingo Santana pushes him to left.
I'm tired of Jordan Schafer. Brian Bogusevic has looked rather overwhelmed at times as a regular. J.D. Martinez had a horrid May and it looks like he hasn't fully recovered from that long slump. The Astros outfield needs a serious injection of offensive production. Justin Maxwell's been alright off the bench and in spot starts, but he's not the answer. Whether it's by calling up Barnes and DFAing or outright releasing Schafer or giving Paredes reps in the outfield, SOMETHING has to happen. This has got to be the worst offensive production out of the outfield in some time.
Kvasnicka has been pretty bad, but he's definitely trying to salvage his stock after moving to the outfield. Can't fault him for doing that, because he has finally discovered his power, which might end up being his saving grace. A 20-homer season isn't out of the question. He isn't a great hitter, but he's definitely better than what he's shown this season, although that ultimately means that he won't be more than a .270-.275 hitter. Really needs to settle down at one position. Looks like RF might be his home now.
Drew Muren has definitely made the most of his opportunity since getting called up to Corpus. Really happy for the guy. He was reportedly the fastest player on the Tri-City roster despite being 6'6" and built like Jeremy Lamb. May have some pop. Has decent on-base skills. I'd like to see him as the Hooks' leadoff hitter.
Meredith was a guy that I thought would emerge as a sleeper from the 2011 draft. He flashed some really nice power in June after starting slowly. A much better hitter than his current .239 average.