Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/15/14
The Houston Astros entered the season with a weak minor league system and I ranked it 27th overall (out of 30) back in March 2012. Since that time, though, General Manager Jeff Luhnow and his staff have worked hard to improve the system through trades – and at times getting back impressive value for modest MLB talent – while also having one of the best amateur drafts of any team in baseball. The result is a much-improved system that boasts more depth, as well as a number of high-ceiling prospects. The list below was fairly straight forward for me 1-8 but then got muddied with 12 to 15 prospects in play for the finally seven available spots with the 9-15 slots. Players considered in that range, that did not make the list, included the likes of Domingo Santana, Jonathan Villar, Nolan Fontana, Marc Krauss and Kevin Comer.   #1 Jonathan Singleton (1B) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 20 665 152 31 24 105 155 7 .274 .388 .482 .389 Opening Day Age: 21 2012 Level: AA Acquired: 2011 trade (with Houston) Projected 2013 Level: AAA/MLB Singleton was the key prospect in the trade-deadline deal that sent Hunter Pence to Philadelphia in 2011. The deal also brought in fellow Top 15 prospect and pitcher Jarred Cosart, as well as outfielder Domingo Santana who just missed the list. Singleton has moved methodically through the system since the trade and spent all of 2012 in double-A where he posted a 146 wRC+ (He created 46 more runs than the average hitter in the league). Singleton has impressive power and he showed that in 2012 by breaking the .200 isolated slugging mark for the first time in his career at .213 (Anything over .200 suggests the player is a “slugger”). He also showed patience and a solid eye with a walk rate just shy of 16%. The big knock on Singleton throughout his career has been his propensity to strike out and 2012 was no different; he whiffed at a rate of 23.6%. A contact I spoke with said he was not worried with the strikeout rate because Singleton offsets it with power and high walk rates. “It’s not a major concern,” he said. The contact said Singleton definitely has above-average power, and placed a future 60 grade on it, but would almost rate his hit tool above it. “It has a little length but it’s a pretty swing,” he said, adding that the 21 year old can handle balls on both the inside and outside corners,thanks to above-averageplate coverage. “It makes him very dangerous.” Although he’s mostly been known in the past for his offensive exploits, the contact I spoke with said Singleton has the chance to be a plus defender. Previously, in an effort to find a place for his bat to play with Ryan Howard entrenched in Philly, the prospect had been given time in left field despite being a natural first baseman. Singleton will remain at first base for Houston. “He’s really plus at first base,” the talent evaluator said, adding that he has long arms and legs, stretches well, with good hands. “He creates a big target.” Singleton will move up to triple-A to begin the 2013 season and should spend most of – if not all of – the year in the minors with an eye on assuming the big league first base job in 2014. “He might be the best first base prospect in all of baseball,” the contact added. Additional Notes 2012 saw Singleton begin to tap into his power potential at the Double-A level. In 2010, I wrote he was a cross between James Loney and David Ortiz. Now, mentioning Loney and Singleton in the same sentence sounds like a slight, but the former Dodgers first baseman was a league average hitter at the time with some perceived upside. Singleton easily has the highest floor on this list and his ceiling may be second only to #1 overall pick Carlos Correa. While I completely understand his being ranked in the top spot, I’d probably roll the dice on Correa due to position scarcity and my feeling Singleton will peak as an above average offensive first baseman, but fall short of elite level production. (Mike Newman)   #2 Carlos Correa (SS) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 17 204 49 14 3 12 44 6 .258 .305 .400 .328 Opening Day Age: 18 2012 Level: R/R+ Acquired: 2012 draft (1st overall) Projected 2013 Level: A Correa was the first overall pick of the 2012 amateur draft as a high school shortstop out of Puerto Rico. The decision to nab the youngster allowed the club to obtain one of the best talents in the draft and to save money for later-round over-slot signings (providing better depth in the system). I’m told Correa was also an attractive player to the organization because he’s a high-ceiling player who should be ready for the majors right around the time the organization is looking to legitimately compete again after going through its rebuilding process. A talent evaluator I spoke with said Correa is intriguing because he’s a middle infielder who projects to hit for both average and power. The contact cautioned, though, that it would take time for the hit tool to develop but he already flashes raw power potential and has an idea of what he’s doing at the plate. “The swing works,” he said, adding that Correa is a bright, hard-working player who wants to get better. Getting more specific, he said the shortstop needs to take more pitches and curb his aggressiveness while also improving his hitting mechanics, including the timing of his load and subsequent stride. As for his defense, the talent evaluator said Correa showed solid defensive abilities at shortstop because he’s able to do a little bit of everything but his body may eventually dictate a move to the hot corner. As a teenager, he already stands 6’4”. “(Correa) has the tools, skills, and foot work to stick at shortstop, but size could eventually necessitate a move to third base where he could be a plus defender,” the contact said. Once he taps into his raw power with the necessary adjustments at the plate Correa could flash the prototypcial power that teams covet from third basemen. The young prospect is getting more seasoning while playing in the Puerto Rico winter league and will likely open 2013 in low-A ball. He should move somewhat smoothly through the system and could be ready for the majors around 2016.   #3 Delino Deshields Jr. (2B) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 19 637 154 25 12 83 131 102 .287 .389 .426 .375 Opening Day Age: 20 2012 Level: A/A+ Acquired: 2010 draft (8th overall) Projected 2013 Level: A+/AA DeShields Jr. entered pro ball with impressive pedigree as the son of a former 12th overall draft pick and 13-year big league veteran. A first rounder himself, junior hasn’t been able to solve the minors as quickly as his father – who did it in three years – but he had a breakout 2012 season that saw him steal more than 100 bases. DeShields strikes out a fair bit for someone whose game is built around speed but he also walks a fair bit and shows gap power despite his 5’9” stature. A talent evaluator I spoke with likened his frame to that of a running back and said it also reminds him of Colorado Rockie Eric Young Jr., another speedster whose father played in the majors. The same contact said he had DeShields being clocked under 4.00 secs to first base from the right side of the batters box, making him a pure 80 on the 20-80 scale for his speed. “He can steal first base and second base,” he said, also highlighting the pop, which comes from a quick, short swing. “He has the power to hit 10-15 home runs in the majors.” What DeShields needs to improve on, though, is a refined approach and better pitch recognition of breaking balls, both of which could help him trim his strikeout rate. He also has some fine tuning to be done at second base after spending time in the outfield as an amateur. “He’s turned into a pretty good little second baseman,” the talent evaluator said. “He was a little rough at first.” He also said DeShields’ arm strength is fringe-average to average and that his hands “are good enough.” DeShields has a chance to develop into an impact, game-changing talent and he should open 2013 in high-A ball but could taste double-A before the end of the season. It should be at least two years before he challenges Jose Altuve for the title of Astros second baseman of the future. Additional Notes From being one of the most disappointing prospects I saw in 2011 to a 100 SB stand out, Delino DeShields Jr. re-established himself as one of the best prospects in the Astros organization. From video, I can’t help but be impressed by how much his swing length has shortened from last season. Lowing his hands has done wonders in terms of allowing for more consistent, hard contact which is an excellent sign. (Mike Newman)   #4 George Springer (OF) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 22 666 173 25 28 75 176 37 .300 .386 .535 .400 Opening Day Age: 23 2012 Level: A+/AA Acquired: 2011 draft (11th overall) Projected 2013 Level: AA A contact I spoke to about Springer summed up the prospect’s offense with this statement: “He swings very hard and because of that – when he hits the ball – it goes a long way.” The outfield prospect, and former first round draft pick, is currently in the process of turning his raw athleticism into pure baseball skills. As the contact mentioned, he flashes plus raw power but that comes with high strike out rates (more than 26% in 2012). The talent evaluator said as Springer gains more confidence as a baseball player more improvements should follow, adding that the prospect has the potential to have all five tools be average or better, with the hit tool the biggest question mark. On the surface, Springer, 23, had an outstanding offensive season in high-A ball in 2012 but he was also playing the in the California League for a team known for having one of the Top 5 most offense-boosting parks in minor league baseball. Springer showed power (.240 ISO), speed (28 SB) and some patience (11.2 BB%). His .316 was aided by an unsustainable .404 BABIP. Defensively, Springer should develop into a plus defensive center-fielder. The contact I spoke with said the Connecticut native makes playing center field look easy thanks in part to plus speed, and that he also possesses a plus arm. “He makes highlight reel plays.” It was noted that, if need be, Springer has the arm and power potential to profile well in right field. He still has work to do, especially at the plate, and double-A will represent a huge challenge for him in 2013, although he showed very well in the Arizona Fall League. The talent evaluator did not seem concerned about the prospect’s future. “The swing-and-miss will always be part of who he is… but he’s going to be a dangerous hitter.”   #5 Lance McCullers Jr. (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 18 8 8 26.0 20 2 10.04 4.15 3.46 3.47 Opening Day Age: 19 2012 Level: R/R+ Acquired: 2012 draft (2nd round) Projected 2013 Level: A McCullers Jr. is a prospect that makes me feel old. I was a fan of his father when he was a dominant, innings-eating reliever for the San Diego Padres between 1985 and 1988. Junior was the 41st overall selection of the 2012 draft and he was born one year after his father retired from the major leagues. Thanks to the new signing deadline for draftees in 2012, the Astros got McCullers under contact in time to make eight starts. He showed decent results, although he struggled with both his command and control at times. Questions have dogged the young pitcher over the past two years over his ability to stick as a starting pitcher due to concerns over his delivery. A contact I spoke with wasn’t concerned. “Any time you throw that hard and your arm is that whippy… you’ll always have people who say he’ll be better as a reliever,” he said, adding, “He shows everything necessary to be a starter but ending up in the bullpen will be neither a surprise nor a disappoint… He has the stuff to dominate in ‘pen.” McCullers is best known for having a power fastball that can sit in the mid-90s and touch 100 mph. The talent evaluator I spoke with also had nice things to say about the prospect’s potentially-plus slider,which is also referred to as apower slurve. “It’s very hard to hit it when he locates it… It’s a hard, bitting pitch… with diagonal tilt,” the contactcommented. McCullers’ third pitch is a solid changeup. With a strong spring training, the 19-year-old McCullers could make a play to open 2013 in full-season A-ball, although a little more seasoning in extended spring training would not hurt his development. He has the ceiling of a No. 2 starter, or possibly a high-leverage reliever. Additional Notes McCullers was a different pitcher in person than I was expecting given his reputation as a big arm with limited secondary offerings. At 92-94 MPH, touching 96, his fastball was a bit flat. However, his changeup was better than I expected and I perceived him as having enough feel for the pitch to consider him a three pitch guy instead of a future bullpen arm with a fastball/slider. (Mike Newman)   #6 Jarred Cosart (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 22 27 26 132.2 134 3 7.26 4.07 3.73 3.42 Opening Day Age: 22 2012 Level: AA/AAA Acquired: 2011 trade (with Houston) Projected 2013 Level: AAA/MLB Another part of the Hunter Pence trade from 2011, Cosart has seen his prospect value fluctuate throughout his career despite always flashing good, raw stuff. Inconsistencies and injuries have plagued him but, as a talent evaluator pointed out, the pitching prospect made a lot of strides in 2012 and answered questions and concerns over his ability to stick in the starting rotation. “He’s looking more like a starter than he ever has,” the contact said, adding that Cosart did a better job of inducing ground balls and having quick innings. “He wasn’t trying to strike everyone out.” The hurler, who has always had electric stuff, improved his command last season and also started throwing his curveball a little harder, which created a crisper break to it. Cosart’s fastball can sit in the mid-90s and touch the upper 90s. His changeup, which he doesn’t use a ton, has a lot of potential. On the down side, Cosart struggled a bit with blister issues and missed a few starts, totalling just 114.2 innings on the year. The 22-year-old also continued to show inconsistent control of the strike zone. To help make up some innings, and to continue working on smoothing out his game, Cosart was assigned to the Arizona Fall League where, as of the time of his writing, he had a 6.50 ERA with 25 hits and nine walks allowed in 18.0 innings. After reaching triple-A at the end of 2012 and making six appearances there, Cosart should return to the same level in 2013 but could see time in the majors in the second half of the year. If all goes as hoped, the former 38th round draft pick – and Texas native – could develop into a No. 2 or 3 starter for the Astros. The contact added, “He just needs to just continue to keep the ball down in the zone and throw strikes.”   #7 Mike Foltynewicz (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 20 27 27 152.0 146 11 7.40 3.67 3.14 3.82 Opening Day Age: 21 2012 Level: A Acquired: 2010 draft (19th overall) Projected 2013 Level: A+/AA Foltynewicz, 21, was one the club’s first round draft pick in 2010 – along with fellow Top 15 prospect Delino DeShields Jr. – and signed out of an Illinois high school. He turned his back on an opportunity to play college ball at the University of Texas. Like a lot of cold-weather pitchers, the young hurler was a step behind some of his fellow prospects in pro ball, causing him to repeated A-ball in 2012 – and the results were much improved. At 6’4” 200 lbs, Foltynewicz has a strong pitcher’s frame and provided more than 150 innings of work for Lexington this past season. If everything breaks right for the pitcher – or rather, if nothing breaks – he could develop into an innings-eating No. 3 starter for the Astros. Foltynewicz features a low-90s fastball that can touch the mid-90s but it has better movement and more consistent command when he takes a little off the pitch. His go-to offering is a changeup and he also features two breaking balls – of which his slider is the most promising. Although he doesn’t have a huge ceiling, Foltynewicz could develop into a valuable piece of the puzzle for Houston as it looks to develop a reliable and competitive big league staff. He should move up to high-A ball in 2013 but may spent only a short time there after pitching two seasons in Lexington, and also to limit his exposure to the offensive-happy California League.   #8 Rio Ruiz (3B/DH) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 18 152 34 11 1 16 32 2 .252 .336 .400 .343 Opening Day Age: 18 2012 Level: R/R+ Acquired: 2012 draft (4th round) Projected 2013 Level: A The selection of first overall pick Carlos Correa not only brought the best overall talent available into the system – in my modest opinion – but it ensured the Astros had enough money and cap space to sign a number of other high-ceiling talents, including Ruiz. The club went about $1.5 million over slot to pry the Scott-Boras-advised third baseman away the University of Southern California. The California prep star – in both baseball and football – slid to the Astros in the fourth round (in part) because of a blood clot in his neck that required surgery and wiped out much of his senior year of high school. Because of the missed time, Ruiz took part in a number of private workouts for big league clubs prior to the draft. The Astros were clearly impressed with his performance. After signing, he appeared in 38 games at two rookie ball levels and produced solid numbers, considering his age and lay-off time. He hit just one home run but slugged 11 doubles. Ruiz also showed a solid eye with 16 walks. A contact I spoke with said the California native possesses a “natural swing” and 55-60 power potential from a grade standpoint. “He’s a left-handed hitter with a premium swing… that is very pleasing to the eye… It’s a big-league swing,” he said, adding, “He also has power, although it’s not gaudy power.” As for his defense, there is work to be done to ensure he develops into even an average big league third baseman but the talent evaluator I spoke with said Ruiz displays good arm strength and he plays third base “well enough.” The infield prospect should open 2013 in A-ball unless he struggles enough in spring training to convince the organization that he needs some more seasoning in extended spring training. It may take some patience but my contact was enthusiastic about Ruiz’s future. “He has a good chance to play third base and hit in the middle of the order.”   #9 Carlos Perez (C) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 21 416 103 28 5 41 55 3 .285 .360 .438 .360 Opening Day Age: 22 2012 Level: A/A+ Acquired: 2012 trade (with Toronto) Projected 2013 Level: A+/AA I’ve personally followed Perez closely since his time in the Dominican Summer League with the Toronto Blue Jays organization and when I brought up his name to a talent evaluator I was told that he was “a big fan of his.” The contact went on to say that the young catcher had a solid, well-rounded package. Perez will likely be known as an offensive-minded catcher even though he’s no slouch behind the plate. He has strong forearms that he uses to generate gap power and he’s still learning to tap into his full raw power potential, although he’ll never be a huge home-run guy. “He’ll run into his fair share of home runs,” the talent evaluator said. The young hitter is still too aggressive for his own good at times but he has solid contact skills and struck out just 55 times in 97 games. On the defensive side, Perez has made significant strides over the past two seasons in A-ball. “He can really catch and the pitchers love throwing to him…” the contact said, “He throws well and [the arm] is average, if not more.” He should develop into an average or better MLB receiver. At worst, I see Perez spending a number of ...
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