...On to my third post today. I absolutely love looking at a team's prospects, glare into the future and be optimistic. I check minor league box scores on, at least, a bi-daily basis. So, this post is devoted to previewing the four full-season minor league team's in the Astros organization. I will touch on all the key guys at each level. I'm especially excited about this Astros organization, which is already on the rise, because they have three of this year's drafts top thirty-three picks (8th, 19th and 33rd). Giving the Astros a big chance at rising even further. Here's a breakdown of Houston's AAA and AA affiliates. A breakdown of Houston's high A and A ball team's, Lancaster and Lexington, are forthcoming.
Round Rock Express (AAA)
The big name in Round Rock is Jason Castro, the Astros' top prospect and number ten pick overall in 2008. He had a terrific spring, just losing the major league starting catcher job to the older J.R. Towles. I fully expect, however, Castro to hold that position by the middle of June. Castro is an elite defensive catcher with good on-base skills, many people are done on his ability to hit for power, but I bet he's able to hit plenty of doubles with maybe 15-20 HRs annually (sounds a little like Biggio in that regard, without the speed though).
The Round Rock infield consists of Chris Shelton 1B, Edwin Matsonet UTIL, Drew Meyer 2B, among others. Maysonet got plenty of looks in Houston last season and in spring training this year. He's a utility infielder at the major league level. Due to his ability to play SS, there is a chance he could become more valuable to Houston than Jeff Keppinger. Shelton is older, not a prospect, has some power, but has already had his chances with the Tigers. Drew Meyer is interesting. He had a good season with Corpus Christi last season, gets on base, but is an older prospect.
The RR outfield draws more intigue than the infield. It consists of former pitcher and first round pick, Brian Bogusevic, Colin DeLome and (An)Drew Locke. Locke, like Meyer, is an older prospect, he was picked up from the Dodgers during the minor league phase of the rule V draft before last season. He absolutely crushed the ball in AA in 2009. He hit .338 with a .920 OPS (20 HRs/31doubles). He'll also play first base. Bogusevic will repeat AAA after having a mediocre 2009, his first full season as an outfielder. He has the potential to be an average to above-average defender in CF/RF and could provide some average on-base skills and speed. His power isn't great, however. DeLome is the guy with the most upside, due to ample supplies of both power and speed. In AA last season he hit 20 HRs and stole 15 bases, but struck out 141 times and only hit for a .255 ave. and .323 OBP. If he can improve his pitch recognition and patience he could develop into a special player. He's not extremely old for a prospect (he'll be 24 all of this season), but he still has a very raw hit tool. He'll also be only be able to play LF.
Wesley Wright and Polin Trinidad (both LH starters) are the two pitchers to watch. Wright's transition as a starter has been well documented and he is no longer a prospect, obviously. However, Trinidad has always been a bit of an underrated prospect, being a LH pitchability guy. He's had success at pretty much every level though. Casey Daigle made some noise in spring training and Wilton Lopez and Evan Engelbrook are a pair of reliever (Lopez will be one at the ML level) who could make their way to Houston at some point.
Corpus Christi Hooks (AA)
AA also seems to be the place for top prospects. Strasburg was sent to AA rather than AAA. Jason Castro started last season in AA. AAA is for veterans who are already to be placed on a ML bench. AA is where top prospects mash and throw filthy pitches. This is certainly the case for The Hooks in 2010. The big name is Jordan Lyles. Lyles is a RH SP and won't turn 20 until October. The Astros brass has decided to have him skip the launching pad of Lancaster. It's a risky move. AA hitting is much MUCH better than high A batting, but if anyone is up to it, it's Lyles. Lyles struck out 167 batters in Lexington last season, walking only 38 in 144.2 innings. He also only gave up five homeruns all year. Lyles is a very advanced pitcher for his age, his success is mostly due to his fastball command. He throws both a 4 and 2-seam fastball in the low 90s, along with a cutter, curveball and a changeup which BA describes as the best in the organization. His upside looks to be in the #3/#4 starter range right now, but he's only 19 and could still improve his stuff and add a few ticks to his fastball. Don't be too afraid if he struggles this year, he's 19 and could repeat AA next year no matter what, but he's got a very bright future. He could also come out and dominate, which means he could be knocking on the door this time next year at 20.
Fernadno Abad, Henry Villar, Chia Jen-Lo and Matt Nevarez are four other pitchers to watch. Abad is the only starter among them and pitched well in high A and AA last year. He'll start the season in AA, but would likely be the first to move up, he's left handed with a good fastball. Villar, Nevarez and Lo are all relievers. They all had great succes last season, Villar and Nevarez in Lexington, Lo split between Lancaster and Corpus Christi, like Abad. Villar struck out 109 in 90 innings in 2009, walking only 18! All three could be in Houston by season's end. (Houston has a ton of relievers! Lindstrom, Lyon, Gervacio, Fulchino, Arias, Lo, Nevarez and Villar.)
All the big bats from Lancaster move up to Corpus Christi to start 2010, they will all be looking to prove they aren't a product of the ballpark. Among them are Koby Clemens, Jon Gaston, T.J. Steele and Jack Shuck. My favorite of the bunch is T.J. Steele, a 2008 fourth rounder (if memory serves me correct) out of Arizona. His tools, all five of them, are the best of any from this group. He has had trouble staying healthy and could struggle with his plate discipline (Ks and BBs). However, he could easily put it all together and become a top prospect. Gaston and Clemens I fear are both products of Lancaster. Both led the minors in a statistical category in 2009 (HRs and RBIs respectively). However, hopefully they prove me and everyone else wrong. Shuck is an intereting guy. He was very successful in Lancaster, but has no power, so his numbers couldn't have been inflated! He has excellent plate discipline, walking as much as he struck out and can steal bases, it'll be interesting to see if he can keep up his succes, or if he'll flame out in AA.
Wladimir Sutil is repeating AA, he's older, but a defensive wizard--I've heard, more so than Tommy Manzella. However, he's lacking on the offensive side, more so than Adam Everett of Tommy Manzella.