Welcome to Part 2 of my Astros Organizational Preview. You can find Part 1 by either scrolling down or clicking this link... http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5918557/20751099 , Part 1 details the minor league affiliates at the AAA and AA level. This, Part 2, discusses the players at the high A, Lancaster and A, Lexington, levels.
Lancaster JetHawks (A+)
Lancaster graduated a great class of hitters to AA Corpus Christi, who I discussed in part 1, and they'll receive a great class of pitchers from Lexington in 2010 (although both Jordan Lyles and Henry Villar will skip Lancaster to move straight to AA). Perhaps the best of this class is Ross Seaton , the Astros' #6 prospect according to BA. Taken by the Astros in the 2008 draft, signing of slot in the third round, Seaton has a ton of upside. He's projectable and athletic, with good stuff when he came out of high school. However, he didn't stand out in a terrific Lexington rotation, although I don't know if that's his fault, he had to pitch along side Jordan Lyles afterall. I was not impressed with Seaton's strikeout rate, although overall his numbers were solid. He's still young, but will be tested in the hitter's league of California, the best wy to get outs here: keep the ball on the ground, or even better, strike guys out! I'd love to see Seaton put things together at this level this year, while showing his plus fastball and breaking ball, he has top of the rotation potential, but he's a long way from that at the major league level.
Joining Seaton in Lancaster are 2009 Lexington pitchers, Brad Dydalewicz , Kyle (Jeff) Greenwalt and Kyle Godfrey . Dydalewicz, a lefty and 2008 draft pick, probably has the most potential of the bunch, he has the best stuff. However, Greenwalt had the best 2009 season. Godfrey was a little behind the first two and could be used as a starter or reliever. All may have a hard time continuing the success they had in A ball in Lancaster though. We'll have to be patient with them, as their A+ stats may not immediately reflect their true potential. Ashton Mowdy, owener of the organization's best cruveball, according to BA, will also pitch in high A Lancaster.
Leanadro Cespedes pitched all of 2009 in Lancaster, and will return their again in 2010. His ERA last season was 5.06, however, he was Houston's best starter! He also improved as the season wore on and sported a good strikeout rate. He's an undersized righty, at 5'11 160, but has had good results in the past. He'll be expected to lead this young rotation.
Dallas Keuchel makes the jump from short season A, Try-City, to full season ball. He's perhaps the most interesting name of the bunch. He's an '09 draftee out of Arkansas, who pitched spectacularly last summer in the New York-Penn League. He's a pitchability lefty, with a good enough stuff to be a starter in the majors, even if it's only as a 4th or 5th starter. I think Keuchel is smart enough and advanced enough to lead Lancaster's stellar rotation in stats--as it may take Seaton and Dydalewicz some time to adjust. I fully expect to see Keuchel starting in Corpus Christi by early August.
The infield consists of Mark Ori, Albert Cartwright , Ebert Rosario and Brandon Wikoff . Ori was demoted from AA, playing there all of last season. With Koby Clemens and others moving up to AA, the Astros had to do something with Ori, move him up to Round Rock (where Chris Shelton and Drew Locke are) or move him down, where there isn't a useful 1B prospect. Ori should be the big run producer in the Lancaster lineup. He'll hit 20-30 homeruns and could battle for the league RBI title, but he's older and should not be regarded as a serious prospect. Cartwright and Rosario are coming from Lexington. They had some mild success there. Rosario is a very raw product, he strikes out a lot and has yet to fill out his 6-3 frame. He is getting old for the level though, he'll turn 23 in May. Brandon Wickoff was drafted in the top ten rounds in 2009 out of a small college in Illinois. He shows off some on-base skills and has some plate discipline, but he isn't a top prospect either. He could do well in Lancaster though, although he has no power to speak of.
The outfield, like in 2009, is where the offense should come from in Lancaster. Josh Flores was once considered a top 10 prospect, but that hasn't been true for a number of years. He, like Ori, was sent down from Corpus Christi do to Gaston, Steele and Shuck moving up, he's old for the league at 24. Flores, again like Ori, should provide some major offense here. He has amazing speed and could lead off. His career stats will get a boost in California, but it's unlikely he makes himself a prospect to truly watch again. Brandon Barnes is an intriguing name, with some tools, I think of him in the same way I thought of Jordan Parraz. However, he will turn 24 in May and is still very raw, striking out 133 times compared to 28 walks in 2009. He should help to replace Jon Gaston in the lineup, but he isn't likely a serious top prospect either. Jay Austin is a serious prospect, the 2008 second rounder,was rated eighth among Astros prospects by BA. I was encouraged by his 2009 performance in Lexington, particularly in the second half. He has tools, speed and defense mostly. However, there is little power in his bat and I am unsure of how much he'll hit at higher levels, since he hasn't even tore the cover off the ball in Lexington. I am hoping to see him take a step forward with the bat though, if he does we could be talking about a real good prospect next year.
Lexington Legends (A)
The Legends graduate six great pitchers from last year's staff. However, there is still some talent left there and some more moving in from short season and the 2009 draft. The cream of Lexington's 2010 crop is Tanner Bushue , Houston's 2009 second rounder. He reminds me a lot of Jordan Lyles: projectable, athletic, with an advanced approach for a high school pitcher. He had a great debut last summer, but was slowed down by a pre-existing back injury, one that won't affect him moving forward. He's too young to really be able to project in the future, but he has top of the rotation potential, depending on how his pitches develp.
Joining, Bushue in the 2010 will be pitchers: David Duncan, Jose Cisnero, Michael Schurz and Brandt Walker . Duncan was taken in the top ten rounds in 2008, out of Georgia Tech. He's a big lefty, but has had inconsistant results thus far, pitching in Lancaster and Tri-City last year before settling in Lexington. He's got a good repitoire, but will be 24 in June, he simply hasn't progressed since being drafted. I don't know much about Cisnero actually, I don't know anything about his stuff at least. However, he's 21 years old (or will be on Sunday) and has a good frame, 6-3 185. He also threw well in short season Greenville last summer. Striking out 64 and giving up only 32 hits in 55.2 innings, he started 13 games. I can't wait to see how this guy does over a full season's worth of starts and better competition than in rookie ball. Schurz and Walker are both relievers (Walker will likely be long term, even though he started in Tri-City last summer). Walker has electric stuff, but doesn't have the comman you'd like to see out of a college pitcher (he comes from Stanford). He did not perform well in his debut, despite being taken in the top 10 rounds in 2009. Schurz excelled in his debut, he struck out 37 in 29.2 innings of relief, his ERA was 1.52. He'll look to keep up his success in 2010.
Lexington's lineup is highlighted by 2009 first round pick, Jiovanni Mier . He has the potential to provide special defense from shortstop. He also has a pretty advanced bat, which he showed off in his debut, hitting 7 homeruns and walking 30 times. His OBP was .380 and his SLG% was a .484... not bad for a high school guy, who wasn't touted highly for his bat. I'd love to see him continue to hit to start the season. His defense will get him to Houston, but his bat will need to continue to grow for him to become an all-star.
Joining Mier in the infield is fellow 2009 draft pick, Jonathan Meyer . He is very raw with the bat, and lacks power, but will draw a lot of walks and plays good defense, with a great arm from third. His batting average has to improve this season, though. The second basemen will be Jose Altuve . He was a hitting machine in rookie ball last summer, and will look to keep up the success as he moves into full season ball. He's only 5-9 and the success rate for prospects of that stature isn't good, but he has some ability and will look to prove doubters wrong.
The big bat in the outfield will come from J.D. Martinez , another 2009 draftee. He surprised everyone last summer by hitting for a .400 OBP and nearly .600 SLG%. This was likely a simple matter of advanced hitter against weak competition, but he is a big name to watch coming into his full season debut, like the former Lancaster hitters, he'll look to keep up his strong numbers. I also like Brian Kemp . He provides some on-base skills and speed, but otherwise isn't very valuable and won't likely ever contribute in the majors.