2014 Top 10 Prospects: Houston Astros by Marc Hulet December 23, 2013 The Houston Astros organization boasts both depth and some high-ceiling talent. The club has compiled its impressive collection of prospects through both solid scouting via the draft and shrewd wheeling-and-dealing via the trade market. #1 Carlos Correa | 65/A- (SS) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 18 519 144 33 9 58 83 10 .320 .405 .467 .400 The Year in Review: Correa, at the age of just 18, spent the year in the full-season Midwest League. And he didn’t just hold his own — he thrived with an on-base percentage of more than .400, a batting average of .320 and excellent gap power. He absolutely crushed southpaws with a 1.072 OPS and a 21-13 walks to strikeouts. Even those who were already on the Correa bandwagon didn’t expect this good of a performance this early on in his pro career. The Scouting Report: With a strong frame, Correa showcases existing gap power but possesses above-average raw power that could eventually lead to more than 20 home runs in a full season. He’s also more advanced with his approach than a lot of hitters his age and he should continue to produce strong batting averages and on-base percentages as he ascends through the pro ranks. Defensively, he’s a solid fielder with a strong arm and good actions but could eventually slow down and lose range, forcing a move to third base. The Year Ahead: Correa will move up to High-A ball but, if he continues on his current development curve, he could reach Double-A by mid-season or shortly thereafter. It may not be out of the rate of possibility for the Puerto Rico native to reach the Majors in late 2015 — at the age of 20. The Career Outlook: Correa may not stick at shortstop long term but a move shouldn’t hurt his value too much. He flashes the potential to be an above-average hitter at the big league level while playing on the left side of the infield. #2 George Springer | 65/AAA (OF) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 23 589 149 27 37 83 161 45 .303 .411 .600 .438 The Year in Review: Springer was a beast at both Double-A and Triple-A in 2013. Combined, he produced a 1.010 OPS, which included a .600 slugging percentage. He came close to being a 40-40 threat with 37 home runs and 45 steals in 135 games. The Connecticut native’s swing-and-miss tendencies were also on full display and he whiffed 161 times (more than a quarter of his at-bats ended in a strikeouts). The Scouting Report: Springer has an impressive power-speed combination and is a four-tool threat. The swing-and-miss tendencies will mitigate some of his effectiveness at the plate but he also does a nice job of coaxing free passes. Springer has a strong arm that will make him well-suited to right field. His speed, range and instincts would make him a solid center-fielder or a well-above-average corner outfielder. The Year Ahead: The addition of center-fielder Dexter Fowler buys some additional development time for Springer. Once he proves he’s ready, though, neither Robbie Grossman nor L.J. Hoes represent a serious roadblock. Expect the rookie to see at least 50 games of big league experience in 2014, which would give long-suffering Astros fans an exciting, young player to dream on. The Career Outlook: Spring has the skills to be a 20-20 or 30-30 player in his prime. Strikeouts will likely always be a part of his game, though, which will likely pull his batting average down at the big league level and prevent him from being a true five-tool threat. #3 Mark Appel | 60/A- (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 21 10 10 38.0 36 2 7.82 2.13 3.79 2.94 The Year in Review: Appel had a banner year with an excellent senior year at Stanford University that culminated with his first overall selection by the Astros in the 2013 amateur draft. The right-hander pitched well in limited action during his professional debut and logged 38 innings, mostly in Low-A ball. The Scouting Report: The right-hander features a mid-90s fastball that he can bump up into the high 90s when necessary. Appel backs up the heater with a potentially-plus slider and a developing changeup that could eventually be an average offering. Standing 6’5”, the Texas native has the height to create a strong downward plane on his heater, which results in a plethora of ground-ball outs with his two-seam fastball. Appel needs to work on effectively utilizing both his two-seamer (for ground balls) and his four-seamer (for strikeouts). The organization is enthralled with the young pitcher’s makeup and work ethic — both of which help already-impressive talent ability play up. The Year Ahead: Appel may skip right over the potent California League and open the 2014 season in Double-A. A big league promotion by the end of the season would not come as a shock, and he could be ready to settle into the Astros’ starting rotation as a regular contributor in early 2015. The Career Outlook: Appel has the ceiling of a No. 1 or 2 starter once he adds a little more polish and makes the necessary adjustments. It’s hard to envision him being anything worse than a No. 3 starter. #4 Jonathan Singleton | 60/AAA (1B) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 21 367 70 17 11 59 110 1 .230 .351 .401 .344 The Year in Review: A suspension kept Singleton from breaking the century mark in games played in 2013. He spent the majority of the year in Triple-A where he never truly found his footing — as witnessed by his .687 OPS. He made up for some of the lost playing time by heading down to participate in the Puerto Rico Winter League. The Scouting Report: Singleton has a chance to develop into an average hitter with plus power from the left side. Two big issues are holding Singleton back from further success: his struggles against left-handed pitching and his overall swing-and-miss tendencies. He didn’t win over any fans by returning to the game out of shape after his suspension, and needs to prove he’s 100% committed to being a professional. Defensively, he could be an average fielding first baseman. He’s see some time in the outfield but has modest range and a below-average arm. The Year Ahead: Singleton will head back to Triple-A to try and rediscover his batting stroke while also keeping his nose clean. If he bounces back well, he could reach the Majors in the second half of the year. The Career Outlook: Singleton is close to MLB ready and could add some much-needed stability to the position. He projects to develop into an average or better first baseman. #5 Mike Foltynewicz | 60/AA (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 21 30 21 129.1 106 12 8.63 4.59 3.06 4.14 The Year in Review: Foltynewicz paid his dues in the hitters’ haven known as the California League and was promoted quickly (after seven appearances) to the Double-A Texas League. He made another 23 appearances there (16 starts) and produced solid results. He also impressed with his radar gun readings. The Scouting Report: A native of Illinois, Foltynewciz can hit triple digits with his fastball and it sits in the mid-to-upper 90s with explosive life — but he struggles with both his command and control. Where he lacks — in comparison to other top pitching prospects — though, is in the secondary pitches. He utilizes both a slider and a curveball with the former having the current edge. One contact even suggested the slider could be a plus offering for him. Foltynewicz’s changeup, which doesn’t get much use, has fringe-average potential. The right-hander can overpower left-handed hitters but he needs to do a better job of commanding the inner half against them. The Year Ahead: Few fans outside of Houston know Foltynewicz’s name (and even fewer can spell it properly) but could chance in 2014. He should move up to Triple-A to open the year but should taste the big leagues no later than September. The Career Outlook: Foltynewicz has premium fastball velocity but his lack of reliable secondary pitches could relegate him to the role of mid-rotation innings eater or high-leverage reliever. #6 Vincent Velasquez | 60/A+ (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 21 28 19 124.2 104 9 10.25 2.96 3.54 3.04 The Year in Review: Velasquez, 21, enjoyed success in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery, which wiped out his entire 2011 season. The former second round draft pick (2010) out of a California high school began 2013 in Low-A where he made 25 appearances (16 starts). He received a late-season promotion to High-A ball where he had another three starts. In total, he struck out 142 batters with a strong ground-ball rate in 124.2 innings. The Scouting Report: Like Foltynewicz, Velasquez in another well-kept secret from the rest of baseball. He does a little bit of everything with solid a solid fastball (90-94 mph), above-average control, the ability to induce ground-ball outs and a strong frame that should be able to provide lots of innings if his elbow is sound. His changeup is a plus offering but his curveball needs a lot of refinement and the lost development time didn’t do Velasquez any favors. The Year Ahead: His performance in spring training will likely help dictate if Velasquez starts the year in High-A or Double-A ball. My guess is that he’ll open the season with five or six starts in A-ball to continue working on his breaking ball before facing the more advanced opponents. The Career Outlook: If he can sharpen his curveball, Velasquez could develop into a solid No. 3 starter for the Astros. If not, he could end up as a back-end starter or set-up man. #7 Lance McCullers Jr. | 60/A- (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 19 25 19 104.2 92 3 10.06 4.21 3.18 2.91 The Year in Review: McCullers held his own in Low-A ball during his first full pro season after being selected in the initial round of the 2012 amateur draft. He broke the century mark in innings and utilized a ground-ball-heavy approach that saw just three balls leaving the yard. The right-hander was dominating at times and posted a strikeout rate of 10.06 K/9. The Scouting Report: The Florida native has a strong profile as pitcher capable of recording the majority of his outs via the strikeout or the ground ball. His velocity sits in the mid 90s and his curveball also has plus potential. His changeup, though, is currently below average and his delivery creates poor command/control. Those issues could eventually lead to a role change from starter to high-leverage reliever. The Year Ahead: McCullers will move up to High-A ball where his ground-ball tendencies should serve him well. Assuming he’s healthy, he’ll likely move up to Double-A in the second half of the season. The Career Outlook: McCullers, who turned 20 in October, has the talent to develop into a No. 2 or 3 starter but there are enough legitimate concerns to project him as a future closer. #8 Domingo Santana | 55/AA (OF) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 20 476 105 23 25 46 139 12 .252 .345 .498 .372 The Year in Review: Santana followed up his excellent 2012 campaign (aided by the Cal League environment) with a solid Double-A season. He slugged 20+ home runs for the second straight season but saw his batting average dip 50 points and he struck out 139 times in 112 games. After the regular season concluded, Santana received some additional experience in the Dominican Winter League. The Scouting Report: The Dominican native generates impressive right-handed power due to his massive size, strong forearms and solid bat speed. However, he has an aggressive approach and struggles with pitch recognition at times, which leads to his high strikeout rates and will likely result in a low batting average in the big leagues. Defensively, he plays a respectable right field and possesses a strong arm. The Year Ahead: Still just 21, Santana will likely move up Triple-A for his sixth pro season but lacks a clear path to the Majors in 2014 with fellow outfield prospect George Springer ahead of him on the depth chart. The Career Outlook: Santana could develop into an average or better corner outfielder with two plus tools in his power and arm but a questionable hit tool. #9 Rio Ruiz | 55/A- (3B) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 19 472 108 33 12 50 92 12 .260 .335 .430 .351 The Year in Review: A slow start to the year (.167 average in April) held down Ruiz’s overall numbers but he showed improvements with each passing month. His power is more of the gap variety right now, rather than true over-the-fence pop but that should change with added experience. Ruiz did a nice job of taking the free pass when it was offered to him in 2013. He even stole 12 bases in 15 attempts, more on base-running guile than foot speed. The Scouting Report: Selected in the same draft (2012) as Carlos Correa, Ruiz gives the Astros a second potential above-average contributor for the left side of the Astros infield, perhaps starting in 2016. The third baseman has a chance to develop two plus tools: hit and power. The left-handed hitter handles southpaws quite well, utilizing a shorter, more compact stroke. Ruiz also has to improve defensively if he’s going to stick at the hot corner long term, but the strong arm helps him compensate for some of his mistakes. The Year Ahead: Ruiz could really find the California League to his liking but, even if he thrives offensive, he could spend most of the season there while he works on improving his defence in the hops of sticking at the hot corner. The Career Outlook: Ruiz has the offensive tools to become an average or better big league third baseman but it’s the defensive skills that could hold him back and cause him to lose significant value if he has to move across the diamond to first base. #10 Josh Hader | 55/A- (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 19 22 22 107.1 81 4 7.97 4.53 2.77 3.70 The Year in Review: Acquired from the Orioles at the end of July (along with L.J. Hoes) for Bud Norris, Hader showed flashes of his budding talent in five late-season starts in Low-A ball. In 22.1 innings, he allowed just 14 hits but struggled with his control and walked 12 batters. The southpaw did a nice job of keeping the ball in the park all year long and allowed just four home runs in 107.1 innings of work. The Scouting Report: Hader has a four-pitch repertoire with both his breaking balls needing the most work. His fastball works in the 89-95 mph range and his changeup has a lot of potential. The southpaw struggles with his command and control because he gets out of whack with his delivery. If he can become more efficient with throwing strikes, which will come with improved fastball command, it could help him log more innings per start. The young hurler has a fluid arm motion, which gives hope for more strikes down the road and it also makes his heater appear faster than it is. The Year Ahead: Hader should split the 2014 season between High-A and Double-A as the organization tries to avoid exposing the top pitching prospects from spending too much time in the aforementioned, offence-happy California League. He could be ready for the Majors in late 2015 or by mid-2016. The Career Outlook: Hader has a chance to develop into a solid No. 3 or 4 starter but could end up in the ‘pen if he fails to fully develop his arsenal and/or his command/control continues to be inconsistent. The Next Five: Michael Feliz, RHP: The 20-year-old Felix had a breakout year in his fourth pro season. Throwing in the mid-to-upper 90s, he struck out 78 batters with an above-average ground-ball rate in 69.0 innings of work. To continue to find success as he moves up the ladder, though, he’ll have to become more consistent with his slider and continue to improve his changeup. After a quartet of assignments to short-season ball, the Dominican native will almost assuredly (finally) receive his first taste of full-season ball in April of 2014. The organization feels he’s just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. Max Stassi, C: Stassi’s dream season took a turn for the worst when he suffered a concussion in just his second MLB game. As a result, his season effectively ended in late August, although he returned for one plate appearance in September. The 22-year-old’s aggressive approach hampers his overall offensive effectiveness but he has above-average pop and is a very good defensive catcher who calls a good game and controls the running game. If Jason Castro is healthy, Stassi will likely head to Triple-A to open the 2014 season but should be considered the Astros’ starting catcher of the future. Delino DeShields Jr., OF: The speedy DeShields will move back to his natural position in the outfield for the 2014 season after spending the previous three years at second base. He should be an above-average center-fielder whose plus speed allows him to cover a lot of ground. At the plate, the Georgia native isn’t afraid to take a walk, which helps him post solid on-base percentage, but he gets away from his strengths and that leads to a whack of strikeouts. If he focuses on getting on base and using his wheels — and also stays focused on the field — DeShields could be a valuable weapon for the organization. Andrew Thurman, RHP: Thurman is a bulldog hurler who could develop into a valuable innings-eating third or fourth starter. He has a low-90s fastball and offsets that with a potentially-plus changeup. His breaking ball needs a lot of polish to become an average offering but he has a feel for spinning it and can break off some impressive 12-6 offerings when he throws it with conviction. In his debut, the right-hander showed that he needs to leverage his height better and do a better job of working down in the zone to cut down on the fly balls. However, the organization isn’t worried about his fly-ball tendencies because of his ability to induce a lot of swings and misses. As a collegiate pick from a solid baseball program, Thurman could move quickly through the system and will open 2014 in A-ball. Kyle Smith, RHP: Acquired late last season from the Royals for outfielder Justin Maxwell, Smith is an undersized right-hander who possesses a plus curveball. He also has a fringe-average fastball in the 87-91 mph range that can touch 92-93 mph. His changeup is average now and could get even better in time, which could help him overcome the so-so heater to become a No. 3 starter. If he fails to reach the potential, though, he could still develop into a solid middle or short reliever. Smith should open 2014 in Double-A and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him in the Majors by the end of the season.