The Astros have an above average system as far as depth and high end talent, though that’s expected given their draft position and international bonus pools the last few years and where they are in their rebuild plan. The system would obviously look better with LHP Brady Aiken included (I’d rank him 2nd or 3rd, for those wondering), but the top 11 prospects I’ve ranked should all be in Double-A or higher next year. Help is on the way and there’s two more top-10 picks (here’s an early list of candidates) that will be on this list next year to replace some of the graduating talent.
Here’s the primer for the series and a disclaimer about how we don’t really know anything. See the links above for the ongoing series about how I evaluate, including a five-part on the ever-complicated hit tool.
Most of what you need to know for this list is at the above links, but I should add that the risk ratings are relative to their position, so average (3) risk for a pitcher is riskier than average risk (3) for a hitter, due injury/attrition being more common. I’d also take a 60 Future Value hitter over a 60 FV pitcher for the same reasons. Also, risk encompasses a dozen different things and I mention the important components of it for each player in the report. The upside line for hitters is the realistic best-case scenario (in general, a notch better than the projected tools) and the Future Value encompasses this upside along with the risk rating for one overall rating number.
Below, I’ve included a quick ranking of the growth assets that Houston has in the majors that aren’t eligible for the list and Dave Cameron shares some general thoughts on the organization. Scroll further down to see Carson Cistulli’s fringe prospect favorite. The next team up in the series, working from the bottom of the standings on up, is the Boston Red Sox.
Big League Growth Assets
1. George Springer, RF, Age 25
2. Jon Singleton, 1B, Age 23
3. Jake Marisnick, CF, Age 23
4. Robbie Grossman, RF, Age 25
5. Matt Dominguez, 3B, Age 25
6. Jonathan Villar, SS, Age 23
Organizational Overview by Dave Cameron
The Astros took a significant step forward on the field in 2014, even if it didn’t show up entirely in their record. By BaseRuns, their .478 expected winning percentage put them in a virtual tie with the Atlanta Braves. The 2014 Astros were an actual Major League team, which is a big step from where they had been the previous few years, and the talent headed for Houston should only continue to help. The question is whether the team can get good fast enough to make up all the off-the-field issues that have arisen.
While you never want a GM to make decisions based on his own job security, the Astros front office could probably use a winning season in 2015 to make sure they get to see 2016. The good news is that they might actually have the talent to make that a possibility.
50+ FV Prospects
1. Carlos Correa, SS
Current Level/Age: High-A/20.0, 6’4/205, R/R
Drafted: 1st overall (1st round) in 2012 out of Puerto Rico HS by HOU for $4.8 million bonus
Hit: 20/60, Raw Power: 60/65, Game Power: 20/55, Run: 55/50, Field: 50/55, Throw: 65/65
Scouting Report: Correa was the slightly controversial #1 overall pick in 2012 and the first high Puerto Rican first rounder in some time. As noted below, his below slot bonus allowed the Astros to go over slot for the 5th and 6th prospects on the list, 3B Rio Ruiz and RHP Lance McCullers. Some question the Astros decision to pass on Byron Buxton for Correa, but that race is still relatively close and the other two prospects have done well so far.
Correa had some trouble at the plate in the summer after signing, but raked in 2013 and 2014, until he broke his fibula in June, ending his season. He’s doing sprints now and could be ready to play in at some point this winter, but he’ll take the winter off and show up to Spring Training at 100%.
Correa was seen as a future 3B by most at draft time as a big SS that is fine there now, but with added weight leading to declining speed/range, would likely move off the position around when he’d reach the big leagues. He’s made progress defensively since then and now looks like he may be able to be an average defensive shortstop through his six control years in the big leagues, even if he loses a step of pure speed in the process.
Offensively, Correa is excitingly talented with plus hitting tools across the board and projection to dream for more. It all plays in games, though the game power is still coming along, as it’s usually the last tool to mature. There’s still some concern that his short path to the ball and gap-to-gap approach won’t let him get to all of his raw power, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes the necessary adjustments down the road; he has a number of positive indicators like size, age, performance, makeup, aptitude and a rare toolset.
Summation: Correa should go to Double-A at some point next year and, if he feels no ill effects of the leg injury and keeps hitting like he has been, he could be knocking on the door of the majors next year like Kris Bryant was this year (and also would ultimately be left in the minors for service time reasons). Correa isn’t nearly as good of a defender as Troy Tulowitzki, but Correa is as close to that kind of talent at shortstop as we’ve seen since Tulo had his breakout season in 2007.
Upside: .290/.360/.470, average defense & baserunning value
FV/Risk: 65, Medium (3 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA, 2016: AAA/MLB, 2017: MLB
2. Mark Appel, RHP
Current Level/Age: AA/23.2, 6’5/225, R/R
Drafted: 1st overall (1st round) in 2013 out of Stanford by HOU for $6.35 million bonus
Fastball: 60/65, Slider: 55/65, Changeup: 50/60, Command: 40/50
Scouting Report: Appel was a polarizing figure in the 2012 draft, when he went 8th overall and didn’t sign with the Pirates, turning down a $3.8 million offer. Scouts liked the size and stuff but though Appel was stiff through his shoulders (watch him walk around at the end of the above video), not quite athletic enough to make his delivery work and lacked the aggressiveness and killer instinct to be a frontline arm. Appel answered these questions in 2013 (the above video is his 2nd start in that spring, facing Fresno State) with an improved approach and the Astros took the Houston native #1 overall.
Appel’s 2014 was a bit of an adventure: early in the season he had a couple outing where, instead of sitting 93-96 as usual, he sat around 90 mph before being shut down so the Astros could figure out what was wrong with him. Appel had an appendectomy in spring training and it’s common for pitchers to have a period where their velo drops when they’re adjusting to a new throwing schedule. The Astros use a tandem starter system, so Appel had one less rest day between starts than he would’ve had in most other organizations.
There was never a clear answer for why Appel’s velocity dipped, but it came back later in the year and, earlier this week in his first Arizona Fall League start, he was 94-97 mph in the first inning. Later in the regular season, Appel sat 93-95 and got as high at 98 mph. Scouts agree his slider flashes the most potential, 70 at times when he’s throwing 95-98 mph, though often this season is was mostly average to above and flashing 60 every now and then; my 65 future grade is a little optimistic but it still shows up in most outings when he’s throwing the usual mid-90’s.
Depending on which day a scout saw him, they may prefer the changeup over his slider, as both flashed plus, other times looks mostly average and varied start-to-start. There’s some concern about Appel’s command/consistency of his off-speed stuff, as, from what I know, he didn’t consistently flash a plus changeup and slider in the same game all season. In addition, he in general appears to have less feel for commanding his off-speed stuff, but this could all be largely due to the new throwing schedule and/or mechanical tweaks. Here’s some video of Appel from this season.
Summation: Scouts outside the organization still think that Appel is soft (they used more colorful words to say it) and it appeared the early season velocity dip affected him longer mentally than it would’ve affected many other pitchers, though Appel hadn’t faced much adversity until this year. It may be better for him in the long run to have this under his belt and, while his arm speed is back, his plus stuff is showing up way less often than it did in college. Appel needs a big year in Double-A and/or Triple-A next year to get back those #2 starter projections.
FV/Role/Risk: 60, #3 starter, Medium (3 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA/AAA, 2016: AAA/MLB, 2017: MLB
3. Vincent Velasquez, RHP
Current Level/Age: High-A/22.3, 6’3/200, B/R
Drafted: 58th overall (2nd round) in 2010 out of California HS by HOU for $655,830 bonus
Fastball: 55/60, Curveball: 45/50+, Changeup: 55/60, Command: 45/50+
Scouting Report: Velasquez has been a standout talent when healthy, but he has a long history of injuries. He had a strained ligament and stress fracture in his throwing elbow in his junior year of high school, then after going in the 2nd round and throwing 29.1 pro innings in 2010, Velasquez missed all of 2011 with Tommy John surgery.
He’s moved slowly since but appears ready to be unleashed at age 22, with a strong season in the Cal League this year and an Arizona Fall League season that’s just getting started. Velasquez sits 91-95 with a plus changeup and an improving curveball that flashes average to slightly above, to go with some feel to pitch that draw solid-average command grades. He’s also an excellent athlete that looks on the mound like he could grab a stick and play in the field if he wanted to.
Some scouts have Velasquez ranked over Appel, though with Appel’s peak arm speed coming back late this season, that stance is becoming less popular. Velasquez’s checkered injury history is enough that I didn’t really consider ranking him over Appel.
Summation: There’s mid-rotation potential if Velasquez’s arm can handle the workload, but a couple small, short-term dings came up this season, leading to some scouts calling him fragile. A full healthy season in Double-A in 2015 could set him up for a big league look in 2016.
FV/Role/Risk: 60, #3 starter, Medium (3 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA 2016: AAA, 2017: MLB
4. Colin Moran, 3B
Current Level/Age: AA/22.0, 6’4/215, L/R
Drafted: 6th overall (1st round) in 2013 out of North Carolina by MIA for $3.516 million bonus
Hit: 30/55, Raw Power: 50/50+, Game Power: 20/50, Run: 40/40, Field: 45/50, Throw: 50/50+
Scouting Report: Moran was a consensus top-10 pick in the 2013 draft class, but drew widely differing opinions on his overall value, depending on what type of club you asked. Traditional clubs saw a guy with average at best tools across the board but the possible 3B fit and advanced lefty bat made him a solid, if unspectacular prospect. More progressive clubs saw an cold-weather kid that was very young for his draft class and had a big, projectable frame (all three of those are great indicators for an undervalued/growth prospect) to go with great performance in his draft year at UNC, particularly with regard to plate discipline: .345/.470/.544, 13 HR, 63 BB, 25 K.
There were lots of rumors that Moran was a candidate for the #1 overall pick that, at draft time, many assumed were floated by the Astros to get Appel’s price down. I’ve since confirmed with multiple sources that the Moran-Astros rumors were legitimate and there were discussions as late as draft day about a deeply-discounted deal at 1-1. The Astros got their man when the Marlins, a traditional club that surprised many by taking Moran 6th overall (and picking the Red Sox pocket at 7), traded Moran to Houston earlier this year in the Jarred Cosart deal.
Moran’s low-energy demeanor, inconsistent approach to the game and the Marlins quickly cutting bait on their top pick led to whispers among scouts about his makeup, though that’s more speculative. I heard from pro scouts early in 2014 that were dumbfounded how a slap-hitting stiff with no power and no energy was drafted so high and the Astros saw it as an opportunity to buy-low on a distressed asset.
Moran still has inconsistency in his approach at the plate, at times being content to slap the ball to the opposite field and other times tapping into his raw power and leverage, like when he took Brandon Finnegan deep late this season. Moran still has a smooth swing and advanced feel for the strike zone and could grow into above average raw power, but its unclear if that ever will show up consistently in games. People inside and outside of the Astros organization agree that Moran needs to decide what kind of hitter he wants to be.
He isn’t quick-twitch and has ordinary athleticism, with one scout saying, “his body looks old” and his bat speed is “only okay.” Moran has improved defensively since college; he still doesn’t have great range and his arm is average to slightly above, but he has a quick release, solid hands and good instincts.
Summation: An Astros source noted that there’s a long line of high contact/6 bat/ordinary tools third basemen on championship teams. like Bill Mueller, Carney Lansford and Matt Carpenter; this type is also generally underrated right until they perform at the big league level. That type of low K rate player with a broad base of skills is also worth more now than in the steroid era. The worst cast scenario version of this type happens if Moran never integrates power into his game swings: Sean Burroughs. Moran will be in AAA next year and could be a long-term big league option by 2016.
It’s clear after talking to double digit sources about Moran that people from rival organizations are pretty unanimously killing this guy and there is often something to it, like one scout who said he saw Moran run 4.8 to first base on a double play ball (for reference, that’s not even close to being on the scouting scale). Scouts and other traditional types pretty universally complain about the Astros for one reason or another and, given the well-known history of the Astros being the high club on Moran all along, take this opportunity to treat Moran like a bit of a referendum on the Astros’ methods. It’s a little unfair, but it’s hard to blame a scout for not liking a guy that’s low effort and hasn’t decided what kind of player he wants to be. 5/7/15 UPDATE: Moran will be out 4-6 weeks with a broken jaw.
Upside: .285/.345/.460, average defense
FV/Risk: 50, Medium (3 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA/AAA, 2016: AAA/MLB, 2017: MLB
5. Rio Ruiz, 3B
Current Level/Age: High-A/20.4, 6’2/215, L/R
Drafted: 129th overall (4th round) in 2012 out of California HS by HOU for $1.85 million bonus
Hit: 20/55, Raw Power: 55/55, Game Power: 20/50+, Run: 40/40, Field: 40/50, Throw: 55/55
Scouting Report: Ruiz came to the Astros for an over slot $1.85 million with the money they saved going under slot on Correa as the #1 overall pick in 2012. Ruiz slipped to the 4th round after being in the top 50 pick discussion early in the spring due to a blood clot in his neck that prematurely ended his season. He was also a standout quarterback in high school which shows with his above average arm strength, but the 6’2/215 lefty hitter isn’t a traditionally great athlete.
Ruiz is a 40 runner with fringy range that limits his defensive upside, though it looks right now like he’ll be able to stay at the hot corner, with the above average raw power to profile. The carrying tool is the bat and Ruiz took a step forward statistically in 2014, but some scouts would like to see him do it outside of the Cal League before throwing a 60 on his hit tool (though some already put a 60 on it). Between his deep hand load, the power not showing up completely in games yet and the lack of plus bat speed, scouts still have offensive questions; Ruiz’s limited pre-draft exposure also contributes to the prevalence of the conservative opinions.
Ruiz has good power to the opposite field in games already, which is often a harbinger of home run numbers spiking down the road. The Astros aren’t too concerned about the defensive questions as Ruiz is a hard worker that spends more time on defense than most prospects with a bat-first profile. While his range is fringy, his hands are sure and much of Ruiz’s defensive troubles come not on range-type plays coming in or moving to either side, but flubbing routine plays, sailing easy throws or staying back too long and letting the ball play him. If he can’t stay at 3B, the only other fit is 1B, so it’s important for his value that Ruiz stay at the hot corner.
Summation: Ruiz could answer many of these questions in Double-A in 2015 at age 21 on what should be a loaded Corpus Christi club. The tool grades are similar to Moran even if the type of player is different; scouts tend to agree there’s a little more power and upside for Ruiz but a notch less bat.
Upside: ..280/.360/.460, average defense
FV/Risk: 50, Medium (3 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA, 2016: AAA, 2017: MLB
6. Lance McCullers, RHP
Current Level/Age: High-A/21.0, 6’2/205, R/R
Drafted: 41st overall (sandwich round) in 2012 out of Florida HS by HOU for $2.5 million bonus
Fastball: 60/65, Curveball: 55/65, Changeup: 40/50, Command: 35/45+
Scouting Report: McCullers’ father Lance Sr. pitched 7 years in the big leagues, but Lance Jr. made a name for himself when he hit 95 mph as a sophomore in high school, around the same time McCullers’ 2012 prep draft classmate Lucas Giolito did the same. McCullers was always seen as a power fastball-curveball pitched with limited changeup/command and a delivery with some effort to it.
I saw him a half dozen times in his draft year and noticed that McCullers was making adjustments each time out, smoothing out his delivery, throwing more strikes and integrating a changeup, all against high school competition where none of those things were necessary to get the W. Given a high price tag and reliever indicators, some teams had already stopped scouting McCullers by the time these improvements were happening, but the Astros were among the most aggressive teams that stayed on him, signing him with the savings of getting Correa on a discount at 1-1.
McCullers is still the same pitcher with the same concerns, but has continued making adjustments to give himself a chance to be a big league starter. He sits 92-95 and hits 97 mph most times out while his curveball flashes 70 potential at times when he throws it at max effort. McCullers has great feel for manipulating the pitch, varying the velocity and tilt to where it looks like a slider and curveball, but is really the same pitch. He can sometimes do this too often and get around the pitch, making it closer to average, flat and hittable. McCullers’ changeup has flashed 55 before, but is a 45 pitch right now and will always be a third pitch, likely settling at fringy to average.
Summation: McCullers had some predictable troubles in the Cal League last year (walks and homers, mostly), but will be 21 in a more neutral Double-A environment next year. One scout said he thinks McCullers turns into a #3 starter that throws a shutout one game, then walks five guys the next game. The backup plan is a closer along the lines of Brad Lidge or Francisco Rodriguez, so the Astros should get a solid contributor as long as McCullers stays healthy.
FV/Role/Risk: 50, #4 starter/Closer, High (4 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA, 2016: AAA, 2017: MLB
Video Credit to Christopher Blessing
7. Mike Foltynewicz, RHP
Current Level/Age: MLB/23.0, 6’0/190, R/R
Drafted: 19th overall (1st round) in 2010 out of Illinois HS by HOU for $1.305 million bonus
Fastball: 70/80, Curveball: 50/55, Changeup: 45/50, Command: 40/45
Scouting Report: Foltynewicz has some similarities to McCullers but with more arm speed, hitting 100 mph quite often, but also with more severe feel issues. Foltynewicz got an 18.2 inning taste of the big leagues late in 2014 and started 18 of his 21 minor league appearances, but is far from a finished product. He sits 95-98 mph as a starter with a curveball that flashes plus sometimes, but his lack of command of the pitch makes it fringy to average most of the time.
Foltynewicz has thrown enough innings and has the lack of feel and type of delivery that you can no longer project a pitch to be a future 60 when you only see it once or twice per start. He also has an average changeup, so the raw stuff is here to start but the command projects for 45 at best due to the lack of feel; his delivery isn’t really that bad, though. One scout saw “brutal” body language in a poor Triple-A start and Astros execs conceded Foltynewicz may not have been ready for a big league look in 2014.
Summation: It’s hard to walk away from an 80 fastball with two average or better off-speed pitches and a decent delivery, so I won’t bury Foltynewicz. The reason I prefer McCullers is that his floor is as a closer because his command allows his plus stuff plays in short stints, while some scouts think Foltynewicz is an arm strength setup guy due to a lack of a plus secondary pitch. Setup guy is his floor and there’s a chance for more, I’m just not that optimistic. The body and delivery aren’t the same, but the outcome here may be similar to Jordan Walden.
FV/Role/Risk: 50, #4 starter/Closer, Low (2 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AAA/MLB, 2016: MLB
8. Brett Phillips, CF
Current Level/Age: High-A/20.4, 6’0/175, L/R
Drafted: 189th overall (6th round) in 2012 out of Florida HS by HOU for $300,000 bonus
Hit: 20/50, Raw Power: 40/45+, Game Power: 20/45, Run: 55/55, Field: 50/55, Throw: 70/70
Scouting Report: Phillips was unknown until January of his draft year, when he stood out at a showcase. He was standout football player as a senior and that hard-nosed demeanor carries over to the diamond, which seems predestined as his middle name is Maverick. He’s a high-energy, enthusiastic player; I watched him take BP in high school and he walked over to me, introduced himself and asked why I wasn’t interviewing him yet.
As an amateur, Phillips was an above average to plus runner with a loose swing, an easy plus arm and uncanny accuracy that profiled in center field. He was still new to facing top-end pitching, so the bat was more projection than present but his swing wasn’t conducive to power; he had 30 or 35 raw power.
Since turning pro, Phillips has added strength and adjusted his mechanics a bit to unlock more power and he now has the reps to where the physical skills are adding up to performance at the plate. It still isn’t a slam dunk that he’ll be a 50 bat, as Philips still needs to make a little more contact, and it’s more 12-15 homer upside, but there’s a potential 20-20 season here.
Summation: Some of Phillips’ 2014 breakout was in the hitter-friendly Cal League, so an age-21 season with a stop in AA will be a real test to see if he can stay on the fast track. He’ll be playing alongside Teoscar Hernandez, who is his main competition to be the Astros CF of the future.
Upside: .280/.350/.430, average defense
FV/Risk: 50, Medium (3 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA, 2016: AAA, 2017: MLB
45 FV Prospects
9. Domingo Santana, RF Video: Santana is an enigma that every scout I talked to ended their report with some version of: “I saw him enough to have a strong opinion, but I still don’t have one.” His 78% K rate in a brief September big league audition (14 K in 18 PA) doesn’t help that perception. More than a few scouts graded him as an up/down player due to the total lack of faith in his bat, but Santana has 60 raw power and arm strength with solid athleticism in a 6’5/225 frame, fitting the classic everyday RF profile. He’s the kind of guy that will look lost in his first three at-bats, then hit a massive homer in the last one; after talking to at least a half dozen scouts about him, I still have no idea what to make of him.
10. Teoscar Hernandez, RF Video: Hernandez has five average or better tools but needs to tighten up his strike zone and simplify his approach. He’s an above average to plus runner that’s still a little rough in CF, with most scouts thinking he’ll end up in RF due to his 55 arm. He has 50 raw power and good makeup but needs more feel for the game, particularly at the plate as his bat control isn’t elite. If Hernandez can make strides with his approach and/or defense, there’s an exciting everyday player but more likely, it’s a notch or two below that.
11. Nick Tropeano, RHP Video: Tropeano’s delivery isn’t pretty, but he commands his pitches well and competes, sitting 88-91 with sink that’s hit 94 mph, a fringy to average curveball and a plus changeup. Scouts round up on the their projections due to the swing-and-miss changeup, the deception and feel to pitch along with the bulldog approach of the NYC native.
12. Derek Fisher, LF Video: Fisher is maddening to some scouts as he flashes 60 raw power, 65 speed and the tools to be a 60 hitter, but those tools don’t show up on the field too often. Fisher has a line drive swing that doesn’t tap into his raw power in games very often, with 55 game power (19-22 homers annually) what the Astros are hoping for. Fisher has had some trouble laying off bad pitches, but has steadily made progress in this area since it was a huge problem back in high school. He has a below average arm and bad defensive instincts that limit him to LF, but the Astros are working with him to see if he can play CF while also giving him the green light to steal bases, which he wasn’t really allowed to do in college.
13. A.J. Reed, 1B Video: Reed put up absurd numbers this spring at Kentucky, hitting .336/.476/.735 with more BB than K and 23 homers in 62 games while also throwing 112 innings with a 2.09 ERA as their ace. Reed’s stuff is fringy on the mound and that combined with his 65 or 70 raw power from the left side made clubs prefer him in the batter’s box. He isn’t much of a runner, so his plus arm is hidden at 1B, his swing worries some because he bars out (stiff/locked right arm) and has trouble with good off-speed stuff. That said, he’s done nothing but hit his whole career and he gets to his power in games; Reed is the type that will have to prove it at every level but also has a backup plan as a #5 starter type lefty if he can’t hit.
14. Josh Hader, LHP Video: Hader is a unique prospect: a skinny 6’3/160 lefty acquired from Baltimore in the Bud Norris deal whose velo spiked after signing (out of a Maryland high school) from the mid-80’s to touching the mid-90’s with a funky delivery and low 3/4 arm slot. He performed well in the Cal League, showing improvements and earning a promotion to AA at age 20, but scouts still aren’t sure of his big league role. He sits 90-93 and hits 96 mph at times, but also dips into the high-80’s later in outings, likely due to his skinny frame. Hader also has trouble staying on top of his fringy slider, though it flashes average. Hader’s above average changeup helps neutralize righty hitters but scouts see the stuff from the left side and the low slot and think LOOGY floor, but Hader doesn’t have enough breaking ball for that; if the slider doesn’t improve he may just be a funky long man, but he’s definitely something.
15. Michael Feliz, RHP Video: Feliz is a 6’4/210 monster righty with the changeup, delivery and command that point to reliever, but he’s still just 21, so things could still get straightened out. He sits 90-96 mph and commands the pitch well with a hard slurve that’s about average at times, though the overall command and changeup flash fringy at best right now.
16. Nolan Fontana, SS Video: Fontana doesn’t get scouts excited as a decent defensive SS with solid average speed and arm strength, but he’s savvy enough to get into good situations to let his arm and range play despite modest tools. He isn’t quite good enough at the plate or with the glove to be an everyday SS, but he plays 2B well and profiles as a good utility guy; his bat may be a 50 and has an advanced feel for the strike zone to make up for 8-10 homer type power.
40 FV Prospects
17. J.D. Davis, 1B Video: Davis is up to 95 with an above average slider on the mound as a relief-only guy at Fullerton, but was drafted in the 3rd round last June as a hitter. He was decent at 3B in instructs, which allows his plus arm to play, but he’s likely a 1B fit as a 40 runner without much first-step quickness. The raw power is also plus but there’s some questions about contact ability that scouts won’t be sure about until he gets to AA.
18. Preston Tucker, LF Video: Tucker was a four-year standout performer for Florida and raked his way to AAA pretty quickly despite only going in the 7th round in 2012. Scouts that like Tucker see 50 hit and power tools with a LF/1B fit and being left-handed would make him the good side of a platoon, while others think his ordinary bat speed will lead the hitting tools to play down into more of a pinch hitter role.
19. Max Stassi, C, Video: Stassi has had his share of injuries, including a concussion last year, to the point that he wore down some late in 2014, his season with over 400 PA since 2010. He only has an average arm and may just be a fringy defender, but it’s enough to be a bat-first big league backup. The bat isn’t huge and some scouts don’t like the swing, but he can punish mistakes and already has big league time.
20. Kent Emanuel, LHP Video: The 6’3/225 lefty only sits 87-89 mph and has a funky enough delivery that you would think he has command issues, but Emanuel makes it work for him. His curveball is solid-average at times and his changeup is often above average with one scout saying he thinks Emanuel is a very safe bet to reach his #5 starter ceiling.
21. Andrew Thurman, RHP Video: Thurman’s velocity is a moving target that dictates his prospect status: 88-91 until a spike late in a summer on the Cape to 91-94, tailing off before the Astros took him at the top of the 2nd round in 2013 as a pitchability back-end starter type. Then, in 2014 Spring Training, he hit 97 mph and sat 91-95 during the season, but the new-found velocity caused command issues for his 50 slider and 55 changeup. If he can get back to throwing strikes with solid-average stuff, he could move quickly, but adjustments are needed.
22. Joe Musgrove, RHP Video: Musgrove was a sandwich round pick of the Jays in 2011 and still hasn’t been to full-season ball yet but made a lot of progress in 2014. The 6’5/230 righty sits 90-95 and touches 97 mph with downhill plane and a slider that’s above average at times to go with an inconsistent changeup that’s average at times.
23. Tony Kemp, 2B Video: The best of the three tiny utility guys in this group, the 5’6/165 Kemp and his 35 raw power racked up a mind-boggling 46 extra-base hits in 2014, though the Cal League had something to do with that. Kemp has an all-fields line drive stoke, makes a lot of hard contact, has above average bat control and picks his spots for tap into his power in games well, but has trouble with good off-speed stuff. He’s a 55 or 60 runner that gets out of the box really quickly and can stick at 2B but has experience LF and CF, with one scout comparing Kemp to Willie Harris.
24. Brady Rodgers, RHP Video: Rodgers sits 89-91 and hits 93 mph with a fringy curve and changeup and lack of deception but has plus control, a good delivery that he repeats and some feel to pitch. He’s probably a swing man/long reliever, but there’s a decent shot for a #5 starter here and he’ll be in AAA next year.
25. Delino DeShields, LF Video: The 5’9/210 former top-10 pick with obvious bloodlines is a favorite punching bag for scouts over his low-energy demeanor and they’ve all got at least one personal story to illustrate why they don’t think he gets close to his ceiling. He’s a 65 runner with tools to be an everyday up-the-middle type but he has no feel to hit and seems disinterested defensively, so he only really fits in LF but also plays 2B and CF in preparation for a utility fit.
26. Ronald Torreyes, 2B Video: Torreyes is tiny; he’s listed at 5’10/150 and he’s probably 5’7. He’s fine at 2B and can actually play SS, though his size works against him staying there for any long stretches. There isn’t much power but the bat/defense are both utility fits, so it isn’t a big deal. Advanced bat control, good makeup, defensive versatility and some success in AAA are enough for him to sneak on the list.
Thomas Shirley, LHP
No club was responsible for producing a larger collection of names within this site’s weekly Fringe Five column in 2014 than Houston. In all, 10 players appeared there at some point over the course of the year: batters Andrew Aplin, Conrad Gregor, Tyler Heineman, Tony Kemp, and Brett Phillips and then pitchers Josh Hader, David Rollins, Thomas Shirley, Kyle Smith, and Aaron West. Among them, Shirley was the leader — largely, that, on the strength of his first two months. Between April 6th and May 21st, the left-hander recorded strikeout and walk rates of 27.1% and 6.4%, respectively, over 10 appearances (seven starts) and 47.2 innings with Double-A Corpus Christi.
His numbers were more ordinary after that, however — in particular after a promotion to Triple-A Oklahoma City. Following a move to the bullpen in late July, his rates (perhaps predictably) improved. Still, given his combination of a low- to mid-90s fastball and changeup — upon which offerings his pitching coach at Corpus Christi, Doug Brocail, heaped uncommonly effusive praise — it seems as though Shirley ought to be capable of neutralizing the platoon advantage enough to work in a starting capacity.
Here’s the entirety of a late-season encounter with Craig Gentry — i.e. batter who’s posted better-than-average strikeout rates in the majors — beginning with a first-pitch curveball:
C Carlos Perez is a ready-made backup backstop if he can make some slight adjustments receiving (scouts thought he was too lazy back-handing balls and didn’t go down to block enough, but was excellent when he did) but the bat is light enough that it’s more of a low-end backup. CF Andrew Aplin (Video) also got some support for the back-end of the list; most scouts have him as a 5th outfielder or up/down guy, but some have him as a 4th outfielder: he has the instincts to play center despite only 55 speed and some feel to hit, but little power.
LF Danry Vasquez may be a 55 hitter, but he’s rail-thin and a mess defensively that’s limited to left field even if he cleans up his fielding. 1B Conrad Gregor hits but it isn’t always pretty, it’s pull-oriented and there isn’t a ton of power, though that’s been true of some long-term role player types.
1B Telvin Nash has at least 70 raw power but even Astros execs agree it may be no more than a 20 bat; one scout suggest Nash as a 100 PA call-up to run into some homers before the league figures him out (and then send him back down). C Tyler Heineman is a switch-hitter that can catch and throw and make enough contact to be a big leaguer, but the tools aren’t much while C Jacob Nottingham looks great in a uniform and has a smooth stroke with the elements to be able to stick behind the plate as an offensive-oriented catcher.
Of the arms that almost made the list, righties Daniel Mengden (Video) and Derick Velazquez (Video), both 2014 draftees, will find themselves on next year’s list with solid debuts. Mengden is an athletic two-way standout at Texas A&M that has solid-average stuff and command but recently had a back issue and is only 6’1 or 6’2, so I’d like to see a full season before ranking him. Velazquez is a big athletic 6’4/200 kid from Fresno State that had fringy stuff as a starter that spiked in relief, where he sits 92-95 mph with a plus curveball and average changeup; it’s relief-only and he’s a 7th rounder that’s only thrown 23 pro innings, but I’ve got a feeling about this one and he was the last cut from the list.
RHP Kyle Smith has good numbers but it’s three fringy pitches that flash average with a troublesome delivery and arm action. There’s about a dozen other fringy, good performer-type arms that got mentioned near the end of scout calls and I’ll mention three of them here: LHP David Rollins (up to 95 mph with a fringy slider and changeup), RHP Juan Minaya (long arm action creates timing/command issues but he’s up to 97 mph) and LHP Thomas Shirley (Video Cistulli fav is up to 95 mph with fringy curveball, inconsistent changeup and lots of funk that creates deception and below-average command). I also look forward to Eno Sarris trying to pronounce the name of the Astros’ mammoth (6’8/225) 2014 6th rounder and Jon Rauch type, RHP Brock Dykxhoorn.
The Astros’ Latin program has already started to show some results under the Luhnow regime, with some kids showing tools in America and three seven figure bonus guys from this past July 2nd. The recent July 2nd signees (signed to 2015 contracts, so haven’t played a pro game yet) are CF Ronny Rafael (Video, $1.5 million for loose athlete with above average tools and plate discipline issues), SS Miguel Angel Sierra (Video, $1 million for steady Venezuelan shortstop with unspectacular tools but lots of feel and present performance) and the signee with the best early returns, RHP Franklin Perez (Video $1 million for 6’4/200 righty mostly played hoops growing up, is new to the mound and shows above average potential fastball/curveball combo from smooth delivery).
SS Joan Mauricio was one of last year’s big July 2nd signings ($600,000 bonus) and is already showing a plus arm and the ability to stay at shortstop with a projectable 6’0/150 frame to dream for more while he continues to learn the game. Five Latin prospects showing some promise stateside are SS Osvaldo Duarte (5’9 athlete is plus runner with some bat speed that plays all three up the middle positions), RHP Francis Martes (acquired in the Moran deal, will be developed as starter, has good frame and makeup, is into mid-90’s but is still a raw arm that’s mostly arm strength right now), RHP Jandel Gustave (regularly hits 100 mph with a pretty easy arm action, but little else right now, as Nathaniel saw earlier this year), LHP Reymin Guduan (6’4 lefty is already 22 and hasn’t seen full-season ball yet, but has hit 100 mph and sits 92-98 with solid-average slider at times and little else) and RHP Elieser Hernandez (isn’t a slam dunk to start but 6’1/170 19-year-old righty is athletic, sits 90-94 mph with above average changeup and has a curve that could be average).
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.