Houston Astros: Top 10 Prospects

General Manager: Ed Wade
Farm Director: Tal Smith
Scouting Director: Bobby Heck

FanGraphs’ Top 10 Prospects:
(2009 Draft Picks/International Signees Not Included)

What a change. After being one of the absolute worst systems in all of baseball for a few years, we’re finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. There is one note of caution to be had with the prospects in the system, though. Having a minor-league affiliate in Lancaster (High-A) means that many offensive prospects’ numbers will be inflated (see Koby Clemens) by playing there, while pitchers’ numbers will be skewed negatively. That extreme hitter’s park makes judging prospects all that much harder.

1. Jason Castro, C, Double-A
DOB: June 1987 Bats: L Throws: R
Signed: 2008 1st round – Stanford University
MLB ETA: Late-2010 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

With the re-emergence of J.R. Towles, an underrated player, and Castro’s rapid development, the organization could have a very nice problem, and in short order. The problem could be solved quite easily, though, with a platoon of the two catchers. Eventually, Castro’s bat will probably justify more at-bats as he’s hung in quite well against southpaws in pro ball (albeit in a rather small sample size). Overall in ’09, Castro hit .293/.362/.385 in 239 double-A at-bats. He began the year in high-A ball and got a lot of people excited with a .208 ISO, but that was likely the result of playing in Lancaster. His ISO rate dropped to .092 in double-A and it was just .109 in ’08. Even so, he projects to be an above-average offensive catcher. He threw out 59% of base runners attempting to steal against him in high-A, but that number dropped to 28% after his promotion.

2. Jordan Lyles, RHP, Low-A
DOB: October 1990 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2008 supplemental first round – South Carolina HS
MLB ETA: Mid-2012 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 89-92 mph fastball, curveball, change-up

The teen-aged Lyles had an excellent season in low-A ball with a FIP of just 2.42. His strikeout rate of 10.39 K/9 was also impressive and his walk rate of 2.36 BB/9 was just as encouraging. The 44% ground-ball rate was OK and he did a nice job of keeping balls in the park with just five homers allowed (0.31 HR/9). Overall, Lyles allowed 134 hits in 144.2 innings. He was particularly effective against left-handed hitters and he posted a strikeout rate of 11.55 K/9 with just one homer allowed in 55.1 innings. The move up to Lancaster will be a huge challenge for the youngster, and his mental toughness will likely be challenged.

3. Chia-Jen Lo, RHP, Double-A
DOB: April 1986 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2008 non-drafted international free agent (Taiwan)
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 88-93 mph fastball, plus slider, change-up, splitter

The organization does not deal in the international market as much as it used to, but the club has received good value from some of its choices, such as Lo and Gervacio. Lo reached double-A in his North American debut and could help out in the Houston bullpen in 2010. The right-hander began the year in high-A and he allowed just 10 hits in 25.1 innings. He overpowered hitters and had a strikeout rate of 12.79 K/9. Lo, 23, will need to clean up his control after posting a walk rate of 4.62 BB/9 in both high-A and double-A. In 39.0 double-A innings, he gave up just one homer.

4. Ross Seaton, RHP, Low-A
DOB: September 1989 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2008 3rd round – Texas HS
MLB ETA: Late-2012 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 89-93 mph fastball, slider, change-up

Seaton was a highly-regarded amateur who fell to the Astros in the third round due to signability concerns (He was committed to the Tulane University). His first full pro season was modest. He posted a 4.08 FIP in low-A and allowed 137 hits in 136.2 innings of work. Seaton showed solid control with a rate of 2.57 BB/9, but his strikeout rate was just 5.80 K/9 and his stuff is better than that. He needs to learn to set up hitters better, and he needs to improve the command of his breaking ball. Seaton will need to improve his ground-ball rate (40%) if he’s going to survive the trip to Lancaster.

5. Sammy Gervacio, RHP, Majors
DOB: January 1985 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2002 non-drafted international free agent (Dominican Republic)
MLB ETA: Now 40-Man Roster: Yes Options:
Repertoire: 88-93 mph fastball, slider, change-up

With a strong showing in 21 MLB games in ’09, Gervacio likely earned himself a good shot at beginning the 2010 season in Houston’s bullpen. The right-hander posted a 2.62 FIP in 21 innings and allowed just 16 hits. His strikeout rate of 10.71 was impressive, as was his ground-ball rate of 57.4%. If he can keep those rates up, he could be a monster – as well as a future closer. Gervacio’s control has been respectable over the past few seasons and he posted a walk rate of 3.43 BB/9 in the Majors. Hitters clearly had trouble making contact with the reliever: His contact rate of 61% was almost 20% below league average, but he needs to throw more first-pitch strikes out of the bullpen (51.8%, league average was 58.2%).

6. Jonathan Gaston, OF, High-A
DOB: October 1986 Bats: L Throws: R
Signed: 2008 7th round – University of Arizona
MLB ETA: Late-2011 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

Just call him Mr. Lancaster. The outfielder came out of no where in ’09 to hit .278/.367/.598 with a .320 ISO but look at the splits before getting too excited. Gaston hit .309/.399/.695 at home in Lancaster and just .249/.339/.510 in the road. He needs to make some adjustments against southpaws after hitting just .228/.335/.443. He’s also going to have to improve upon his 31.7% strikeout rate. On the plus side, he showed good base running with 14 steals, 15 triples and 119 runs scored. His walk rate of 12.1% was also nice to see. Gaston definitely has some talent, but he’s not going to repeat his .410 wOBA season in double-A.

7. Jay Austin, OF, Low-A
DOB: August 1990 Bats: L Throws: L
Signed: 2008 2nd round – Atlanta HS
MLB ETA: Mid-2013 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

The Astros drafted Austin knowing that he would require some patience, but he’s already making good on the investment. After posting a strikeout rate of 32.5% in his debut, Austin reduced it to 19.6% in low-A ball in ’09. His OPS also rose from .512 in ’08 to .680 this past season, with an overall line of .267/.320/.360. In 297 at-bats, the outfielder posted an ISO of just .093 so power is clearly not a part of his game right now. He stole 23 bases but was caught 13 times, so he needs to improve his reads (He was also caught six times in 20 tries in ’08).

8. T.J. Steele, OF, High-A
DOB: September 1986 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2008 4th round – University of Arizona
MLB ETA: Late-2011 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

Drafted as a raw college project, Steele has benefited from crazy-high BABIPs of .400+ in each of his first two pro seasons. Overall in ’09, Steele hit .345/.385/.562 in 194 at-bats. His power output was positively affected from Lancaster, and he slugged .216. Injuries were a problem for Steele, as he appeared in just 50 games. He also needs to show more patience at the plate (4.4%) and use his speed on the base paths more effectively (eight steals in 14 tries… but he was hampered by hamstring issues). A healthy Steele should move up to double-A in 2010 where we’ll get a better feel for his abilities.

9. Brad Dydalewicz, LHP, Low-A
DOB: March 1990 Bats: L Throws: L
Signed: 2008 8th round – Texas HS
MLB ETA: Late-2012 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 88-93 mph fastball, curveball, change-up

Dydalewicz shows a lot of potential and he had a nice first full season in the minors in ’09. The southpaw allowed just 93 hits in 110.0 innings, in part due to a low .273 BABIP. His walk rate was a little high at 4.17 BB/9 and his strikeout rate was low at 6.38 K/9. Dydalewicz did a nice job of limiting the home run (0.49 HR/9) and he had an impressive ground-ball rate at 54%. He’ll probably need to log quite a few innings before he’s MLB-ready, but the 19 year old has a nice ceiling if everything clicks.

10. Collin DeLome, OF, Double-A
DOB: December 1985 Bats: L Throws: R
Signed: 2007 5th round – Lamar University
MLB ETA: Late-2010 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

DeLome is another one of those raw, athletic college players that Houston just seems to love. He’s struggled to hit for average over the past two seasons, but his power has played really well. This past season, DeLome hit .255/.323/.465 with an ISO of .210 in 467 at-bats. His strikeout rate of 30.2% needs to be trimmed and he needs to clean up his base running after getting caught eight times in 23 tries. The left-handed hitter batted .225/.315/.432 against southpaws and .270/.331/.480 against right-handers. He could contribute in Houston in 2010.

Up Next: The New York Yankees

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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12 years ago

Good list – there is room for hope. But what about G. Mier? Are there serious questions about him at this point?