KATOH Projects: Houston Astros Prospects

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Earlier this week, lead prospect analyst Dan Farnsworth published his excellently in-depth prospect list for the Houston Astros. In this companion piece, I look at that same Houston farm system through the lens of my recently refined KATOH projection system. The Astros have the second-best farm system according to KATOH, trailing only the Brewers. Their system lacks star power, but is easily the deepest. That’s why this post has way more words than you probably care to read.

There’s way more to prospect evaluation than just the stats, so if you haven’t already, I highly recommend you read Dan’s piece in addition to this one. KATOH has no idea how hard a pitcher throws, how good a hitter’s bat speed is, or what a player’s makeup is like. So it’s liable to miss big on players whose tools don’t line up with their performances. However, when paired with more scouting-based analyses, KATOH’s objectivity can be useful in identifying talented players who might be overlooked by the industry consensus or highly-touted prospects who might be over-hyped.

Below, I’ve grouped prospects into three groups: those who are forecast for two or more wins through their first six major-league seasons, those who receive a projection between 1.0 and 2.0 WAR though their first six seasons, and then any residual players who received Future Value (FV) grades of 45 or higher from Dan. Note that I generated forecasts only for players who accrued at least 200 plate appearances or batters faced last season. Also note that the projections for players over a relatively small sample are less reliable, especially when those samples came in the low minors.

1. AJ Reed, 1B (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 7.1 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 60 FV

Reed might have had the biggest breakout of any minor leaguer in 2015. Minor league pitching was no match for his mammoth power and copious walks, as the 22-year-old hit .340/.432/.612 between High-A and Double-A last year. If you’re looking for something to be concerned about, it’s Reed’s 20% strikeout rate. While that’s not alarmingly high, it’s a tick above average, and hints that he might have a tough time making contact against big league pitching. But otherwise, all systems are a go. It isn’t often that KATOH gets excited about a first base prospect, but it’s all in on Reed and his gaudy power numbers.

AJ Reed’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Jeff Conine 6.4 13.0
2 Pat Burrell 8.9 11.4
3 Luis Gonzalez 7.2 17.6
4 Brad Hawpe 2.8 4.2
5 Tim Belk 5.0 0.0
6 Doug Mientkiewicz 7.9 8.4
7 Mike O’Keefe 3.8 0.0
8 Jason Hart 6.6 0.0
9 Terrmel Sledge 2.2 1.8
10 Chris Carter 7.4 3.7

2. Tony Kemp, 2B (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 5.0 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 45+ FV

Kemp annihilated Double-A pitching to the tune of .358/.457/.420 last year, but followed his BABIP back to earth after a June promotion to Triple-A. Kemp has very little power, but he makes loads of contact, runs well, can draw the occasional walk and plays second base. The outlook is good for players who do all of those things in the high minors.

Tony Kemp’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Quilvio Veras 6.2 11.4
2 Marco Scutaro 3.2 2.0
3 Willie Harris 3.5 5.9
4 Eric Young Jr. 4.3 4.0
5 Esteban German 3.1 2.8
6 Eddy Garabito 2.1 0.1
7 Gregor Blanco 3.3 7.4
8 Chone Figgins 3.6 15.7
9 David Dellucci 4.5 2.2
10 Luis Castillo 6.2 17.4

3. Andrew Aplin, OF (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 4.9 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 40+ FV

As a near-25-year-old who’s yet to play in the majors, Aplin doesn’t fit the prototypical prospect mold. However, his recent minor league performance suggests he could make a significant impact at the big league level. Aplin’s walked slightly more than he’s struck out over the last two years — 15% to 14%, respectively — and swiped 32 bases in 106 games last year. His limited power brings down his upside, but the power also isn’t nonexistent, which suggests he’ll lace enough doubles and triples to get by in the show.

4. Francis Martes, RHP (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 4.8 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 55 FV

After an iffy 2014, Martes enjoyed a breakout campaign last year. He jumped from Low-A to High-A to Double-A and posted above-average strikeout rates at each stop. He wasn’t particularly dominant in his three start cameo at Double-A, but now I’m nit-picking. Martes’ height (5-foot-10) and limited track record dampens his forecast, but he’s still one of the top projected pitchers.

In generating Martes’ comps, I only considered pitchers who cracked Baseball America’s top-100 list either before or after the season in question. This is intended to act as a proxy for “stuff.”

Francis Martes’ Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Glendon Rusch 4.8 14.6
2 Jason Marquis 5.7 5.3
3 Chris George 3.4 1.4
4 Jake Peavy 6.1 29.8
5 Kelvim Escobar 6.2 17.7
6 Sidney Ponson 7.1 17.2
7 Troy Patton 3.5 1.5
8 Joe Rosselli 4.1 0.0
9 Brian Barber 3.5 0.6
10 Julian Tavarez 4.6 6.5

5. Alex Bregman, SS (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 3.6 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 60 FV

Last summer’s second-overall pick hit an encouraging .290/.358/.409 in 326 plate appearances between Low-A and High-A to close out his draft year. Bregman posted a single-digit strikeout rate at both stops, yet still managed to hit for a reasonable amount of power, especially for a shortstop. Since the entirety of Bregman’s track record is a small-sample performance in the low minors, KATOH’s rather conservative on his future outlook. But I’ll be surprised if Bregman doesn’t top this list after 2016 is in the books.

6. Kyle Tucker, OF (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 3.5 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 50 FV

Last summer’s fifth-overall pick kicked off his pro career by hitting .258/.306/.391 between two levels of Rookie Ball. Tucker’s pro debut was a bit underwhelming, but he did manage to make a lot of contact and steal 20 bags. Full-season ball will be the real test for Tucker. If he adds power while also maintaining his other attributes, he could easily be one of the top projected prospects next winter.

7. Jamie Ritchie, C (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 3.0 WAR
Dan’s Grade: Unranked

Ritchie posted an obscene 19% walk rate in A-Ball last year and supplemented it with reasonable amounts of contact, power and speed. Since he turns 23 in April, KATOH isn’t particularly impressed by Ritchie’s bat, but he gets a nice bump for being a catcher. Ritchie’s walk numbers won’t completely carry over to the upper levels, but his combination of offensive and defensive skills makes him intriguing.

8. Joe Musgrove, RHP (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 2.9 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 50 FV

It’s been a slow climb up the minor league ladder for Musgrove. Although he was drafted in 2011, he didn’t advance past Rookie Ball until 2014, and didn’t make it to full-season ball until last year — his age-22 season. The 6-foot-5 righty broke out in a big way last year, though, pitching to a 2.99 FIP and 25% strikeout rate across three levels: Low-A, High-A and Double-A. It took him a few years, but Musgrove’s performance has finally caught up with his excellent stuff.

9. Nolan Fontana, SS (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 2.8 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 40 FV

There’s nothing flashy about Fontana, but he held his own at the plate as a 24-year-old in Triple-A last year. His most notable attribute is his ability to work a walk: his walk rates over the past three seasons were 20%, 20% and 16%. Fontana strikes out an awful lot for someone with such little power, but middle infielders don’t need to hit much to be useful big leaguers.

10. Derek Fisher, OF (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 2.7 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 45+ FV

Fisher is a toolsy outfielder who’s coming off of a 20-30 season in A-Ball. A 2014 supplemental first round pick, Fisher slashed .274/.364/.481 between Low-A and High-A last last year. His power is his most redeeming quality, as he posted ISOs north of .200 at both stops. However, all that power came with a 23% strikeout rate. Fisher’s upside is tantalizing, but hitters who swing and miss that often in the low minors often struggle against better pitching.

11. Elieser Hernandez, RHP (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 2.6 WAR
Dan’s Grade: Unranked

Hernandez pitched exceptionally well between short-season A-Ball and Low-A last year. He struck out just over 27% of batters faced while walking just under 5%. Both of those clips are remarkable. Hernandez doesn’t have much prospect hype surrounding him, but I’m fascinated to see how he fares against more advanced hitters. If he continues to dominate, he could certainly shoot up this list.

12. Tyler Heineman, C (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 2.6 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 35+ FV

Heineman isn’t sexy. He’s a former eighth-round pick who’s entering his age-25 season and wasn’t particularly great at Triple-A last year. He has two major things going for him, however: he makes tons of contact and he’s a catcher. Catchers don’t need to hit much to make for useful backups, and Heineman’s 7% (!) strikeout rate suggests his bat would transition well to the big leagues. His ceiling is likely a backup catcher, but his floor isn’t far from that ceiling.

13. Kristian Trompiz, SS (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 2.5 WAR
Dan’s Grade: Unranked

Trompiz spent last season in Low-A and didn’t hit particularly well: .251/.285/.367. However, he played the season as a 19-year-old shortstop, making him one of the younger and more defensively gifted players at his level. His strikeout and walk numbers left something to be desired, but last season’s offensive showing wasn’t terrible considering his other redeeming qualities.

14. David Paulino, RHP (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 2.3 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 45 FV

Paulino signed with the Tigers out of the Dominican way back in 2010, but injuries prevented him from tossing a meaningful number of innings until last season. Despite his lack of experience, Paulino zipped through three levels of A-Ball, and posted a 2.61 FIP and 27% strikeout rate. Paulino gets dinged for being a 22-year-old who’s untested in the upper levels, but there’s lots to like about a pitcher who’s 6-foot-7 and dominant.

15. Michael Feliz, RHP (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 2.3 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 45 FV

Feliz made a September cameo in Houston last year after a strong showing in both High-A and Double-A. Feliz misses a lot of bats, but is already almost 23. He also averaged under five innings per appearance last year. KATOH thinks Feliz is probably a future reliever, but it thinks he could make for a very good reliever.

16. Bobby Wernes, 3B (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 2.0 WAR
Dan’s Grade: Unranked

Wernes was drafted in the 30th (!) round last summer out of the University of Arkansas where he was teammates with Andrew Benintendi. Yet, despite being drafted super late, he hit a torrid .346/.434/.388 in the New York-Penn League. Wernes walked exactly as often as he struck out — 12% of the time — which allowed him to be an OBP juggernaut. He’ll need to add a bit more power to succeed at the higher levels. Given his 6-foot-3 frame, that doesn’t seem like an unreasonable ask.

17. Jason Martin, OF (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 2.0 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 35+ FV

Martin hit a respectable .270/.346/.396 with 14 steals as a 19-year-old in Low-A. The 5-foot-10 outfielder doesn’t have much power, but does a decent job of controlling the strike zone as evidenced by his better-than-average strikeout and walk rates. We’ll see what he does at the next level, but there are hints of promise with Martin.

1-2 WAR Prospects
Rank Player Pos KATOH WAR Dan’s FV
18 Tyler White 3B 1.9 50
19 Colin Moran 3B 1.8 50
20 Conrad Gregor 1B 1.8 Unranked
21 Joe Sclafani 2B 1.8 Unranked
22 Jon Kemmer OF 1.7 45
23 Teoscar Hernandez OF 1.5 45
24 J.D. Davis 3B 1.4 45+
25 Mike Hauschild RHP 1.4 Unranked
26 Brady Rodgers RHP 1.4 45
27 Brock Dykxhoorn RHP 1.4 Unranked
28 Wander Franco 3B 1.2 Unranked
29 Akeem Bostick RHP 1.2 40+
30 Drew Ferguson OF 1.1 Unranked

Tyler White went H.A.M. between Double-A and Triple-A last year, but KATOH’s turned off by his age (25) and his less spectacular 2014 performance. Colin Moran’s numbers have been good, but not spectacular for a guy who’s already 23. J.D. Davis‘ ugly strikeout figures wipe away much of the good created by his excellent power numbers.

Conrad Gregor is a first baseman who has hit a strong .278/.373/.454 between this year and last. Joe Sclafani is nearly 26 and lacks power, but he hit .300 as a Triple-A second baseman last year. Mike Hauschild is a former 33rd round pick who pitched well between Double-A and Triple-A last year. Brock Dykxhoorn is a 6-foot-8 hurler who spun a 3.42 FIP as a 20-year-old in full-season ball. Wander Franco is a teenaged third baseman who held his own in the low minors. Last June’s 19th-round selection, Drew Ferguson, had a strong pro debut after an excellent offensive showing as a senior at Belmont University.

*****

Remaining 45 or Higher Players

Daz Cameron, OF (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 0.9 WAR
Dan’s Grade: 50 FV

Cameron opened his pro career by hitting .247/.345/.298 with 24 steals in Rookie Ball. The walks and steals were nice, but KATOH’s concerned about Cameron’s 24% strikeout rate and complete lack of power. His stat line is lacking where it matters most. As always, I’d recommend not getting too worked up over 200 plate appearances in Rookie Ball. The sample size is tiny, the level of competition is terrible and this is Cameron was only months removed from high school ball. Still, Cameron’s pro debut shows that he still has a good bit of developing left to do.

We hoped you liked reading KATOH Projects: Houston Astros Prospects by Chris Mitchell!

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Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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“Less spectacular 2014 performance” for Tyler White?

290/401/510…..I can deal with those numbers as a “less spectacular performance.”