Top 15 Prospects: Houston Astros by Marc Hulet March 7, 2012 The Houston Astros minor league system was abysmal for years but there is finally a faint light at the end of the very long tunnel… and it’s actually not a train. It’s the hope that comes with a new vision from a new front office filled with intelligent, forward-thinking individuals who realize the organization needs to build from within to survive – especially with the impending move to the American League West division, which is on tap for the 2013 season. To be fair, former GM Ed Wade and his staff were starting to right the ship with some smart decisions in 2011, which included the Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence trades, as well as some improved amateur draft choices. New GM Jeff Luhnow, formerly of the St. Louis Cardinals, comes with a strong reputation for developing and acquiring prospects. He appears to be the right man for this difficult – but exciting – task of rebuilding the franchise. 1. Jonathan Singleton, OF/1B BORN: Sept. 18, 1991 EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons ACQUIRED: 2009 8th round, California HS (by Philadelphia) 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 2nd (Philadelphia) Although he already has three seasons already under his belt Singelton did not turn 20 years old until after the regular season concluded in 2011. The former Phillies prospect is definitely the type of player that the new front office in Houston can eventually build around. He should hit for average and power at the big league level. He shows both power and good pitch recognition but he’s too passive at times and allows too many drivable pitches to go by. It’s also one of the reasons that his strikeout rate jumped from 16.5% in 2010 to 24% in 2011. Singleton has yet to display above-average power numbers, having failed to surpass the .200 mark in isolated slugging, but he should eventually hit 20+ home runs at the big league level. Defensively, the prospect has played both first base and left field, as he was blocked in Philly by Ryan Howard. His defense in left field is average-at-best due to below-average range. Luckily, there should be no roadblocks at first base in Houston. Singleton will move up to double-A to begin 2012 and could see time at the big league level by the end of the season. 2. George Springer, OF BORN: Sept. 19, 1989 EXPERIENCE: 1 season ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round, University of Connecticut 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA Springer offered one of the highest ceilings in the 2011 draft, even in comparing him to the top prep players, but he’s also more raw than most top college picks. He is the epitome of the high-risk, high-reward player – and that’s exactly the type of prospect that an organization like Houston, nearly devoid of high-ceiling talent, needs to take. His biggest plus right now is his defense. He can easily handle center field but he has the arm of a right-fielder. Springer’s above-average speed helps him cover a lot of ground in center. At the plate, though, he has a lot of work to do. He swings and misses too much because his swing gets long and struggles with good breaking balls. If he develops as hoped, Spring could become a four- or five-tool hitter with his ability to hit for average as the biggest question mark. He should open 2012 in low-A ball, with an outside shot of landing in high-A. 3. Jarred Cosart, RHP BORN: May 25, 1990 EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons ACQUIRED: 2008 38th round, Texas HS (by Philadelphia) 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 3rd (Philadelphia) Cosart came to Houston along with Jonathan Singleton, as well as two more prospects, in exchange for outfielder Hunter Pence. On pure talent alone, Cosart could develop into a No. 1 or 2 starter. However, his delivery has a fair bit of effort to it and he’s already had issues with staying healthy (including elbow problems). As a result, he could eventually find himself at the back end of the bullpen as a high-leverage reliever. For now, though, he’ll continue to pitch out of the starting rotation. His repertoire includes a 91-95 mph fastball and a potentially-plus curveball. Cosart has made big strides with his changeup over the past three seasons and it’s now an average offering. The right-hander has decent control but he struggles with his fastball command, which is a main reason why his strikeout rate took a fairly big nosedive in 2011. Cosart was promoted from high-A to double-A upon the trade from Philly and he should return to that level to begin 2012. 4. Brett Oberholtzer, LHP BORN: July 1, 1989 EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons ACQUIRED: 2008 8th round, Florida Community College (by Atlanta) 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off (Atlanta) The run on acquired talent continues. Oberholtzer came over to Houston from Atlanta last season in the Michael Bourn deal. The left-hander doesn’t have a huge ceiling but but he could develop into a No. 3 or 4 starter capable of providing 200+ innings of work each season. He features four average pitches: an 87-92 mph fastball, slider, curveball and changeup. Oberholtzer shows good control but his command comes and goes. I’d like to see him keep on top of his pitches better and work down in the zone more consistently, which would help him induce more ground-ball outs thus increasing his value. With a good showing in spring training the southpaw could receive an assignment to triple-A and could be one of the first pitchers called up from the minors in 2012. 5. Paul Clemens, RHP BORN: Feb. 14, 1988 EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons ACQUIRED: 2008 7th round, North Carolina junior college 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off (Atlanta) Also acquired in the Michael Bourn deal, Clemens has better pure stuff than Brett Oberholtzer but he’s also more raw and could very well end up in the bullpen as an eighth-inning reliever. His fastball can reach the mid-90s but he has a high-effort delivery and struggles with both his command and control. Clemens’ repertoire also includes a curveball, cutter and changeup. The curve shows the most promise. Houston will most certainly look to keep him in the starting rotation as long as possible and he should open 2012 in triple-A. Like Oberholtzer, Clemens could reach the Majors this season 6. Jonathan Villar, SS BORN: May 2, 1991 EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons ACQUIRED: 2008 international free agent (by Philadelphia) 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 10th Villar is yet another toolsy prospect in the system but his offensive numbers have been disappointing over the past three years despite spending parts of the past two seasons in the hitting-dream that is Lancaster of the California League. Villar spent much of 2011 in double-A but struggled with a wRC+ of just 83 because he needs to improve his pitch recognition and learn how to effectively use the entire field. On the plus side, he won’t turn 21 until May so age is on his side. In the field he displays outstanding range and a strong arm but he makes too many careless mistakes. Villar may end up being one of those players that performs better in the Majors than in the minors. He could return to double-A to begin 2012 but may see triple-A by mid-season if he can show some improvements. If he can’t make the necessary adjustments at the upper levels, the switch-hitter will top out as a utility player. 7. Domingo Santana, OF BORN: Aug. 5, 1992 EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons ACQUIRED: 2008 international free agent (by Philadelphia) 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 9th (Philadelphia) Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: A raw, high-ceiling player walks into the Astros’ clubhouse… Santana is yet another piece acquired in the Hunter Pence trade. The outfielder was a fairly significant international signing by the Phillies back in ’08 by scouting machine Sal Agostinelli. Santana has intriguing bat speed, which generates massive power – when he makes contact with the ball. Unfortunately, he swings and misses a lot (30.7 K% before his trade to Houston in ’11) and is fairly one-dimensional as a hitter who has maintained respectable batting averages in the minors due to very high BABIPs. The Dominican Repulbic native offers a plus arm on defense and should be an average defender in right field. Still just 19, he has a massive 6’5” and will have to stay on top of his conditioning as he ages. Santana should move up to high-A ball where he could really enjoy hitting in Lancaster. 8. Delino DeShields, 2B BORN: Aug. 16, 1992 EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons ACQUIRED: 2010 1st round, Georgia HS 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 2nd The club’s first round draft pick from 2010, DeShields is a little more raw than expected – especially considering his pedigree (His father Delino Sr. was also a first-round pick and spent 13 seasons in the Majors with more than 400 steals). Junior has plus speed like his father but he has a much different (more compact) body type. Although he’s just 5’9”, he provides above-average gap power for his size and could eventually hit 15 home runs as a big leaguer. DeShields could also steal 30-40 bases a year once he refines his base running. His first full pro season didn’t go as well as hoped. He hit just .222 and struck out almost 22% of the time in 469 at-bats. He did, though, show some patience at the plate and walked at a rate of almost 10%. DeShields is still learning the nuances of second base after playing mostly third base and the outfield as an amateur. He has solid range, improving actions and a fringe-average arm. Despite his struggles in 2011, DeShields could face a promotion to high-A if he hits OK this spring. The California League could help boost his numbers – and his confidence along with it. 9. Telvin Nash, OF/1B BORN: Feb. 20, 1991 EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons ACQUIRED: 2009 3rd round, Georgia HS 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off Nash, a former star football player in high school, displays above-average power potential. He missed significant time in 2011 due to surgery to remove his hamate bone and his numbers may have been impacted after his return. Nash has always produced huge strikeout rates and he’ll probably continue to do so throughout his career, which will also result in modest batting averages. On the plus side, he shows good patience and takes and high number of walks. On defense, the Georgia native is below average, both at first base and in left field. Already 230 lbs, he’ll have to watch his conditioning as he matures. If he hits well in the spring Nash, 21, should receive a promotion to high-A ball where his power could really flourish. 10. Adrian Houser, LHP BORN: Feb. 2, 1993 EXPERIENCE: 1 season ACQUIRED: 2011 2nd round, Oklahoma HS 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA An intriguing 2011 draft pick, Houser was a two-way player in high school. Now that he’s focusing solely on pitching, the right-hander could see his fastball velocity hit the mid-90s on a more consistent basis. His fastball currently sits in the 87-92 mph range and his second-best pitch is a curveball. Like most prep pitchers, Houser’s changeup needs a lot of work to become an average offering. He already features a big, strong frame and should be able to provide tons of innings at the big league level during his prime. He also has the potential to produce above-average ground-ball rates is he can command the ball effectively in the lower half of the zone. He signed quickly enough to appear in 12 games (11 starts) after signing his first pro contact. With a strong spring Houser could open 2012 in low-A ball. The Next Five 11. Austin Wates, OF: Already 23, Wates had a very solid year in 2011 but was playing in a potent, offensive-minded league. He has little power because he rarely tries to pull the ball. On the plus side Wates hits for average, gets on base at a good clip and displays solid speed on the base paths and in the outfield, although he’s a raw defender. 12. Mike Foltynewicz, RHP: Projection is Foltynewicz’s middle name. He has a big, strong frame and can touch 95 mph with his fastball. His repertoire also features a curveball, slider, and changeup. The Illinois native is still raw so it wouldn’t be a huge loss if he returns to low-A ball for a little more seasoning – something that is likely given the alternative (the California League). 13. Jack Armstrong Jr., RHP: The son of a big leaguer by the same name, Armstrong is a hard-throwing college draftee who has battled to stay healthy despite his big (6’7”) frame. With a fastball that can touch the mid-90s, as well as a curveball and changeup, the right-hander has the ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 starter but his health issues could push him to a role in the bullpen. 14. Ariel Ovando, OF: A top international signee, given more than $2 million, Ovando has an impressive frame and good power potential. He’s a raw hitter overall, though. Ovando also has a strong arm but is still learning the finer aspects of playing the outfield. He should spend a second year in extended spring training. 15. Kyle Weiland, RHP: The Notre Dame alum moved fairly swiftly through the Red Sox system and made three big league starts in 2011. He was part of the reward for reliever Mark Melancon during this past off-season. Weiland’s fastball can hit 95-96 mph, and his induces a decent number of ground-ball outs, but none of his other pitches are particularly sharp (curveball, cutter, changeup). A minor league starter, his future may be as a set-up man. SLEEPER ALERT: Jordan Scott, OF: An under-the-radar signing out of a South Carolina high school, Scott has turned himself into a solid prospect. He has the potential to develop into a top-of-the-order hitter with good on-base skills, solid speed and he isn’t afraid to work the count. A left-handed hitter, he needs some polish against southpaws. Defensively his best position is left field but he has also seen time in center.