A Minor Review of ’09: Houston Astros

Prospect ranking season is just around the corner. In anticipation of that, we present an intro series looking at some of the players who deserve mentioning but probably will not be appearing on their teams’ Top 10 lists. The popular series is back for a second year.

Houston Astros

The Graduate: Felipe Paulino, RHP
Paulino is a perfect example that velocity is not everything. Despite having a heater that averaged out at 95.4 mph in ’09, the right-hander’s fastball value was just -2.36 wFB/C. His curveball and changeup (both of which were used infrequently) were also ineffective. His slider was a quality pitch, but it was easy for MLB hitters to lay off of it because nothing else was working for him. As a result, Paulino was hit hard: 1.84 HR/9 rate and 126 hits allowed in 97.2 innings. He’ll need to improve his repertoire if he’s going to have success in ’10.

The Riser: T.J. Steele, OF
An excellent athlete, there were serious questions about Steele’s hitting ability when he sign out of the University of Arizona in ’08. Lancaster can do wonderful things for an offensive prospect. In 194 high-A at-bats, the outfielder hit .345/.385/.562 in 194 at-bats before injuries wiped out his season. Impressively, Steele trimmed his strikeout rate from 32.1 to 20.6%. Despite getting caught six times in 14 attempts, he has plus speed, and the .216 ISO makes for a dangerous combination (unless that was strictly a result of playing in high-A Lancaster).

The Tumbler: Brad James, RHP
James is one of the more perplexing players in the system. The right-hander has a solid sinker/slider combo, but his sinker has lost effectiveness over the past two seasons. In ’09, James struggled mightily although he still posted a ground-ball rate of 54% and limited line-drives to just 13%. He had trouble finding the plate in ’09 with a walk rate of 5.18%. His strikeout rate of 4.60 K/9 did inspire much hope either.

The ’10 Sleeper: Leandro Cespedes, RHP
On first blush, the 22-year-old right-hander’s numbers do not look overly special. But Cespedes was pitching in Lancaster, which usually destroys young hurlers. His ERA of 5.06 is not terrible for the league but, more importantly, his FIP was just 3.95. He posted a reasonable 3.55 BB/9, but the 28 wild pitches are worrisome. His strikeout rate dropped from 9.48 in ’08 to 7.93 K/9 in ’09. Cespedes survived Lancaster despite a 38.7% ground-ball rate. He has a fastball that touches the low-90s, as well as a splitter and slider.

Bonus: Koby Clemens, C
Clemens was highlighted in the ’08 series as the Astros’ sleeper prospect for ’09 and he made us look smart (playing in Lancaster did not hurt). His ISO jumped from .155 in ’08 to .291 in ’09 and he posted a 1.055 OPS. Clemens also led the minor leagues with 121 RBI. The former third baseman still remains raw behind the plate and he also saw time in left field at Lancaster. Clemens allowed 18 passed balls and threw out just 20% of base stealers. If he keeps hitting like he did in ’09 (which is unlikely), it won’t matter where he ends up in the field.




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


8 Responses to “A Minor Review of ’09: Houston Astros”

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  1. nothing to see on paulino… nobody check out his xFIP….

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  2. sam says:

    re:Paulino: Aren’t those pitch run values based on a results, meaning they could be skewed by bad luck?

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  3. Christian Seehausen says:

    How about Bud Norris? Not sure why he’s had zero notice on FanGraphs. His fastball and slider

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  4. 92-93 says:

    I see Koby has access to Daddy’s medicine cabinet.

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  5. Bobby Boden says:

    If Paulino can continue to cut down on his walks, I don’t see why he can’t have some success. FIP doesn’t take into account his bloated HR/FB rate, 16.9% is way too high, and should come down considerably. With his flyball rate, and a 10.9 HR/FB rate, I put him at around 1.2 HR/9, which would help his FIP a lot.

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  6. wobatus says:

    Paulino was the 43rd best starter in baseball in tRA* (regressed), better than John Lackey, Matt Cain, Jurrjens, Cliff Lee, Buehrle. Not that he is better than those guys, but he was to a degree unlucky. His k/9-bb/9 suggests it is a very good bet his results improve. Kind of like Wandy Rodriguez heading into this year. Although Wandy’s 2008 e.r.a. wasn’t nearly as high.

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