Depth is still a developing concept for this Houston Astros farm system. It’s hard to have a failure at the top of the 2006 draft and a calculated decision to pass on the 2007 draft (costing them Derek Dietrich, Brett Eibner and Chad Bettis) and maintain organizational depth. But it’s coming, and after one more Bobby Heck draft in 2011, they should be able to make their way up Hulet’s farm system rankings next season. I have faith in Heck, though he needs to exhibit better drafting from rounds 3 to eight or so.
The one exception in his three years manning the drafts in that area has been Dallas Keuchel, the team’s seventh round pick in 2009. The lefty had a good track record in the SEC, but scouts were fairly unexcited with his repertoire. While he’ll have to win people over at every level, managing a 3.36 ERA at Lancaster was really encouraging. He did it thanks to a 60.1% groundball rate, which declined to 50.6% in his nine Double-A starts. Keuchel isn’t going to strike out many people, so he’ll need to be getting grounders while pounding the lower half of the strike zone. I think it might happen for him.
I’m also still somewhat optimistic about Telvin Nash, the powerful third-round pick from that 2009 draft. The Astros took the conservative route this year and held him off through extended spring training, selecting the Appy League for his assignment. Nash responded with a 11% walk rate and quite a bit of power, good for a .250 ISO. That’s hit game right there, and it’s going to be a mediocre left field or first base for his ultimate position. Those kind of defensive limitations mean he’s going to have to hit, so we’ll need to see his 32% strikeout rate come down before we can take him too seriously as a prospect.
The key for this system’s depth will be the success of the three college prospects they drafted after their initial high-upside picks that were found in Hulet’s top 10. Austin Wates, Bobby Doran and Ben Heath made up the Astros Rounds 3-5 picks this season, and I think there is reason to like all of them. Wates was a Keith Law favorite, and followed Law’s good pre-draft reports with a nice pro debut. It was just 47 plate appearances, but to find time to walk eight times and steal nine bases during that time is pretty impressive. Position remains the big question mark with Wates.
Doran has the size to be a breakout prospect next season (6-6, 225), but we’ll have to see how the stuff is going to play. I’m not sure he has a third pitch, and while his size suggests his stuff should play, he’s almost more a pitchability guy. Heath is potentially exciting, as he should stick at catcher, and had a really nice pro debut. The Penn State product saw time at Low-A, High-A and four games at Double-A, and his wOBA got better at each stop. He’s got plenty of swing-and-miss in him, but patience and power is something that will be nice to pair with Jason Castro.
Honestly, after this point, things thin out very quickly. Jack Shuck does a couple things nice, mostly utilize patience, contact skills and his throwing arm, but the rest of his game limits him to a bench role — at best. Koby Clemens has pull power, and that’s about it. Oswaldo Navarro could be a nice bench asset at some point. But the fact that we’ve gotten here is the indication of why this team needs to recommit themselves to player deveopment. Competing in a six-team division is no picnic, and doing so at a disadvantage is near impossible.
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