The 2009 Prospect Mine: Houston Astros

This post continues our pre-season look at the top prospects in each of the 30 Major League Baseball organizations. The Houston Astros’ minor league system is in the lower third in all of baseball, but the club had a promising draft in 2008, which has helped to replenish the system in the low minors.

AAA/AA Prospects:
Felipe Paulino was on the cusp of earning a full-time Major League gig in 2008 when shoulder woes sidelined him and he made just one appearance last season. It’s hard to know what to expect from Paulino in 2009, but he has allegedly hit 102 mph on the radar gun in the past. However, his strikeout rates have been up and down in his career, including 2006 and 2007 (6.48 and 8.84 K/9). If healthy, he could provide a much-needed jolt to the Astros’ pitching rotation.

A former sixth round pick out of Cal Poly, Bud Norris has shown improvements each and every season since being drafted in 2006. His 2008 season, though, was interrupted by an elbow injury, which did not require surgery. A starter in the minors, Norris projects as more of a reliever with a two-pitch repertoire that includes a 93-95 mph fastball (that can touch the upper 90s) and a slider. He could break camp at the Major League level in the bullpen with a nice spring.

Third baseman Chris Johnson split 2008 between Double-A and Triple-A but had much more success at the lower level. He hit .324/.364/.506 with an ISO of .182 in 330 at-bats at Corpus Christi, but managed just a .218 average in 101 Triple-A at-bats. Defensively, he has a very strong arm but average range. Johnson needs a little more work in the minors but he should be able to supplant Aaron Boone at third base before long.

Brian Bogusevic’s story has been well documented, as a former No. 1 draft pick as a pitcher who converted back to a hitter in 2008 and thrived. He hit .371 in Double-A with an OPS of 1.003 and an ISO of .185. However, those numbers came in just 42 games, so the optimism should be tempered until Bogusevic, 24, has the chance to compete over the span of a full season.

Drew Sutton came out of nowhere in 2008 to earn consideration for Houston’s future opening at second base (Kaz Matsui isn’t capable of holding any promising player off for long). Sutton was a 15th-round selection out of Baylor University in 2004 and has moved quietly up the organizational ladder – that was until 2008 when he set the ladder on fire. At Double-A, he hit .317/.408/.523 with 20 homers and 102 RBI. He also stole 20 bases and posted a walk rate of 12.8 BB%. It was the 25-year-old switch hitter’s second season in Double-A, so the numbers may have been slightly inflated, but nonetheless he has potential as an offensive-minded second baseman. Beware the ghost of Brooks Conrad.

A+/A Prospects:

(Sounds of crickets chirping)

SS/R Prospects:
Catcher Jason Castro had a solid, but unspectacular, debut after being taken 10th overall out of Stanford University during the 2008 amateur draft. He had a very nice junior season in college, but his first two seasons were suspect, which is cause for a little concern given that he dominated for just one year. Regardless, Castro has all the tools necessary to succeed both offensively and defensively, if he continues to make adjustments. His path to the Majors, though, is currently blocked by former top prospect J.R. Towles, who still has potential despite his horrific 2008 season.

Ross Seaton was a great supplemental third round pick out of a Texas high school in 2008, especially considering he received some consideration in the late first round. It was widely expected that only a Texas-based organization could pry Seaton away from his college commitment. The 19-year-old right-hander appeared in just three games after signing and should spend most of the season in extended spring training and short-season ball. He has top-of-the-rotation upside.

Jordan Lyles did not have nearly the press that Seaton did, but he was drafted in the supplemental first round out of high school in 2008. He is on a much faster track than Seaton, as he made 15 starts last season and could potentially taste A-ball in 2009. Last season, Lyles allowed just 44 hits in 49.2 innings and posted rates of 1.81 BB/9 and 11.60 K/9 in rookie ball.

Up Next: The Minnesota Twins

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

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Lower third? Id say lower 30th. Its hard to find someone reputable who doesnt have them ranked last.