Top 10 Prospects: The Houston Astros

The Houston Astros
2010 MLB Record: 76-86 (4th in the NL Central)
Minor League Power Ranking: 29th (out of 30)
Click for: Last Year’s Top 10 Prospect List

The Prospects

1. Jordan Lyles, RHP
Acquired: 2008 supplemental 1st round (South Carolina HS)
Pro Experience: 3 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: AA/AAA
Opening Day Age: 20
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.0
Likelihood to Reach Peak: 50%

Notes: Lyles reached Triple-A at the age of 19 and a did a nice job of holding his own with a 3.86 FIP in 31.2 innings of work (despite a .406 BABIP). The right-hander spent the majority of the year in Double-A where he posted a strikeout rate of 8.15 K/9 in 127.0 innings while also showing good control (2.48 BB/9). Lyles doesn’t have a huge ceiling but he profiles as a durable No. 3 starter, who could post a few 4.0 WAR seasons during his peak. His repertoire includes a low-90s fastball, curveball, and changeup. Lyles could stand to use his legs more in his delivery, as his current delivery puts a lot of strain on his upper body. Despite his solid control numbers, he does not have an overly-fluid pitching motion.

2. Delino DeShields Jr., OF/2B
Acquired: 2010 1st round (Georgia HS)
Pro Experience: None
2010 MiLB Level: Did Not Play
Opening Day Age: 18
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.5
Likelihood to Reach Peak: 45%

Notes: DeShields Jr.’s dad was a former No. 1 draft pick of the Montreal Expos and recorded more than 1,500 hits in the Majors. Junior was a hot commodity in the 2010 draft and one of the biggest movers, rocketing up to eighth overall. DeShields Jr. has plus speed (close to an 80 on the 20-80 scale), as well as above-average bat speed. Standing at 5’9’’, he doesn’t project to produce much power at all and has a fairly solid build for a speedster. Defensively, he’s a raw center fielder who is expected to end up at second base like his father. If he does move to the infield full-time, as expected, DeShields Jr. will need to tighten his arm action and quicken up his release. He should open 2011 in low-A ball and could move relatively quickly if his defense catches up to his bat.

3. Tanner Bushue, RHP
Acquired: 2009 2nd round (Illinois HS)
Pro Experience: 2 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A ball
Opening Day Age: 19
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0
Likelihood to Reach Peak: 40%

Notes: Bushue has a four-pitch repertoire and projects to be a solid No. 3 starter. He displays good control for his age and posted a walk rate of 3.23 BB/9 as a teenager in low-A. His strikeout rate has been average throughout his career and his heater tops out around 93 mph with two breaking balls and a changeup. The right-hander needs to find a way to work down in the zone more often and improve upon his ground-ball rate, which sat at 39% in 2010. Bushue has a nice, easy delivery and he does a good job of staying tall through his motion. He doesn’t use his legs much in his delivery.

4. Jiovanni Mier, SS
Acquired: 2009 1st round (California HS)
Pro Experience: 2 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A ball
Opening Day Age: 20
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0
Likelihood to Reach Peak: 35%

Notes: Mier garnered a lot of attention with a hot debut in rookie ball in 2009. He came down to earth during his first full pro season in 2010 and posted a triple-slash line of just .235/.323/.314 in 493 at-bats. Mier’s power took a significant dip last year and needs to look to drive the ball more consistently to the gaps. He has a slight upper cut to his swing at times, but power may never be a big part of his game. As such, he should also cut down on his strikeout rate, which sat at 21.7 K% in 2010. Mier has plus speed but he stole just 15 bases at low-A so he doesn’t take full advantage of that skill while on the base paths. The speed does help him at shortstop and he projects to remain at the position with good range and plus arm strength.

5. Mike Kvasnicka, C/OF
Acquired: 2010 supplemental 1st round (U Minnesota)
Pro Experience: 1 season
2010 MiLB Level: A-
Opening Day Age: 22
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0
Likelihood to Reach Peak: 35%

Notes: Like Delino DeShields Jr., Kvasnicka became a hot commodity as the 2010 draft approached. He has shown the ability to handle a number of different positions, including catcher. During his pro debut, Kvasnicka appeared in 30 games in right field, 25 at third base, and five behind the dish. He doesn’t have great range in the outfield and is a bit slow of foot. If he sticks behind the plate, the 2010 draft pick has increased value but his development behind the plate could slow his ascent through the minors. Kvasnicka had a slow start to his pro debut with a triple-slash line of .234/.305/.337 in 261 short-season at-bats. He tends to get out on his front foot too quickly, which could be robbing him of some power. On the plus side, he displayed some patience and kept his strikeout rate at a respectable level. He has a chance to be a solid regular but he’s not likely to be a star player.

6. Mike Foltynewicz, RHP
Acquired: 2010 1st round (Illinois HS)
Pro Experience: 1 season
2010 MiLB Level: Rookie
Opening Day Age: 19
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.0
Likelihood to Reach Peak: 30%

Notes: The club became interested in Foltynewicz while scouting Tanner Bushue in 2009, as both are graduates of Illinois high schools. Foltynewicz has a higher ceiling than his state-mate because he projects to throw in the mid-90s with a plus changeup. His breaking balls are unrefined at the moment and will ultimately determine his future role (and ceiling): as a starter or a reliever. Foltynewicz got off to a nice start in pro ball by posting a 3.74 FIP in 44.2 rookie ball innings. But he did allow a few too many hits (9.27 H/9). He has a low-three-quarter to side-arm delivery. The good changeup will help him against left-handed hitters and he has a chance to carve up right-handers if he can improve his breaking ball. For a pitcher that can hit the mid-90s, Foltynewicz has a fairly smooth delivery.

7. Jay Austin, OF
Acquired: 2008 2nd round (Georgia HS)
Pro Experience: 3 years
2010 MiLB Level: A+
Opening Day Age: 20
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.5
Likelihood to Reach Peak: 30%

Notes: Austin shows a quick bat with a nice level swing. He has an athletic frame that has room to add some muscle. The left-handed hitter has shown improved power over his three pro seasons with his ISO rates increasing from .038 to .093 to .152. On the downside, his most recent ISO rate was aided by the potent California League. Austin’s game is built around speed and he nabbed 53 bags in ’10. To take true advantage of his speed at the MLB level, he’ll need to improve upon his ’10 OBP of .314 and walk rate of 6.6%. After posting a .326 wOBA in the league in 2010 as a teenager, Austin could return in 2011 – at least for the first two or three months. Keep tabs on this prospect as a 2011 breakout candidate.

8. J.D. Martinez, OF
Acquired: 2009 20th round (Nova Southeastern U)
Pro Experience: 2 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A/AA
Opening Day Age: 23
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0
Likelihood to Reach Peak: 30%

Notes: Over the past two years, Martinez has posted outstanding batting averages but he’s been aided by significant BABIPs that have never dipped below .353. He controls the strike zone relatively well and posted a walk rate of 8.4% in 348 at-bats in low-A ball in 2010. After posting a .236 ISO rate – as well as a triple-slash line of .362/.433/.598 – the (now) 23-year-old hit .302/.357/.407 in 189 double-A at-bats. Martinez isn’t a true slugger but he projects to hit 20 homers in a full MLB season. Defensively, he’s not a great fielder and is still learning to read the ball. He also has chronic arthritis in his knees, which could limit his range over time.

9. Vincent Velasquez, RHP
Acquired: 2010 2nd round (California HS)
Pro Experience: 1 year
2010 MiLB Level: Rookie
Opening Day Age: 18
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.0
Likelihood to Reach Peak: 25%

Notes: A two-way player in high school, Velasquez focused on pitching when it became clear that he had the potential to be selected in the first three rounds of the 2010 draft thanks to his right arm. Unfortunately, his time on the mound has been hampered by injuries. In high school, he spent six weeks on the sidelines thanks to a stress fracture and ligament strain in his elbow. After making just eight pro appearances, Velasquez underwent Tommy John surgery on that elbow and could miss all of 2011. His delivery appeared to put a lot of stress on his pitching elbow, so the organization may have to re-work his throwing motion upon his return. During his pro debut, he was not intimidated. At the rookie level, he posted a 3.98 FIP and showed solid control: 1.53 BB/9. When healthy, Velasquez shows a low-90s fastball and the makings of a plus curveball. He’ll need to develop a changeup when he returns.

10. Jonathan Villar, SS
Acquired: 2008 non-drafted free agent (by Philadelphia Phillies)
Pro Experience: 3 years
2010 MiLB Level: A/A+
Opening Day Age: 19
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0
Likelihood to Reach Peak: 30%

Notes: Villar was acquired this past season from the Philadelphia Phillies in the trade that saw long-time hurler Roy Oswalt change uniforms. The shortstop prospect has a lot of potential but the teenager is still raw at the plate. His patience has been inconsistent since he posted an 11.7% walk rate in rookie ball during his North American debut in 2009. Villar posted a respectable triple-slash line of .272/.332/.358 in Low-A but he struggled after his trade to Houston, which resulted in a promotion to High-A. Despite playing in a potent offensive league, Villar hit just .225/.294/.372 in 129 at-bats. His lack of consistent contact is the largest weakness in his offensive game right now, as he posted a strikeout rate of 27.8% in low-A and 38.9% in high-A. Defensively, he shows a strong arm and OK range, but scouts are concerned that he may fill out too much, robbing him of his current range, which would necessitate a move to second or third base. Villar’s lack of power potential makes the move to the hot corner unlikely, unless he grades out as a MLB utility player.




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


21 Responses to “Top 10 Prospects: The Houston Astros”

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  1. Statement says:

    Thanks for all the great work, guys!

    Can you do a Blue Jays article soon?

    Thanks, again

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    • Marc Hulet says:

      As of right now, the Jays system is ranked in the Top 10 of the 30 organizations so, unfortunately, it will be a little while until you see them.

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  2. Scott says:

    I’m pretty sure he’s going by strength of system, starting with the worst, so you’d best hope the Jays aren’t for a while.

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    • woodman says:

      we probably won’t see the Jays for a while as the system is probably considered at least top 15 after the Halladay trade and the awesome 2010 draft.

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      • jar75 says:

        It’s a top 10 system for me, and may even flirt with the top 5. What AA has done since taking over has been extremely impressive.

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  3. JP says:

    Does Ariel Ovando not count?

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    • Marc Hulet says:

      He’s so raw that I didn’t really feel comfortable ranking him in the Top 10 at this point… probably in the 11-15 range for Houston but he obviously has a lot of promise moving forward.

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  4. MadDog says:

    Where would have Anthony Gose ranked in this list before being traded for Wallace?

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  5. Chris says:

    Hate to be a naysayer, but your peak and “likelihood to reach peak” numbers all seem obscenely high.

    Compare these numbers to Victor Wang’s research on prospect values. According to his research, there is about a 40% chance that a top 10 hitting prospect in baseball averages better than 2 WAB (wins above bench; he used Win Shares as his value metric). Pitchers and lesser prospects fare far worse.

    And yet you have every single one of the top 10 prospect in the second-worst farm system in baseball with far better odds than that. (I’m assuming that 2 WAB average ~= 3 WAR peak.)

    Velasquez is perhaps the most glaring example. I think 25% is much closer to his odds of even making the majors than of his odds of posting a 4.0 WAR peak.

    To put it differently: there were a total of 100 players in MLB (58 hitters and 42 pitchers) who managed a WAR of 3.5+ this year. Yet you are projecting that the Astros’ current farm crop — again, the second-worst in baseball — will produce 3-4 guys in that range at their peaks.

    Multiply that by 30 farm teams, adjust for the fact that the top teams will probably have much higher rankings, and then add in all the surprises and veterans who are still that good and guys who are drafted in the next few years who develop quickly, and you’re somehow going to wind up with like 300 well above-average players in ~7 years, or 10 per MLB franchise.

    And unless MLB is going to relocate all of its franchises to Lake Wobegon so everyone can be above average, that just ain’t right…

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  6. Hank says:

    Wow… this system looks incredibly thin (and it’s not like Houston’s been trading that many prospects for established veterans) Not a good sign when your best pitching prospects all look to be #3 starter types (at best), and the majority of the top prospects are very young.

    Don’t follow Houston too closely – is this a product of bad drafting, bad luck (injury) or bad development? Obviously all three are probably part of it, but what is the biggest of the three?

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    • nathan says:

      They just started paying attention to the draft in 2008. Before that they didn’t sign several picks, or lost draft picks, or something. They may be second worst, but they bottomed out a few years ago and slowly moving up. Also they spend and win just enough to stay away from the top 5 picks every year.

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  7. my my says:

    Gaston had a foot issue this yr, missed 3/4 of spring training, was never healthy all yr, had corrective surgery….for your info.

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  8. Neil says:

    No Austin Wates. He and his 21.1% walk rate are disappointed, though I do wish the Astros could have got him signed early and more at-bats.

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  9. NLeininger says:

    What a whiff by Hulet on Altuve.

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  10. Luke says:

    And Paredes.

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