2013 Houston Astros Top Prospects

System Overview: In what was generally considered one of the weaker systems in baseball a few years ago, Houston has added not only depth, but upper echelon-type talent as well. In one of his finest moves during his tenure, previous GM Ed Wade added the team’s second (Jonathan Singleton), third (Domingo Santana) and sixth (Jarred Cosart) best prospects in a deal involving Hunter Pence heading to Philadelphia.

Outside of those three, current GM Jeff Luhnow continues to stockpile young talent, both through the draft and via trades.

Number one overall pick Carlos Correa had a decent debut showing at the age of 17. And fellow first rounder Lance McCullers holds a lot of promise as well. The organization also features speed demon Delino Deshields Jr., outfielder George Springer, who offers a tantalizing combination of power and speed, and perhaps the next Greek God of Walk, Nolan Fontana.

Houston has undergone a tremendous change, and with another number one pick headed their way in 2013 — and likely another top five in 2014 — the organization’s revival could be just a few scant years away.

 

#1. Jonathan Singleton, Age: 21, Position: 1B

Singleton put together an impressive campaign last season, hitting .284/.396/.497 with 27 doubles, four triples and 21 homeruns. Despite being about four years younger than the Texas League hitter his total offensive production, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, was 48% better than the league average, the fourth best mark.

Typical of Singleton, he showed elite patience, walking in just about 16% of his plate appearances, above-average in-game power, and a fairly reasonable strikeout rate (23.6%).

Projection: Singleton is everything you look for in a potential middle of the lineup hitter, but that’s not to say he isn’t without his flaws. His performance against southpaws, which improved from 2011 (.248/.353/.301) to 2012 (.232/.307/.416), will need to continue to develop. And a lot of the offensive damage he did during the season was done at home, where he hit a staggering .313/.401/.604. Also, if it wasn’t for a boneheaded offseason move — he got busted for pot – he might have had a chance to open the season in Houston. It probably won’t be until 2014 now with a 50-game suspension looming. Look for him to become a .260/.350/.470-type hitter.

Ceiling: 5.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Above-Average

 

#2. Carlos Correa, Age: 18, Position: SS

A solid yet unspectacular debut for Correa, the number one overall pick in the 2012 draft who hit a combined .258/.305/.400 in both the Gulf Coast and Appalachian Leagues. Along with solid-average power (.142 ISO, or Isolated Power), the young shortstop showed decent speed, a modest strike out rate and below-average patience at the plate.

Projection: Obviously, it’s incredibly premature to determine — at least, statistically — the exact height of Correa’s potential ceiling. And despite a vanilla debut, he was incredibly young for either level, by more than two years. Per the usual, I’ll withhold any long term projections for 2012 draft picks until the following year. He simply becomes the organization’s top prospect due to his lofty draft selection.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A

  

#3. Domingo Santana, Age: 20, Position: OF

In what is clearly becoming a coup, the Phillies acquired Singleton, right-hander Jarred Cosart and Santana from the Phillies, in exchange for Hunter Pence in mid-2011. And at the time Santana, who was an 18-year-old in A-ball, seemed to be a bit of an afterthought, a wild card of sorts. Well, after hitting .302/.385/.536 with Lancaster last season, the young outfielder has thrust himself up the prospect charts. Outside of slugging 26 doubles and 23 homeruns, he also added six triples and seven stolen bases as well. His total production was 37% better than the league average.

Projection: Despite the fact that Lancaster tends to greatly impact offensive production, Santana impressed on the road, hitting .289/.364/.502 with above-average power (.213 ISO) and decent patience at the plate (8.7% BB-rate). It wouldn’t be surprising to see a noticeable dip in his numbers next year, but the foundation for him to become an above-average regular is certainly present. His groundball rate last season, 46%, is a bit troublesome.

Ceiling: 4.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate

 

#4. George Springer, Age: 23, Position: CF

Springer, the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft, absolutely destroyed High-A pitching last season, hitting .316/.398/.557 with above-average speed (28 stolen bases) and power (.240 ISO). His total offensive production in the California League was 43% better than the average. He then spent 22 games with Corpus Christi (Double-A), hitting just .219/.288/.342.

Projection: Exceptionally toolsy but moderately flawed, Springer profiles as a bit of ‘tweener right now. His power/speed combination is impressive, but it needs to be put in the proper context; it came against an age-appropriate level of competition, which, for a polished college player, is a little concerning. The real red flag, however, is the hole in his swing. He struck out 156 in 581 plate appearances, or just under 27% of the time. He could be a star if he corrects it. Or just as easily become a fringe everyday player, depending how his defense grades out.

Ceiling: 4.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Low to Moderate

 

#5. Delino Deshields Jr., Age: 20, Position: 2B

Lost in the hoopla surrounding Cincinnati prospect Billy Hamilton was Houston’s speedster Delino Deshields Jr., who swiped a 101 total bases across two levels last season. Deshields, whose father spent parts of 13 years in the big leagues and was once traded straight up for a young Pedro Martinez, began the year by repeating A-ball. And his second stint (.298/.401/.439) was far more successful than the first go round (.220/.305/.322). He was then promoted to High-A where, despite the dip in production, his peripherals all held firm.

In total, the young second baseman hit .287/.389/.428 with 24 doubles, eight triples, 12 homeruns and 101 stolen bases in 120 attempts. His total offensive production was 26% better than the league average.

Projection: At 19 years-old, Deshields, the number eight pick in the 2010 draft, was incredibly young for both levels last seasons. And while there are a number of similarities between him and Hamilton — blazing speed and an above-average eye at the plate — it wouldn’t be surprising to see Deshields outlast his counterpart in the big leagues, mainly because Houston’s future second baseman shows far more power, a tool that could become solid-average and will likely keep infield defenses and pitchers honest, making him far less dependent upon his legs.

Ceiling: 3.5- to 4.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate

 

#6. Jarred Cosart, Age: 23, Position: RHP

After making a seven-game stint with Corpus Christi to cap off the 2011 season, Cosart headed back to Double-A last year, throwing 87 inning s with 68 punch outs (7.0 K/9), 38 walks (3.9 BB/9) and a strong groundball rate. He then headed to Triple-A and tossed another 27.2 innings (7.8 K/9, 4.2 BB/9 and 57.8% GB-rate).

Projection: Cosart’s typically regarded as one of the better pitching prospects in game; Baseball America had the right-hander as the 50th best prospect heading into last season. But statistically speaking, the numbers really haven’t started adding up yet. he generates a ton of groundballs, but his strikeout numbers are typically close to average and his control is below it. He could be a solid #3 or #4 and maybe peak as a fringe #2 for a year. But he isn’t an elite prospect. In that manner, he’s very similar to Tampa’s Jake Odorizzi.

Ceiling: 3.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate to Above-Average

#7. Lance McCullers, Age: 19, Position: RHP

By opting to go with Correa and not Stanford’s Mark Appel, who didn’t sign with Pittsburgh, Houston was able to use some of the saved money to go with McCullers forty picks later. The young right-hander made eight appearances (26 innings), striking out 29 and walking 12.

Projection: At this point we don’t know what type of pitcher McCullers will eventually develop into. But he has a solid build — 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds — and plenty of projection left in him. The 2013 season will provide a little more clarity.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A

 

#8. Nick Tropeano, Age: 22, Position: RHP

Tropeano, a bit of find in the fifth round two years ago, turned in a solid season in 2012, throwing 158 total innings split between A-ball and High-A.

With Lexington in the Southern League, Tropeano made 15 appearances (14 starts) and averaged 10.0 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. And his numbers with Lancaster following his promotion (8.8 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9) remained quite strong.

Projection: Yes, the right-hander out of Stony Brook University showed some strong peripherals and an average groundball rate, but it came against a age-appropriate level of competition. If he can continue to post a strong K-rate going forward, Tropeano could be a #2/3 ‘tweener. Otherwise, he looks like he’ll settle in as a good #4 for now.

Ceiling: 2.0- to 2.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate

 

#9. Brett Oberholtzer, Age: 23, Position: LHP

Acquired in the Michael Bourn deal with Atlanta in mid-2011, Oberholtzer began the year by making 13 starts for Corpus Christi, showing above-average strikeout and walk rates (7.9 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9). He was then promoted to Triple-A, where his K-rate decreased, to 6.9, but saw an uptick in command (1.9 BB/9). In total, he threw 166.2 innings with 137 punch outs, 40 walks, and an average 3.80 SIERA.

Projection: More finesse than power, Oberholtzer should develop into a backend starter for Houston in the next year or two. He’s around the strike zone, can miss a handful of bats, and has the size (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) and track record to eat innings.

Ceiling: 1.5- to 2.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate to Above-Average

 

#10. Robbie Grossman, Age: 23, Position: OF

Along with Rudy Owens and Colton Cain, Grossman was part of the bounty the Astros received from Pittsburgh for left-hander Wandy Rodriguez. And Grossman, a sixth rounder in the 2008 draft, should develop into the best of the three.

After tearing up High-A in 2011 — .293/.418/.450 — Grossman’s production dropped precipitously in Double-A last year, hitting a combined .266/.376/.410 with 28 doubles, six triples, 10 homeruns and 13 stolen bases. His total production was 23% better than the league average.

Projection: While he doesn’t profile as an impact big leaguer, Grossman’s likely to develop into a fringe everyday player/good fourth outfielder. His bat — an average tool — plays far better in center fielder, but he’s spent a tremendous amount of time in right. He shows above-average patience (13.3% BB-rate) and average-ish power and speed.

Ceiling: 1.5- to 2.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate

 

#11. Carlos Perez, Age: 22, Position: C

Acquired as part of the package that involved J.A. Happ heading north of the border, Perez showed some offensive promise, hitting a combined .285/.360/.438 with 28 doubles, six triples, and five homeruns. Defensively, he threw out an impressive 34% of would-be base stealers.

Projection: Perez has typically shown above-average patience at the plate (11.7% BB-rate in his career), decent pop for the position, and a strong arm behind the plate (34% CS% for his career). And with the state of catching as it is in the major leagues, he could develop into a serviceable starter in a couple years.

Ceiling: 1.5- to 2.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate

 

#12. Michael Foltynewicz, Age: 21, Position: RHP

After struggling through his first stint in A-ball in 2011, Foltynewicz, the 19th overall pick in the 2010 draft, fared much better during his repeat, throwing 148 innings while averaging 7.54 K/9 and 3.65 BB/9. His SIERA, 4.09, was quite vanilla.

Projection: Despite the lofty draft position, Foltynewicz has really failed to make a strong impact on the field, showing moderate peripherals and groundball rates against an older level of competition. He’s big — 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds — and still quite young, but at no point during his three years has he performed at an above-average level. He might develop into a backend starter, maybe a reliever, or maybe flame out in the upper levels. For now, it looks a lot closer to the latter two.

Ceiling: 1.0- to 1.5-win

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Low

 

#13. Nolan Fontana, Age: 22, Position: SS

Houston’s most recent second round pick, Fontana bypassed rookie and A-ball levels and headed straight to Lexington to begin his career. Chosen with the 61st pick in the draft, the lefty swinging shortstop turned in two eerily similar years at the University of Florida, showing a knack for the walk (105 BB in 621 total plate appearances) and slightly below-average pop (.130 and .145 ISOs).

And despite skipping two levels, Fontana pretty much showed the same skill set in the professional ranks, hitting .225/.464/.338, with nine doubles, one triples, two homeruns, and 12 stolen bases. His total offensive production was 44% better than the South Atlantic League average.

Projection: As with his days in Gainesville, much of Fontana’s offensive contributions trace back to his incredible walk rate. And among all minor leaguers with 200+ plate appearances — and it’s a lot, more than 2000 — his walk rate last season, 29.3%, was the highest, by six percentage points. It will be interesting to see how more advanced pitchers handle Fontana, especially considering his below-average power. But if his defensive prowess is as strong as the raw, archaic data suggests, he could be an above-average regular.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A

 

#14. Vincent Velasquez, Age: 21, Position: RHP

A 2010 Tommy John casualty, Velasquez had an impressive return last season, averaging 10.1 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in just over 45 innings of work.

Projection: Much like a recent draft selection, this former second rounder has yet to put together a lengthy enough resume of data, throwing just 75 innings in his professional career. He has, however, shown the ability to miss bats (9.1 BB/9) with some promising control (2.6 BB/9).

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A

 

#15. Jose Ciserno, Age: 24, Position: RHP

With an affinity for strikeouts, Ciserno turned in a solid debut showing in Double-A last season, striking out 116 hitters in just over 108 total innings. And his control, which has been historically spotty, was the second best mark of his career, averaging 3.8 BB/9 with Corpus Christi. The organization promoted him to Oklahoma City for eight starts to cap off his year, averaging just 7.3 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9.

Projection: Ciserno has typically done two things throughout his career: miss bats and post high walk rates. In nearly 500 career innings, the right-hander punched out 524 but walked 245. Couple that with the pure number of arms vying for a spot in Houston’s rotation — Lucas Harrell, Bud Norris, Jordan Lyles, Phillip Humber, Jarred Cosart, Dallas Keuchel, John Ely, Brett Oberholtzer and Alex White — and Ciserno’s ultimate home will be in the backend of the bullpen.

Ceiling: 1.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Above-Average

 

#16. Jonathan Villar, Age: 22, Position: SS

Acquired along with Anthony Gose and J.A. Happ from Philadelphia for Roy Oswalt, Villar has been pushed aggressively through the minor leagues, despite failing to establish a solid offensive season. In a repeat of Double-A last season, the young switch-hitter put together his best season to date, hitting .260/.336/.394 with seven doubles, two triples, 11 homeruns, and 39 stolen bases in 86 games. His total offensive production was 5% better than the Texas League average.

Projection: Villar has one above-average tool, his speed. Maybe his patience at the plate can be counted as a second — he’s walked 174 times in 1924 total plate appearances ( 9.0%). His power is decent. But he simply hits too many groundballs (49.4%) for it to be considered reliable. He’s still plenty young enough to continue to develop, but for now he’s a defensively-challenged, below-average offensive player.

Ceiling: 1.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Low to Moderate

 

 Photo of Carlos Correa Courtesy of hispanicallyspeakingnews.com



About

After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.


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