MLB Farm System Rankings: #5 Houston Astros
By John Verburg
It’s that time of year again. Time to give this prospect junkie his fix. Last year, I did farm system rankings for all of baseball, and so I wanted to do so again. As I explain with any farm system rankings, this is a completely subjective business. I do watch minor league baseball, I do a lot of research on the players, and I do talk to people who do talent evaluation in baseball. I certainly don’t have the clout in the prospect world that the guys at Baseball America have, nor do I care to. This is meant to be fun for me, and hopefully fun and informative for the reader. At the very least it should allow for some debate from other teams’ fans, as well as allow Tigers fans a glimpse into other organizations farm systems, so when the Tigers make a trade, there may be some knowledge of who they are getting. Last year, the Texas Rangers took the top spot. Who will it be this year?
*This is where the rankings get tough, because starting with the Cubs, these systems are very good to elite. I have gone back and forth on multiple scenarios, but hey, it’s not life and death, it’s just some pretty awesome farm system rankings.
1. Carlos Correa (SS)- Most scouts believe the defense is going to be there for Correa to stick at shortstop even as he fills out his tall lanky frame. Correa has good hands, is a good athlete and can make all the throws. Offensively, he is a bit more raw, but has power potential, and should be an above average contributor here as well.
2. Jonathan Singleton (1B)- I contemplated putting Singleton first on this list, that’s how much I believe he will hit. At 20 years old last season in double A ball, Singleton mashed the baseball all over the field. He is a 1B only, so the bat will have to work, but I think he will be an on base and OPS machine.
3. Delino DeShields Jr. (2B)- DeShields looks the part of a top of the lineup pest, showing real strong patience at the dish while having plus plus speed. He also shows good pop as well, and will certainly run his way into his fair share of triples and doubles. Defensively, he is a bit rough at second base, but could easily move to CF down the road.
4. George Springer (OF)- Springer has some of the loudest tools, not only in the system, but all of baseball. Physically, there isn’t anything Springer can do, however, there is enough swing and miss in his game to wonder if he can reach his considerable ceiling, which would be an All Star level CF. I think he is a low average 20/20 player in the mold of Drew Stubbs.
June 12, 2011; Columbia, SC, USA; Connecticut Huskies center fielder George Springer (4) dives for the ball in the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Columbia super regional of the 2011 NCAA baseball tournament at Carolina Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
5. Jonathan Villar (SS)- I think Villar actually gets a bit overlooked as a prospect, in part due to there being some rawness in his game still, but he more than held his own as a 21 year old in AA last season. Villar has plus potential defensively, though he suffers through mental lapses. Offensively, he could stand to tone down his aggressiveness, but he has some pop, good hand-eye coordination, and he runs at a plus level. Just needs to continue refining his skills.
6. Michael Foltynewicz (SP)- Foltynewicz took a huge step forward in 2012, one that I believed he could make when he was drafted a couple years ago. He is a big bodied pitcher that looks like he is going to stand up to the rigors of 200 inning seasons. His fastball works comfortably in the low to mid 90’s, his curve flashes plus, and his change has a chance to be solid. Needs consistency with command and sharpness of secondaries and delivery.
7. Vincent Velasquez (SP)- I admit I am much more bullish on Velasquez than probably anyone out there, but I like his frame, and he has already been through the Tommy John. Already sits in the low 90’s with his fastball, he should grow into more, and he also owns a promising curve and change as well.
8. Nick Tropeano (SP)- Tropeano wasn’t considered a real prospect when he was drafted out of college. A year later, he added about 5 to6 mph to his fastball, and now he is considered a mid rotation candidate. He pairs his low to mid 90’s heater with a plus change up. A more workable breaking ball would help.
9. Domingo Santana (OF)- Santana isn’t quite the athlete that a lot of the other top position guys are in the system. Just an average runner, Santana has a ton of power projection, and started using it pretty regularly in 2012. His plate discipline is taking baby steps in the right direction, but he won’t ever be a high average hitter. Defensively, his arm is an asset and should work in right field.
10. Rio Ruiz (3B)- It’s a good system when I have Ruiz 10th. The main reason is probably just because he has just started his career. Ruiz has above average to All Star potential at the hot corner. His arm and instincts should turn him into a plus defender, and he projects to be a good all around hitter with above average power.
11. Lance McCullers Jr. (SP)- I have McCullers much lower than most rankings, but it’s more a function of the strength of the system, and the potential from McCullers to end up in the pen. He has the makings of a plus plus fastball, a plus slider, and an average change. The delivery and his command are what holds him back, and I’m going to have to be convinced first that he can correct it first.
12. Jarred Cosart (SP)- Cosart is another guy that I am way low on. He, like McCullers, has really good stuff. Cosart has an above average fastball and an above average breaking ball. Problem is, he is too hittable for his stuff, and I have to think it’s just because he gives hitters a good look or something. His command could be better too.
13. Adrian Houser (SP)- Houser is yet another big bodied pitcher who looks to have the durable frame of an innings eater. His fastball resides in the low 90’s right now, and should get better as he gets stronger. His curve and change also show solid potential as well, with the curve having above average potential.
14. Joseph Musgrove (SP)- Insert the mid rotation ceiling comment that guys like Tropeano, Foltynewicz, Velasquez and Houser have. Musgrove could eventually sit 93-94 with his fastball with a quality curve and change up.
15. Asher Wojciechowski (SP)- Wojo has really improved in the past year or so. His fastball sits nicely 91-93 with good movement. His breaking ball flashes as plus, but it’s the improving change up that has really helped his stock rise in the last six months.
16. Carlos Perez (C)- Perez is an enigma for me in that it seems that people just don’t talk about him highly enough. Yes, he did struggle a bit with Toronto, but Perez has the ability to be an above average defender behind the plate, and be at least an average contributor with the bat. Could be a .280 hitter, with moderate power.
17. Ariel Ovando (OF)- Ovando looked like at one point to be a 2.6M dollar bust. We often judge these things too quickly. Ovando is a pretty good athlete with pretty massive power potential. He tapped into that much better in 2012, but still has a ways to go with his pitch recognition and strike zone discipline.
18. Brad Peacock (SP)- Peacock has a really strong arm, and because of that, he is going to rank. He struggles with command within the zone and seems a bit hittable given his mid 90’s fastball and hard breaking ball. Likely to end up in the pen.
19. Aaron West (SP)- Not sure why West lasted so long in the draft, but he shows a solid three pitch mix in a low 90’s fastball, sharp breaking ball and solid change. He commands his repertoire at an above average level. Could be a quick riser.
20. Robbie Grossman (OF)- If I was doing a scouting scale on Grossman, I would probably rank him 50’s across the board, which is an average projection for a major leaguer. Grossman could be a top of the order spark plug given his on base ability and solid speed.
Just Missed The List:
Nolan Fontana (SS), Austin Wates (OF), Max Stassi (C), and Kevin Comer (SP)
Fontana is another on base machine like Grossman, but I don’t know if he can hit enough. Wates is a bit underrated I think, but doesn’t have the kind of power that you look for in a corner outfielder. Stassi is an improving catcher and has some pop with the bat. Comer is a bit of a mess and still pretty raw, but he has arm strength if he learns how to pitch.
Francis Ramirez (SP) and Andrew Aplin (OF)
Ramirez is the owner of a big frame and shows solid command so far with the chance to have a plus fastball. Aplin started his career off with a bang. Does a lot of things well.
Well, it didn’t take GM Jeff Lunhow long to transform this farm system from one of the worst to one of the best. Of course, the Astros have gutted their major league roster to do so. Not that it matters, they weren’t going to win anything with that roster anyway. Now, the Astros may be on track to have a pretty effective roster in 2016 or so, especially with Lunhow having a few more drafts under his belt by then.
The system now has really good depth, with a good mix of pitching and hitting. The hitters have a bunch of ceiling, rivaling the Minnesota Twins depth in that regard. Where the Astros clearly beat the Twins and Rangers is in pitching. I am high on quite a few of these youngsters, particularly Folty, Vasquez, and McCullers. There are other very useful arms in the system like Jose Cisnero, Brett Oberholtzer, Brady Rogers and Paul Clemens as well.
Lunhow has done a fantastic job so far, and with another strong draft in 2013, the Astros could easily top this list next year at this time.