Now that the playoffs and World Series have concluded, the real season begins for the Astros. Dan Peschong starts us off with a two-parter.
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At age 23, Jeff Bagwell won the NL Rookie of the Year award. Craig Biggio was called up at age 22 and became an everyday starter for the Astros at age 23. Fuzzy cheeked Larry Dierker made his major league debut on his 18th birthday and by 1969 – a season he was 22 years old (until the end of September), he became the Astros’ first 20 game winner, while posting a 2.33 ERA and hurling more than 300 innings.
While very rarely a Joe Niekro comes along who did not become
reliable starter until crossing the age 30 barrier (163 of his 221 career wins were after the age of 30) – in general baseball players are judged and sorted very early in life. At age 24 – when most people are barely out of college or the military and just figuring out who they are – most players are either tagged as major league quality or not good enough.
To that end it is important when looking at prospects to look at their ages. A 23 year old tearing up rookie ball is like a 30 year old tearing up AAA – not likely to make it. On the other hand, teenagers doing well beyond rookie ball should be making big time impressions on true baseball minds. So, here is a look at top players by age in the system. Note – I am skipping the Dominican league players in this review, I am stopping at the age of 23 and I am using the baseball-reference age (the age of the player on June 30th of the 2013 season).
Part 1 – Ages 18 to 21
Carlos Correa – The #1 overall pick of the 2012 draft, he got his feet wet at rookie ball that summer and in 2013 made a strong splash at Quad Cities (A) ball – one of the youngest kids in the league playing a good brand of SS and putting up .320/.405/.872 AB/OBP/OPS and knocking in 86 runs. Here’s hoping they jump him over Lancaster to Corpus where he could face a true test at 19.
Rio Ruiz – One of the early picks (4th round) from the 2012 draft – it was thought that Ruiz was only signable because of the deal made with Correa at #1 freeing up bonus money for other picks. He has had a few more struggles than Correa – but ended up with OK numbers alongside the #1 pick at Quad Cities .260/.335/.762 – 12 HR and 63 ribbies.
And he’s only 19….
Lance McCullers – Another 2012 signee enabled by the Correa signing – this supplemental 1st rounder was also at Quad Cities and put up precocious pitching numbers with a 3.18 ERA and more than 10 K’s / 9 IP. He is still walking too many – but he looks like he might only be a couple years from the majors.
Josh Hader – Two years ago Hader was a Maryland high schooler so he had to be a little sad to be traded away from the Baltimore organization in the Bud Norris trade. The lefty had a strong 2013 – with a combined A ball ERA of 2.77 and a nice WHIP of 1.258 in 107 innings. Hopefully he will feel good about this trade if he climbs the ladder quickly with the Astros.
The Other side – Ariel Ovando – A few years ago this 19 year old was given a big signing bonus out of the Dominican and was touted as the next big thing. Repeating rookie ball in 2012 he had a solid year at Greeneville – but crashed and burned last year at A ball (.469 OPS in 49 games) and when he went back to Greenville he was only slightly better. Yes, he is only 19 – but if he doesn’t start showing something…..
Domingo Santana – The sometimes forgotten jewel from the Pence trade, he played a whole year at AA at 20 years old. Yes his BA was pedestrian and he strikes out a lot – but 25 HR and a .842 OPS at Corpus was impressive and he might hit the majors by the end of next season.
Delino Deshields Jr – Sometimes when you are talking about a player so long (Deshields has been in the system for basically 3-1/2 seasons) you can lose perspective on just how young they are. Deshields has all that experience and is still younger than Mark Appel. Anyways he put up great numbers at Lexington in 2012, before struggling at Lancaster after a promotion. But he again put up strong numbers in a full season at Lancaster (High A) in 2013 – 100 runs, 51 SBs ,317 BA/.405 OBP/ .873 OPS. It is a hitter’s league so 2014 will be important to see if he can keep it going at sea level at CC and/or OKC.
Others – There are a number of intriguing pitchers at short season rookie ball such as lefty Christopher Lee (and you thought he was just a 90 year old horror movie star) and
Jandel Gustave, who have shown good ERAs and K/9 IP numbers in limited innings.
Jonathan Singleton – Another main component of the Pence trade – he looked like he was on an arc to make the bigs by the end of 2013 or kicking off the upcoming 2014 season. He struck out too much but had good power and took a lot of walks and frankly was not being blocked on the way to the Astros 1B job. His suspension for drug use (not the PED kind) and his subsequent poor showing at AAA has thrown question marks at his timeline. We hope we see him in 2014 – but no sure thing based on 2013.
Michael Foltynewicz – The Astros’ first rounder from the 2010 draft – he has been putting up very good numbers as he has steadily risen up the organization. His 3.81 ERA at hitter’s paradise Lancaster was very impressive and led to his early season promotion to Corpus last season. His great ERA (2.81), solid WHIP (1.23) and 8.3 K/9 IP numbers signal that he will be expected to continue this arc in AAA and maybe even onto Houston in 2014.
Mark Appel – The Astros’ second of three number 1 overall picks had a light work load at low A and A ball after a full season of college ball. His ERA and K/9 IP were OK – nothing great. His WHIP number was good and he showed lower walk numbers than most of his compadres in the minors. Hopefully he’ll start at AA skipping Lancaster and be up here by 2015.
So there are quite a few players who are too young or just old enough to drink in the system. And Mr. Singleton found another way to deaden the senses. So what do you think about this first set of youngsters and is there anyone I missed here?