Dan P: Age is sometimes more than a number


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

Age 18

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.

Age 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 OvandoA 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…..

Age 20

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.

Age 21

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?

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20 comments on “Dan P: Age is sometimes more than a number

  1. Great read, DanP. I don’t follow the minors closely. But just as an example, when OKC was leading their division, and I scanned their roster based upon birthdate, most should have already been in the majors if they were going to contribute much. Not going to single out anyone, but it is hard for me to get excited about a prospect that is over 25 years old. Tommy John always adds a couple years to the journey, but it is put up time for a bunch of these prospects. (Not talking about the ones you listed above)

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  2. That is true Astro 45 – the truth is that you will rarely find a lot of top prospects at AAA. AAA is filled with guys who will never be mlb regulars but could be trusted to come up and fill an injury spot for a month. A lot of older AAAA guys so to speak.
    If guys are top prospects they will not spend much time at AAA – some will skip it or many will put in 1/2 a season.

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  3. Danry Vasquez, 19, will most likely be with the guys at Lancaster. Finished with Championship ring in QC.
    Michael Feliz, 20 will probably make it to Lancaster this year. Is starting to be recognized by many ranking systems as a guy moving up.

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    • Nice job oldpro – Vasquez,an OF, had decent numbers after coming over in the Veras trade from Detroit and Feliz, a pitcher has had two really good stops in a row on his way up to Quad Cities – very good ERA and WHIP. Thanks

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  4. If 22 or 23 is the age we can expect to see these guys in the majors, we’re as much as four years away getting all the pieces in place.

    In this group I see at least two can’t-miss pitchers out of Folty, McCullers, Hader and Appel. And there’s plenty of other pitching talent in this age group.

    On the hitters side, I think we all can get behind Correa. But Ruiz is the one I’m really pulling for. He started sooooo slow this season. For him to end up with the numbers he did shows a player who is growing and figuring things out. Even more than Singleton, I believe Ruiz has a bright future. … And I think Singleton can be our future at first base or DH. His stumbles this year were all about age. He was 21 in AAA. He might have been the youngest player in the PCL.

    Luhnow and Co. have done a masterful job of building our minor leagues, but I think other than Springer the best pieces are still a year or three away.

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    • Brian T – I am hopeful that some of the pieces – like Correa will make it at a younger age – maybe 20 or 21.
      Yes, I remember looking at Ruiz’s numbers early in the year and they were terrible. He had to have had a very good second half of the season.
      I’m going Missouri on Singleton – he needs to show me. He was very young at AAA, true – but he needs to get it rolling again this season.

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      • Dan, Ruiz didn’t just have a better second half. His numbers increased EVERY single month. It was uncanny. Some player’s stats go up and down throughout the season, but his started low and got better every single month until they finished slightly above average for the year.
        However, by the last month of the year he was matching Correa in his stats. For Ruiz, it was not how he started, but how he grew. I think he finally got healthy and his talent took over. That is why I see him starting in Lancaster, and playing well.
        Unless I am mistaken, Lancaster starts the year with a lot of young, impressive talent, that should match last year’s offense and surpass last year’s pitching.
        I would like Appel to take a Folty-like path through Lancaster, but there already may be so much pitching there, that they just put him in Corpus and see him pitch in the heavier air there.

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    • Brian, I’m hoping that at some point soon, we’ll be supplementing our young talent with some wise FA signings. At least that’s what we’re hearing from Crane/Luhnow. I’m personally not ready to wait another four years to get all the pieces in place. Keep building from within, but import some talent in key areas at the same time.

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  5. Vincent Velasquez-21
    Pitch better than Appel at QC in a much larger sample size. While getting knocked around in a little at Lancaster(who doesn’t) in 14 IP, he improved his SO rate. We will probably see him at CC sometime next year and maybe in Houston in ’15.

    As for Lancaster and pitchers, I think it is important to see these guys pitch there to get them humble, and see how they adjust. If Lyles hadn’t skipped Lancaster, we may be seeing a different, better pitcher making his debut next year.

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    • Good point Flash – and 14 IP does not prove much anywhere. I think you have a point with Lyles – he was probably promoted too quickly because the minors were so barren of pitching prospects. This probably did not do him any favors indevelopment.

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  6. Expounding on players that oldpro and flash mentioned….
    Danry Vasquez, Michael Feliz, Teo Hernandez and Vincent Velasquez are not members of a successful mariachi band – they are 4 more young (19-21 yr old) Astro prospects.
    Vasquez was a foreign FA signed out of Venezuela by the Tiger organization. The OF struggled after a mid-season promotion to A ball in 2012, but figured it out in 2013 with 59 R, 60 RBI and .284 BA/.331 OBP/ .731 OPS. He turns 20 in early 2014 and probably heads to Lancaster in ST.
    Feliz and Hernandez are two foreign FAs out of the Dominican. At short season Tri-City (A-) Feliz was brilliant with a 1.96 ERA, .957 WHIP, 10.2 K/ 9 IP and only 1.7 BB/9IP. Guessing he will be at Quad Cities starting out 2014. Hernandez is another OF and as a 20 year old at A ball had 13 HR, 24 SB and .271BA/.328 OBP/.763 OPS. Likely sliding up to Lancaster.
    Velasquez was a 2nd round pick for the Astros in 2010 who started out well, but was derailed by TJ surgery costing him the 2011 season. He had a good year at A ball in 2013 – 3.19 ERA, 1.118 WHIP 10.1 K/9 IP and 2.7 BB/ 9 IP. His short cup of coffee at Lancaster was poor as Flash said – but he has the stats and background to keep climbing in the organization.

    Thanks guys for bringing these folks up!

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  7. Dave,

    I agree that we need to add some pieces. For me, it starts with the bullpen. An outfield bat would be nice, but if we can’t hold leads–again!–we’re looking at 100 loses again. They say the payroll will go up to about $50 million from $15 million. About half of that $35 million increase needs to be spent on a closer and a couple of setup guys.

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  8. daveb and brian t – Money must be spent this time around (of course I do not have the requisite $10 million that Crane expects me to give him to make this happen….).
    I’d like to see it spent on a solid bat, 2 bull pen guys and one decent starter. I will be very interested in where they spend it and who they can possibly attract. Again – I would not be surprised by a trade for a decent young player. To paraphrase a saying from Sunset Blvd. “Mr. Luhnow, are you ready for your close up?”

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  9. Dan, don’t forget the 2013 draftees. Andrew Thurman and Kent Emanuel, like Appel, were 21. It will be interesting to see where they get placed to begin 2014.

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  10. Thanks Devin – they are well worth bringing up.
    Thurman was our 2nd rounder in May’s draft and he had a solid 40 innings at (A-) Tri-Cities. His 9.8 K/9 IP and 2.5 BB/ 9 IP stick out the most to me. I would guess he would start 2014 at Quad Cities.
    Emanuel – the 2013 third rounder – had 9 scoreless innings at rookie ball (GCL) so I would expect them to bump him up to at least Tri-Citiies starting the 2014 season.
    The key to a great minor league organization is to hit on enough draft picks out of each draft (especially pitchers) that you have plenty of options of good arms year after year. I would say they have filled the lower 1/2 of the minors and that should be fulling spilling over to the top and mlb soon. It is like a pump – once you prime it you just need to make sure there is a constant supply available so the pump does not suck air (Astros minor league organization from about 2005 – 2010).

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