While the start of the 2014 baseball season over at Minute Maid is of great interest, it is possible that the start of the season in Oklahoma City and Corpus Christi could easily be of more importance to the future of the Houston Astros team. The first preview will be of those players who will start the season “one heartbeat away” from the big club – the 2014 AAA Oklahoma City Redhawks.
You can see the OKC roster for opening day yourself.
I will split the players up into easy to understand categories built from my own imagination.
There are a handful of players at OKC who are considered top prospects and likely to be part of the Astros bright future.
- George Springer – 2013 Minor League Player of the Year, no point in making a point because the point has been made. He is in the minors for monetary reasons only.
- Michael Foltynewicz – I think we often forget that he was a first round pick (2010 – 19th overall). He is only 22 and his numbers say stud all over them. Good work at hitter’s paradise Lancaster led to a strong stay at Corpus last season. Whether his future is as a starter or closer – his ERA barely above 3 the last two seasons points to a young man close to the bigs.
- Max Stassi – In his last 160 minor league games over the last two seasons – this young catcher had 32 HR and 105 RBI including a .863 OPS at Corpus in 2013. Biggest queston with him is health related – he seems to average about a 1/2 season per year throughout the minors.
- Domingo Santana – 20 year olds who crank out 25 HRs in 112 games at AA and reportedly run like a gazelle and throw like Clemente ( OK hyperbole on my part) have to be considered top prospects and Santana is already on the 40 man roster.
- Jonathan Singleton – His young age and his performance prior to 2013 have this first sacker on the top prospect list – but he needs to shake off the substance abuse dark clouds and a half season at AAA last year that showed he was not “ready for his closeup, Mr. DeMille”.
Under the Radar
These players are folks who are not part of the top prospects group – but may get a shot at the majors soon.
- Nick Tropeano – Most of us have heard the name, but he rarely gets talked about as one of the top pitchers in the system. He is only 23 and had put up very good numbers including an impressive 3.31 ERA at pitcher-eater Lancaster until struggling a bit at Corpus last season (4.11 ERA). He has been pretty steady with about 9 K/ 9 IP throughout the minors. A solid season at OKC might thrust him into the conversation with the big club.
- Austin Wates – Wates has been a very consistent player in the minors – good BA (.306), good OBP (.377) and little power. He only played 38 games last season, but was 15 for 16 in SBs. He could be a leadoff guy in a solid lineup or a #4 OF – but he has some value in a Greg Gross kind of way.
- Jake Buchanan – After a poor 2012, Buchanan put up a solid 2013 split down the middle between Corpus (7-2, 2.09 ERA) and OKC (5-5, 3.89 ERA). He showed amazing control last season only allowing 1.3 BB/9 IP but the rumor is that he has AAA stuff and his pitching to contact will not translate to the majors.
- Rudy Owens – Part of the Wandy Rodriguez trade – Owens had pitched pretty well in his minor league career until an injury held him to 17 innings last season. At 26 and with all the young pitching studs rolling up the system – he needs to make a statement now. He would seem to be primed to be part of a package trade for more talent.
- Ronald Torreyes -This 21 year old picked up from the Cubs in a trade for international pool money may be the next, better version of Marwin Gonzalez. He is not likely to ever be a starter, but plays 2B and SS, hits for a good average and strikeouts very little (also walks very little).
- I’m not sure how to look at Asher Wojciechowski and Alex White who are on the 40 man roster and begin the year on the 15 day DL – but I guess I will consider them AAA guys until / if they get the call. They have both shown flashes of talent – it will be interesting to see where they go to pitch when cleared and who they displace. They could both ptich some time this year with the big club or not at all – always tough when pitchers start the year on the DL.
These are the guys who may be next in line if someone on the big club goes down – but not likely in the long term plans.
- Jonathan Meyer – This 23 year old 3B has risen through the system by putting up consistent unspectacular numbers (.272 BA / .343 OBP / .742 OPS are his best in any season) at a position where there was no one really blocking his way. Unless Matt Dominguez completely collapses or sustains a long term injury it is hard to see him being anything more than a fill-in at 3B prior to folks like Rio Ruiz or Joe Sclafani competing for the mlb job.
- Gregorio Petit – 10 year minor leaguer with 54 ABs at the major league level – he would get the call if Jonathan Villar or Marwin Gonzalez go down.
- Adron Chambers – 7 seasons in the Cards system with three cups of coffee at the majors – he would be a likely call-up if there was a need with the Astros before they are ready to bring up Springer. Decent speed, BA and OBP – a fourth OF type.
- Raul Valdes – 36 year old lefty reliever – was very good with the Phillies in 2012 and very bad with them in 2013. Consistently has had great K/9 IP numbers. If Kevin Chapman falters or Bo Porter needs another lefty in the pen – he would seem to be a likely option.
- Jason Stoffel – Stoffel has always been a minor league reliever coming over from the Giants in the Jeff Keppinger trade. There is nothing spectacular in stats – ERA, saves, K/ 9 IP – but he would seem to be someone they would not hesitate to start the clock on if they need bullpen help.
- Pat Urckfitz – Similar to Stoffel – he might be in the Under the Radar group – his numbers have been all over the place, but he had a very good 2013 at AA and AAA that might make him the first reliever up. A big drop in K/ 9 IP last season may be the biggest question mark with Urcalphabet.
- The Redhawks have a covey (flock? clowder? colony?) of pitchers between 25 and 29 years old that all have some mlb experience. It is not clear whether any of this group – Josh Zeid, Jose Cisnero, Colin McHugh, Paul Clemens, Chia-Jen Lo, David Martinez and Darin Downs – have a future with the organization other than to be called up as needed or be traded off to make room for the younger more studly pitchers moving up the ladder.
- Carlos Perez – Part of the JA Happ trade with Toronto – he has shown a solid bat with no power and good catching skills. Could easily slide into Carlos Corporan‘s spot, or could be a Rule 5 loss.
- Ruben Sosa – Maybe he is likely to never be seen on the radar – but I am intrigued by a OF who is built like Jose Altuve‘s slightly bigger brother (5’-7″ / 170 lbs.) and acquitted himself fine in 2013 after jumping from A ball to AAA. He’s 23 and does not hit for power, but has decent walk numbers and a good BA.
Flotsam and Jetsam
The title of this is probably a little harsh – but these are generally folks who are very good ball players, but at XX years old have not made it to the majors and are likely never to get there.
- Andrew Simunic – 28 year old OFs with 10 total career HRs after 6 years in the minors are just filling space. Hits for good average, plays some infield along with the outfield and that is about it.
- Erik Castro – This is a cusp guy – if he was not 26 years old, I would put him in the jury’s out spot. He hit well at both A+ Lancaster in 2012 and AA Corpus in 2013. If 1B turns into a black hole they might give him a shot based on how he is doing at OKC.
- Japhet Amador – Maybe if this was a made for TV movie a 300+ pound 27 year old from the Mexican League would charge forward like Roy Hobbs and become a story. But I ain’t feeling it…..
- Ryan McCurdy -McCurdy is a 26 year third string catcher at AAA – who has not shown that much either hitting or throwing out runners. Maybe he is a calming mature influence to the younger C’s.
Back in 2011 – the Astro minor league system was in such disarray that Jose Altuve, Jimmy Paredes and JD Martinez jumpbed from AA to the majors and 20 year old Jordan Lyles was promoted because there was no better pitching prospect in the high minors. This OKC team though seems to be loaded with likely future major leaguers and even with likely player movement and promotions during the season, this should be a contending team this year.