There has been ample discussion about the Astros’ farm system. Most of it, however, centers around the selling off of those prospects for a win-now philosophy at the major league level.
But, today, let’s discuss the rebuilding, refurnishing of the minor league system. Many scouts still rank the Astros among the Top 10 farm systems. However, Baseball Prospectus now has the Astros twelfth in rankings just released. Here’s how FanGraphs ranks the top 200 players. Carlos Correa is only fifth here, but the Astros have six players listed overall.
Of course, Houston has traded quite a few prospects — or promoted them — in the past year, diminishing some of value of the farm organization. In fact, in many organizations, there wouldn’t be room for some of the players already at the major league level.
For example, would Jonathan Villar already be at the major league level with some organizations? He’s barely 23, but has been pushed through the system by two different GMs simply because of need. Would Jon Singleton have been called up to Houston with the drug issue and less than a full season at AAA? Others have been pushed as well.
The challenge for an organization in the Astros’ situation is not only to get to the top of the mountain, but stay there. That will be an ongoing battle and one that could result in some ups and downs as the team tries to stabilize its position at the major league level.
Here are the facts.
- As recently as 2010-11, it was among the 2-3 worst in all of baseball.
- As recently as 2014, it was ranked among the top 5.
- Many of the pre-Jeff Luhnow prospects never panned out.
- The jury is still out on Luhnow-era prospects.
It’s relatively easy to put together a fine, upscale roster of possible future major leaguers from today’s Astros’ system. It was more difficult, if not nigh impossible, to do that just a few years ago. Oh, you could throw Jiovanni Mier in at SS, but the system was largely barren. Today, the Astros could go 2-3 deep at some positions with viable prospects.
Here’s a quick look at some of the depth chart, not necessarily in order or viability or possible production at the major league level. For this exercise, these are players — with rare exception — who have never played above the AAA level.
- Catcher. Max Stassi, Tyler Heineman.
- First base. A.J. Reed, Conrad Gregor.
- Second base. Tony Kemp.
- Third base. Colin Moran, Joe Sclafani.
- Shortstop. Carlos Correa, Nolan Fontana,
- Outfield. Domingo Santana, Derek Fisher, Brett Phillips, Preston Tucker,
- Rotation. Mark Appel, Asher Wojciechowski, Lance McCullers, Michael Feliz, Kyle Smith, Josh Hader, Vincent Velasquez, Thomas Shirley.
- DH. Telvin Nash, Teoscar Hernandez (or any of the above who don’t field well).
You can interchange some of these players. For example, if these players remain in Houston, Sclafani could end up at another position, Kemp could end up in the OF, Fontana could be a strong reserve at most any IF position. Obviously, any of the pitchers could eventually become a closer or back of the bullpen guy.
Here’s my take: The system was horrible, tip-top to bottom, when Luhnow arrived. It was an absolute mess. He’s done a good job of replenishing, through trades, waiver claims, free agents and, yes, the draft. Part of the dilemma, you must remember, is that pipeline bottleneck that is quickly approaching. That’s a challenge, not only from the 40-man roster perspective, but also the payroll.
Seven players from the current roster will be eligible for arbitration for the first time this season, and that’s if no one becomes a Super 2. That list includes Dallas Keuchel, Evan Gattis and Josh Fields. After next season, 19 players — nine for the first time — are scheduled to go through arbitration.
Do the math. The dilemma is trying to determine and evaluate which players are keepers and which ones have peaked or will peak soon. The last thing you want to do is hold on to a prospect that is nothing more than a AAAA player. Sell high, in other words. Now that players like Matt Dominguez, Robbie Grossman and others have shown their hand, it’s a little more difficult to trade.
We can discuss return on those trades another day, but the bottom line is that Luhnow has replenished the system and there are more players either at the major league level or near major league ready than there has been in a decade. Enjoy the ride.
So, here are the questions for you:
- Is the system better off today than it was five years ago?
- Using the list above — and any names that may have been added by comments — how many are absolutely can’t-miss?
- Again, using the names above, how well would that team do against the current Astros’ 25-man roster?
- Best dark horse candidate to be at least a serviceable major league player (either mentioned above or not)?
- The player listed above who will be the biggest bomb.