Debate: The Astros’ minor league system, players in waiting


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.

Of course, you can argue that Jarred Cosart, Michael Foltynewicz and others were traded away. But, they had already reached the majors.

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.

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.
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22 comments on “Debate: The Astros’ minor league system, players in waiting

  1. I think you need to switch Tucker and Hernandez! Tucker is there for his bat. Teoscar has speed, a good arm and is currently the starting CF for CC.

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  2. *The system is light years ahead of where it was five years ago, and you have left a lot of good players off the list.
    *Who are can’t miss major league players? I’ll go with three: Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, Jr. and Mark Appel.
    *How well would they do right now against the current Astros? lose 4 out of 5. How well would they do in three years against the current Astros? win two out of four.
    *Best dark horse candidates to be serviceable MLB players: Blaine Sims, a left handed knuckleballer with a good move to first who only has to learn how to throw one pitch well and could walk on many major league teams two years from now and win a starting job at age 27 and be able to ride that one pitch for years. Two years ago Phil Niekro called it a major league knuckleball and his K rate and GO/AO rate is terrific. Just needs more control and then can use that 89-90mph fastball as a 5% use changeup. You never hear about him because he is rule V eligible and has been hiding in Low A.. But this is a pitch that you can work on all year round with only three things: a guy with good catcher’s gear, a backstop and a bucket of balls.
    Another dark horse not mentioned above is Daniel Mengden
    *Biggest bomb for me would be Moran because of the way we went about getting him and because of the fact we ignored the reports of his disinterest that ran through the scouting community.

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    • Yes, OP, there are quite a few not on the list. Just didn’t have time to peruse the entire system, sorry. And, as I mention, some of these players will be interchangeable position-wise. It will be interesting to see which ones move…to 1B, to the OF, to DH. And, which outfielders actually end up in their projected LF, CF, RF positions…

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  3. *The player listed above who will be the biggest bomb. *

    Chuckling to myself at that one, Chip! I hope no one actually throws out a name in response to that. I think we all hope, for the sake of the organization, the city, and the integrity of the game that each of these guys will wind up performing far and above even their scouted abilities and projected ceilings. I personally just hope a good number of them actually do that in an Astros uniform.

    The problem I DO see is that none of right now none of the guys listed, with the exception of Carlos Correa and possibly Tony Kemp and Brett Phillips, much less any of the guys Luhnow has acquired by trading away prospects, seem to have both the tools and the make-up to become inspiring franchise-building players worthy to walk onto the field alongside Jose Altuve, star in All-Star games, and bring Houston a world series championship. Bryant in 2013 and Rodon in 2014 – both of whom we passed on – are another story. And after three straight years of having our pick of the draft, well I personally thought we would be farther along. At this rate, if we are really going to make it to the WS in 2017 we are going to need Danny Glover in the dugout, Roger and JP waving their arms, and a holy host of angels singing Hallelujah in the outfield.

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    • Mr. BIll, either of the catchers could bomb and you could select one or two of the pitchers that won’t make it…at least not beyond a cup of coffee. Hopefully, Appel isn’t in that list, but a Wojo or Smith could — could — be on that list. Believe me, there will be some bombs. Perhaps more bombs than hits.

      Outside of last year’s draft, what do you mean by the “organization would be further along”?

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  4. – light years ahead of five years ago.
    – I think Correa is the only can’t miss in the system. Even then, I’m not sure where to project him. I feel like his approach and work ethic will let him be a starter at the MLB level at either 3B or SS. I’m hopeful he can become a star.
    – Not good. I’m not sure any on that list are really that close to competing at the big league level.
    – there are some guys who could help us…Meyer as bat off the bench. Davis is prob more likely to hit enough at major league level to stay than a number listed above.
    – Bomb is all relative to expectations. How many of those guys can get past the great filter of AA?

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  5. I had hoped first of all that our young pitchers would be much more dominant, and would include some flame throwers. That does not mean the guys you have listed, including Appel, can’t make a decent #4 or #5 at some point in the future. But I do not see a single #1 or #2 starter or a dominant closer in the batch [well, if the stars align, Velazquez maybe could be a serviceable #2].

    Secondly I had hoped that the high OBP, low K ‘hype’ would actually be more than talk at every level of the organization. I don’t see anybody after Altuve, Springer, and Correa that we have in the stable that really looks like the kind of guy you can pencil in each year as candidates for All-Star selection or even the league’s top ten percent in positive offensive or pitching performance.

    I am an ‘up the middle’ guy, so I have problems with the way this organization undervalues the catching position and seems comfortable with throwing out less than their best players at SS [pre-Correa] and CF [until they finally put Springer where he belongs]. I also do not understand why we continue to be so weak at both corner infield positions year after year – with no real exciting hope for a rebound in sight.

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  6. -Is the system better off today than it was five years ago? Absolutely! 5 years ago we were near the bottom in farm system rankings, but today we are a top 10 system in almost every ranking.

    -Using the list above — and any names that may have been added by comments — how many are absolutely can’t-miss? How do you define can’t-miss? If it is a player who will be a productive major leaguer then I will list Correa, Appel, Phillips, Moran, Kemp and McCullers. If it is a player who is a definite future All-Star then I will only list Correa.

    -Again, using the names above, how well would that team do against the current Astros’ 25-man roster? They may win 1 game in a best of 7.

    -Best dark horse candidate to be at least a serviceable major league player (either mentioned above or not)? I am very high on Tony Kemp. I think he is going to be a very good player in the major leagues.

    -The player listed above who will be the biggest bomb. I think Nash and Santana will both bomb. I don’t think Nash will even make it to the major leagues.

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  7. Is the system better off today than five years ago? *YES*!
    I love A.J. Reed…….and look out for Josh Hader, he’s got a Chris Sale delivery!
    These guys could fool you, they might win more games than you think. Three wins outta eight games.
    Best dark horse? We all know Correa has the “it” factor, but I’ll put Hader in there as my dark horse.
    Biggest bomb? Probably Nash, but good LORD……..look how long Jiovanni Mier has stuck around!

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    • I kind of feel like we’re kicking Mier when he’s down. It’s not his fault Ed Wade picked him in the first round of 2009. A lot of other teams passed on Mike Trout as well. Plenty of guys picked after him are similarly not going to make the big leagues. Also, he’s living on borrowed time until Correa forces upward promotions and his likely release.

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    • In the box Mier looks like Villar – high K rate, reasonably well walk rate, modest power. Villar is obviously much faster, but reports are that Mier is a plus defender.

      Devin – I actually think that Correa will just leapfrog him. I don’t see a reason for the Astros to give up on Mier at 24 with that glove and walk rate until Mier forces the issue himself. As long as they can keep him off the 40 man and he isn’t drafted – which is highly unlikely – I don’t see a reason for him to be out of the organization. Afterall, if there is no hot shot prospect showing up to play your position, someone has to man SS at AA or AAA. I can think of worst livings than a AAAA shortstop making 75K a year, until he becomes a veteran making 150k, that might change. For now though, I think he will be around.

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      • Steven, Mier WAS a plus defender…in high school. The biggest disappointment (besides his .236 career BA) was the fact he glove was not what was advertised. If you take out his perfect fielding % at 3B last year (at AAA in limited time), his numbers are pretty close to Villar’s.

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  8. Best bet for darkhorse is Velasquez. I know the reason he isn’t discussed in inner circles is his inability to stay on the mound – but my belief is this guy has the best stuff in the entire organization, minors or majors. He throws hard, he has the best movement, he has 4 pitches, and he throws strikes. He has the stuff of an ace – but apparently his doctor is Dr. Seuss.

    Bomb – Santana. Not saying he WILL, but I think he has the highest chance too. It’s very difficult, and this is proven by historical analysis, to dramatically improve your K rate in the majors. He needs a sub 28% at AAA this year to make strides, and given his K rates prior to AAA that will be difficult. If he can do 27 at AAA though, he can probably survive as a rookie at 30-32% and still hit .240 with power in 2016.

    I still like Grossman as a darkhorse to perform well, I think the metrics point an upward trend, but Luhnow basically said a few days ago that he and Presley are in a fight for a roster position – and in between the lines he gave one guy a mil and the other has options – so we can predict where that is going. Interesting read that one was, as he was correct, the opening 25 man and the 25 man just a month later are usually drastically different, especially if the team is not winning a lot.

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  9. System Better. Yes. Can’t Miss: -0- All can miss with injury or by being traded. Record: 70-92. I believe the current Astros could win 92 v. minor leaguers. Skip 3 & 4. My view is the purpose of the minor league system is to replenish your MLB team by being better than what you have or if excess (Altuve at 2nd for a while) you then trade to fill your weak spots. Trading your prospects for a back-up catcher is not a wise use to me. (Astros already had a back-up catcher). Trading your starting pitchers when you need starters – ditto. Trading an extra outfielder (we still have 3) for an improvement at 3rd – makes sense. Every name listed above should be tradable. Some deserve a very HIGH return, but parking extra players in the minors is just parking. Just like Springer 2013 – you want them to force your hand. Not Villar nor Mier (Any Year). I still wish Skip would link me to his “Bottleneck Post” because these guys in the minors HAVE TO produce or the bottleneck will be over paying for marginal talent. I for one – am not convinced this team is destined to going far at all in the playoffs even as soon as 2017. You have to be better than your competition someplace. Normally in pitching for the post season. For anything special to happen – some of those above need to step it up a bunch in 2015 and 2016.

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  10. Fresno could start the year with a pretty good team
    Outfielders will be Tucker, Aplin and Santana, with one or more from the major league roster being sent down, possibly sending Tucker to DH for a bunch of games.
    Catchers appear to be Stassi and Flores.
    Infield will have Duffy, Mier, probably Torreyes and/or Sclafani, maybe Villar and maybe even Dominguez, Petit and Dan Johnson.
    Starters chosen from guys like White, Wojo, Straily, Hoyt maybe Weiland, Shirley, maybe Jankowski and even Appel.
    Should be an interesting team.

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  11. Here are a couple links to # 1 picks. One is overall and the other is just Houston. Anyone can see that it is more like throwing darts – they will land someplace. No team has got it figured out yet on how to get that All Star every time. I had rather pick 1st than 36th or not have any picks for two rounds. But losing a pick for Carlos Lee and him hitting .303 & .314 is being too harsh in my opinion.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_first_overall_Major_League_Baseball_draft_picks

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Houston_Astros_first-round_draft_picks

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      • Phil Nevin had a decent major league career, but when you see Derek Jetter picked 6th in that draft it is very painful and makes you wonder what could have been.

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      • When you consider that the Astros’ chief scout was so adamant about the Astros taking Jeter that he resigned after they chose Nevin, you realize how close the Astros were to having their franchise SS.

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    • When a GM looks at that list – he has to wish he could do what is done in the NFL. Swap #1-1 for an extra #2, #3, #5 and next year’s #1. The secret to a good minor league system is trading for a bunch of prospects, and signing multiple picks. It still guarantees zip but it improves your chances. Not a knock on JL. He traded MLB (at least on paper) players for several prospects. He needs to hit on only 1 or 2 each year. That is a valid strategy. However, those prospects are yet to be proven MLBers. Lets hope that several step up. I can’t get excited about any 19 year old tearing it up in “A” ball. Now when it is done at AA and again at AAA – the story changes quickly.

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    • Lance Berkman was about the only time I was excited about our first round choice until 2011. Most times the noise I made after learning of their selection would make you think I was a Jets fan…

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  12. Oh my … there’s no-one of any consequence between Brad Lidge and (arguably) Jason Castro. That’s many years of poor results. And literally no-one between Chris Burke and Brian Bogusevic.

    Interestingly, looking at the 1987 draft, there must be a bunch of teams after the Mariners (Ken Griffey Jr) and before the Astros (22nd pick with a Mr C Biggio) who are also gnashing their teeth. Bill Spiers at 13th pick too. Not many great players between 1 and 22. I don’t know them all but at least 6 look like they never made it to the majors. And only a handful of other good names with good WAR (Remlinger, DeShields, Spiers, Appier and to my shame McDowell of whom I had never heard …). And the Cardinals drafted a pitcher Cris Carpenter. Seemingly not that Carpenter.

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