Monday thought: The Astros’ pipeline is rich

For most of Jeff Luhnow’s tenure, the Astros have had one of the best minor league systems in all of baseball. While the major league club has yet to significantly experience the fruits of his labor, the pipeline is replete with top line recruits working their way to Houston.

MLB’s latest rankings list the Astros with the eighth best pipeline in the majors, even after recent trades and promotions. While more promotions may be imminent (read: 2015 or 2016), it’s also clear there may not be enough eventual room on the Astros’ roster for everyone. Some, of course, will not pan out. Still others will be traded in an effort to replenish the system or add a key part to the major league club.

Don’t think for a minute that Luhnow won’t trade some of these prospects as evidenced by the moves of the past year of players like Jarred Cosart, Michael Foltynewicz, Nick Tropeano and others. Already, 11 of the 30 on the current list were acquired through trade.

With players like George Springer and possibly even Jon Singleton solidifying roles on the roster, Luhnow will soon have a good problem (of sorts) in that players begin to get blocked. In fact, that’s already occurring at second base and at least one outfield spot.

For the first time in a long while, Houston has some real battles taking place, between players who are worthy of starting positions, either in the lineup or the field, or both. But as soon as next year, the discussion may not be about Jake Marisnick and Robbie Grossman. The names could represent an upgrade: Domingo Santana and Teoscar Hernandez. Or even Preston Tucker. Would that be an upgrade?

At third, it could be Colin Moran, Luis Valbuena and Jed Lowrie battling for roster spots if Carlos Correa arrives to claim shortstop. Upgrade in competition?

With Mark Appel nearing readiness and Vincent Velasquez, Josh Hader and Michael Feliz also in the wings, something will need to give in the rotation. Dallas Keuchel isn’t going anywhere. Collin McHugh neither. Scott Feldman? The last year of his deal is next year. At least three players are vying respectfully for the #5 spot now, and that doesn’t include Brad Peacock who’ll be in the mix by this time next month. How much room in that rotation inn?

Most of the players on the Astros’ roster aren’t signed beyond this season, so Luhnow has allowed himself great flexibility. With that in mind, here are some questions to start your week with.

  • There is a bottleneckat2B. If Singleton continues to develop, there will be oneat1B. Count Springer as a roadblock, either in RF or CF. Where is the next block and who will do the blocking?
    • Bonus question: In which season do the Astros reach the tipping point with more positions blocked than not?
  • Looking ahead to 2016, who on the prospect list is likely to join Appel in the rotation? And, who among the current rotation will get pushed out of the mix?
  • Looking at MLB’s Top 30, which is the biggest surprise at their current ranking?
  • Taking a look into your crystal ball, how many of the Top 30 stand an even chance of playing in Houston by at least next season?
  • Go ahead, drool as you throw out a suggestion for next season’s opening day lineup. Where does Correa hit? Moran? Which of the young OF guns joins Springer?
  • Keuchel, McHugh, Appel and …



36 comments on “Monday thought: The Astros’ pipeline is rich

  1. I don’t see any bottlenecks anywhere. Altuve is not blocking anybody because nobody is ready yet. Singleton could turn into a monster at 1B but Gregor and Reed are not nearly ready. Valbuena just got here and we really don’t know what we have with him, but he’s not blocking anybody until Moran decides if he is a third baseman who slaps the ball like a second baseman, or a third baseman who hits like a third baseman. It’s gonna be a while before we know which he is and JD Davis isn’t pushing anybody yet.
    I expect Springer to lock down one spot in the outfield but that blocks nobody until two other guys lock down spots in the outfield.
    The SS position will be blocked when Correa hits the majors and we still have Lowrie. That’s a blockage.
    Nobody on our pitching staff is blocking anyone. We don’t have a true lockdown #1 pitcher when compared to the 12 or so teams that do have one and we don’t have a closer. To get a true #1 starter, you either develop one or buy one and the going rate for buying one is now over $200million.
    What the Astros have right now is a roster full of major league players that covers every place on the roster except for 1B, closer and #5 starter. If Singleton blossoms, he fills the first one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fair enough, but consider we have another set of (talented) draftees coming this June. It’s not just a matter of Altuve blocking Kemp/Fontana at 2B. As the short season and A ball players push up to Corpus, someone loses playing time at Corpus or Fresno. Ideally we are just cutting ties with a guy like Brett Wallace – nice hitter, but unlikely to make a difference. Some might become JDM.


      • Devin, College Draftees usually start at Tri City and Greenville and move up to QC and Lancaster the next year. High School Draftees go to GCL. Draftees don’t push anybody.


      • So are you saying the 2014 class will stay in short season instead of getting playing time at QC and Lancaster? Kemp is stuck at CC unless you change his position or move someone out of the Fresno middle infield. I’m just saying Luhnow has some tough decisions coming in order to get max at bats for the up and comers without losing a future asset prematurely.


      • No, I’m saying the 2014 college draftee class will start in QC and Lancaster this season and a few will be moved up later in the year If they perform well. Yes, eventually the Astros will cut ties with organizational guys. They have been doing that consistently for three years and JDM and Abad are the only ones who have made it somewhere else and both for only one year, so far.


  2. If you use an average rookie age of 25, we have most on the list around 22. So, as a group, they have a couple more years to “cook.” But for Asher W. (26) & Hoyt (28), it is time to step up. That may happen this year, but the clock is running. No one is going to complain about any of these being kept in the minors for a few days, weeks, or months. We need 2 or 3 to have breakout years and the fans DEMAND they get promoted. I hope Singleton gets hot, but he has not earned a spot yet. And not to sound Bopert-ish, but by 2016, many on the current roster will be “too expensive.”


  3. These ARE GREAT problems to have and hopefully, Luhnow will make the proper decisions concerning them.

    Playing to the questions this time, required a lot of research and time travel to the future. I have returned with this endeavor…

    When Correa arrives, he will provide a block for those behind him. An interesting note, if the Astros take Brendon Rodgers in the draft this year, he could be blocked by Correa at shortstop due to Rodgers’ natural position being shortstop or, Correa could block Moran in a couple of years if they keep Rodgers at shortstop. Of course, scuttlebutt has Rodgers possible becoming a third baseman as well. We can only hope…

    I can see 2018 being the season that many prospects are blocked from reaching the major league club. So many choices in the outfield and pitching staffs!

    Joining Appel on the big league club, in 2016, will be Josh Hader. I feel he will cruise through Corpus and hit Fresno by May or June this season. A stout showing at Fresno will get him noticed and perhaps, an invite to the big league camp next year. A great showing in camp will still get him sent down but he can come back in late April and take the number five spot to begin his major league career. Asher Wojciechowski is showing up in this year’s camp but I feel he will start in the minors once again. Shameful. Next year he will be in the rotation from day one. If he stays healthy, Vince Velasquez is another one to watch. In 2017, many more will be ready to join the major league club. Who will get pushed out of the current mix? Scott Feldman to begin with. Age and contract will send him packing. Chad Qualls will be out due to his age and health problems.

    I thought Wojo and Tucker would have been rated higher than their current positions. Both of them could be in Houston next season along with Correa, Appel, Santana, Hader, Hoyt, and Stassi.

    2016 opening day lineup…
    2B Altuve
    RF Springer
    DH Carter
    1B Singleton
    LF Gattis
    3B Valbuena
    C Stassi
    SS Correa
    CF Marisnick

    Keuchel, McHugh, Appel, Obie, and Hader.


    • Sarge, I like Hader, but he doesn’t even turn 21 for two more weeks. If he pitches all year at CC this year he will be one of the youngest pitchers in AA and next season if he pitches all year in AAA he will be 4.5 years younger than the average AAA player.
      There is absolutely no reason to rush this guy. He has a great arm but has real delivery issues that have to be worked out, and at 165lbs and 6’4″ that body needs a lot of filling out to do or he is going to hurt himself. There is no way he can be an effective major league starter in April 2016. Guys like him and McCullers can be the long term future for the Astros if they develop them properly and even if they do develop them, they might end up being top notch relievers instead of starters.


    • Sarge, Brendan Rodgers is an 18 yo senior in high school. If he falls to #2 we ought to take him. He will be 3-4 years away from being ready, even if he is a phenom. Take him and don’t worry about the future. The future takes care of itself if you fill it with great young ballplayers.
      If Rodgers developes, he’s either a SS or a 3B. If Correa is a star, it’s at SS and eventually 3B. Five years from now if Rodgers is a great player you put him where you need him and he is making league minimum. That is Luhnow’s plan! Build a team and keep supplying it. If you find better players, plug them in. Keep the core and if average players cost too much, trade them for prospects and keep it going.


  4. Great post, Chip – really enjoyed it.

    – Next bottleneck? When Correa gets up – SS will be blocked – though there is always the chance that Carlos could someday end up at 3B. Not happening soon.
    – Hey I don’t see them having more positions blocked than not – it is not like they will have All-stars everywhere (unfortunately).
    – Joining Appel in the 2016 rotation??? Wojo – who might be there first.
    – On the positive side of the top 30 – Phillips has jumped up high in a hurry – Joe Musgrove has been very much under the radar. On the negative side – Ronald Torreyes is pretty low for a 22 year old middle infielder on the 40 man roster….
    – 30 man guys being on the mlb roster sometime before the end of 2016….Wojo, Correa, Appel, Santana, Torreyes, Velasquez, Tucker, Stassi and Hoyt. This does not they are all staying – but expect to see them up before then.
    – 2016 opening day lineup
    – Altuve 2B
    – Correa SS
    – Springer CF
    – Carter DH
    – Gattis DL oh wait a minute – LF
    – Singleton 1B
    – Santana RF
    – Moran 3B
    – Stassi C

    – Keuchel, McHugh, Appel, Wojo, Unknown veteran pickup


  5. *2016 Opening Day Line-up*

    On opening day in 2016 I would personally love to see [if we are facing a righty]:

    Jose Altuve – 2B
    Joe Sclafani [S] – 3B
    Carlos Correa – SS
    George Springer – OF
    Jon Singleton [L] – 1B
    Teoscar Hernandez – OF
    Preston Tucker [L] – OF
    Max Stassi – C
    Tony Kemp [L] – DH

    Rotation: Keuchel [L], Appel, Velazquez, Hader [L], & Wojo

    As you can tell, I am hoping for a line-up with a strong mix of OBP with Power, fewer big K guys, and a strong mix of lefties (or switch-hitters) and righties. This line-up against righties assumes there are some good RH power bats on the bench to step in and start against tough lefties [Carter? T. Hernandez? R. Torryes?]

    Of course, I might change my mind significantly if:
    1. the ‘good Carter’ shows up this year, and will not go away;
    2. Colin Moran finds a power stroke,
    3. Domingo Santana learns how to recognize and handle a major league breaking ball;
    4. Maverick Phillips continues to imitate Superman right through AAA,
    5. Luis Valbuena is just so darn good in 2015 that nobody is budging off 3rd base;
    6. Vince Velazquez can’t get and stay healthy;
    7. Colin McHugh doesn’t provide as valuable of a trade chip as I expect him to; and/or
    8. Jason Castro surprises me with a significant bounce-back year.


      • If he would bring a closer, I would do it in a heartbeat. If he’d bring me a good looking 1st four round pick catching prospect from either the 2013 or 2014 draft AND a hard-throwing pitcher who has shown upside at a A level, I’d probably do it as well. I hope he has a great year in 2015 and his trade value skyrockets. But beyond that I would just as soon let some other team sweat his injury issues and try to find a place to put him that does not compromise the defensive integrity of the team. As far as his absence from my opening day 2016 line-up, however, I quite frankly just figured he’d be on the DL. If he’s still with us and healthy, on my dream 2016 Astros team he’s a power righty off the bench that starts only against lefties, and only at DH.


  6. 2016 opening day lineup.
    Luhnow has not had a history of keeping guys with big contract numbers. See Fowler. If the Astros have a decent year this year(over .500 ball) Carter and Castro will both enter 2016 as final year arb players who could command salaries of $8 mil or more in 2016 and then free agency in 2017.
    Stassi’s 2015 season in AAA is going to tell us a lot about how the Astros deal with Castro’s money and when they try to make a move there.
    I cannot see the Astros starting off 2016 with three RH power hitters with lots of K’s in the outfield, so I have to think Tucker is going to be in LF if he has a typical Tucker year in AAA this season.
    Kemp CF
    Altuve 2B
    Valbuena 3B
    Springer RF
    Singleton 1B
    Gattis DH
    Castro C
    Correa SS
    Tucker LF
    Rotation- Keuchel, McHugh, Appel, Ober, Peacock
    Bench: Lowrie, Sclafani, Stassi/Conger, Grossman/Marisnick
    Bullpen: Hoyt, Shirley, Sipp, Neshek, Gregerson, Fields, Wojo


    • OP, Carter doesn’t reach free agency until 2019, but to your point, if Carter continues to improve and hit 30 HRs a season, he’ll be earning free agent-type $$$$ well before then.


      • You are so right. I missed that badly. But that actually makes a trade more likely if he’s making $8-10 mil and still has three years of control left.
        On the other hand, if he hits .250 this year with 40 homers and 100 RBIs, somebody else might be traded and he might be the DH for a while.


      • OP, if Carter hits .250 with 40 HR/100 RBI, indeed, he should be as much of the nucleus as Altuve the rest of the decade. Luhnow could actually get a team-friendly deal through his first year of free agency if he ties him up. Say 4 years/$40 million?


    • Yes, but that dinger followed a GIDP when we had a chance. Feldman’s 3.0 WHIP for the day and Jake Buchanan’s inability to get anybody out appears make the later dinger pretty much irrelevant – as I expect most of Gattis’ dingers to be this year.


      • And, Mr. Bill, that may be the story of 2015 with the power heavy Astros’ lineup. All. Or. Nothing. Of course, the pitching should perform better, resulting in some 3-1 or 4-2 games, but that GIDP you referred to is likely to be two Ks during the season, followed by a two-run homer more often than not.

        I’ll agree with both of you Mr. Bill and Dan. Yes, good to see Gattis back in the lineup. Yes, challenging to see how/where he fits into the 2015 puzzle with the status quo.


    • Pretty negative look at it Mr. Bill – I mean everything in ST is irrelevant – but at least getting Gattis back in the lineup and swinging is something – right?


      • I still don’t see where a 2 run homer by someone, who has been out injured is a negative thing. The trade to get him here may be considered a negative thing, but once he is here we want to see production. Just my view any way.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Agreed Dan..anytime you get a 2-run homer, it’s a good thing. But I will be watching this season to see how valuable to the lineup Mr. Gattis becomes…and at what expense.


  7. Gattis looked good to me. Hadn’t swung at real pitchers in weeks?
    Outfield defense was pathetic in the first five innings. Especially Presley and Hoes in right getting bad jumps and Grossman freezing on a three run double.
    Astros prospects made a comeback late in the game. 14-10 final.
    Joe Sclafani looked so good today.
    Remind me to turn off the TV when Feldman, Buchanan and Downs pitch again.
    Hope Fields isn’t hurt bad, but if he is hurt, I want to see Hoyt out there in his place!
    Boy, does Ashby have a mancrush on Castro!
    I wonder who is going to have a better career, Santana who is always in the top 10 or Teoscar, who so few know about?
    I bet the Astros are going to ask Correa to work on hitting the ball more in the air and less on the ground this year.


  8. Dan, every time an Astro player gets a hit, especially a home run, or pitches well, or makes a good defensive play, that is a positive in my book. I applaud Evan for the dinger, and I know it felt good to him to shake off the rust. If you thought I was saying that Evan’s hitting a home run – or finally getting back in the line-up – was a negative thing, I obviously did not express myself very well. All I was trying to say was that as nice a guy as he is, I simply do not see E.G. as an impact player on this particular club, which is still very much in rebuilding mode. If Evan could play defense anywhere at something close to league-average level, and if he could stay healthy doing it, and if he could mentor the young guys coming down the pike, it would be different – because he sure can hit the ball a long way when he makes contact. As it is, however, I quite frankly tend to look at every Spring at bat E.G. takes up as being one less available for the younger guys that really need the invaluable ST experience.

    The wins and losses do not count in ST, and the final scores don’t matter one whit either. But the precious opportunity for the young guys who will be contributing to what will hopefully be a really good team in 2016 and beyond to get some significant at bats against major league pitchers under their belt does.


    • Fair enough Bill. I guess they are hoping that between DH, 1B and 1/2 of LF they can get about 500 ABs each to Singleton, Gattis and Carter each. But I understand your trepidation.


    • My issue is that we gave up three legitimate prospects for Gattis, a one tool guy that if healthy, might give us 30 dingers. But he’ll also end up keeping much better athletes off the field, especially in the outfield At this point, I’d rather still have an organization with Folty, Ruiz et al and take my chances in 2015 with guys like Marisnick and Grossman. If Singleton crashes and burns, then I suppose its a good thing we got Gattis. But if that does not happen, I think we’d have been a better system without him.


  9. Keeping my eyes on AJ Reed, and JD Davis……both were in the 2014 draft, and both are making some noise with the Quad City Valley Cats. They will get promoted by the end of June. Power hitting 1st. baseman, and a power hitting 3rd. baseman.


    • I agree that McHugh looked good today, with the David Wright HR really being the only mistake. Feldman is a veteran and I don’t put much stock in ST stats for veteran pitchers as they are just getting the necessary work in to get ready for the season. I think both will be fine.


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