Welcome to the May Farm Report — Astros Style


Nice win.

Astros come from behind. Somewhere Colby Rasmus is smiling because, apparently, he did not enjoy his time in the Frozen North.

But best of all, Preston Tucker went a little crazy, going 3-for-4, two doubles, an RBI and a run scored. For those of you who haven’t already clicked his player page, that’s a total of four MLB hits, three walks and two Ks. Tucker could very quickly make one of the following — Chris Carter, Colby Rasmus or Evan Gattis — obsolete.

Tucker is Luhnow’s first Astros draft pick to make it to the Major Leagues. Not Carlos Correa. Not Mark Appel. Nor even Lance McCullers Jr. Nope, it’s the 7th Round pick out of Florida. And so far, he’s looking like a ball player. Which makes me think that, maybe, it’s time for the Astros’ vaunted farm system to start paying off.

Time To Harvest
So, you can have a top-rated list of prospects, but if they’re not MLB-ready, they’re not helping. Heck, they might never help. So, what players, specifically, are on the farm, and how close are these guys to helping out in Houston this year.

For my purposes here tonight, no one under AA is going to be looked at. If you aren’t in AA by mid-May, you’re not getting to Houston. Second, I don’t want to look at all the organizational players, those AAAA guys who Houston might have called up in years past. Nope, this is all about those draft picks and trade pickups. So, let’s have a look. Here is my list of the top 10 prospects likely to play in Houston in 2015:

1. Captain Obvious, Carlos Correa (2012, first overall pick): After three games in AAA, Correa is hitting just .231. Time for the panic button? Hardly. He’s had a hit in every game, one hit was a double, he’s walked 3 times and K’ed twice. What’s the over/under on how many games it takes to get to .300 for Correa? Six? Ten? I say it takes until after his ninth game to get the average over .300.

2. Jon Singleton (2009, 8th rounder, picked up in the Hunter Pence trade): One big game has highlighted the change in Singleton. His OPS is now .991, and while he’s walked 23 times, he’s struck out just 31 times. The good news, he’s K’ed only 8 times in the past 10 games covering 42 plate appearances. That’s less than 20 percent. In that span, he’s also gone 13-for-34 with 7 HRs. Does Carter have any options left?

3. Lance McCullers Jr. (2012, compensation pick): LMJ just got called out to Fresno, so as I write this, his stats are all from the Hooks. And those stats are Keuchel-esque. WHIP, 0.90. ERA, 0.62. The difference is, McCullers doesn’t get all those ground outs. Instead, he’s struck out 43 hitters (walked 11) in 29.0 IP. In a draft where Appel could have been taken, it’s McCullers who has really stepped up.

4. Jordan Jankowski (2012, 34th round): Honestly, there aren’t a lot of pitchers in Fresno that look like sure bets. But Jankowski is not doing horribly. Which, for Fresno pitchers, is a compliment. His 2.45 ERA entirely in relief comes with too many walks (13) in 18.1 innings, but also comes with 23 Ks. He’s not on the 40-man roster, so that might hold him back, but if he gets his walks under control (his 1.64 WHIP is uncharacteristically high for his career), he might make a good short-term solution if someone’s injured.

5. Mark Appel, (2013, first overall pick): Honestly, I think that appendectomy set him back for most of last season. Right now in Corpus, Appel has a 3.71 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP. That said, he’s inducing nearly two ground outs vs. other outs. His K rate and BB rate aren’t spectacular. But with the revolving door at the fifth spot in the rotation, Appel might be an option before too long.

6. Chris Devenski, (2011, 25th round by the White Sox): Honestly, I’m too tired to look up who we traded for whom and got Devenski as the PTBNL. But right now, this guy has an ERA of 0.31 and a WHIP of 0.93. I find his lack of ground outs disturbing, and the fact that 2015 thus far is an anomaly in his career. Still, he’s the only pitcher who makes LMJ look overrated.

7. Joe Sclafani, (2012, 14th round by Houston): While also not on the 40-man roster, Sclafani is a Luhnow kind of hitter. While in Fresno (I choose to ignore the three games when he was sent to CC), his .744 OPS comes with only 12 Ks but also 12 BBs in 75 plate appearances. Best of all, he’s one of those versatile infielders.

8. Matt Duffy, (2011, 20th round by the Astros): There’d need to be a need at 3B. And someone would need to be really fed up with Jonathan Villar. I mean, more fed up than Becky. Duffy has a .732 OPS, which is a bit low for him in the high minors. But he’s got power, hits for average average, and his K’s aren’t unmanageable.

9. Tony Kemp, (2012, 5th round, Astros): Nolan Fontana seems to have hit a wall. But Tony Kemp just keeps on hitting. If Altuve went down for a month or more, I’d vote for Kemp. Right now he’s hitting .346 in CC, and all it seems to have done to his stats is reduced his walk rate. Still, he’s walked 21 times and K’ed 17 times in 128 PAs. His .858 OPS is mostly on-base supported. Kemp isn’t a power hitter. Still, he gets on base.

10. Tyler Heineman, (2012, 8th round Astros): Either Jason Castro or Hank Conger goes down, the smart money is on Matt Stassi getting a call up. He’s on the 40-man. He’s been there before. But right now, Stassi is batting .200 with a .587 OPS for Fresno. Heineman, meanwhile, is hitting .314 with a .785 OPS. Best of all, in 77 PAs, he’s only K’ed 5 times. Imagine, a catcher who hits.

So, who makes your list of potential call ups?

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42 comments on “Welcome to the May Farm Report — Astros Style

  1. Great food for thought Brian. Besides Captain Obvious and LMJ. The guy I would love to see play Is Kemp. There is just something about him that rings winner. It would be awesome if Devenski is the real deal, he is pitching well right now.

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  2. *Singleton is feasting only on RHP and is as bad as Valbuena against LHP. And that is in AAA, not the majors. His K rate against lefties is astoundingly high.
    *Jankowski’s walk rate has to be the result of a huge change in his career. Up until this year Jankowski has always been a tandem starter in the Houston system. This season he gets moved to AAA and is suddenly a reliever. Since he has never had a high BB rate, let’s give him some time to adjust to his new role.
    *Appel-A totally revamp delivery, and we know how well he adjusts to change, right?
    *Devensky- maybe he’s a 24 year old pitcher, who’s finally starting to get it.
    *Kemp/Fontana-Kemp has always hit in the minors and Fontana has never hit in the minors. Kemp has always been a more dependable fielder than Fontana. The reason Fontana is a top 10 prospect is because of where he was drafted compared to Kemp and the “experts” refuse to accept they have those two players ranked backwards. Kemp has every at-bat in the leadoff spot this year, so his job was to set the table for Correa and he has been spectacular at it. His BA in CC is over 50 points higher than it was last season when he was there. Kemp has a lifetime BA of way over .300 with RISP and two outs, so if you want to move him out of the leadoff spot, he can do that, too.
    *Sclafani-I just cannot explain how screwed over Sclafani has been this season. I’m sure there is a reason, but I cannot fathom what it is.
    *Heineman/Stassi-Stassi might want to look behind him, because they are coming into the third turn and somebody is gaining on him with every stride. Heineman is nine months younger, but the differences in their game are becoming more and more obvious.

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  3. I would not even consider making Rasmus obsolete at this point. He might end up playing center everyday with Tucker in left if Jake continues to act like the Jake of old. And not to pile on, but has Jake made an accurate throw to the plate yet?

    I’m still not comfortable with Singleton. He might come back up and whiff right along with the best of our whiffers. With the club in first place, we can actually afford to keep Cater at first for the time being. He’s got to get better at some point, right? Otherwise, he’s got zero value.

    I’m assuming that Lance is going to be effective in Fresno and will join the rotation at some point this summer. Appel on the other hand, is not close and if they bring him up too quick, it might be ugly. Sort of like Santana at the plate. I don’t see any other starters close to being ready to make the move, so I think we’ll see guys like Wojo and Buchanan from time to time and hopefully an aquisition from outside.

    My man Joe Sclafani, despite being the last guy off the bench and getting shuttled back and forth between Corpus and Fresno, has coaxed his average up to .270 with a .395 OBP. Seems that we’ll have to wait until Correa gets the call in Houston before Joe gets to play most days out on the Coast. As OP has already noted, I too can’t fathom what it is that Sclafani has done to deserve the treatement he’s gotten. Except that maybe 14th round picks are just not going to get the same chance that the guy picked early will, even if hitting .211.

    So Brian, as much as Tony Kemp has impressed, why put him in Altuve’s shoes in the event of a significant injury? I know not all of us have forgotten the numbers Sclafani put up in AAA last year. I think he hit .339 with a .425 OBP when playing everyday last year in OKC. I’d have him playing next to Correa right now. There should be no hurry with Kemp. I’d move him to AAA when Correa comes to Houston.

    Heineman. Yes, Stassi sure is not impressing. Wiish we still had Perez.

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      • I read an older article yesterday that granted Conger something like 147 extra strikes in 2013. He only caught 500 innings so he got an extra strike every 3 or so innings. The Angels must have been a fool to trade him. Or just maybe this falls into the deductive reasoning category. You know – Elephants are big. Shaq is big. Therefore Shaq is an elephant. Currently he has been catching Keuchel. If a close pitch is called a strike is it because Dallas is almost always around the plate or is because of some sort of magic hands from Conger?

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  4. First of all Brian welcome to the Matt club. It started with me call Hank Conger – Matt Conger and it continues with you calling Max Stassi – Matt Stassi (well at least yours was close).

    – Chris Devenski is the only piece left from the Brett Myers trade…
    – I want some Correa and McCullers and I want them soon (may have to wait a while for the second guy). The plus side is that every time the Astros win – they make it more and more possible that they are still in first place when Correa gets enough games in AAA to come up…….arbitration-wise.
    – I don’t know what to say about Singleton – I wouldn’t mind just playing him against rightys if he could give you some of that AAA stuff. Is he a young guy finally finding his way of Brett (AAAA) Wallace Jr.
    – I am excited to see guys like Sclafani and Kemp but I am afraid I may have to wait until the come out of the opponents dugout.

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    • I can’t stand all the typos from trying to do this with my phone – so I am trying again at my PC…
      First of all Brian welcome to the Matt club. It started with me calling Hank Conger – Matt Conger and it continues with you calling Max Stassi – Matt Stassi (well at least yours was close).

      – Chris Devenski is the only piece left from the Brett Myers trade…
      – I want some Correa and McCullers and I want them soon (may have to wait a while for the second guy). The plus side is that every time the Astros win – they make it more and more possible that they are still in first place when Correa gets enough games in AAA to come up…….arbitration-wise.
      – I don’t know what to say about Singleton – I wouldn’t mind just playing him against rightys if he could give you some of that AAA stuff. Is he a young guy finally finding his way or Brett (AAAA) Wallace Jr.
      – I am excited to see guys like Sclafani and Kemp but I am afraid I may have to wait until they come out of the opponents dugout.

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  5. Torreyes traded to Toronto for a PTBNL. It obviously doesn’t hurt us as he had been DFA and wasn’t passing Altuve in any event. With Kemp/Fontana/Sclafani all possible fill-ins at 2B you have to wonder why Luhnow felt the urgent need to protect him last winter. Recall that I felt he needed to be protected as well.

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    • That PTBNL might mean that the player we get in trade was drafted last year, since they cannot trade a player until a year after his signing date.

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    • PTBNL or Cash is what I’m hearing!
      Astros also sign Jose Veras to a Minor League contract and sent him to Florida for extended spring training.

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  6. I don’t know, I haven’t ever SEEN Sclafani or Kemp play. I’ll take the words from those that have these guys are gamers. It would be great to get some dirty uniform types in the dugout – especially ones that are very difficult to strike out. I am concerned with their lack of power – not because of the lack of power, but because major league pitchers with command don’t walk guys with no power. It will be interesting to see just how far their walk rates decline.

    Statistically it looks like Kemp could be playing in the major leagues right this second and not be overpowered. I would guess 270ish with a 330ish OBP. He won’t kill but he won’t help a tremendous amount in the box, but from what I have read he is an above average defender, and we know he is fast. Unfortunately for Kemp second base looks occupied for the time being (and hopefully time being equals somewhere around the next decade), and I am not sure he fits in anywhere else. Is he good enough to play multiple positions and be a super sub? He has alot of the other intangibles – speed, bat control, great contact, can pinch hit, pinch run, etc.

    I am hoping the Astros do a better job than they have the last 4-5 days in getting Tucker in the lineup. It’s critical for him to swing everyday and get into a rhythm, and learn consistency.

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    • Steven, Kemp was an outfielder before he went to 2B. He definitely could play the outfield in the majors. He has the speed and ability to cover the ground anywhere out there but has a LF arm.

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    • Steven,

      When Sclafani had a chance to play pretty much everyday at AAA in 2014 he produced the following:

      192 AB’s .339/.420/.438/.858
      107 AB’s .346/.457/.402/.859

      That second set of numbers is Kemps producition at AA in 2015.

      Sclafani steals a few less bases, but at a higher percentage. Their limited comparisions at second base are comparable. Kemp is getting all the ink today, and indeed, keeps a starting job at the top of the order in Corpus. Sclafani fights for playing time. I’m still convinced that we’ve already got a guy in AAA that can produce at the ML level if Marvin and or Vllar can’t. Sclafani would be my next utility guy up.

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      • He does appear to be the most talented, but it also speaks volumes about the organization’s thoughts as to their current AAA pitchers.

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    • Amazing! Drafted with Correa, has the exact same time as Correa in AA, but Correa needs more time in AAA.
      Cue the excuses, I’m ready to wade through all the BS.

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      • OP: I can see Correa in Fresno another 10-14 days as a transition to better pitching but don’t think he’ll need much more. For LMJ this may be a bit of an audition. When Correa comes up he will be here to stay and will be an everyday player.

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  7. LMJ coming on is exciting in a lot of ways. First, I think he deserves the shot. I saw him in Corpus and even though he got the loss in that game he showed a mound presence that could not be denied. It also is a fitting reward for the work he did at Lancaster to improve his change even though it caused his numbers there to be sub-par. It also sends a message – along with Tucker’s call up and retention – that if a kid busts his butt and produces he can get the call. I hope LMJ does well Monday and sticks. I also hope Appel gets the message that his draft status doesn’t get him any special consideration. Be interesting to see if he fires up or fades. Also might be a nice incentive for Velasquez. I wonder who gets booted off the 40 man?

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    • Hey this is exciting – not as exciting as Correa at SS in Houston, MarGo on the bench and Villar in Fresno – but still exciting.

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  8. First, I certainly picked the right time to do a Farm System update. Second, I listed McCullers as the top pitching prospect. So I’ll be taking my victory lap right about now.

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  9. Keuchel is 5-0!! Granted he lost his stuff in the 4th. inning, but I gotta tell ya…..homeruns are *SEXY*!! Three in a row…….let’s start another streak!!
    LAWD I love winning!!!

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  10. Watching the postgame interview with Keuchel talking about that his hitters carried him tonight. Some guy walks behind him wearing a Mexican wrestling mask. You have to work at it to be odder looking than Keuchel and his ZZ Topp beard.

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  11. Really good to see Harris get his shot in a critical spot and come through in grand fashion. He not only put out the fire, he did it against Donaldson, Bautista and Encarnacion. Happiness is a functioning bullpen.

    You guys get out all your good luck charms tonight. Going to the game with son and grandsons. So far this year I’ve managed to jinx the Hooks and Astros. If we lose tonight I may have to burn my hat. On second thought, maybe I ought to wear a different hat.

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  12. Not sure who to address here (guessing Chip), but I think the photo of BT needs to be “updated” with this bold prediction of “Farm Report” and him causing the promotion of LMJ. Brian is something special. So could we get a photo of him wearing a Merlin Hat or perhaps that “stylish outfit” from the lady doing the TD Ameritrade commercial.

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