Astros Top 10 prospects: Cavalry is closer than you think


The recent prospect movement in the Astros’ organization – Carlos Correa promoted to AAA, Preston Tucker and Lance McCullers Jr. promoted to the big show – make a review of the top 10 prospects timely.

The Top 10 (actually 11) prospects list entering 2015 was compiled by a look at various resources, including Baseball prospectus, Baseball America, mlbpipeline.com and minorleagueball.com. There is a fair consensus between the sources, but a little bit of judgment was involved. For instance Baseball America’s list is from last November and includes the long gone Michael Foltynewicz and Rio Ruiz.

Here are those top 11 (two tied for 10th) and how they are performing to date.

1) Carlos Correa. What can you say that has not already been said about SS Correa? In the last three seasons his numbers at multiple stops have ranged from .320 to .385 for BA, .405 to .459 for OBP and .872 to 1.185 for OBP. After murdering AA pitching for the first few weeks of the season, he was promoted to AAA, where after 6 games he is hitting .286 and a .783 OPS, Expect him to show up in Houston within the next month or so and don’t expect him to leave for a very long time.

2) Mark Appel. Whereas Correa has been consistently great during his rise up the Astros’ minor league system, RHP Appel has been consistently inconsistent. Last season he was unbelievably awful at Lancaster followed by performing much better after being promoted to AA Corpus. A very strong showing in the Arizona Fall League, seemed to indicate he would start strongly at AA and be promoted quickly to AAA and soon to the big club. He has been up and down at Corpus so far (4.70 ERA, 1.630 WHIP) and continues a trend of being eminently hittable, allowing 10.7 hits/9 IP in his minor league career. He needs to step things up to get a promotion any time soon.

3) Vincent Velasquez. Righty Velasquez was one of the pitchers added to the 40 man roster to protect them from Rule 5 cherry picking. He has excelled at each minor league level, but has not risen too quickly due to injuries. He missed all of 2011 due to Tommy John surgery and has missed parts of multiple seasons due to injury including the beginning of this season. His 7-4 record and 3.74 ERA at hitter’s paradise Lancaster was particularly encouraging. His 16 Ks in 9 IP at Corpus this season is eye popping.  He could be an Astro by next season if…..he can stay on the field.

4) Michael Feliz. Another RHP that the team has had long term plans for as he has been on the 40 man for the last two seasons and is just now at A+ level. His turn so far in tough Lancaster (3.54 ERA, 1.286 WHIP) along with his 9.3 K/9 IP in his minor league career have to put him on the short list for a AA promotion at mid-season. Feliz might follow that with a promotion to the Astros by late 2016.

5) Brett Phillips. Seeing someone named Brett Maverick Phillips makes us Baby Boomers experience a James Garner flashback. (The Gen-X folks may be thinking Mel Gibson). OF Phillips went from a suspect to a prospect with a strong 2014 showing – .310 BA/.905 OPS with 60 extra base hits, including 29 doubles, 14 triples!!! and 17 home runs. Though part of last season was at Lancaster, the biggest portion was at Quad Cities, which made it more impressive. In a repeat at A+ he continues to perform with a .313 BA and .885 OPS and plenty of extra base hits again (on a pace for 71 XBHs currently). Expect a call-up to AA sometime during the season.

6) Domingo Santana. Much like Jonathan Villar, Santana made a high percentage of errors throughout his minor league career. He has been about a 30 percent whiffer throughout the minors. Of course he will always be remembered for his 0 for 17 stint with 14 Ks in the majors. The kid can hit when he does make contact. In a repeat at AAA, he is whacking the ball at a .314 BA/ .424 OBP / 1.043 OPS pace. But even in repeating AAA, he has not shown any ability to control his K rate. If you are looking for a trade candidate, Santana with his great looking stats may be one that will open some GMs eyes.

7) Colin Moran. The trade of Rio Ruiz in the off-season confirmed that Moran was the main 3B prospect in the eyes of the Astros front office until it was followed almost immediately with the trade for Luis Valbuena from the Cubs. Was Valbuena a stop gap until Moran shows or was he picked up because the front office did not believe in Ruiz or Moran?  At AA Corpus Moran has hit for a decent average (.268) and has 17 RBIs in 20 games. However, he continues to show a power outage that he has demonstrated throughout his career and which makes him an unlikely candidate to move to the front of the line any time soon. He had seven HRs last season in 117 games and he has no home runs this season. He has to show some power to ever challenge for a corner infield spot.

8) Derek Fisher. After a nice debut at Tri-City A- ball in 2014, OF Fisher has kicked it up a notch at Quad Cities A ball so far this season. .304 BA/.396 OBP and .925 OPS are all strong numbers. He is the jewel of the controversial 2014 draft for the Astros and expect him to continue to climb the ladder this season.

9) Lance McCullers Jr. He was not even on the Baseball America top 10 list, but perhaps they did not realize that his “off” season in 2014 was due to instructions from the team to get command of a third pitch (changeup) or be thought of as a future reliever, not a starter. He put up numbers at Lancaster (5.47 ERA, 1.557 WHIP) that got him overlooked perhaps, but he has come back in 2015 with three strong pitches and ridiculous numbers including 0.62 ERA, .897 WHIP and 13.3 K/9 IP. This earned him a call-up to AAA that became a mlb call-up. The rest of the story is to come.

10) Tie – Josh Hader. An intriguing young arm received in the Bud Norris trade, Hader has consistently put up strong numbers at almost every stop in the minors. His best performance was at Lancaster in 2014, where he was 9-2 with a 2.71 ERA and a 1.107 WHIP. After a little bump at the end of 2014 at AA, he has been performing very well at Corpus this season with a 3.14 ERA in 7 games. He turned 21 on April 7 and could be calling Houston home by the time he turns 23.

10) Tie – Teoscar Hernandez. Teoscar jumped into the top 10 on the strength of a good 2013 at Quad Cities followed in 2014 by a strong 21 HR/85 RBI season mostly at Lancaster. If he does not turn around his current disastrous 2015 at CC (.163 BA/.504 OPS) he may just as quickly jump out of the top 10 prospect list.

Again this top 10 list was compiled based on off-season thoughts throughout the baseball world. It does not include current major leaguer Preston Tucker (who was considered a top 20 not a top 10 prospect) or Tony Kemp, Joe Sclafani, Nolan Fontana, Kyle Smith, J.D. Davis and A.J. Reed among others.

  • Is there any one you would drop from the top 10 list?
  • Is there any one you would add to the list?
  • After McCullers and Correa, who would be next from this list to make the big show?
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64 comments on “Astros Top 10 prospects: Cavalry is closer than you think

  1. The ‘logjam’ problem is becoming very, very real. Our organization is now so full of promising talent that good number of upper-level prospects are going to have to be traded or will be cherry-picked under Rule 5. We just have to hope that our FO makes really good choices as to what players at each position are either potential contributors in the majors or necessary insurance against injury or miscalculation, and which have the most value as trade chips. For the ‘Stros, trades are no longer primarily about acquiring talent; they are now primarily about managing talent pools, position by position, to set us up for a long term of excellence- and to keep the higher levels of talent that we can’t keep away from other teams in our division. Compared to recent history, this is a really good position to be in – but it is not without angst or risk.

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    • They definitely have a balancing act to perform Mr. Bill. But it is always better to be dealing from a position of strength. The middle infield jam is probably the first one to cause problems – with Altuve and soon Correa – everyone else may be extras or have to move position. It will be fun to see what happens.

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  2. And as an add-on I will take a second to report on McCullers debut.

    His fastball had good velocity and pop to it – after watching our other starters (other than McHugh) top out at 90-91 mph – 95-97 looks quick. His breaking ball was inconsistent – often up in the zone and sometimes spinning more than breaking.
    I thought the ump was squeezing both starters last night – but McC missed where the catcher was set up fairly often and when you do that you don’t get the calls – even if the ball is in the strike zone. In the second inning – a third strike to Sogard that was well within the zone was not called that kept him from getting out of the inning. This cost him a run and probably about 15 extra pitches in the inning.
    He had the 5 Ks and 3 bases on balls and gave up the one run on 3 hits and got the no-decision. Obviously he has to do better than the 93 pitches in 4.2 IP – but the potential is there. The moment did not seem too big for the young man.

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    • DanP: He reminded me of McHugh on a poor outing. But with a better fastball. He does have a complete tool box. Just needs to improve his control to keep a spot in the rotation. I would not be upset to see him back at AAA to work on his control for a portion of the season. I posted last night about the ump. Geez.

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    • Hard to judge him based on his first outing – I’m sure his tummy was full of swarming bees buzzing for this one. But yes, I think he needs some more time to improve that control. He has the stuff – you just wonder if he might end up as a closer at some point.
      I would complain more about the ump but he called a higher percentage of balls for the A’s starter than for McCullers. But some of those pitches I am going – what the heck are you looking at. I hope it is just that he is not a good pitch caller and not that he was holding back giving a new kid the calls.

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  3. I want to apologize to Steven for my Marc Krauss comment yesterday. What I was thinking was not what I typed. For a couple years, I got so tired of us playing other teams #41 or lower players. We picked up player after player that had been cut. I find it amazing today to scan the current rosters and box scores of other teams, and see so many recent Astros playing for other teams. And other than a couple pitchers and maybe Perez, none would make the 2015 Astros. The quality of players on this current team is far superior to those a couple years ago. For every JD Martinez, there appears to be a dozen or so that went the other way.

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    • A few blogs ago I went back to 2013 and looked at the 25 man roster at that time and the thing that was amazing was how many of those guys are not in the majors at all – so Krauss has done better than those folks…

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  4. 7. Colin Moran. He has only 750 minor league at-bats. And those are for 4 different teams and two organizations over, basically, one year of playing time. This guy has not had a chance to settle in anywhere.
    He started slow this year but caught fire and in his last 8 games he hit over .400 with 11 RBIs. Then he got hit by a throw to the face on a slide into second base and it broke his jaw. How lucky is that?
    If this guy ever gets a chance to play for somebody without being moved around, he might actually play well.. His position is one of great need with the Astros and I hope he can come back and play well for CC the rest of the year and show us what he has.

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      • White has performed well while doing a tour of practically the whole minor league system – 2013 – Both the Greenville and the Florida GCL rookie teams plus Tri-City and then 2014 – Quad Cities and Lancaster and now at Corpus. He has had good BA and OBP numbers, but nothing like his current .342 BA and .505 OBP. And the guy is walking almost twice for every strike out.
        Good call Mr. Bill.

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      • Bill, isn’t that kinda crazy? You see a guy that nobody talks about and he’s hitting .342 at AA and has this absolutely astounding batting eye. A 23% walk rate vs a 12% strikeout rate.
        It’s like nobody sees him because they really don’t want to see him because he’s a 33rd round draft pick. The first thing you think of is fluke and then you close your eyes and when you open them you can be assured that he won’t be there. But what if he is? Yuk, that body will never work. Yuk, he’s a Lancaster freak! So what, we don’t need any first basemen who hit for average. Hey, wait, he’s still here.

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    • He has done a decent job average and RBI-wise, but is there any power forthcoming from him down the line? And maybe power is not needed if there is enough power elsewhere, but it is a traditional big power position.

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      • But, Dan, is there anything traditional about the baseball times we are living in? If there is anything traditional left in baseball, give me a team of guys that can hit the ball and drive runners in, especially when you have just bunted them over and have two RISP with one out in a game you end up losing 2-1 because you have a team of guys who aren’t hitting, except for the occasional big power home run.

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      • I know, Dan. But I grew up watching the Colt 45s and Astros get destroyed by a different kind of team – the Sandy Koufax/Don Drysdale/Ron Perranoski/Maury Wills/Wally Moon/Don Zimmer guys who combined pitching, defense, speed and OBP to overcome the Hank Aaron and Willie Mays led powerhouses of the day.
        I’ll take some aces and some bases anyday.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The kid had 15 homers and 64 RBI’s in 114 games between those two leagues last year, along with the .420 OBP. He might destroy the Crawford boxes. One thing though, he’s under six feet and already 225. He’ll probably bulk up further, so third base might not be a solution. But I’d have no problem with a high OBP right handed hitting DH that can hit it out.

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      • Just a note on Mr Bill’s post – the 1965 Dodgers won the WS with NOBODY batting .300 and the HR leader hit 12. But they were fun to watch and great to BOO. The always took the extra base, advanced the runner, and of course with Drysdale and Koufax had decent pitching.

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    • Correa and Moran looked really good together on that side of the infield. Moran doesn’t get high marks for defense, but is capable. The best comp I can give you is Bill Spiers…but you probably see more slugging down the line as he ages. He was about the youngest NCAA player picked in 2013 if I recall.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dan, is it possible that CC has Appel working on something similar to what McCullars went through last year? I find it baffling that he is so hittable with the natural assets he has. Is he trying to have a sharper breaking ball for instance and he is emphasizing the pitch? I hope also, that with this upcoming draft Luhnow will look for pitchers with a more bulldog attitude, Like Aaron Nola last year from LSU, 7th overall pick to Philly who is looking great in AA this year and will probably be in the majors by next season.

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  6. Obviously Tucker and McCullers graduate off the list if they stick in the bigs. As for guys not on it (yet), I like JD Davis … But he prob has to play LF or 1B. His bat should reach the big leagues. I think AJ Reed is a fringe guy for the top-10…only on the bubble because he has to play 1B or DH. The idea of his arm at first base brings back dreams of Bag well cutting down runners at 3B though. Both might be top-5 in many other farm systems.

    The pitcher I really like is Daniel Mengden. I’d like to see Devanski live, but can’t argue with those results!

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    • Mengden is putting up terrific numbers at Quad Cities – have to like his K / walk ratiios. Reed’s got good power numbers, Davis more overall good numbers but since they are both at Lancaster…..grains of salt should be taken by all.

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      • The one bad outing by Mengden was against Beloit on April 17th. He and his tandem partner had a bad day and both got hit hard. But remember how Luhnow likes to see how guys adjust the second time around?
        On May 11th he started against Beloit again and kicked their butts in a 6 inning shutout start, allowing only two hits. QC won that game 8-0.
        Turning it around is what you want to see a guy do.

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    • It was also good to see a great first outing for Brian Holmes last night at Corpus. Add Mengden in with the recently promoted Quad Cities standouts Brian Radziewski and Joe Musgrove [now at Lancaster], with others like Brunneman, Feliz, Cotton, et al, and the future should be very bright for quite awhile.

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    • The good news is that they are coming, Kevin. Correa should be one, and we should see him pretty soon. It will take a little longer to process out some of the deadwood who presently represent ‘sunk costs’ [Garterliss, Villar, Rasmus and Conger] in favor of the replacements/upgrades we have in the system and to get guys like Springer and Valbuena up to the level at which we still believe they can hit.

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  7. Collin Moran has *got* to take 3rd. base by the horns and not let go! There was a reason Luhnow wanted him in the Cosart trade, and now it’s up to him to prove he can stick there. There have been a few promotions so far in the minors, and I look for a LOT more by the end of June. Devanski is another guy who SHOULD be on the way to Fresno soon. AND….don’t forget my guy A.J. Reed, he’s a hitting machine, and a VERY good 1st. baseman!!
    The ump calling balls and strikes was promoted to the majors the end of 2014, and had a LOT of negative reports about him in the minors…..one of the biggest was his disregard for the field, when he would spit out as many as 19-20 big wads of gum behind the plate. *DISGUSTING*!!!

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    • I won’t ask who’s neck you would like to ring about, Becky. Carlos Correa cannot get here quickly enough for me!

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  8. Hey Dan. here is the selection eligibility for rule 5. I wonder how many of our guys qualify for next year.

    Players are eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft who are not on their major league organization’s 40-man roster and:

    – were 18 or younger on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is the fifth Rule 5 draft upcoming; or

    – were 19 or older on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is fourth Rule 5 draft upcoming.

    These exemption periods (one year longer than those in effect previously) went into effect as part of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in October 2006. The change took effect immediately, exempting many players from the 2006 Rule 5 draft even though they had been signed in some cases more than four years before the new agreement came into effect. Prior to the rule change, players were exempt from the first two or three Rule 5 drafts held after their signing (regardless of the year they were drafted), rather than from the first three or four Rule 5 drafts after their signing.

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  9. Situational hitting
    Situational hitting
    Situational hitting
    Leaving 7 men on base with the bases loaded…..and your DH is up to bat.

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  10. I don’t like the fact that we only had two hits last night [without the walks, there probably would have been more]. But I like the fact that the hits we did get came from Marisnick and Preston Tucker. We know we’ll get hits from Altuve and some help from guys like Springer (three walks), Castro, and whoever is on third base. But if we consistently get hitting from Tucker [a high OBP, good RBI, run-producing guy] and Marisnick [an opportunistic, fast, make-it-happen kind of guy], we can weather some Gattis/Carter windstorms.

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  11. A little quiz here – if McCullers and Tucker stay up in the bigs and Correa joins them and somebody like Teoscar Hernandez drops off the list – what would a top 10 list look like after the season. Here is a straw man to shoot down:

    1) Velasquez
    2) Phillips
    3) Appel
    4) Feliz
    5) Hader
    6) Mengden
    7) Fisher
    8) Moran
    9) Reed
    10) Santana

    What do you think?

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      • In the same game, that Correa fellow is 2-4 (with a HR), that Singleton dude is 3-4 and some guy named Matt Dominguez is 4-4. The air in California . . .

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    • After the season?
      1. Appel
      2. Swanson
      3 Velasquez
      4. Phillips
      5. Fullmer
      6. Feliz
      7. Hader
      8. Moran
      9. Reed
      10. Santana
      11. Kemp
      12. Nottingham
      That’s not how I would rank them. It’s how I think outside experts will rank them.
      I think Kemp would definitely on my top 10 list, just like Tucker would have been in my top 10 this season.

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      • Kevin, I like Tucker, too and I wouldn’t be surprised if they took him. But, I think they like Dansby and also feel they need to add a good college arm to their stable. There are so many different combos out there, but I think they really might want an impact position player and an impact pitcher and that they would rather go college with them. It’s just a hunch, but one of each of them is a nice balance to add to their top 10 List.

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      • I like Tate, but I think he will be gone before they pick at 1.5. In my opinion, those are the two best pitchers in the draft, but I am admitting having not seen much of them pitch. Only what I can find on the internet. I don’t watch college baseball on TV, as I value my marriage. The Astros, she will tolerate.

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      • Wow, 1OP. I sit and watch all the baseball that I like. I wear the pants in my family. However, it is with earphones on my laptop while I pretend to be interested in reruns on Netflix on TV. So I guess I do wear the pants but my wife operates the zipper.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Prospect Vince Velasquez gets his third start of the year tonight at Corpus. The opponent will be the San Antonio Missions. Go get ’em, VV!

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  13. Might as well get your neck-wringing clothes on, Becky. The line-up is out. Let’s just say that Marwin Gonzalez is not starting at shortstop.

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  14. What do you think is most important in ranking prospects?
    Age?
    Position?
    Lefty vs righty?
    Performance last season vs performance over minor league career?
    Draft position?
    Where the performance occurred (e.g. solid pitching at Lancaster)?

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    • 1. Ceiling/floor.
      2. Tool Grades
      3. consistent improvement
      4. position vs need
      5. Perceived closeness to the majors
      Those are mine.

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  15. ((((((((GULP)))))………..what in the heck was wrong with Gregerson? DANG….that
    was TOO close. I love getting runs off guys we cut! There’s a reason his name is
    Fernado A–bad !!!!

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  16. Another win by the good guys – a good job by Hernandez and dingers by two leftys on lefty (Rasmus and Castro) and another by Carter.

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  17. Since this particular post is about prospects, we got a peek at one of our youngest prospects tonight for the first time in full season baseball. Frances Marte made the start for Quad Cities tonight and pitched 4 good innings. Kevin Comer got the win but gave up a ton of hits and runs doing it. QC scored more runs though and won again
    Marte was the young pitcher we got from the Marlins in the Cosart deal. He’s a 19 year old with a 98 MPH fastball.

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    • You never know what might be the main piece in that trade – Marisnick? Maybe. Moran? Maybe. Marte? Maybe. Supplemental pick after the first round this draft? Maybe.

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  18. Even 1oldpro could not keep his eyes open long enough to see about Lancaster’s ninth inning rally to tie or their i2th inning JD Davis walkoff single to win.
    Lancaster’s early morning heroics completed another organizational sweep for the Astros, as all the minor league teams win.

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