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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.