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February 2, 2010

Future Shock

Astros Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

Four-Star Prospects
1. Jio Mier, SS
2. Jason Castro, C
Three-Star Prospects
3. Jordan Lyles, RHP
4. Tanner Bushue, RHP
5. Ross Seaton, RHP
6. Chia-Jen Lo, RHP
7. Tommy Manzella, SS
8. Samuel Gervacio, RHP
Two-Star Prospects
9. T.J. Steele, OF
10. Jon Gaston, OF
11. Koby Clemens, C

Four More:
12. Jay Austin, OF: It's hard not to get excited about the tools, but he's far from being a baseball player.
13. Henry Villar, RHP: This undersized righty doesn't have a ton of stuff, but his command and control are outstanding.
14. Telvin Nash, OF: A 2009 third-rounder, Nash is beefy and has plenty of power, but he's very raw.
15. Brian Bogusevic, OF: A converted pitcher, Bogusevic scuffled at Triple-A, but he could still end up as a fourth outfielder.

1. Jio Mier, SS
DOB: 8/26/90
Height/Weight: 6-2/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2009, Bonita HS (CA)
2009 Stats: .276/.380/.484 at Rookie-level (51 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Did not qualify

Year in Review: Last year's first-round pick was even better than advertised in his pro debut.
The Good: While it was Mier's glove that got him drafted in the first round, his bat has been more than a pleasant surprise. He understands the strike zone well, has good bat speed, and showed an impressive ability to drive the ball, with some scouts projecting major-league average power down the road. Defensively, he was the best high school shortstop in the draft, with above-average instincts, range, actions, and arm strength. He's a tick above average as a baserunner.
The Bad: Mier fell in love with his power at times during his debut, getting pull-conscious and over-swinging when he would have been best served by using all fields. He needs to be more consistent defensively, as he's as capable of making the spectacular play as he is of booting the routine grounder.
Ephemera: Bonita High's most famous alumni is 1946 Heisman Trophy winner Glenn Davis.
Perfect World Projection: Mier could be an above-average everyday shortstop and an occasional All-Star.
Path to the Big Leagues: While he's a long way from the big leagues, it's hard to see Mier as anything but the Astros' shortstop of the future.
Timetable: Mier will make a highly-anticipated full-season debut at Low-A Lexington, and he has the ability to upgrade his star status to a full five stars 12 months from now.

2. Jason Castro, C
DOB: 6/18/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/245
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Stanford University
2009 Stats: .309/.399/.517 at High-A (56 G); .293/.362/.385 at Double-A (63 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 1

Year in Review: The Astros' top pick from 2008 put up big numbers in the California League, but his slugging fizzled once he got out of Lancaster.
The Good: There are no real weaknesses to Castro's game. He has good plate discipline, and he also has a sound, simple swing with decent strength and leverage. He's a very good receiver with above-average arm strength, and he's big-league ready when it comes to the non-performance aspects of catching, as he works well with pitchers and is a natural leader on the field.
The Bad: When asked about Castro, one scout put it best by saying, "I have little bad to say, but nothing about him excited me, either." His first-half power was a Lancaster mirage, as he's more of a strong gap hitter than a true home-run threat. His plus arm is brought down a bit by a slow, mechanical release. Like most catchers, he's a below-average runner.
Ephemera: Castro was a 43rd-round pick by the Red Sox in 2005, fittingly enough, from Castro Valley High in California, a school that also produced MSNBC host Rachel Maddow and former Metallica bassist Cliff Burton.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a solid everyday catcher, but not a star.
Path to the Big Leagues: J.R. Towles is getting another shot to begin with, but Castro is seen as the much better bet.
Timetable: Castro will begin 2010 at Triple-A Round Rock, and he should be in line for a September look at the very least.

3. Jordan Lyles, RHP
DOB: 10/19/90
Height/Weight: 6-4/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Hartsville HS (CA)
2009 Stats: 3.24 ERA (144.2-134-38-167) at Low-A (26 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 3

Year in Review: A supplemental first-round pick, Lyles had an eye-popping full-season debut, finishing fourth in the minor leagues with 167 strikeouts, and sixth in strikeouts per nine innings with 10.4.
The Good: Lyles' fastball has velocity that's a tick above-average, sitting at 90-92 mph while touching 94, but it plays up significantly due to both the movement of the pitch and his outstanding ability to locate it effectively in all four quadrants of the zone. Lyles' changeup is at least average now, so it's advanced for his age, and his frame and mechanics are built to eat up plenty of innings.
The Bad: Decent velocity and outstanding command can lead to incredible results at Low-A, and scouts generally don't think Lyles is as good as his numbers suggest. His curveball is below average, and it will need to improve for him to succeed at the upper levels.
Ephemera: The 38th overall pick has been especially brutal on pitchers, as no player drafted at that slot has won more than 12 big-league games, although Colby Lewis (1999) gets an opportunity to increase that number this year with the Rangers.
Perfect World Projection: Lyles projects as a solid third starter.
Path to the Big Leagues: After Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez, there are few roadblocks in the Houston rotation.
Timetable: Lyles will move up to Lancaster, not exactly the best place to put up good numbers as a pitcher, in 2010.

4. Tanner Bushue, RHP
DOB: 6/20/91
Height/Weight: 6-4/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2009, South Central HS (IL)
2009 Stats: 2.42 ERA (22.1-18-5-19) at Rookie-level (5 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Did not qualify

Year in Review: A high-upside righty, Bushue made a steady climb up draft charts throughout the spring, finally landing in the second round.
The Good: Bushue was one of the more projectable high school arms in the draft. He's a long-levered righty with a naturally clean, effortless delivery than generates 90-92 mph fastballs. He already touches 94, and most feel that will become more regular down the road. He throws a good 12-to-6 curveball with late bite, and he controls both pitches very well.
The Bad: To call Bushue raw doesn't really do him justice. Pitching at a tiny rural school and rarely on the showcase circuit, he has little exposure to good competition. His changeup is rudimentary at best. A late-season back injury cut his pro debut short, but it's not expected to be a long-term concern.
Ephemera: South Central High services a number of small towns in southern Illinois. Bushue grew up in Kinmundy, population 892.
Perfect World Projection: Bushue's ceiling is arguably higher than Lyles', but he certainly comes with more risk.
Path to the Big Leagues: He will likely be a one-level-at-a-time prospect unless he takes a sudden big step forward with his secondary stuff.
Timetable: Bushue will use the spring to prove that he's ready for a full-season assignment.

5. Ross Seaton, RHP
DOB: 9/18/89
Height/Weight: 6-1/205
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2008, Second Baptist School (TX)
2009 Stats: 3.29 ERA (136.2-137-39-88) at Low-A (24 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 6

Year in Review: This over-slot third-round pick from 2008 showed both promise and cause for concern in his pro debut.
The Good: Seaton has the frame and mechanics of a classic power righty. His fastball ranges from 90-93 mph, and he controls it to both sides of the plate. His hard slider is a go-to offering when it's on, and he maintains his stuff deep into games.
The Bad: Seaton wasn't the pitcher many expected at Lexington. He consistently touched 94-95 mph in high school, a figure that was never seen with the Legends, leading to a strikeout rate that was lower than expected. His slider can get sweepy at times, losing its vertical aspect. He flashes a decent changeup occasionally, but he rarely throws it unless he's well ahead in the count.
Ephemera: Despite its low number, the 109th overall pick in the draft has produced an MVP candidate in Dwight Evans (1969), and a Cy Young winner in LaMarr Hoyt (1973).
Perfect World Projection: Seaton's a mid-rotation innings eater.
Path to the Big Leagues: He's at least three years away.
Timetable: Seaton will begin 2010 at Lancaster, and the results could be ugly if he doesn't find a way to miss more bats.

6. Chia-Jen Lo, RHP
DOB: 4/7/86
Height/Weight: 5-11/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Taiwan, 2008
2009 Stats: 1.78 ERA (25.1-10-13-36) at High-A (12 G); 2.31 ERA (39.0-30-20-39) at Double-A (30 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 10

Year in Review: This Taiwanese import impressed in his stateside debut out of the bullpen.
The Good: Lo has power stuff as a reliever, sitting at 92-94 mph and touching 96, while his herky-jerky delivery makes the ball difficult to pick up for batters. His curveball is an average-to-plus offering, and he also works in a solid changeup.
The Bad: While Lo's delivery helps him confuse hitters, it also leads to command and control issues. He's a bit undersized, and most scouts see him as a "he-is-what-he-is" prospect with little room for improvement.
Ephemera: While Lo made only six appearances in the pinball machine that is Lancaster, he was shockingly dominant there, allowing just one run over 13 1/3 innings while striking out 23.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a good bullpen arm, with his ceiling as a set-up man.
Path to the Big Leagues: If he can throw more strikes, he'll be in The Show in short order.
Timetable: Lo will begin 2010 at Triple-A, and he should make his big-league debut at some point during the season.

7. Tommy Manzella, SS
DOB: 4/16/83
Height/Weight: 6-2/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2005, Tulane University
2009 Stats: .289/.339/.417 at (113 G); .200/.200/.200 at MLB (7 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: A fundamentally sound shortstop, Manzella showed some life with the bat at Double-A Corpus Christi, earning a brief big-league call-up.
The Good: Manzella always had big league-level defense, but his offensive step forward put him at the top of the Astros' depth chart going into 2010. He's a good athlete with a sound swing and developing gap power, as both his 31 doubles and nine home runs in 2009 represent career highs. He's a fantastic glove man whose instincts and 55 speed (on the 20-80 scale) give him plenty of range. Manzella also has outstanding hands and an above-average arm.
The Bad: Manzella turns 27 in April and has likely peaked offensively, which leaves him best suited for the bottom of a lineup. He can get a bit too aggressive at the plate, leaving him behind in the count. While he's quick, he's not a basestealer.
Ephemera: While nearly 100 players have been drafted from Tulane, only four have hit big-league home runs, with Cincinnati pitcher Micah Owings the all-time leader with eight.
Perfect World Projection: He's a second-division starting shortstop.
Path to the Big Leagues: It just might be over.
Timetable: Manzella is going into spring training with the big-league shortstop job as his to lose, but he might just end up being a stopgap until Mier arrives.

8. Samuel Gervacio, RHP
DOB: 1/10/85
Height/Weight: 6-0/170
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2002
2009 Stats: 4.82 ERA (52.1-43-21-58) at Triple-A (39 G); 2.14 ERA (21.0-16-8-58) at MLB (29 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 7

Year in Review: A unique reliever, Gervacio reached the big leagues in 2009, and he's likely there for good following a strong performance.
The Good: Gervacio gives hitters fits. He has one of the strangest deliveries in the game, as what starts out as a classic over-the-top style transforms at the very end to nearly sidearm. He has a 91-92 mph fastball that touches 95, as well as a plus slider that is a true big-league out pitch. His command and control are solid and, like most side-armers, he tends to keep the ball on the ground.
The Bad: Gervacio's pure stuff isn't overwhelming, and some scouts worry that big-league hitters are going to solve the puzzle he presents to them at some point. Because of his delivery, Gervacio is technically throwing across his body, but he's remained healthy so far, and it seems to work for him.
Ephemera: Big-league hitters facing Gervacio with runners on and two outs went 2-for-14 with six strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a good seventh-inning reliever.
Path to the Big Leagues: It should be done.
Timetable: Gervacio's performance puts him firmly in the Astros' big-league bullpen for the foreseeable future.

9. T.J. Steele, OF
DOB: 9/21/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 4th round, 2008, University of Arizona
2009 Stats: .345/.385/.562 at High-A (50 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Just missed

Year in Review: Beset by constant hamstring troubles, Steele was a dynamic force for Lancaster when he was available.
The Good: Steele's tools are impressive. He's a big athlete with good hand-eye coordination and gap power, and at times he shows a tad more. He's an above-average runner whose work in the outfield plays up due to excellent routes and jumps, and his arm is solid.
The Bad: Steele looks early for fastballs and swings at every one he sees, an approach that could catch up to him at the upper levels. Few project him for more than 15-18 homer power down the road, so he'll need to stay in center in order to avoid being labeled a tweener.
Ephemera: When Steele's hamstring was healthy enough to play but balky enough to move him to right field, he hit .400/.420/.662 in 65 at-bats.
Perfect World Projection: Steele's a second-division starter.
Path to the Big Leagues: He has the tools to move quickly but, obviously, adjustments need to be made.
Timetable: We'll learn more about Steele following a 2010 season that begins at Corpus Christi.

10. Jon Gaston, OF
DOB: 10/13/86
Height/Weight: 6-0/210
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 7th round, 2008, University of Arizona
2009 Stats: .278/.367/.598 at High-A (139 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: A relatively unknown seventh-round pick, Gaston led the minor leagues in extra-base hits and runs while tying for the lead in home runs and total bases, but hey, it was Lancaster.
The Good: Gaston's raw power is very real. He's a thickly built, muscular player who generates tremendous leverage in his swing, and his power is to all fields. He works the count well, and he is a solid outfielder with a good arm and speed that is only a tick below average.
The Bad: Gaston has a ton of swing-and-miss in his game, as his bat is slow and his swing has a significant uppercut to it. Many feel he's a pure Lancaster mirage, as he hit just .248/.337/.504 in California League road games and .239 with 38 strikeouts in 92 at-bats in the Arizona Fall League. Good lefties give him trouble.
Ephemera: When facing the more advanced southpaws of the AFL, Gaston went 2-for-20 with 12 whiffs.
Perfect World Projection: Gaston could be a low-average, plus-power corner outfielder.
Path to the Big Leagues: He needs to prove it's for real away from Lancaster first.
Timetable: Like Steele, Gaston will be tested at Double-A in 2010.

11. Koby Clemens, C
DOB: 12/4/86
Height/Weight: 5-11/193
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 8nth Round, 2006, Memorial HS (TX)
2009 Stats: .235/.333/.235 at Double-A (5 G); .345/.419/.636 at High-A (116 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: Like Steele and Gaston, Clemens enjoyed hitting in Lancaster, leading the minor leagues with 123 RBI while finishing in the top five for batting, slugging, and doubles.
The Good: While the numbers are highly inflated, scouts did see some real progress in Clemens' game. He does a good job of waiting for a pitch to drive, and when he gets it, he rifles balls to both gaps and shows the ability to crush mistakes.
The Bad: Clemens has yet to find a defensive home, as the former third baseman's conversion to catcher has been a slow burn at best. He's been charged with 50 passed balls and 17 errors in just 147 games behind the plate over the last two years, while his solid arm is beset by a slow, mechanical release. He's squarely built, and when he was tried in left field, his range was below average.
Ephemera: At least Clemens hit when he was in left field, as he went 21-for-44 (.477) with a .909 slugging percentage when penciled into the role.
Perfect World Projection: If he can improve his work behind the plate, he just might get to the bigs.
Path to the Big Leagues: It's a confusing one if he doesn't find a defensive home.
Timetable: Like the two players ahead of him, Clemens will be tested in 2010 at Double-A.

The Sleeper: Received from Texas in the Pudge Rodriguez deal, righty Matt Nevarez is a big righty with a plus fastball/slider combination who could move quickly as a reliever.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (Born 4/1/84 or later)

1. Jio Mier, SS
2. Bud Norris, RHP
3. Jason Castro, C
4. Jordan Lyles, RHP
5. Tanner Bushue, RHP
6. Ross Seaton, RHP
7. Chia-Jen Lo, RHP
8. Tommy Manzella, SS
9. Samuel Gervacio, RHP
10. Wesley Wright, LHP

Not only are the Astros mediocre, they're old and mediocre, with little in the way of young talent. Norris is basically the kind of pitcher Lyles and Seaton can aspire to be (mid-rotation power arms), while Wright is a usable lefty out of the bullpen.

Summary: Still hampered by one of the worst systems in the game, the Astros are making some slow and steady improvements thanks to the addition of scouting director Bobby Heck, who has overseen the last two drafts for Houston. Seven of the 11 players on this list are ones that he has drafted in that short span of time.


Next up: the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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