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February 4, 2015

2015 Prospects

Houston Astros Top 10 Prospects

by Nick J. Faleris and BP Prospect Staff

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Last year's Astros list

The Top Ten

  1. SS Carlos Correa
  2. RHP Mark Appel
  3. RHP Vincent Velasquez
  4. OF Brett Phillips
  5. OF Derek Fisher
  6. RHP Michael Feliz
  7. RHP Lance McCullers
  8. OF Domingo Santana
  9. 3B Colin Moran
  10. OF Teoscar Hernandez

1. Carlos Correa
Position: SS
DOB: 09/22/1994
Height/Weight: 6’4’’ 205 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2012 draft, Puerto Rican Baseball Academy (Gurabo, PR)
Previous Ranking: #1 (Org), #5 (Top 101)
2014 Stats: .325/.416/.510 at High-A Lancaster (62 games)
The Tools: 7 arm; 6+ potential hit; 6+ potential power; 6 glove

What Happened in 2014: The expeditious development of Correa was dealt its first major blow, as a broken fibula cut short an up-until-then impressive 2014 that likely would have seen the former first-rounder finish in Double-A at the age of 19.

Strengths: Advanced approach at the plate; top-shelf offensive skill set; broad frame filling in nicely; emerging strength in swing; good balance and barrel delivery; compact to contact but can flash more leveraged swing depending on situation; arm is a weapon; soft hands and clean actions; big makeup; elite talent.

Weaknesses: Fringy average run, could continue to decline; body could eventually push profile to third base at maturity; will occasionally fall into early extension, adding length to swing.

Overall Future Potential: 7; all-star player

Realistic Role: 6; first-division player

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; high floor; if he can show full bounce-back from broken fibula this drops to low risk quickly.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Correa is a top-three fantasy prospect, and could be an absolute monster at a notoriously weak position. Sure, there’s risk that he may have to move to third base long term, but the bat contains so much upside that it just doesn’t matter. Correa could be a .300 hitter with 30 homers if the bat plays up to capacity—which would be a first-round pick at almost any position.

The Year Ahead: Correa was well on his way to staking a claim to title of best prospect in the game before an ill-fated slide into third abruptly ended his 2014 season 62 games into the campaign. There is impact potential on both sides of the ball, including the possibility for plus or better grades offensively and soft hands, clean actions, and a double-plus arm that could help him to stick at the six-spot. The Puerto Rican prep product has a natural feel for the game that has allowed him to progress quickly over his short pro career, as a healthy Correa would have been all but certain to reach Double-A last summer at the age of 19 and with fewer than two full pro seasons under his belt. Looking ahead, Correa’s developmental trajectory will be wholly tied to whether there are lingering effects stemming from his broken fibula. The prevailing belief seems to be that little should change from a value standpoint, with the bat projecting to impact regardless of defensive position, and his high grades for makeup and work ethic give comfort Correa will put in the requisite time and effort to get himself back up to speed. He could get a short return trip to the Cal League to build momentum, but should spend a nice chunk of 2015 in Double-A with a late season cup of coffee possible and a 2016 extended Houston debut all but certain.

Major league ETA: 2016

2. Mark Appel
Position: RHP
DOB: 07/15/1991
Height/Weight: 6’5” 190 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st Round, 2013 draft, Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA)
Previous Ranking: #3 (Org), #21 (Top 101)
2014 Stats: 3.69 ERA (39 IP, 35 H, 38 K, 13 BB) at Double-A Corpus Christi, 9.74 ERA (44.1 IP, 74 H, 40 K, 11 BB) at High-A Lancaster
The Tools: 7 FB; 6 SL; 6 CH

What Happened in 2014: Appel was shockingly hittable over 44.1 innings with High-A Lancaster, righting the ship some after a mechanical tune-up and promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi.

Strengths: Fastball can play to double-plus, sitting 93 to 96 and touching 98 mph; occasional bore; at best, low- to mid-80s slider can be a weapon, with depth, bite and tilt; low- to mid-80s change plays with solid arm-speed deception and tumble; can mix and match arsenal; durable build; shows ability to create angles on pitches.

Weaknesses: Slider and change can show inconsistencies across starts; control outdistances command at present; passive demeanor on mound can rub evaluators the wrong way; profile plays lower in the aggregate than sum of the grades; High-A bats had little trouble tracking and squaring offerings, even when executed.

Overall Future Potential: High 6; no. 2/3 starter

Realistic Role: High 5; no. 3/4 starter

Risk Factor/Injury History: Low; even with 2014 stumbles it’s a high floor, high probability profile.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There may not have been a prospect whose perceived fantasy value changed so much over the course of the 2014 season without actually changing all that much in the end. Those who sold low after he bottomed out in the Cal League should regret their decision right about now, and the right-hander still possesses SP2 upside with the ability to impact all four categories.

The Year Ahead: Appel serves as an interesting Rorschach test for evaluators. The cross-section of scouts that like to see fire and a mean streak in their future front-enders have roundly dinged the former Stanford Cardinal for being soft and lacking the mental fortitude to thrive as an impact starter at the major-league level. Other evaluators see three plus or better offerings, a good body, easy arm action, and impressive pedigree and have no concerns projecting the emergence of a legit number-two starter from this amalgamation of attributes. It’s unusual for an arm with such lofty grades across the profile to draw the level of vitriol and distrust that Appel has received from a vocal portion of the scouting community, but it’s likewise unusual for such a refined and experienced talent to flounder to this degree 28 pro starts (22 of them coming in the lower levels) into his career. This is an important year for the two-time first rounder, as a strong showing in his return to the Texas League will all but erase a problematic 2014 from the minds of most. If inconsistencies and underperformance persist it will add fuel to the fast-burning narrative that places Appel’s demeanor as a roadblock standing between front-line raw stuff and front-end production. The stuff is near major-league ready, but he’ll have to wield it with more consistency and precision if he’s to navigate his way through upper-level lineups.

Major league ETA: 2016

3. Vincent Velasquez
Position: RHP
DOB: 06/07/1992
Height/Weight: 6’3” 203 lbs.
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2010 draft, Garey HS (Garey, CA)
Previous Ranking: #6 (Org)
2014 Stats: 3.74 ERA (55.1 IP, 45 H, 72 K, 23 BB) at High-A Lancaster, 2.16 ERA (8.1 IP, 5 H, 19 K, 2 BB) at rookie-level Gulf Coast
The Tools: 6+ FB; 6+ CH; 5 potential CB

What Happened in 2014: Velasquez followed up a strong post-Tommy John showing in 2013 with a near-breakout performance last summer, with two missed months (groin) preventing the potent power arm from firmly establishing himself as one of the top-tier arms in the minors.

Strengths: Fastball induces evaluative butterflies, showing neat plus velocity with ease and precision; some arm-side life; holds velo past 50 pitch mark and into later innings; changeup comes with big deception and abrupt dive; swing-and-miss offering low to mid-80s; curve will flash average with solid shape; good competitor; not afraid to attack bats and stake claim to inner half.

Weaknesses: Trouble staying on field; curve is inconsistent offering and can come soft, lacking bite; if breaking ball never fully materializes, fastball/change combo probably not enough to turn over major-league lineups with regularity.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter

Realistic Role: High 5; no. 4 starter with late-inning fallback

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; Tommy John in 2010; missed two months in 2014 (groin).

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Oft overlooked among starting pitching prospects in fantasy, Velazquez could make himself into a high-end dynasty asset on the verge of the majors in the next 12 months. He’ll need to take a better weapon with him to fight right-handed batters if he wants to really rack up the strikeouts, but even without it, there’s SP4, or high-end relief, potential here.

The Year Ahead: A full season of Velasquez could have been a revelation, as the 22-year-old continues to display one of the most impressive all-around fastballs in the minors, thanks to a smooth implementation, good velocity, some late action, and an ability to command it to the quadrants. Aside from building up innings and showing the durability to weather a long major-league season, Velasquez needs to stay on the field if he is going to log the necessary reps to beef up the breaking ball. At present it’s a lightweight fighter who will soon be asked to take on middle- and heavyweight pugilists from Double-A on. Thus far his plus off-speed offering has been enough to keep both lefty and righty bats at bay, serving to disrupt timing and draft soft and empty contact alike. Were Velasquez to ultimately prove incapable of sticking in a rotation, be it durability or lack of a requisite third offering, he could thrive in the late innings. That potential conversion is still a ways away, however, and Velasquez will enter 2015 moving to a future in the Astros’ rotation. Even a half-grade bump on the curve could be enough to propel him onto the national prospect scene, and a full season’s workload could line him up for consideration as a major-league contributor come 2016.

Major league ETA: 2016

4. Brett Phillips
Position: OF
DOB: 05/30/1994
Height/Weight: 6’0” 175 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: 6th round, 2012 draft, Seminole HS (Seminole, FL)
Previous Ranking: NR
2014 Stats: .339/.421/.560 at High-A Lancaster (27 games), .302/.362/.521 at Low-A Quad Cities (103 games)
The Tools: 6+ arm; 5+ potential glove; 5+ run; 5 potential hit; 5 potential power

What Happened in 2014: The former sixth-rounder impressed from the drop in an inhospitable Midwest League, ramping up his on-field production upon midseason promotion to High-A Lancaster, and culminating in a breakout year for the well-rounded outfielder.

Strengths: Five-tool potential, highlighted by an impact-outfield skillset; above-average runner; speed can play to plus thanks to acceleration and ability to close; right-field arm with glove and coverage to stick up the middle; improved strength throughout core; consistent hard contact across lower levels; good feel for barrel; evaluators note comfort in the box; loose and easy; already displays ability to track spin; oppo-capable.

Weaknesses: Can have trouble making impactful contact middle-in against same-side arms; still working to shorten path; tendency to bar front arm can leak back into swing periodically; can lose handle on barrel with over swings; proper in/out sequencing can keep barrel off ball; power could fall well short of potential.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer

Risk Factor/Injury History: High; yet to reach upper minors; bat still a work in progress.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: A five-category profile is always a good one to invest in, and Phillips will likely only raise his stock as he is expected to rack up more California League at-bats in 2015. Unfortunately, it’s a weak across-the-board profile, with no carrying tools for fantasy. A .270 hitter with 10-15 homers and 15-20 steals is attractive, but don’t invest in the stat line.

The Year Ahead: Early season Midwest League looks at Phillips immediately pointed to a profile that had taken a firm step forward. A stronger body and more consistent barrel path helped Phillips to unlock more explosion at contact, and he built upon that progress throughout three months of impressive play with Quad Cities prior to finishing the season strong with Lancaster. Defensively, Phillips can fit in center or right, depending on team need, and can be a valuable producer at either spot thanks to his combination of arm strength, accuracy, speed, and ability to finish on the run. There are still questions as to where the bat tops out, but after seeing the results of a little bit of added strength and continued reps and instruction, the developmental trajectory is definitively pointing upwards and onwards, with a real chance for the 2012 draftee to emerge from his minor-league journey as a top of the order bat. Even if he falls shy of that upside, his value in the field and on the bases could make him a useful everyday player. He’ll likely start 2015 back in Lancaster with an eye towards an in-season bump to Double-A Corpus Christi.

Major league ETA: 2017

5. Derek Fisher
Position: OF
DOB: 08/21/1993
Height/Weight: 6’1” 207 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2014 draft, University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA)
Previous Ranking: NR
2014 Stats: .303/.378/.408 at short-season Tri-City (41 games), .667/.750/1.000 at rookie-level Gulf Coast (1 game)
The Tools: 6 run; 6 potential power; 6 potential hit; 5 potential glove

What Happened in 2014: A potential top ten pick in the 2014 draft, Fisher lost six weeks of his spring to a broken hamate bone, dropped to Houston as the 37th overall selection last June, and immediately stood out as one of the better bats in the New York-Penn League as a key member of the runner-up Tri-City squad.

Strengths: Athletic build; smooth left-handed swing; solid bat speed; easy power to pull; handles barrel well; can drive oppo; understands zone and comes with impressive approach; plus runner on the grass and the dirt; fringe-average arm strength can play up at times with occasional carry and solid accuracy; solid reads on the bases.

Weaknesses: Plus or better raw not yet a consistent in-game weapon; routes and reads can eat into speed utility in the field; lines on the base path can add distance between bases; occasionally dinged as low-energy during collegiate career.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; solid pedigree and refinement but limited pro experience.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: One of my favorite fantasy targets in dynasty drafts this year, Fisher fell to the supplemental round, but mostly due to the deficiencies in his glove work. At the plate, Fisher could be a 20/20 option with the ability to hit for a strong average to boot. He shouldn’t last beyond the first 20 picks in your draft.

The Year Ahead: In a draft many Astros fans would like to forget, Fisher stands out as a potential steal in the supplemental first round, and could develop quickly into the top positional talent in the system behind Correa. All the makings are here for a quality number-two bat capable of serving the dual role of catalyst and run producer. When Fisher gets a hold of the ball he has the ability to launch tape-measure shots, but his swing and approach are better geared towards hard line-drive contact at present. Time will tell whether he can work an approach that will allow him to tap into both facets of his game, and he possesses the comfort and fluidity in the box to eventually walk that line. Defensively, Fisher has the raw tools of a potential center fielder but lacks feel for the craft. With Minute Maid offering unique challenges for even the best in the business, he is a better fit in left where he could grow into an average or better defender. The former Wahoo is advanced enough to jump right to Lancaster and could reach Double-A by the end of 2015 if the Astros are so inclined to fast-track his development.

Major league ETA: 2017

6. Michael Feliz
Position: RHP
DOB: 09/28/1993
Height/Weight: 6’4” 210 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2010, Dominican Republic
Previous Ranking: #10 (Org)
2014 Stats: 4.03 ERA (102.2 IP, 104 H, 111 K, 37 BB) at Low-A Quad Cities
The Tools: 6+ FB; 6 potential SL; 5 potential CH

What Happened in 2014: The burly righty made steady progress in his first taste of full-season ball, showing growth in his power slider and changeup while improving his approach across longer outings.

Strengths: Loud arm; arm speed to produce velo and spin; sits 92 to 94 mph with solid life, reaching as high as 98 mph up in the zone; good downward angle; most effective working down and can elevate ahead in count; slider is second potential plus offering with fastball trajectory out the hand and hard, late, sweeping action; built for the long haul; thick lower half helps generate power without over exertion.

Weaknesses: Can get stiff in landing, impacting command in the zone; some length on the back side, causing inconsistencies in path and release; changeup lags as below-average offering; too firm and can float up in the zone; can tip pitch on arm swing and deceleration; will come around slider, softening bite and leaving hittable; can lean too heavily on fastball from stretch; fastball can leak back across plate against oppo bats.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter

Realistic Role: High 5; late-inning relief/closer

Risk Factor/Injury History: High; low-minors resume.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Another year closer and Feliz is still lingering in flier territory in most leagues. If your league rosters 200 minor leaguers, he should likely be owned, but the risk of ending up a reliever is real and he’s got an assignment in Lancaster staring him in the face—which is bad for business.

The Year Ahead: There is still a fair amount of work to be done in order for Feliz to reach his upside as a solid mid-rotation starter at the highest level, but the progress made in 2014 was encouraging. By the end of the year, Feliz looked much more comfortable his second time through the order, and there was more consistency in his secondary execution. More than anything, Feliz has to find a suitable option for tripping up lefty bats. His changeup doesn’t offer enough trajectory variance or deception at present, and he can’t yet command his fastball consistently enough to the inner half to lefty hitters to jump the offering. Should he transition to the pen, his fastball/slider combo could play as presently constituted, and he could even see an uptick in velocity letting it air out in short stints. The hitter-friendly confines of the California League will pose a challenge for Feliz and place increased import on his ability to disrupt timing and deal with more precision. With continued incremental improvement, Feliz could be competing for a rotation spot two springs from now, with a rapid ascent possible should Houston decide they want his big right arm as a late-inning option.

Major league ETA: 2017

7. Lance McCullers
Position: RHP
DOB: 10/02/1993
Height/Weight: 6’2” 205 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2012 draft, Jesuit High School (Tampa, FL)
Previous Ranking: #7 (Org)
2014 Stats: 5.47 ERA (97 IP, 95 H, 115 K, 56 BB) at High-A Lancaster
The Tools: 7 potential FB; 7 potential CB

What Happened in 2014: The live-armed McCullers had no issue missing bats with High-A Lancaster thanks to a pair of potential double-plus power offerings, but was too often undone by his below-average command and erratic execution.

Strengths: Low- to mid-90s fastball shows giddy-up; can reach back for more; breaking ball is a true hammer; low-80s velo with big depth and sharp 11-to-5 action; some feel to vary shape; works to freeze and as a chase pitch; high-octane approach; bulldog; attacks hitters head on.

Weaknesses: High-effort, cross-fire delivery; Well below-average command; arm action can lack fluidity; struggles to maintain consistent timing and release; cross-fire complicates ability to reach both sides of the plate with consistency; breaking ball can play fringe average due to inconsistent execution; can come soft and slurvy and can overthrow and bury; changeup clear third offering; lacks feel for the pitch.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter/frontline closer

Realistic Role: 5; late-inning relief

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; low-minors resume.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There may be some who still hold out higher hope than others as to whether McCullers can cut it in a rotation, but he looks like an awfully strong relief prospect at this point. That said, we know where relief prospects end up in the grand scheme of farm systems, and if you can sell him on name value, I would.

The Year Ahead: The high-effort delivery, spotty execution, below-average command, and two-pitch repertoire still point to McCullers as a future relief arm. The possibility persists, however, that the former over-slot signee could find his way as an early A.J. Burnett-style mid-rotation arm capable of front-end gems and fringe-starter stinkers alike, and the effectiveness of his breaking ball on a given night the primary determinant. Even that outcome will require a more consistent implementation of his curve and for his off-speed to grow to at least a fringe-average offering. McCullers will escape the High-A hitters’ haven of the Cal League in 2015, advancing to the more inviting environs in Corpus Christi, where he will need to place an emphasis on improving his execution and working deeper into games with more frequency in order to continue to build up his arm. A solid showing should put him in line for a big-league call-up at some point in 2016.

Major league ETA: 2016

8. Domingo Santana
Position: RF
DOB: 08/05/1992
Height/Weight: 6’5” 230 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2009, Dominican Republic
Previous Ranking: #8 (Org)
2014 Stats: .000/.056/.000 at Houston Astros, (6 games), .296/.384/.474 at Triple-A Oklahoma City (120 games)
The Tools: 6+ power potential; 6+ arm

What Happened in 2014: Santana produced as a 21-year-old in Triple-A before running into a buzz saw in his first taste of major-league action, whiffing in 14 of his 18 plate appearances over two brief call-ups.

Strengths: Big raw pop; strength in leverage produces easy power to all fields; solid extension through contact; gets everything out of big-boy body; strong enough to drive the ball without centering on barrel; power can force pitchers to margins, has ability to grow into solid on-base threat; impact arm plays well in right; solid athlete.

Weaknesses: Deep load and length to his swing; barrel can take long path to ball; average bat speed coupled with length can force early commit and exposure to spin away and velo in; significant swing-and-miss; struggles with same-side arms, and particularly same-side spin away; needs to improve breaks to maximize coverage in right.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; above-average regular

Realistic Role: High 4; below-average regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; swing and overall approach stand as barrier to major-league transition.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Thirty-homer power does not grow on trees, but unfortunately his hit tool does. In an OBP league, Santana makes a better investment, but in roto and points leagues, he leaves a lot to be desired and likely tops out as an OF4 if he hits his ceiling.

The Year Ahead: Santana is an understandably divisive talent, with the heft of his raw pop outdistanced only by the weight of coverage issues. The result is a dangerous mistake hitter who can punish fringy stuff but lacks the physical ability to get to certain pitches, both straight up and in sequence. The native Dominican has shown in the past a willingness to permit wary arms to work around him, resulting in a solid foundation for on-base production. If he can continue to develop that restraint in concert with a better approach to seeking out balls in his kill zone, there is a path here to a productive major-league career as a three-outcome corner bat that would fit comfortably in the six hole on a contending lineup. Despite 513 productive Triple-A plate appearances last summer, Santana could be well served by a return to the PCL to start 2015. He was not ready for his first taste of major-league competition, and further saw his approach loosen upon his return to Omaha after each of his brief stints with the big club. He’ll play the bulk of 2015 at the age of 22, so there’s little reason to force the issue at this point. His star may have dimmed some, but there is still plenty reason for the Astros to consider Santana a potential contributor on the next competitive squad they field.

Major league ETA: Brief debut in 2014

9. Colin Moran
Position: 3B
DOB: 10/01/1992
Height/Weight: 6’4” 190 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2013 draft, University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, NC)
Previous Ranking: #2 (Org)
2014 Stats: .304/.350/.411 at Double-A Corpus Christi (28 games), .294/.342/.393 at High-A Jupiter (89 games)
The Tools: 5+ potential hit; 5+ arm; 5 potential glove; 5 potential power;

What Happened in 2014: The sixth overall selection in the 2013 draft was unspectacular in his first full season of pro ball (split between High-A with the Marlins and Double-A with Houston), showing a solid feel for contact but in-game power well shy of desired corner production.

Strengths: Natural feel to hit; good balance and willingness to utilize full field; above-average bat-to-ball skills; will flash leverage and some pop to pull; left-side arm; hands play at third; improved defensive consistency; punch-the-clock approach to his game with even demeanor regardless of situation.

Weaknesses: Dispassionate approach can come off as disinterested at times; lacks impact across his tools; average bat speed; infrequent hard contact despite solid production; kill zone much smaller than coverage area; needs to continue to add strength and more frequently manifest in-game power; lower half can hold back range at third and accuracy on throws; could be limited to first base, long term.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; above-average regular

Realistic Role: High 4; below-average major leaguer

Risk Factor/Injury History: Low; major leaguer in some form but profile could lack impact.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Two men entered the steel cage. One emerged victorious and the other is probably visiting the Coca-Cola Museum right now. Moran should be able to hit .280 at the major-league level, but there are enough questions surrounding it, that his fantasy value is very much up in the air. If he hits 15 homers and sticks at third, that’s great. If one of the two doesn’t happen, dynasty leaguers can move on.

The Year Ahead: Moran is going to hit enough to have a major-league career in some form. The question remains whether there is enough in the profile to back up his bat-to-ball ability, or if the former Tar Heel will be limited to a hollow-average corner bat. His defense and baserunning are unlikely to provide significant value at the highest level, so he’s going to have to either max out his hit tool to impact levels or develop at least average power in order to warrant everyday consideration on the lineup card. Moran was one of the youngest collegiate players in his draft class, and his broad frame still affords room for additional strength. Still, if Moran is going to grow that aspect of his game he is going to have to focus his approach and improve his hard contact rate. He should return to Double-A to start 2015 with his eye on an in-season jump to Fresno. The upside is that of a Pablo Sandoval type, capable of steady actions at third, a solid hit tool, and average power production. If Moran is forced off the hot corner, the likelihood of his growing into an average or better major leaguer will decrease significantly.

Major league ETA: 2016

10. Teoscar Hernandez
Position: OF
DOB: 10/15/1992
Height/Weight: 6’2” 180 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2011, Dominican Republic
Previous Ranking: On the Rise
2014 Stats: .284/.299/.474 at Double-A Corpus Christi (23 games), .294/.376/.550 at High-A Lancaster (96 games)
The Tools: 6+ run; 5+ arm; 5 glove; 5 potential hit; 5 potential power

What Happened in 2014: Hernandez made the most of his run through Lancaster, showing solid pop and impact speed before struggling to adjust to more advanced Texas League arms late in the season.

Strengths: Natural hitter with aggressive approach; loves to swing it; capable of putting a charge into the ball; above-average raw; solid athlete; likely average defender with a chance to exceed that as he continues to gain confidence in his reads and improve his effective coverage; above-average arm can be an asset in center, allow for right field fallback.

Weaknesses: Prone to mistakes of aggression in the box; lacks much in the way of approach; reliant on bat speed and feel for contact; swing and miss could limit power output at upper levels; doesn’t fully leverage speed in outfield; can be timid at outset of routes; decrease in speed as body matures could force to a corner.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: High 4; fourth outfielder/below-average regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; limited upper-level exposure and significant contact questions.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The upside is certainly there to attract dynasty owners, especially in the speed department, but as has been a theme across the players on this list, his expectations have moved in lock step with the elevation he’s played at. He could hit 15 homers and steal 30 bases, or never make the majors in any significant capacity.

The Year Ahead: The benefit of Hernandez’s well-rounded skill set is that he doesn’t need to max out any single aspect of his game in order to be a useful piece for the ‘Stros. At present, his contact ability stands as a lynchpin to an everyday profile, with his ability to generate hard contact via solid bat speed his best weapon in the fight. If Hernandez can rein in his aggressiveness enough so as not to leave himself susceptible to regular early-count holes and forced contact out of the zone, he has a chance to produce an average-driven on-base profile with enough foot speed to leg out extra bases, even if the playable over-the-fence pop tops out at fringe average. He should start 2015 back in Double-A and could benefit from a season’s worth of at-bats in the eight-team league, where he’ll be forced to adjust to advanced arms with enough exposure to build a book on him. Refinement of his jumps and reads on the bases will further bolster his foundational value by improving the frequency with which he can swipe an extra bag, be it by steal or off contact, and limit the outs he makes in the process.

Major league ETA: 2017


Prospects on the Rise:

1. RHP Joe Musgrove: A former supplemental first-rounder in a stacked 2011 draft class, it has taken Musgrove some time to get going on the developmental side. Last season was a coming out party of sorts for the big and broad righty, as he was able to put together over 75 innings of high-quality ball for Tri-City, spearheaded by a solid plus fastball that can sit 91 to 95 mph with good life down in the zone. His curve is a second potential swing-and-miss pitch, and there is some feel for a change-piece, which he worked in with more comfort as the season progressed. It’s not an elite package, but Musgrove has a chance to develop into a solid number-three or number-four starter in time, and could potentially handle late-inning work, as well, should Houston so require. He’ll step up to full-season ball in 2015 and should be in play for next year’s top ten list assuming continued growth over the next year.

2. 3B/1B J.D. Davis: Davis led Cal State Fullerton in all three slash categories this spring, posting a .338/.425/.521 line in just over 250 plate appearances. The former Titan wound up coming off the board to Houston with the 75th overall selection last June, and hit well upon arrival in the New York-Penn League as well as with Low-A Quad Cities. There is plus power here to pull, and enough strength to muscle the ball out to all fields. Defensively it’s an adequate glove with big-time arm strength (Davis also served as the closer for Fullerton), though his limited range could see him shift across the diamond to first base in the not-distant future.

3. LHP Josh Hader: The long and lanky lefty enjoyed a season to build upon with High-A Lancaster, working with an upper-80s to low-90s fastball with lots of dance out of a tough low three-quarters slot. He can reach as his as 95 mph and could sit closer to that mark in shorter bursts should he wind up in the pen as some evaluators suggest. His slider is a second potential above-average offering that can make lefty bats highly uncomfortable due to the angle of approach. His change is a third usable weapon, though both it and the slider regularly play fringe average or below, as Hader is still working to find a consistent release that allows him to work the totality of the zone with each. He’ll need more precision in execution to continue his run of success against stiffer Texas League competition, and could find a home as a useful lefty relief arm should he prove incapable of turning over upper-level lineups with his fastball-heavy approach.


Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2015):

1. 2B Tony Kemp: Kemp’s calling card is a compact stroke that plays well gap to gap and facilitates elite bat-to-ball rates. He regularly produces firm line-drive contact, with his plus speed helping to turn singles into doubles while keeping infielders’ feet to the fire on anything requiring three or more steps to convert. The power is well below-average, and he has a tendency to get front-of-center in his weight transfer, exposing him to soft stuff away, particularly from same-side arms. If he can sort out his splits there’s enough thump to keep upper-level arms honest, and it’s a tight enough approach to rack up a solid on-base percentage as pitchers try to work the black. Defensively, Kemp is a safe and solid glove at the keystone with enough arm strength to push his functional range beyond the bag. He’s not far from helping out in Houston and could wind up anywhere from a solid everyday bat with some on-base chops to a super utility/platoon option with pinch-run utility.

2. UTL Ronald Torreyes: Another undersized second baseman, Torreyes doesn’t have Tony Kemp’s offensive upside, though he does offer more in the way of defensive versatility. The Venezuelan product logged time at every position on the field last year outside of first base and right field, with the bulk of his efforts coming at the keystone. His speed is average, which limits some of his extra-base opportunities and eats into his overall offensive profile. Torreyes likely tops out as a super-utility option, capable of logging time across the dirt as well as in left field and center. He could provide value in that capacity as early as 2015.

3. OF Preston Tucker: The thick-bodied former Gator continued to progress towards the majors in 2014, putting together another productive year—this time split between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City. Tucker is a solid and steady producer with the stick, showing natural loft and a good feel for the barrel. While the bat doesn’t project to impact levels, there is solid 20 home-run upside in the stick if everything comes together, and at minimum he should carry with him some utility as a lefty power bat off the bench. Tucker is ready to take a cut at big-league arms, and the Astros should give him a chance to show his stuff in Houston at some point in 2015.


Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/89 or later)

  1. Jose Altuve
  2. Carlos Correa
  3. George Springer
  4. Mark Appel
  5. Jon Singleton
  6. Vincent Velasquez
  7. Jake Marisnick
  8. Brett Phillips
  9. Derek Fisher
  10. Michael Feliz

Another year, another deep system for the Astros. While the past has seen this list primarily filled with minor-league talent, we are now starting to see the trickle effect at the major-league level. Houston has made it very clear that the game plan is to build from within and strengthen the core with external secondary pieces such as Evan Gattis and Luis Valbuena. The roster construction is beginning to mold into form, and an invigoration of youth is currently on display.

Jose Altuve led the world in hitting last season, which is enough to top this list. The small-statured Venezuelan continues to produce, and the stability in his profile leaves an optimistic feeling moving forward. The hit tool is the carrying card, while the approach and speed are extreme boosters towards an already successful skill set. George Springer is an intriguing talent, but there are still questions regarding his ability to adjust and consistently perform at the highest level. If last season's cup of coffee was any indication of his future, the Astros will surely be happy, strikeouts be damned. Jon Singleton signed a $10 million contract and then promptly hit .168/.285/.335 in his rookie campaign. While the initial results were far from sexy, there is still optimism in his profile. The Astros have the luxury of giving him more than a brief chance at success. Marisnick will be provided an opportunity to cement his place in center field, especially after the Astros traded Dexter Fowler. Marisnick has the defensive capabilities to provide value, but the overall future potential lies within the bat and is still a question mark moving forward.

Overall, the Astros continue to build from within, supplementing their club externally when needed. With players like Carlos Correa and Mark Appel waiting in the wings, maybe that 2017 World Series joke could become more feasible. Maybe. —Tucker Blair


A Parting Thought: Though offseason trades have cut into the system’s depth at the upper levels, this remains a solid collection of potential major-league contributors, with a handful of breakout candidates poised to take solid developmental steps forward over the next nine months.

Nick J. Faleris is a practicing structured finance attorney and Sports Industry team member in the Milwaukee office of Foley & Lardner LLP. The views he expresses at Baseball Prospectus are his own, and not necessarily those of the law firm.

Nick J. Faleris is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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