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November 25, 2008

Future Shock

Astros Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Four-Star Prospects
1. Jason Castro, C
Three-Star Prospects
2. Brian Bogusevic, CF
3. Jordan Lyles, RHP
4. Bud Norris, RHP
5. Chris Johnson, 3B
6. Ross Seaton, RHP
Two-Star Prospects
7. Samuel Gervacio, RHP
8. Drew Sutton, 2B
9. Felipe Paulino, RHP
10. Chia-Jen Lo, RHP
11. Jay Austin, CF

Just Missed: Collin DeLome, OF; T.J. Steele, OF; Polin Trinidad, LHP

Ranking Challenges: One of the biggest hurdles with a team like the Astros is simply finding the right 11; once you delve into two-star territory, there are any number of candidates, and none of them would be especially worthy in most other systems. Castro and Bogusevic were an easy 1-2, but after that, an argument could be made for several different orders.

1. Jason Castro, C
DOB: 6/18/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/210
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Stanford University
2008 Stats: .275/.383/.384 at Short-season (39 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: After hitting a miserable .167/.287/.225 during an injury-plagued sophomore campaign, the athletic backstop bounced back with a season good enough to earn him consideration as the second-best college catcher in the draft (after Buster Posey), ultimately going 10th overall to Houston.
The Good: Castro does nearly everything well: he's a good hitter who has a patient approach and a quick bat, with gap power to all fields. A solid defender with a plus arm, he threw out over 40 percent of opposing basestealers both at college and during his pro debut. All of his tools play up due to his baseball intelligence, and the Astros see him as a natural leader capable of managing a pitching staff, developing defensively in the mold of Brad Ausmus.
The Bad: While he has few weaknesses, he also has few tools that might really put him over the top and give him star potential. He'll hit for a good average and solid power, but he needs to improve his footwork behind the plate, and unfortunately he runs like a catcher.
Fun Fact: It's rather fitting that Castro attended Castro Valley High in California, which also happens to be the same school that graduated former Metallica bassist Cliff Burton and MSNBC prime-time host Rachel Maddow.
Perfect World Projection: An above-average everyday catcher in the big leagues, but by no means a star player.
Glass Half Empty: He pans out as a big-league catcher, but as more of a second-division starter/backup type.
Path to the Big Leagues: After J.R. Towles' miserable showing in 2008, Castro's road to The Show became a bit clearer.
Timetable: While seen by most as an overdraft, it wasn't an extreme one-most teams slotted him as a mid first-round selection. Castro is advanced enough to make his full-season debut with the Astros' new High-A affiliate in Lancaster, a park that can produce some massive numbers.

2. Brian Bogusevic, CF
DOB: 2/18/84
Height/Weight: 6-3/215
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2005, Tulane University
2008 Stats: .217/.357/.435, .225 EqA at High-A (8 G); .371/.447/.556, .292 EqA at Double-A (42 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: After flaming out in his attempt to become a left-handed pitcher, this former five-tool college player went back to the outfield, shocking scouts with how little rust he showed as a dominating hitter at Double-A and then continuing to produce in the Arizona Fall League.
The Good: Bogusevic has a body type and tools that project well, and he needed little time to adjust upon his return to hitting. He has a quick, quiet swing, with gap power that many believe will increase based on what they saw from his Tulane days. Once a burner, he's now a slightly above-average runner who plays a solid center field with an above-average arm.
The Bad: His power thus far is below average; combining all of his play this year, he hit only five home runs in 221 at-bats. His control of the strike zone is solid, but he needs to improve his pitch recognition, and he can be prone to chasing breaking stuff. With the loss in speed that he's already displayed, there is some fear that he'll play his way out of center, and he might not have enough bat to justify a corner outfield slot.
Fun Fact: Bogusevic's three Double-A home runs came over the span of just two games: he had a two-homer game on July 31 against San Antonio, and then hit another in the first game of a series at Midland on August 2.
Perfect World Projection: He could become an everyday big-league outfielder, which would borderline remarkable considering his career path.
Glass Half Empty: He'll be more of a solid across-the-board bench outfielder.
Path to the Big Leagues: If he can stay in center, his path is clear-we're talking about a team that played Michael Bourn there every day last year.
Timetable: The Astros are excited about Bogusevic's transformation, as he performed extremely well while still adjusting to regular playing time. He'll begin the year at Triple-A, and should reach the big leagues at some point during the season.

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)
2008 Stats: 3.99 ERA at Rookie-level (49.2-44-10-64); 6.35 ERA at Short-season (5.2-7-7-4)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: A top high school player in South Carolina, he was considered to have great potential, but he showed surprising present-day abilities by consistently missing bats during his pro debut.
The Good: Lyles is a textbook example of a projectable pitcher. He's tall, long, skinny, and offers silky-smooth arm action. His fastball sits at an average velocity of 89-91 mph right now, and projects for plus, and he also has some feel for a curve and a changeup. His easily repeatable mechanics make for above-average command and control.
The Bad: Lyles is raw, and like most inexperienced teenagers, his secondary pitches lag behind the fastball. He survived in the Appy League on location and movement, but he'll need to throw his curve more often when he begins facing better hitters.
Fun Fact: Half of the runs Lyles allowed in the Appy League were scored in the first inning. After the initial frame, he had a 2.70 ERA.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a mid-rotation starting pitcher.
Glass Half Empty: If the velocity doesn't come, he's more of a fifth starter.
Path to the Big Leagues: It's too early to worry about.
Timetable: Astros officials say they want to be aggressive with their young arms, and they feel that Lyles is ready for a full-season assignment at Low-A Lexington.

4. Bud Norris, RHP
DOB: 3/2/85
Height/Weight: 6-0/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 6th round, 2006, Cal Poly
2008 Stats: 4.05 ERA at Double-A (80-89-31-84), 5.79 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 3

Year in Review: Building off of a breakout 2007 season, Norris missed two months of the regular season in '08 with elbow problems, but he shined while pitching out of the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League.
The Good: Norris is a power pitcher trapped in a finesse body. He unleashes a 92-95 mph heater that consistently touched 97 in Arizona. The pitch is also notable for its late, explosive movement. He complements it with a plus power curve that drops off the table.
The Bad: There is some effort to his delivery, which combined with his frame leads many to believe that he'd be better off in the bullpen. His changeup is below average, and his mechanics, which are a bit rough, often lead to command issues when he compensates by overthrowing.
Fun Fact: Batters facing Norris at Double-A in 2008 had an OPS that was 200 points higher with the bases empty (884) than with runners on (685).
Perfect World Projection: He's capable of becoming a solid starting pitcher, or a set-up man, and possibly even a closer out of the bullpen.
Glass Half Empty: Command issues may prevent him from pitching late into games, or from succeeding in the late innings if he's coming out of the bullpen.
Path to the Big Leagues: Power arms always get a shot.
Timetable: Astros officials are still debating Norris' future role, and there is some sentiment for moving him to the bullpen permanently. He'll likely start the year at Triple-A, but should reach the majors at some point during the season.

5. Chris Johnson, 3B
DOB: 10/1/84
Height/Weight: 6-3/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 4th round, 2006, Stetson University
2008 Stats: .324/.364/.506, .261 EqA at Double-A (84 G); .218/.252/.287, .163 EqA at Triple-A (30 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: Johnson's breakout at Double-A was hampered by a poor late-season showing following a promotion to the Pacific Coast League.
The Good: He provides value both offensively and defensively. He has a good feel for contact and the ability to punish mistakes. He has excellent instincts at third base, with above-average range, soft hands, and one of the system's better infield arms. The son of a former big leaguer and long-time minor league manager, he grew up around the game, and has excellent all-around fundamentals.
The Bad: Johnson is a free swinger who needs to work the count more, and Triple-A pitchers were able to shut him down simply by refusing to throw him fastballs. He's a below-average athlete, and a slow runner.
Fun Fact: Only two players drafted out of Stetson University have hit home runs in the majors, and they each hit just one: Cubs third baseman Wade Rowdon took Dan Carman deep on September 17, 1987, and Padres shortstop Kevin Nicholson hit his off of Ron Villone on June 24, 2000.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be an average big-league third baseman.
Glass Half Empty: He ends up as more of a bench player, providing adequate batting averages and some power from either corner.
Path to the Big Leagues: Ty Wigginton had a nice year and all, but c'mon.
Timetable: The Astros insist that Johnson has always been a little slow to adjust following promotions, so they're not too concerned with his Triple-A showing. He'll begin the year there in 2009, and his performance will dictate what happens and when.

6. Ross Seaton, RHP
DOB: 9/18/89
Height/Weight: 6-4/190
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2008, Second Baptist School (TX)
2008 Stats: 13.50 ERA at Rookie-level (4-8-2-4)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: The Astros did an excellent job of recognizing that they were the only team with a shot at signing the local product, giving him $700,000 after selecting him in the third round.
The Good: Like Lyles, Seaton offers plenty of projection. He's tall, he already has a plus fastball that sits at 90-93 mph and touches 96, and he showcases outstanding control. He's an excellent all-around athlete who would have been a two-way player at Tulane, and he also fields his position well.
The Bad: Seaton's breaking ball is kind of slurvy, and most think he'd be better off throwing his power slider more often. He'll still need to learn to throw a changeup, as he survived mostly with the fastball in high school.
Fun Fact: He was this year's valedictorian at Second Baptist High School in Houston.
Perfect World Projection: Seaton offers a slightly higher ceiling than Lyles, though with less certainty, and he could end up as a number-two starter.
Glass Half Empty: With too much to work on other than the fastball, he becomes a reliever.
Path to the Big Leagues: Like Lyles, it's too early to start penciling him in.
Timetable: Seaton will join Lyles at Low-A Lexington, making the Legends rotation one to watch in 2009.

7. Samuel Gervacio, RHP
DOB: 1/10/85
Height/Weight: 6-0/170
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2002
2008 Stats: 4.13 ERA at Double-A (65.1-69-26-82), 6.00 DERA; 2.25 ERA at Triple-A (8-6-3-14), 2.35 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: Just Missed

Year in Review: A unique reliever who pitched well at Double-A, and dominated at the end of the year following his promotion to Triple-A.
The Good: Gervacio's slightly above-average stuff plays up because of a downright bizarre delivery that has to be seen to be believed. What begins as a standard over-the-top motion suddenly morphs as he drops his arm at the last second and ends with a pure sidearm delivery with his arm parallel to the ground. Still, the stuff out of his hand is solid, with a 90-92 mph fastball that touches 94, and a plus slider with good tilt and depth. He's an aggressive competitor who shows no fear.
The Bad: Like most sidearmers, Gervacio dominates against batters on his delivery-arm side, but lefties get to see the ball for a long time, and they tend to hit him hard. Some scouts write him off as a bit of a trick pitcher.
Fun Fact: During his brief three-game stint at Triple-A at the end of the season, right-handed batters facing Gervacio went 3-for-18 with 11 strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: Here we have a very good relief pitcher who shuts down righties and has potential as a set-up man.
Glass Half Empty: He'll be no more than a situational reliever.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Astros feel that Gervacio is on the verge of being big league-ready, and he's knocking on the door.
Timetable: He'll have an opportunity to compete for a role in spring training, but will more than likely begin the year at Triple-A.

8. Drew Sutton, 2B
DOB: 6/30/83
Height/Weight: 6-3/185
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: 15th round, 2004, Baylor University
2008 Stats: .317/.408/.523, .250 EqA at Double-A (133 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: An organizational soldier who suddenly appeared on the radar with a 20-20 season at Double-A, followed by a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League.
The Good: Sutton has many ways to beat you offensively. He has a good approach, sound hitting skills, and showed much-improved power in 2008. He's a solid defensive second baseman, and an average runner with excellent instincts on the basepaths.
The Bad: Sutton played three infield positions during the regular season, but he fits best at second; he lacks the range or arm for the left side. At 25 years old, he was a bit elderly for his level, and he has no projection left.
Fun Fact: Sutton played five different positions in the Arizona Fall League (including DH), but when playing shortstop, he went 12-for-32 with a .688 slugging percentage.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a solid starting second baseman.
Glass Half Empty: His age bothers a lot of people, and he may be more of a minor league performer-basically the next Brooks Conrad.
Path to the Big Leagues: Kaz Matsui is signed through 2010, and Sutton isn't the kind of guy who can afford to wait that long.
Timetable: He'll begin the year at Triple-A, and because of the contract situations at the big-league level, chances are good that he'll start his career as a utility player.

9. Felipe Paulino, RHP
DOB: 10/5/83
Height/Weight: 6-2/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2001
2008 Stats: 0.00 ERA at Triple-A (0.2-1-1-1), 0.00 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 2

Year in Review: The top pitching prospect in the system entering the year, he had a nightmare 2008, facing only four batters before going down with non-stop arm troubles, including a pinched nerve, elbow tightness, and bursitis in his shoulder.
The Good: When healthy, Paulino has the best pure arm in the system, and he's touched triple digits with his fastball on numerous occasions. He also has a power curveball that he throws at slider velocity which features good break.
The Bad: Paulino is still unrefined. He has control problems, and his fastball, which tends to be flat and up in the zone, can be hittable despite its velocity. He also overthrows the breaking ball, causing it to flatten out. The multiple injuries raise red flags about his long-term durability.
Fun Fact: Paulino was born on the same day as socialite Nicky Hilton-that's almost hot!
Perfect World Projection: Paulino has the ability to dominate as a reliever, but there are still many questions about his future.
Glass Half Empty: Because he's so unrefined, his stuff has to come all the way back, or he'll be in trouble.
Path to the Big Leagues: Paulino was expected to play a role on the big-league squad in 2008 before the injury problems came up, so he's actually something of a finished product who took a big step backwards.
Timetable: The Astros are confident that Paulino will be 100 percent by spring, but they'll wait to see how he performs before deciding upon his 2009 role and destination.

10. Chai-Jen Lo, RHP
DOB: 4/7/86
Height/Weight: 5-11/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Taiwan, 2008
2008 Stats: No Stats
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: The Astros made their first dip into the Pacific Rim by signing the top arm on the Taiwanese Olympic team earlier this month.
The Good: Lo is a classic undersized Asian righty who depends on command, control, and mixing things up with a wide arsenal of pitches. He has a low-90s fastball, an upper-80s sinker/splitter, a plus slider, and an average curveball.
The Bad: Lo lacks any one dependable plus-plus out pitch. There are debates as to his future role; he has the talent to start, but some wonder if he has the frame to deliver 200 innings per year. His mechanics are very long, with a long-leaning step towards the plate, and a lot of torque on his arm.
Fun Fact: Only three pitchers from Taiwan have pitched in the big leagues, and Yankees star Chien-Ming Wang has 83 percent of their total victories.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a fifth starter or a middle reliever.
Glass Half Empty: There's just not enough stuff here for him to end up as more than a Quadruple-A type, and his age puts him behind the standard age/level curve.
Path to the Big Leagues: Lo needs a defined role before one worries about his path, but good pitchers always get a shot.
Timetable: He'll begin the year at one of the Astros' two A-ball affiliates, but there are some in the organization who think he could move quickly.

11. Jay Austin, CF
DOB: 8/10/90
Height/Weight: 5-11/170
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2008, North Atlanta HS (GA)
2008 Stats: .198/.277/.236 at Rookie-level (55 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: One of the better athletes in the draft, he displayed his rawness during his pro debut after being selected in the second round.
The Good: Austin has as much upside as anyone in the system. He's a 70-plus runner with some idea of what he's going at the plate, and he has average power potential. Beyond his speed, he's an outstanding center fielder with a plus arm that touched 90 mph when he pitched in high school. Astros officials praised his makeup during his debut, while also lamenting the fact that he was forced to play there; the organization doesn't have a complex-level team.
The Bad: Austin is incredibly raw, and his swing is awkward; the mechanics of it need to be smoothed out. He needs to recognize that his future lies in the little man's game, and he'd be better served by focusing on hitting the ball on the ground and improving his bunting.
Fun Fact: Austin went just 6-for-37 with 18 strikeouts against Appalachian League left-handers during his pro debut.
Perfect World Projection: A plus defensive center fielder with game-changing speed.
Glass Half Empty: There is too much work to be done offensively to project him as anything more than a bench player.
Path to the Big Leagues: Right now, he's still working on a path to full-season ball.
Timetable: The plan is for Austin to spend the first half of the season refining his swing in extended spring training, before reporting to one of the Astros' short-season affiliates.

The Sleeper: A 15th-round pick out of South Carolina, Phil Disher has as much raw power as anyone in the system, but he was also the 452nd overall pick for a reason: he's a well-below-average athlete who is limited to first base, and his power-only game leads to high strikeout totals.

Top 10 Talents 25 and Under (as of Opening Day 2009)

1. Hunter Pence, OF
2. Jason Castro, C
3. Brian Bogusevic, CF
4. Jordan Lyles, RHP
5. J.R. Towles, C
6. Bud Norris, RHP
7. Wesley Wright, LHP
8. Chris Johnson, 3B
9. Ross Seaton, RHP
10. Samuel Gervacio, RHP

Pence's rookie season seemed to be too good to be true, and in the end it was; he's still a good player, but 2008 if far more indicative of his true skill set. Towles was ranked as the system's top prospect last year, but then he went out and hit an almost unfathomably bad .137/.250/.253 in 54 big-league games. He still hit in Triple-A, and has too much of a track record to just be written off, but that was a borderline historically bad showing. Wright is a nice find as a lefty situational arm who can miss bats and the strike zone with equal aplomb.

Summary: The Astros system is one of the worst in baseball, but the addition of Bobby Heck from Milwaukee to head the scouting department and an intriguing 2008 draft gives reason for hope. True impact help from the system, however, is going to take years.


Up next: the Los Angeles Dodgers

---

Today on BP Radio, Houston's assistant GM Bobby Heck joins Brad Wochomurka for a look at the Top 11 prospects in the Astros' organization.


Click to download mp3

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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