Previous Rankings: 2010 | 2009 | 2008

System In 20 Words Or Less: It's better than last year but only by baby steps for a system that remains in a deep, deep hole.

Four-Star Prospects
1. Jordan Lyles, RHP
2. Delino DeShields Jr., 2B/OF
Three-Star Prospects
3. Mike Foltynewicz, RHP
4. Ariel Ovando, OF

5. Jonathan Villar, SS
6. Jimmy Paredes, 2B
7. Tannuer Bushue, RHP
8. J.D. Martinez, OF
Two-Star Prospects
9. Mike Kvasnicka, 3B/OF/C
10. Jiovanni Mier, SS
11. Jose Altuve, 2B

Nine More:
12. Telvin Nash, 1B: This third-round pick from 2009 has some of the best raw power in the system, but can he hit?
13. Jay Austin, OF: An intriguing center fielder, Austin has speed and power potential, but his bat lags behind.
14. Austin Wates, OF: Wates is a contact-oriented hitter with speed and the potential to move up this list after his full-season debut.
15. Aneury Rodriguez, RHP: This Rule 5 pick has a plus fastball and usable secondary offerings.
16. Mark Melancon, RHP: The former Yankee reliever could earn a big-league job in spring training.
17. J.B. Shuck, OF: He has real on-base ability, but his center field defense is fringy.
18. Michael Feliz, RHP: This Dominican signee is highly projectable, but he already has a suspension for enhancing.
19. Brian Bogusevic, OF: A converted outfielder and former pitcher, Bogusevic should have career as a fourth outfielder.
20. Ross Seaton, RHP: His inability to miss bats led to a battering in the Cal League.

1. Jordan Lyles, RHP
: 10/19/90
Height/Weight: 6-4/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Supplemental first round, 2008, Hartsville HS (SC)
2010 Stats: 3.12 ERA (127.0-133-35-115) at Double-A (21 G); 5.40 ERA (31.2-48-11-22) at Triple-A (6 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Command/velocity

Year in Review: The top pitching prospect in the system not only skipped a level but succeed in Double-A as a teenager.
The Good: Lyles was arguably the most advanced teenage arm in baseball last year. Using a deep arsenal, he pounds the strike zone and uses all four quadrants effectively while constantly keeping hitters off-balance. His 89-91 mph fastball plays up thanks to location and movement, and he gets ahead in the count to set up a wealth of off-speed offerings, the best of which is a plus curveball. His change-up is advanced for his age, and he'll mix in an occasional slider and mid-80s hybrid pitch that resembles a cutter.
The Bad: Lyles has little margin for error, and his inability to blow away hitters led to some struggles following a late-season promotion to Triple-A. Despite his length and a frame that should fill out, he's not very projectable; it seems like his current velocity already requires effort, leaving many to feel he's close to his ceiling.
Ephemera: Of the 12 home runs surrendered by Lyles in 2010, seven of them were hit by batters leading off an inning.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a dependable, consistently good third starter.
Fantasy Impact: He issues walks while keeping his WHIP down and will have a big chunk of innings with a solid ERA, but he's not going to be a big impact type.
Path to the Big Leagues: Lyles will return to Triple-A as a 20-year-old in 2011 at Houston's new Oklahoma City affiliate, and could make his debut before his 21st birthday.
ETA: Late 2011

2. Delino DeShields Jr., 2B/OF
: 8/16/92
Height/Weight: 5-9/188
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2010, Woodward Academy (GA)
2010 Stats: .111/.200/.111 at Gulf Coast Rookie (2 G); .313/.356/.433 at Appalachian Rookie (16 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Speed/fielding

Year in Review: The son of 13-year big-leaguer Delino DeShields moved up draft boards throughout the spring, but it was still a surprise to see him go eighth overall in June.
The Good: DeShields is smaller than his father, but he is arguably a better all-around athlete. He's a plus-plus runner who already knows how to use his speed in game situations, and he generates surprisingly solid gap power with a quick compact swing, which could lead to double-digit home-run totals down the road. He gets strong grades for both his intelligence and makeup.
The Bad: DeShields grew up as an outfielder and is projected as a good center fielder, but the Astros are going to try him out at second base in 2011, which will likely come with some growing pains. He needs to learn how to let his power work for him and focus more on contact as opposed to pulling the ball.
Ephemera: A private school known more for its academics than sports, Woodward Academy has produced just two baseball draftees, but its alumni include presidential daughter Amy Carter and former senator Phil Graham.
Perfect World Projection: The hope is that he can be very similar to his father but a better pure hitter.
Fantasy Impact: He's worth drafting for steals alone.
Path to the Big Leagues: DeShields will transfer to second base for his full-season debut in the Sally League.
ETA: 2014

3. Mike Foltynewicz, RHP
: 10/7/91
Height/Weight: 6-4/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2010, Minooka HS (IL)
2010 Stats: 4.03 ERA (44.2-46-15-39) at Rookie (12 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/Changeup

Year in Review: The top high school player in Illinois pitched at his best in front of top scouts, and he was landed with the 19th overall pick.
The Good: Foltynewicz is a classic power right-hander in terms of both frame and stuff. His low-to-mid-90s fastball generates plenty of whiffs, and he'll flash a plus hard curveball with heavy break. He has some feel for a change-up and goes after hitters aggressively.
The Bad: Foltynewicz baffled scouts with his inconsistency both in the spring and after signing, as he peaked at 97 mph in high school and had other outings where he'd rarely top 91. His curveball, changeup, and command all come and go, which some attribute to a delivery that needs to be smoothed out. More than anything, he's a cold-weather pitcher who needs innings.
Ephemera: The best 19th overall pick in draft history is easily Roger Clemens (1983), but no other pitcher taken in that slot has won more than 54 big-league games.
Perfect World Projection: Foltynewicz has a higher ceiling than Lyles, though he's far further from reaching it.
Fantasy Impact: If he completely actualizes, he'll be a star-level pitcher.
Path to the Big Leagues: Foltynewicz is ready for a full-season assignment, but he's expected to be a one-level-per-year type.
ETA: 2013

4. Ariel Ovando, OF
: 9/15/93
Height/Weight: 6-4/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 2010, Dominican Republic
2010 Stats: Did Not Play
Best/Worst Tool: Power/speed

Year in Review: The Astros made their biggest impact in Latin America by signing one of the top international players available this summer to a $2.6 million bonus.
The Good: Ovando has all of the tools to be a classic right fielder. His long arms give him plus-plus raw power from the left side, and he has bat speed and plenty of leverage in a swing that features plenty of back-to-front weight transfer. He's an average runner and good outfielder with above-average run strength.
The Bad: Like any 17-year-old who has yet to play in the United States, Ovando is exceedingly raw, with most questions revolving around his pure hitting skills, as the timing mechanism in his swing could leave him susceptible to good off-speed pitches. He's likely lose speed as his body matures.
Ephemera: Ovando's bonus is the largest ever paid by the Astros for an amateur player, including draftees.
Perfect World Projection: No position player in the system comes close to Ovando's ceiling, but he's also eons from reaching it.
Fantasy Impact: It's not worth discussing yet.
Path to the Big Leagues: Ovando is expected to make his pro debut at one of Houston's short-season affiliates in June.
ETA: 2015

5. Jonathan Villar, SS
: 5/2/91
Height/Weight: 6-1/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2008, Dominican Republic (Phillies)
2010 Stats: .272/.332/.358 at Low-A with Philadelphia (100 G); .225/.294/.372 at High-A with Houston (32 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Speed/power

Year in Review: This ultra-athletic shortstop impressed with the Phillies and Houston following his inclusion in the Roy Oswalt trade.
The Good: Villar has the tools to be an above-average everyday shortstop. He has bat speed with enough wrist strength to occasionally sting a ball, and he has excellent speed that he knows how to use on the basepaths. He's capable of jaw-dropping defensive plays, combining his wheels with good instincts that give him excellent range to both sides, and also showcases enough arm strength to make plays from deep in the hole.
The Bad: Villar plays the game completely out of control at times, which keeps him from taking advantage of his physical ability. He swings at anything, leading to 153 strikeouts and just 38 walks in 2010, and needs to focus more on contact. One Sally League scout claimed Villar made the five best plays he saw all year, but also the five worst, as he committed 56 errors in just 130 games, often on the most routine of plays.
Ephemera: Clearly not a night owl, Villar hit .412 in 22 day games in 2010, with a mark of just .236 when playing under the lights.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a well above-average defender with gap power and speed.
Fantasy Impact: The stolen bases alone will provide value, and he could end up with good power for a middle infielder.
Path to the Big Leagues: After struggling there at the end of 2010, Villar should return to High-A Lancaster to begin the year.
ETA: 2013

6. Jimmy Paredes, 2B
: 11/25/88
Height/Weight: 6-1/178
Bats/Throws: B/R
Drafted/Signed: 2006, Dominican Republic
2010 Stats: .282/.312/.408 at Low-A with New York (99 G); .299/.331/.442 at Low-A with Houston (34 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Speed/glove

Year in Review: This second baseman had a semi-breakout in his full-season debut and was a key player in the deal that sent Lance Berkman to New York.
The Good: On a pure tools level, Paredes easily impresses. He's a switch-hitter who is equally adept from both sides and flashes the ability to drive balls. His speed ranks with Villar, and he stole 50 bases in 2010 while being caught just 11 times. His arm is his best defensive tool with enough strength and accuracy to play on the left side of the infield.
The Bad: Paredes is a poor glove man who needs to work on his jumps, hands, and transfer. The hope is that he can get good enough at second to stick there and avoid a move to the outfield. He's a highly aggressive hitter who looks for fastballs early and often finds himself behind in the count.
Ephemera: Occasionally spending time on the left side of the infield or even designated hitter for Low-A Charleston, Paredes hit just .259 when penciled in as a second baseman, but .342 at all other positions.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an everyday second baseman with speed and a bit of pop in the bat.
Fantasy Impact: He'll likely be worth more in fantasy than real baseball, especially in classic four-category leagues.
Path to the Big Leagues: Parades will join Villar at High-A to form an intriguing double-play combo in one of baseball's best offensive parks.
ETA: 2013

7. Tanner Bushue, RHP
: 6/20/91
Height/Weight: 6-4/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2009, South Central HS (IL)
2010 Stats: 4.11 ERA (133.2-129-48-114) at Low-A (25 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/change-up

Year in Review: A second-round pick from a small Midwest high school, Bushue had plenty of good starts in his full-season debut, but also proved he still has plenty of work to do.
The Good: When Bushue has everything going, he's a tall, athletic, loose-armed, and highly projectable right-hander. He has plus velocity now, with room for more down the road. He'll flash a power breaking ball with good spin, and tends to throw strikes with both pitches.
The Bad: Bushue remains more promise than reality. His curveball ranges from plus to well below average, and his change-up continues to be little more than a show-me offering. He seemed to be battling with his mechanics at times during the season, costing him both velocity and command. He's tends to work in the upper part of the strike zone and has a disturbingly high fly-ball rate.
Ephemera: Bushue allowed 28 hits and 21 runs over 25 first innings in 2010, yet over the same number of second innings, he surrendered just four runs on 10 hits.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a solid but unspectacular mid-rotation starter, but there's still a ceiling here.
Fantasy Impact: Limited.
Path to the Big Leagues: Bushue will move up one level in 2011, and Lancaster will be no friend to his fly-ball tendencies.
ETA: 2013

8. J.D. Martinez, OF
DOB: 8/21/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 20th round, 2009, Nova Southeastern University
2010 Stats: .362/.433/.598 at Low-A (88 G); .302/.357/.407 at High-A (50 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Bat/speed

Year in Review: This little-known 20th-round pick won Sally League MVP honors and then kept hitting after a move to Double-A.
The Good: As surprising as Martinez's numbers are, scouts don't think he's a fluke. He has a good approach to go with outstanding hands and a quick, quiet swing that leads to hard contact to all fields and gap power. He's a good defensive outfielder with an average arm.
The Bad: For many, Martinez profiles as no more than a tweener. He's a below-average runner who is limited to a corner, and he lacks the power to project as an everyday player there.
Ephemera: Trying to emulate Pat Tabler, Martinez is a career .500 hitter (9-for-18) with the bases loaded.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a second-division starter or good extra bat on a championship-level team.
Fantasy Impact: He won't provide much power for his position and little speed, but he should hit for average.
Path to the Big Leagues: Already 23, Martinez could move up to Triple-A Oklahoma City with a strong spring, and he has an outside shot at reaching the big leagues before the year is over.
ETA: 2012

9. Mike Kvasnicka, 3B/OF/C
: 12/7/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Supplemental first round, 2010, University of Minnesota
2010 Stats: .234/.305/.337 at Short-season (68 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Bat/glove

Year in Review: Had scouts gotten more looks at him behind the plate, Kvasnicka might have gone in the first round instead of falling to the sandwich round.
The Good: Kvasnicka is a strong-bodied player with hitting ability. Despite struggles in his debut, he projects to hit for both average and solid power thanks to a line-drive swing with strength and leverage. He has a solid arm and has potential at three positions, the most intriguing of which is catcher, where he showed surprising promise in college despite playing there sparingly. Scouts are nearly universal in their acclaim for Kvasnicka's makeup and effort.
The Bad: While Kvasnicka is well-rounded, other than below-average speed, he lacks a true plus tool. There's a trigger in his swing that sometimes leaves him a bit long and behind good fastballs. He's a tough third baseman who often gets handcuffed by ground balls.
Ephemera: A second-generation gopher, Mike's father, Jay, was a eighth-round pick by the Twins in 1988, and made it as high as Triple-A as a left-handed outfielder with speed.
Perfect World Projection: It's hard to know without a position. Obviously, if he can stick behind the plate, his value moves up significantly.
Fantasy Impact: He does some things well, but none at a star level. Again, position will be key.
Path to the Big Leagues: Kvasnicka will play at one of the Astros' A-level affiliates, likely seeing the majority of his playing time at third base. Like Lyles, there's not a lot of star potential here, but he could move quickly.
ETA: 2013

10. Jiovanni Mier, SS
: 8/26/90
Height/Weight: 6-2/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2009, Bonita HS (CA)
2010 Stats: .235/.323/.314 at Low-A (131 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Glove/bat

Year in Review: The Astros' first-round pick in 2009 failed to build on his surprising debut by collapsing offensively at Low-A.
The Good: Especially after his offensive struggles, any discussion of Mier begins with his glove, as his range, hands, and arm all rate as above average at a position where plus defenders are increasingly difficult to find. There are some good signs from his numbers if you look for them: he had 63 walks and 31 doubles on the year, and a .279 batting average in his last 36 games.
The Bad: Mier often seemed lost at the plate in 2010, leading to some mechanical tinkering that took him backward. “Sometimes he'd try to hit for contact, sometimes he'd try to hit for power, and sometimes he'd just try to get a walk,” said one scout, adding, “He never really looked focused or comfortable up there.” He can get rushed defensively and committed 34 errors, but it's not a long-term concern.
Ephemera: Mier's older brother, Jesse, was a 12th-round pick in 2007 who was selected by the Rangers in the Triple-A phase of last week's Rule 5 draft.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an above-average defensive shortstop with just enough bat to play every day.
Fantasy Impact: What's the opposite of impact?
Path to the Big Leagues: Unless the Astros want to rush a prospect ahead of him, Mier might begin 2011 by repeating Low-A.
ETA: 2014

11. Jose Altuve, 2B
: 5/6/90
Height/Weight: 5-5/148
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2006
2010 Stats: .308/.364/.445 at Low-A (94 G); .276/.333/.457 at High-A (31 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Hit/arm

Year in Review: Among the strangest prospects in the game, Altuve performed at both Low- and High-A, while continuing to hit against much tougher competition in the Venezuelan Winter League.
The Good: As mixed as scouts are on Altuve, they are almost universally agreed when discussing how much they enjoy watching him play. He's a pure contact hitter with tremendous plate coverage and power that borders on shocking considering his size. He's an above-average runner and a fundamentally sound defender who makes the play on every ball he gets to.
The Bad: Scouts find it difficult to wrap their heads around Altuve, who is thought to be even shorter than his listed height, and leaving him without comparison in modern baseball. He could use a more patient approach at the plate, and he is an inefficient basestealer.
Ephemera: More than one-third of Altuve's 33 Sally League walks came in the first innings of games, yet none of his nine free passes at Lancaster did.
Perfect World Projection: Altuve is so unique that it's hard to figure out just what he can be. At the same time, it's hard to argue with his talent. Hey, it worked for Wee Willie Keeler, right?
Fantasy Impact: Stolen bases, average, and a bit of power… there's at least a chance he can help.
Path to the Big Leagues: With so many middle infielders at the lower levels, somebody is going to get rushed to Double-A, and it just might be Altuve.
ETA: 2013.

The Sleeper: A seventh-round pick in June, catcher Roberto Pena is a switch-hitter with advanced defensive skills, including a plus-plus arm.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/85 or later)
1. Jordan Lyles, RHP
2. Jason Castro, C
3. Delino DeShields, 2B/OF
4. Brett Wallace, 1B
5. Mike Foltynewicz, RHP
6. Ariel Ovando, OF
7. Jonathan Villar, SS
8. Jimmy Paredes, 2B
9. Tannuer Bushue, RHP
10. J.D. Martinez, OF

Both Castro and Wallace struggled mightily in the big leagues, but both should develop into fringe-average regulars. An average catcher is worth far more than an average first baseman, thus the rankings. The fact that these are the only two big-league players on the rankings speaks volumes about what a mess the organization has become.

Summary: A combination of bad contracts, little young talent, and a poor minor-league system leaves the Astros with a big hole to dig out of. They're getting better slowly, but a return to contention is still years away, and anything but guaranteed.

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
Do you have any information on Michael Affronti? He's a middle infielder who had been in the A's system until the middle of last season when he came to the Astros. His stats really didn't look too impressive, but I'm wondering if you have any type of scouting information.

Thanks Kevin, and great job as usual.
I saw him plenty in 2007. Has some hitting skills, but very aggressive approach and lack of power hold him back. Can play three positions, and is an ok defender. His more of an org guy.
I still don't understand how both berkman and oswalt left with no serious impact on this situation.
Money. The No. 5 and 6 guys came in the trades, but I certainly understand how you'd expect more.
I still don't understand how both berkman and oswalt were so seriously overpaid by the astros.
To be fair, they weren't overpaid at all. Berkman provided about $109M worth of value over his 6/83M contract, and Oswalt has provided about 66M for the 55M he's been paid on his current contract.

Where would Koby Clemens land on your list? I know he has no real future without something breaking his way, but one has to be curious.
In the 20s somewhere. He's on the spreadsheet, but didn't make the rankings.
off the top of your head, would Paredes/Melancon have cracked the Yankees top 20?
20? Paredes could have slid in there, yes.
Kevin, how do you determine your star ratings? I should probably know this, but it seems you put players with more upside lower on the list if the guys above are closer to the majors, ala having Lyles over Foltynewicz or the fact that it sounds like Ovando has 5-star potential. Do you have an uncertainty factor built in?

Also...Foltynewicz, Bushue, Bogusevic, Melancon, Kvasnicka, Paredes, Altuve...does any farm system have more players with names guaranteed to trip up a TV color commentator?
It's a combination of ceiling and chances of reaching it. There is no magic formula to that or anything, it's just a feel thing. If I ranked solely on ceiling, the rankings would look VERY VERY different, and frankly, not be as good. In a lot of ways, I'm trying to rank on trade value. If I'm team X, what would my pref list look like?
Are the five star prospects something like the top 25 prospects in the game, or does the number of five star guys change from year to year depending on how much talent there is in the minors?
How far off was Ben Heath? Guessing you don't think he can catch? (I agree, FWIW, but I've seen a lot of people who think he can stick.) And were any of the young pitchers close? (i.e., Shirley, Doran, Quevedo)
Heath is rough behind the plate, but there are questions about the bat as well, as there is some length and uppercut to his swing. I do like him, and won't be surprised if he's on this list next year. As far as young short-season arms, Jorge DeLeon is one to watch as well.
Seaton is a major disappointment. His velocity has not been what it was reported to be prior to 2008 draft (when he was one of the 30 best prospects in the draft, per BA). I really liked him at the time and definitely expected a lot more than he's shown.
Agreed. He's just not been as expected. It should be added that we could start naming players who never again threw as hard as they did in high school and still be here on New Year's eve.
Boy, as a Dodger fan, seeing the name Delino DeShields resurface brings back all sorts of bad memories. Anyway, pretty brutal system. I wonder if we'll see Clemens added to the 40-man any time soon. He has pop and a respectable BB%, but obviously not staying behind the dish doesn't do much for his value.
Love the write ups - one question: how can an average catcher be worth more than an average first baseman? Shouldn't positional adjustments (+12.5 runs for a C; -7.5 runs for a 1B) make 'average' players at each position equal?

To me that sounds like saying 'a pound of gold is heavier than a pound of feathers'

That said, I defer to you, and assume that I am missing something...
There's a scarcity aspect here. Finding that catcher is much harder than finding that first baseman.
What's the rationale for moving DeShields to 2nd, if he's projected as a good CFer? Seems like his offensive skill set would play at either position, and if you can 'bank' on him being a plus defender in CF why mess with that?
My honest answer to you is that it's a very fair question to ask.
Spitballing here:

The Astros had no 2B prospects worth a darn at the time DeShields was signed. When Berkman was traded at the end of July and they acquired Paredes, they now had two 2B prospects worth the rough equivalent of a darn.

My suspicion is that Paredes goes to High-A and DeShields stays at 2B at a lower level, with the understanding that if Paredes pans out over the next year+, then they can move DeShields back to center fairly painlessly and have two talented young guys hitting the majors at the same time in positions that are difficult to fill. But if Paredes doesn't pan out, DeShields with the higher upside could be a well-above-average solution to a position that they've had a problem with since Biggio's 2005.
2nd is a lot harder to learn than CF. It is much easier to try him at 2nd for a few years, then if it doesn't work, he still has a year or 2 to work on CF defense before you have to worry about him in the majors. But if he doesn't get tried in the IF now, it is much harder to try later.

And as I denigrate the difficulty of playing CF versus 2nd, please realize I played OF into college. I think there are a lot more nuances to playing in the IF that take a lot more work than in the OF. Both need lots of repetitions to do well, but there are simply more things to do in the IF (ground balls to both sides, throws from different angles, working around the bases, etc.).
Where does Brian Dopirak slot, now that the Astros signed him as a free agent?