Previous Rankings: 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008

System in 20 Words or Less: Trades and the draft improve things dramatically, but there's still much work to be done.

Four-Star Prospects
1. Jarred Cosart, RHP
2. George Springer, OF
3. Jonathan Singleton, 1B
Three-Star Prospects
4. Brett Oberholtzer, LHP
5. Jonathan Villar, SS
6. Domingo Santana, OF
7. Telvin Nash, 1B
Two-Star Prospects
8. Delino DeShields, 2B
9. Jack Armstrong, RHP
10. Michael Foltynewicz, RHP
11. Paul Clemens, RHP

Nine More:
12. Ariel Ovando, OF: This high-priced Dominican signee showed huge raw power and huge holes in swing during his stateside debut.
13. Austin Wates, OF: He’s a plus runner with contact skills, but he struggles in center field and has limited power.
14. Jordan Scott, OF: Scott, a pop-up prospect in the Appy League, has an outstanding bat, but scouts want to see other tools.
15. J.B. Shuck, OF: He’s a little grinder who gets on base, but he has already reached his ceiling—a fourth outfielder.
16. Mike Kvasnicka, 3B: Scouts are confused as to why Kvasnicka is not a catcher. He just does not have enough bat for third base.
17. Juan Abreu, RHP: Abreu is the lesser-known player from the Bourn trade. He is older and undersized, but he has big velocity out of the bullpen and can miss bats.
18. Adrian Houser, RHP: Houser, a 2011 second-round pick, has a pro body and excellent athleticism, but is still learning how to pitch, and is seen by some as a bit of a project.
19. Vince Velasquez, RHP: This 2010 second-rounder missed all of 2011 recovering from Tommy John surgery, but his projection remains through the roof—or at least at it.
20. Jio Mier, SS: This 2009 first-rounder is a plus defender who can't hit, but that’s slightly offset by his ability to draw walks.

1. Jarred Cosart, RHP
: 5/25/90
Height/Weight: 6-3/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 38th round, 2008, Clear Creek HS (TX)
2011 Stats: 3.92 ERA (108-98-43-79) at High-A (20 G); 4.71 ERA (36.1-33-13-22) at Double-A (7 G)
Tools Profile: He’s a power right-hander with killer stuff and a baffling lack of results.

Year in Review: While he had the best stuff of any right-hander at the Futures Game and was the key to the Hunter Pence deal, Cosart spent much of the year frustrating scouts as to why he wasn't better.
The Good: Cosart certainly looks the part of a pitcher. He's a pure power arm with a good frame that features projection. The righty already sits in the mid-90s, and consistently touches 97-99 in each start. Both his curveball and changeup flash as plus; if you see him on the right night, they can flash more. Cosart approaches the game with the kind of confidence arrogance that scouts like to see in a hard thrower.
The Bad: Cosart's numbers are nowhere close to what they should be based on his stuff. His mechanics can quickly get sloppy and violent, which costs him both command and movement on his secondary pitches. He can focus too much on overpowering hitters and forgetting about his secondary pitches or sequencing. “My projection changes on him every time I see him,” said one scout. “And in my history, a lot of pitchers like that end up closing.”
Ephemera: Cosart would not be the first player who signed as the 1156th overall pick in the draft; Mike Jacobs (1999 draft) was the first in 2005.
Perfect World Projection: Cosart has the potential to be a frontline starter, dominating closer, or constant source of frustration in the mold of Gavin Floyd.
Fantasy Impact: You like to gamble?
Path to the Big Leagues: Cosart will likely begin 2012 back at Double-A, and how well he pitches will determine his timetable. There are scenarios in which he reaches the big leagues by September, and there are chances that he's in the Texas League all season.
ETA: 2013

2. George Springer, OF
: 9/19/89
Height/Weight: 6-3/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2011, University of Connecticut
2011 Stats: .179/.303/.393 at Low-A (8 G)
Tools Profile: He’s a potential five-tool talent, but the one that lags behind is the most important one.

Year in Review: Seen as a potential top-five pick heading into the year, Springer's spring fell a bit under expectations. Houston took him 11th overall, and he signed at the deadline for $2.525 million.
The Good: Springer's athleticism and tools are rarely found in college-based players. He's a big, athletic outfielder with enough bulk for above-average power and arm strength, and enough speed for plus run times and very good center-field play. He understands how to work the count to his advantage and looks for pitches to drive.
The Bad: There are concerns about Springer's pure hitting ability, as there is a considerable amount of swing-and-miss in his game. He can get fooled on good breaking stuff, and could use more development time than most first-round college players to make adjustments at the plate.
Ephemera: George's father played in the 1976 Little League World Series.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a star-level power/speed combination in center field.
Fantasy Impact: He could be a very early pick who can contribute in every category.
Path to the Big Leagues: Springer's performance this spring will determine which A-level squad he will begin at in 2012 t. He's not expected to be a quick mover, but the patience could be well worth it.
ETA: 2014

3. Jonathan Singleton, 1B
: 9/18/91
Height/Weight: 6-2/215
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Eighth round, 2009, Millikan HS (CA)
2011 Stats: .298/.392/.441 at High-A (128 G)
Tools Profile: He can hit, and there is the potential for power, but that's it for the tools, and the expectations of them.

Year in Review: Like Cosart, scouts love Singleton but wonder why he isn't better. Singleton was another piece of the Hunter Pence deal, and hit .333/.405/.512 in a brief California League stint.
The Good: Singleton combines a quick, live bat with plenty of muscle, leaving many to project above-average batting averages and well above-average power from him. He draws plenty of walks thanks to good plate discipline and pitchers being careful around him.
The Bad: Singleton has been merely good, not great since a stunning six weeks to begin his career in 2010. His power shows up far more in batting practice than games so far, although youth is on his side. Left-handers have found success busting him inside. He's a well below-average runner and defender who is limited to first base, so the bat has to develop perfectly.
Ephemera: While Millikan High School has created 33 draft picks in its history, Dante Powell is the only one to hit a big-league home run, and he finished his career with just two jacks.
Perfect World Projection: Singleton is a bat-only first baseman, but with more than enough bat to play the position.
Fantasy Impact: As long as you're not expecting speed, you should be just fine.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Astros hope Singleton can earn as spot on the Double-A roster to being the 2012 season, and hope he'll be in a position to compete for a big-league job the following year.
ETA: 2013

4. Brett Oberholtzer, LHP
: 7/1/89
Height/Weight: 6-2/230
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Eighth round, 2008, William Penn HS (DE)
2011 Stats: 4.10 ERA (155-147-52-121) at Double-A (27 G)
Tools Profile: He has no weakness, but nothing that’s star-level, either.

Year in Review: Entering the year a bit under the radar, this thickly-built lefty pitched well at Double-A and was the best player to go to Houston in the Michael Bourn deal.
The Good: Oberholtzer has four pitches that rate at least average, and they all play up due to his ability to locate them. He sits at 88-92 with a fastball that has some wiggle, and he'll throw both a curveball and slider, although the former is the more advanced pitch. His changeup has improved to average, and he earns raves for his makeup and battling style of pitching, with one scout calling him, “The kind of guy the manager needs to physically remove from the mound.”
The Bad: Oberholtzer is what he is. While he has the kind of wide body you look for in a starter, he's also maxed out physically and offers little projection. He'll have less margin for error as he moves up the ladder, and some scouts wonder if he'll have an out pitch at the big-league level.
Ephemera: Oberholtzer will never be a threat at the plate, as he went 3-for-30 in 2011, including an 0-for-14 mark against right-handers with nine strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an inning-eating fourth starter.
Fantasy Impact: He’ll be the type of pitcher that doesn't kill it in any one category, but doesn't hurt you anywhere, either.
Path to the Big Leagues: Oberholtzer is ready for Triple-A hitters, and could earn a big-league look at some point during the 2012 season.
ETA: Late 2012

5. Jonathan Villar, SS
: 5/2/91
Height/Weight: 6-1/195
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: 2009, Dominican Republic
2011 Stats: .259/.353/.414 at High-A (47 G); .231/.301/.386 at Double-A (324 G)
Tools Profile: He’s everything a scout would look for in a shortstop, except for hitting ability and fielding consistency.

Year in Review: Villar, a tools player who was sent to Houston in the Roy Oswalt deal, split time between two teams, doing little at both levels.
The Good: There are top-100 prospects who don't have Villar's upside, but he's very far from it. He's a 60-65 runner, good for 30-plus stolen bases, plus range at shortstop, and a very strong arm. He added a power element to his game in 2011 with 14 home runs, and has at least average raw power.
The Bad: Villar's game might be best described as “out of control.” His newfound power led to plenty of bad habits at the plate; he became pull-conscious, adding to a strikeout rate that was already a considerable concern. He also has a history of making weak contact. As capable as he is of spectacular plays at shortstop, he's just as likely to boot a routine play, and scouts question his concentration on both sides of the ball.
Ephemera: Villar started games at every position in the lineup in 2011 except cleanup and ninth.
Perfect World Projection: Villar is the rare player with the potential to be a 20/20 shortstop, but it will take a myriad of things to break right.
Fantasy Impact: As a shortstop with the potential for power and speed, he could end up more valuable in fantasy than real life.
Path to the Big Leagues: All Villar really proved with his half-season at Corpus Christi is that he needs more time at Double-A. He'll likely return there to begin the year. Youth is still on his side.
ETA: 2014

6. Domingo Santana, OF
DOB: 8/5/92
Height/Weight: 6-5/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2009, Dominican Republic
2011 Stats: .287/.362/.471 at Single-A (113 G)
Tools Profile: He has tons of power and a big arm, but that's it.

Year in Review: This teenager was having an uneven year in Low-A, but he hit .382 with five home runs in 17 games after going to Houston in the Pence deal.
The Good: Santana is a big man with massive raw power; he’s capable of tape-measure shots when he gets his arms extended. His outfield play has improved year to year, and he has more than enough arm strength for right field.
The Bad: Santana's approach could be his undoing, as he's an overly aggressive hitter who looks dead red early and rarely cuts down on his swing. While Santana moves well for his size, he'll likely slow down as he ages, and could end up a bat-only player with well below-average speed and athleticism.
Ephemera: In 15 at-bats with runners in scoring position for Low-A Lexington, Santana drove in 16 runs, going 9-for-15 with a double and two home runs.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a classic slugging corner outfielder.
Fantasy Impact: He will provide power, but he will not be a well-rounded performer.
Path to the Big Leagues: Santana has the potential to put up some massive numbers next year at High-A Lancaster, but he could be hard to evaluate until he gets to the upper levels, where his approach will be challenged.
ETA: Late 2014

7. Telvin Nash, 1B
: 2/20/91
Height/Weight: 6-1/230
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Third round, 2009, Griffin HS (GA)
2011 Stats: .385/.500/.538 at Rookie (5 G); .263/.373/.485 at Single-A (73 G)
Tools Profile: He’s a beefy first baseman who hits balls hard.

Year in Review: While he missed roughly two months due to surgery to remove a hamate bone, Nash’s 73 games at Low-A Lexington left plenty to be optimistic about.
The Good: There are scouts who think Nash has as much raw power as Santana, as he crushes balls when he turns on them. He has a very good approach and rarely goes out of the zone with his swing. While he struggled defensively in a move to first base, Nash has the potential to become average there.
The Bad: Nash has an all-or-nothing swing with too much of an uppercut, and struck out 103 times in 268 at-bats for Lexington. Breaking balls give him fits, and while he understands the strike zone, he has a long way to go in pitch recognition. He doesn't run well, but that's not part of his game.
Ephemera: Nash was a high-school teammate of Tim Beckham, a former first overall pick, at Griffin High School.
Perfect World Projection: He’s a solid everyday first baseman, but there's upside for more.
Fantasy Impact: He's a bat-only player, but he can slug.
Path to the Big Leagues: Like Santana, Nash should be able to take advantage of one of the best hitting parks in the minors in 2012.
ETA: 2014

8. Delino DeShields, 2B
: 8/16/92
Height/Weight: 5-9/188
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2010, Woodward Academy HS (GA)
2011 Stats: .220/.305/.322 at Single-A (119 G)
Tools Profile: He’s a fantastic athlete, but can he play baseball?

Year in Review: This eighth overall pick from 2010 simply never got going in his full-season debut.
The Good: DeShields still has first-round tools, the most notable of which is his plus-plus speed. He's a compact athlete with the strength to sting a ball when he makes full contact, and he could max out at 15-20 home runs per year.
The Bad: DeShields is disturbingly raw, with swing mechanics that some feel are in need of a complete overhaul. A weak arm keeps him from playing on the left side, and he was a mixed bag at second base. He has the potential to be a plus defender, but he needs to improve his transfers and double-play turn.
Ephemera: DeShields hit .320 (31-for-97) in July, but .194 when the calendar said any other month.
Perfect World Projection: The tools are still there for DeShields to develop, but 2011 showed that there is great risk involved with him.
Fantasy Impact: There's the potential for speed and a bit of power here, but he's obviously anything but a safe bet, or even worth an investment at this point.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Astros will use the spring to determine if DeShields will return to Low-A for more seasoning, or move up to High-A with the hope that it can kick-start his career.
ETA: 2015

9. Jack Armstrong, RHP
: 12/14/89
Height/Weight: 6-7/230
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Third round, 2011, Vanderbilt
2011 Stats: DNP
Tools Profile: Everything is there to succeed, but rarely at the same time.

Year in Review: Seen as a potential elite pick two years ago, Armstrong battled with injuries and inconsistencies throughout his college career, but his promise still earned him a $750,000 bonus in the third round.
The Good: Armstrong is a scout's dream physically he is huge and a tremendous athlete. He has a free and easy delivery, and his velocity sits in the low 90s. Armstrong touches 95, though he showed even more velocity earlier in his amateur career. His curveball is a solid offering at times, but his best secondary pitch is an above-average changeup with depth and fade.
The Bad: Armstrong is a bit of an enigma, someone who never lived up to expectations at Vanderbilt and was hampered by back issues in 2011. His breaking ball can come and go, and based on his delivery and arm angle, some would like to see him try a slider instead. His size and long levers create an inconsistent release point, leading to issues with his command.
Ephemera: Armstrong's father of the same name was the National League starter in the 1990 All-Star Game.
Perfect World Projection: Armstrong is, without question, a project, and one with equal potential for both considerable big-league value and never getting past Double-A.
Fantasy Impact: His role and effectiveness in it is still to be determined.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Astros hope that a healthy Armstrong will be ready for a full season at Low-A to begin the year.
ETA: 2014

10. Michael Foltynewicz, RHP
: 10/7/91
Height/Weight: 6-4/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2010, Minooka Community HS (IL)
2011 Stats: 4.97 ERA (134-149-51-88) at Single-A (26 G)
Tools Profile: This physical pitcher has a classic three-pitch mix, but he’s still highly inconsistent.

Year in Review: This 2010 first-rounder had more scuffles than success in his full-season debut.
The Good: Foltynewicz has the body and stuff to be a big-league starter. His velocity wavered in 2011, but generally sat average to plus, often peaking at 94-95 mph. He throws a hard, biting breaking ball when he can avoid getting around on the pitch, and a changeup.
The Bad: Everything about Foltynewicz's game is inconsistent, from his velocity to his command to the quality of his secondary pitches. He has a tendency to rush his delivery, and also falls in love with his fastball, which while good, is not good enough as a sole offering.
Ephemera: Foltynewicz had trouble staying out of trouble, as batters leading off innings against him in 2011 hit .341/.421/.545.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a back-of-the-rotation starter.
Fantasy Impact: It’s limited.
Path to the Big Leagues: Foltynewicz hardly dominated at Low-A, and his inability to miss bats could make pitching in Lancaster a nightmare.
ETA: 2015

11. Paul Clemens, RHP
: 2/14/88
Height/Weight: 6-4/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Seventh round, 2008, Louisburg College
2011 Stats: 3.42 ERA (139.1-126-56-119) in Double-A (25 G); 15.43 ERA (4.2-4-6-6) at Triple-A (1 G)
Tools Profile: He has two plus pitches, but can he start?

Year in Review: This long-armed lefty generated some buzz in the Southern League before going to Houston in the Bourn deal.
The Good: The tall and lanky Clemens uses whippy arm action to generate above-average velocity with his fastball that parks in the low 90s. He'll throw what is often an above-average curveball at any point in the count; he can use it to freeze hitters in the zone or as a chase pitch.
The Bad: Clemens has a tendency to get hammered at times, losing his mechanics and having all of his pitches flatten out. His changeup, while improved, remains a below-average offering, leaving some to see him as a potential reliever without the stuff for the late innings.
Ephemera: Clemens was drafted twice out of Louisburg College in North Carolina, a school whose most famous baseball alumni is Otis Nixon, who was drafted three times.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a fourth or fifth starter, or middle reliever.
Fantasy Impact: Not much.
Path to the Big Leagues: Clemens ended the 2011 season with one Triple-A start, and should return there to begin 2012, with the chance to pitch his way to a callup.
ETA: Late 2012

The Sleeper: A sixth-round pick in 2011, Brandon Meredith is a toolsy outfielder with a good approach, but it comes with questions about his raw hitting ability.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/86 or later)
1. Jarred Cosart, RHP
2. George Springer, OF
3. Jordan Lyles, RHP
4. Jonathan Singleton, 1B
5. J.D. Martinez, OF
6. Jose Altuve, 2B
7. Brett Oberholtzer, LHP
8. Jason Castro, C
9. Brett Wallace, 1B
10. Jimmy Paredes, 3B

Lyles deserves credit for holding his own in the big leagues at 20, but scouts generally don't see much, if any, projection in him, leaving his ceiling as a third starter. It's time to just admit that J.D. Martinez can hit, but as a corner outfielder, he doesn’t have a special bat. As much fun as he is, Jose Altuve's lack of plate discipline was exposed in the big leagues, but his ability to barrel up baseballs is legit. Castro missed all of 2011 with a knee injury, and even before that, we had no evidence that he'd be more than a second-division starter. If you can't mash, you're not much of a first-base prospect, and there is little evidence that Wallace can mash. Paredes doesn't have enough of a hit tool for third base, and his future is likely as a utility player. Jordan Schafer, who missed the list, still has tools and defensive skills, but a lack of production and off-field issues have become problematic.

Summary: While trades give the Astros an enviable top three, the depth of the Houston system remains firmly in kiddie-pool territory. There's help on the way, but nowhere near enough to return the club to contention.