Houston Astros 2009 Minor League Review
Overall farm talent ranking via Baseball America:
2009 (30) | 2008 (30) | 2007 (22) | 2006 (20) | 2005 (22) | 2004 (29)
Record of each Affiliate
Majors: 74 – 88
AAA: 63 – 89
AA: 61 – 69
A+: 56 – 84
A: 68 – 72
A(ss): 27 – 48
R: 18 – 38
R: 27 – 40
The Astros have one of the older rosters in the majors and they aren’t getting any younger. Previous top prospects have been busts or have failed to stay with Houston. Remember J.R. Towles? Just vaguely; and if you live by Grey’s philosophy of “plug-in-and-ignore,” the catcher position is irrelevant for fantasy purposes (however, highly important in any other form of baseball). The last top ranked prospect in the Astros farm to have high success was Hunter Pence in 2007, but before then was Roy Oswalt in 2001. The five years in between those two players have seen the likes of Carlos Hernandez (LHP, Dodgers), John Buck (C, Royals), Taylor Buchholz (RHP, Rockies), Chris Burke (2B, Diamondbacks), and Jason Hirsh (RHP, Rockies) as the top prospects and now are on other teams. Scouting, drafting, developing prospects and determining potential is extremely difficult. Potential, the catch-all term for highly touted prospects, the optimistic rehashing of a player’s future, the … “I actually get paid to talk this vaguely,” and highly educated guesses. Potential is such a dirty vague word that tricks everyone into believing all the hype surrounding a prospect.
Before more digression occurs, we were talking about the Houston Astros. Having a ranking in the lower third, and the bottom half of that third, for the last few years has been detrimental to the development of the organization. That, and having to trade to acquire major pieces for playoff runs (Beltran and Valverde) has depleted their talent pool. This year it was definitely more noticeable. They (the major league team) struggled to stay around .500 for most of the season, saw their manager get fired, and threw several rookies into the fire by the middle of the season. Bud Norris (#2 ranked prospect), Felipe Paulino (#7 ranked prospect) and Samuel Gervacio (#19 ranked prospect) pitched in the majors for a significant portion of the season. The typical growing pains of rookie pitchers was exemplified and evident in their roller-coaster season. Jason Castro (#1 ranked prospect), the future starting catcher, thrived at High-A, but struggled slugging at Double-A with a line of .293/.323/.385, compared to .309/.399/.517 at High-A. He is still at least another full year away from even remotely contributing to the major league team. Many of the top performers in the Astros farm system were in the low-minors and the upper level readily available talent was promoted to the major leagues.
Some of the players that had a good year are as followed (working from AAA and on down):
Players of Interest
Chris Johnson | 3B | AAA | 24 yrs : .281/.323/.461 | 383 AB | 20 2B | 13 HR | 90:21 K:BB
Ranked as the fifth best prospect, Johnson played well for a week at Double-A and was quickly promoted to Triple-A and thrived. Playing in the Pacific Coast League, where hitters numbers are usually inflated, his stats are pretty average at best. However, he did enough to warrant a September call-up this year (though he didn’t do well with two hits in 22 at-bats). Considered the best power hitter in their system, it still looks like he has more gap power than anything else. He hit 13 home runs and 24 doubles at Double-A last year, and this year he hit 13 homers and 20 doubles at Triple-A. With Geoff Blum manning third base with his ancient 36 year old body, look for Johnson to get a shot at starting at the hot-corner for 2010.
Chia-Jen Lo | RP | A+/AA | 23 | @AA 9K/9 | 4.6 BB/9 | 39 IP | @A+ 12.8 K/9 | 4.6 BB/9 | 25 1/3 IP
Lo throws his fastball between 91 to 96 mph with a splitter, a low 80’s slider and a marginal change-up. This was his first pro season since coming over from Taiwan and he showed great potential (there is that dirty word again) this year. In 64 1/3 innings, he averaged 10.5 K/9 with a disturbing walk rate. Used strictly as a reliever, though not a closer, he should find himself back at Double-A to refine his control, but if used out of the bullpen, we may be looking at a future stud for you Mr. B’s out there.
Kolby Clemens | C | A+ | 22 | .345/.419/.636 | 423 AB | 45 2B | 22 HR | 121 RBI | 109:51 K:BB
Hard to ignore the legend’s son. He had a monster year (along with teammate Gaston). He will always be at least a level behind Castro as they are the same age and Castro is the better prospect. However you look at it, those numbers are hard to ignore. He isn’t a ranked prospect as there are several players above him at the catcher position. Just wanted to point out his year as he had the highest OPS in the entire system.
Jon Gaston | LF | A+ | 22 | .279/.367/.598 | 518 AB | 31 2B | 35 HR | 101 RBI | 14 SB | 164:71 K:BB
Speaking of a high OPS, Gaston (and don’t reference Beauty and the Beast) had the third highest as the second bash brother in the High-A Lancaster’s lineup. He may have not been ranked in 2009’s Baseball America handbook, but after this year he should at least be on the radar. With an aging lineup in the majors and the need for power to be replaced, Gaston may have found lightning in a bottle as he only had two homers the season before. Maybe he just needed some seasoning (and 4 dozen eggs every morning).
Fernand Abad | SP | A+/AA | @AA: 8.4 K/9 | 1.9 BB/9 | 14 IP | @A+: 8.6 K/9 | .9 BB/9 | 82 2/3 IP | 1.04 WHIP
Love the name. Love the strikeout to walk ratio and The Cube loves him too (control  | K-Rating  | Efficiency )! Oh, and did I mention he is a lefty? Yup. Keep an eye on him, though he may only see late season action in 2010, aka September Call-Up.
Henry Villar | SP | A | 22 | 10.9 K/9 | 1.8 BB/9 | 90 IP | 1.09 WHIP
He may be a bit old for A-ball, but the strikeout rate is nice and the control is impeccable.
Julio Martinez | 1B | R/A(ss) | 21 | @A(ss) .326/.380/.540 | 187 AB | 15 2B | 5 HR | 30:15 K:BB
He played at both the Rookie level and in short season hitting a combined .326/.380/.540 with 12 homers in 187 at-bats. Hard to know much about these low-minor players as many don’t have many scouting reports on them.
Jose Altuve | 2B | R | 19 | .324/.408/.508 | 179 AB | 20 2B | 21 SB | 16:26 K:BB
Jiovanni Mier | SS | R | 18 | .276/.388/.483 | 192 AB | 7 HR | 10 SB
Yuri Perez | SP | R | 18 | 10.5 K/9 | 3.3 BB/9 | 51 2/3 IP
These last three are together because I just want you to be aware of them. They are all young, performed well, and are positions in which the Astros lack quality depth.