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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 [98] | K-Rating [99] | Efficiency [96])! 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.

From Around The Web

  1. SaltyBiscuits says:
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    Jordan Lyles is the most appealing Astro prospect in fantasy terms by far, yet I see no mention here! He won’t arrive in 2010, though.

    Just throwing it out there.

    Great information though on the other prospects.

  2. lifeontheside says:
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    When you say Beltran you really mean Tejada, right?

  3. Stephen says:
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    @SaltyBiscuits: Yeah, I didn’t write about him because I didn’t ever see his age on baseball-reference.com, but he had an awesome year.

    Jordan Lyles | SP | A | 19 | Throws Right
    10.4 K/9 | 2.4 BB/9 | 144 2/3 IP | 3.24 ERA | 1.189 WHIP | .3 HR/9
    He and fellow rotation mate Ross Seaton are Houston’s next best pitcher. However, Seaton had a marginal year while Lyles had a great year. He should be the next hyped pitching prospect coming out of Houston like Norris was. Except he has much better control. He threw a lot of innings this year and should be able to push about 165 innings next year. He may be up in middle of July if he plays really well at AA next year. Otherwise a September call up and then a battle for a rotation spot in 2011.

    @lifeontheside: Beltran and Octavio Dotel to KC and Oakland in 2004 for Mark Teahan and Mike Wood (of the A’s) and John Buck (of the Astros) to KC and Dotel to Oakland. Then in 2007 (for the 2008 season) Houston trade for Tejada by giving up Luke Scott, Matt Albers, Troy Patton, Dennis Sarfate, and prospect Michael Costanzo. That same off season was when they traded Brad Lidge and Eric Bruntlett for Michael Bourn Geoff Geary and Michael Contanzo

  4. Stephen says:
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    @lifeontheside: Meant to say Received Beltran for trading Dotel to Oakland, and Oakland sent Teahan and Wood to KC and the Astros sent John Buck (their top prospect) to KC. Here is the link not embedded on a word:

    http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=1828880

    I definitely think the Royals could have gotten WAY more for that trade.

  5. Sage says:
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    Anyone interested in taking over a team in an RCL commenters league (5-keepers) post a note here with your e-mail and I’ll send you some information. There is a $25 entry fee. Two teams are available.

  6. AL KOHOLIC says:
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    grey,i had a great year in my 1st RCL league,finished 3rd in the A latin 9 league and 19th in the overall master standings,we had 5 in the top 30 from our league and for the most part everyone except a couple played till the end,great fun and very competitive,next year hurry up and get here,thanks for everything,need improvement in sp next year,it killed me in both my 3rd place finishes,

  7. Sage says:
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    @Sage:

    As a follow-up, our league was the highest rated of the RCLs. Should be even better with a couple of strong replacements. Thanks again.

  8. lifeontheside says:
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    @ sage: I would be interested in taking over a team.
    hit me at lifeontheside at gmail.

  9. AL KOHOLIC says:
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    @Sage: sounds great but ill stay loyall to our group and hopefully we can overtake you guys next year

  10. Mr Baseball says:
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    Should be even better with a couple of strong replacements

  11. Mr Baseball says:
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    here comes joba – nice weapon to have in pen for yanks

  12. Grey

    Grey says:
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    @Mr Baseball: That’s the best picture in the history of baseball.

  13. Mr Baseball says:
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    did you see TBS has that BallTrax located in the bottom right of your tv screen – I think they are jumping the gun here – the only thing that counts is how the umpire sees the pitch – Now I can see of they use a Player’s Balls Scratching Trax in place of that Ball Trax
    wow jeter had some itch !

  14. Quintero says:
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    Lo! My Boy! Only if Dave Duncan can come to Corpus Christi Hooks and fix Lo’s disturbing Walk rate… Who say coaching is overrated?

  15. Stephen says:
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    @Quintero: The Oakland Raiders, or the Nationals.

  16. generic says:
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    @Stephen: Nice post, look forward to more of these throughout the offseason.

    There’s just no real excitement with this system. Sure Clemens & Gaston had good seasons, but I have a hard time seeing them even remotely replicate what they did this year. If they do, great, then they should be considered top prospects, but I think they (much like Alex Liddi & Joseph Dunigan), are products of their respective leagues.

    The Astros to me look like they’re in a lot of trouble. Hit bottom, rebuild. Trade off all the pieces you have and restock that system. Could Tejada have had a better year to try to get something for him? I don’t think so.

  17. Stephen says:
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    @generic: Yes, Gaston and Clemens played in the hitter friendly environment called the California league, and yes they need to replicate the 2009 season to be legit top prospects. However, those are exceptional numbers, and usually only steroids make people turn into a Brett Boone. And when talking about the Astros, any positive must be mentioned.

  18. Stephen says:
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    @generic: Oh, and Clemens OPS lead the California league and Gaston’s 35 homers lead the league as well. Additionally, both Clemens and Gaston are younger then the average player in the Cal League.

  19. Travis says:
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    @Stephen : Thanks for the writeup. As an Astros fan, it’s been a tough few years but I think they have a good crop of players who will really be tested this year at the AA level. If they do well, their system will start to look pretty good. A couple of other names:

    The Astros brass really seem to like T.J. Steele, who has battled some injuries. He only had about 200 AB this year but hit .934 OPS w/5HR and 8SB. Word is that if he can stay healthy, they think he can be in the majors in 2 years (he’s 23). Best case scenario may be that he’s a poor man’s Matt Kemp. But is health really an issue here.

    The Astros also have a couple of SAGNOF candidates in Jack Shuck (22) and Jay Austin(18). Of course they’re stuck behind Bourn, but Shuck posted a .389 OBP at A+ ball this year and stole 18 bases. Austin doesn’t get on base as much (.320 OBP at A ball this year), but he’s only 18 and he still stole 23 bases this year. Both of these guys are still a ways out, but could break through at some point if things go well and they get traded.

  20. Stephen says:
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    @Travis: Being a poor man’s Matt Kemp isn’t anything to be ashamed of. SAGNOFers need some defense if that is all they are good for. Either way, thanks for the additional coverage Travis. Much appreciated. 2010 will determine a lot of their farm’s value. Like you said, if their prospect produce in 2010 and they don’t trade them away. Things should look pretty good. Plus, they may be able to trade some of their veterans away for a few pieces to bolster their farm.

  21. Travis says:
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    Yeah, I saw that. They also already resigned Geoff Blum and Keppinger may play some 3rd too. I don’t think the Astros have much confidence in Johnson as an everyday player to be honest. The one positive indicator is his line from this August:

    108 AB 0.340 AVG 0.384 OBP 0.631 SLG 1.015 OPS 52B and 7HR

    Over the season (375 AB) he hit 13 HR w/OPS of .786. Struck out 88 times, walked 21.

    All that said, the Astros aren’t going to be that good anyway, so they might as well stick Johnson in there and see what he can do. Whether or not Mills will do that is certainly another question.

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