Houston Astros

Original Published Date: January 2, 2015

It was an eventful year for the Houston Astros.  They had AstroLeaks – a security breach that allowed conversations between the Astros and other team’s front offices to be made public on the Internet.  Soon after that embarrassment was put to bed, they announced that they were unable to come to terms with Brady Aiken, the number one overall pick in the 2014 draft.

While both of these events were unfortunate, the most important thing that occurred during the year was the improvements the major league club made.  They hit better, pitched better with  improved defense.  The result: they won 19 more games than they did in 2013 and snapped their three year 100-game seasonal loss record.

The Astros did get help from two of their young big guns in George Springer and Jon Singleton, ranked number three and four respectively last year.  However, the promotion of impact prospects is just starting.  Mark Appel is likely to be the next significant player to contribute at the big league level.  While Astros fans thought he would be an ace when he was drafted number one overall, he’s more likely a number three starting pitcher.  Lance McCullers is another impact arm that should arrive in 2016.  While he’s still being used as a starter, I think he’ll ultimately be a lock down closer.  Mike Foltynewicz (already promoted) and Josh Hader are talented in their own right but don’t have the same impact as the other two.

Offensively, the Astros are patiently waiting for Carlos Correa to make his way to Houston.  Correa has star potential with an ETA of 2016.  Rio Ruiz, Teoscar Hernandez, and Brett Phillips are on similar timeframes and while they don’t have the potential impact of Correa, they all will likely be solid major league contributors.

With the graduation of Singleton and Springer and the miss on Aiken, the Astros farm system has been passed by the Cubs.  That said, it still a very good system and should position the Astros very well for the next five to ten years.  In fact, a Cubs vs. Astros 2018 World Series is still very much in the cards.

1. Carlos Correa (SS)

2015 Age: 20 Ceiling: All-star
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 205 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
2014 A+ 249 50 6 57 20 .325 .416 81.9 12.3 .373

Carlos Correa wasn’t having a good year when he broke his leg in July, he was a having a great year.  In 249 at-bats, he posted a slash line of .325/.416/.510 with six home runs, 20 stolen bases and an excellent 45K/36BB strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Injuries are part of the game and from all reports, Correa should be completely healed by Spring Training.  In fact, there was hope that he would have played in the Arizona Fall League but the Astros decided to play it safe.

I had a chance to see Correa play during the opening series in Lancaster and concluded what others had already figured out – Carlos Correa is going to be a star.  Blessed with great bat speed, balance and a short powerful stroke, Correa was easily the best player on the field.  In batting practice, he lined shots all over the field and then hit bombs to left, left center and right-center field with ease. There wasn’t any dipping of the shoulder or lifting his left leg to get more leverage to show off his power, it was just a tight stroke with nice hip rotation to create the power.

In looking at him physically, it’s hard not to compare him to a young Alex Rodriguez – tall, a bit lanky but very athletic.  His current body is clearly not built to hit a lot of home runs, but as he matures, the body will fill out and the strength should meet his bat speed to create plus future power potential.

Despite his height, he was very nimble at shortstop showing good lateral movement and an average arm.  He tried to execute the “jump throw”, ala Derek Jeter, but it didn’t have the zip on the throw that would indicate plus arm strength.  I believe he’ll stay at short for the next three to five years, maybe longer, but a move to third or even the outfield could eventually happen.

While Correa lost valuable development time, I expect the Astros to start him in Double-A next year.  He’s likely to spend most of the year in Corpus Christi but could see some time in Triple-A.  Assuming all goes well, Correa should be manning shortstop in Houston sometime in 2016.

Fantasy Impact:  Carlos Correa has the tools to be a perennial first round fantasy draft pick.  The ceiling is a 20 HR/20 SB player, batting third in a very good Astros lineup.  With his quickly maturing approach at the plate, a .300/.370/.500 player is not out of the question.

2. Mark Appel (RHP)

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 225 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 A+,AA 83.1 109 64 11 2.59 8.43 6.91 1.60

If you look at Mark Appel’s stat line for 2014, it wasn’t good; in fact, it was awful.  In 12 starts, he posted a 9.74 ERA and a 1.92 WHIP.  It wasn’t just bad luck, he got hit hard.  He gave up 74 hits and nine home runs in 44.1 innings.

Even before his year stated, he had problems.  In late January, he needed to have emergency surgery to remove his appendix.  The Astros were careful with him but assumed he was healthy and sent him to Lancaster to pitch.  Whether he wasn’t fully ready or just could not handle the brutal pitching conditions of the Mohave desert, he failed.  The Astros brought him back to the Complex League and that didn’t even work.  Finally, they promoted him to Double-A and he started posting better stat lines.

Through his struggles, Appel continued to show good stuff with excellent control.  His fastball was sitting 92-95 MPH with a sharp slider that was getting plenty of swings and misses.  In fact, his 8.43 strikeout per nine was indeed impressive as was his 2.59 walk per nine.

Needless to say I was excited to see Appel pitch myself during the Arizona Fall League.  The fastball velocity came as advertised.  It sat 93-95 MPH with plenty of 6’s and 7’s.  The slider was also very good with a nice tight break, sitting 85-86 MPH.  When he left the game after pitching four innings, the stat line said one hit, zero runs, six strikeouts, and two walks.

It was a good start, even impressive, but it left me wanting more. The fastball is a little flat and the slider while good, is not great. While I think the ceiling is still a solid number two starter, don’t be surprised if he never hits that ceiling and instead settles in as a top 40 pitcher. For the record, that’s a very good pitcher.

Fantasy Impact:  The big question on fantasy owners mind is whether Mark Appel is a buy-low candidate.  If his owner is placing a number two starter tag on him, I’m walking away.  If he’s placing a number three, I’m buying.   I see him posting strikeout rates in the seven to eight per nine while not hurting himself by issuing free passes.  I just believe the stuff will be flat and he’ll give up more hits, more home runs than you would expect.  The BABIP will always scream a correction is coming but I’m afraid it never will.

3. Vince Velasquez (RHP)

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 205 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 R,A+ 64.0 50 25 6 3.52 12.8 3.52 1.17

While the Lancaster JetHawks team boosted two first picks in Mark Appel and Lance McCullers, Vince Velasquez was more impressive than both of them.  Not only did he have a superior statistical performance, but his arsenal and control were also better.   In 55.1 innings, he struck out 72 while walking 23 and posting a 3.74 ERA.

Velasquez has a four pitch arsenal that features a fastball that sits 92-95 MPH with plenty of 6’s. His best secondary pitch is his hard curve ball that sits 78-80 MPH with a nice 11 to 5 break.  His changeup, while inconsistent, shows a lot of potential and could eventually be an above-average, if not more pitch.  He also throws a slider that is well behind the other three pitches.

His mechanics are also solid with good posture and balance with an easy athletic delivery.  His release point is not consistent as his front shoulder flies out from time-to-time but with repetition and more experience, the command should grade out to at least average.

What’s really been holding Velasquez back is his ability to stay healthy.  Not only did he miss time in 2014, but has missed time in every year he has pitched.  Also, he has Tommy John on his resume, having had the surgery in 2011.

After his very good performance in the Arizona Fall League, Velasquez should start the 2015 season in Corpus Christi and assuming he stays healthy, could even see time in Houston later in the year.  The stuff and delivery are nearly big league ready.

Fantasy Impact:  Velasquez has the ceiling of a top 40 starting pitching in fantasy.  His stuff will miss bats and a strikeout per inning is not an unreasonable ceiling.  He does pitch up in the zone and home runs could become a problem for him.  Overall, I think you should expect 180 innings, 160 to 190 strikeouts with better than league average ratios.  However, given his injury history, you need to add a high risk to the ceiling.

4. Lance McCullers (RHP)

2015 Age: 21 Ceiling: Closer
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 205 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 A+ 97.0 95 59 18 5.20 10.67 5.47 1.56

The Astros played the draft roulette very well in 2012 when they were able to grab Rio Ruiz and Lance McCullers for over slot amounts with the savings created by signing Carlos Correa.  In both players, the Astros acquired likely future big leaguers with McCullers being the more interesting of the two.

McCullers is a hard throwing right-hander that has two plus pitches in his 92-95 MPH fastball and a slider that is flat out nasty.  In the outing I scouted him in mid-August, he was able to command his slider with ease.  It sat 83-84 MPH for most of his five innings with a sharp two-plane break that was unhittable.  Most importantly, he was able to throw it easily for strikes; with excellent location that broke sharply away from arm side batters.  Interesting, he didn’t have as good of command of his fastball, not only having trouble throwing consistent strikes but he also left several of them up in the zone and they were hit hard.

While his number one and two pitches were impressive, he change-up was not.  It sat 84-87 MPH for the evening but he missed badly with it low and away.  It did get a lot of swings and misses, but as he moves into the upper-minors, the pitch is likely to not be as effective.

His pitching mechanics are very inconsistent.  With his fastball and slider, he finishes very well but on his change-up, the timing is off.  He gets poor trunk rotation and therefore it’s hard for him to throw the pitch for strikes.  Also, he can overthrow his fastball when he reaches back for a little extra and will lose the plate.

Throughout the outing, he did lose velocity as the game progressed.  He was sitting 93-96 in the first, 92-94 in the third, and started the fifth off with three fastballs that sat 90 MPH before finishing off the final batter with a 94 MPH heater.  I tweeted out my results throughout the game, and Lance was not too happy with my results and corrected me that his last pitch was in fact 95 MPH.  Ok, 95…interesting though.

Fantasy Impact:  The body, arsenal, and delivery all point to McCullers being a reliever and possibly a shut-down closer.  The fastball/slider combination is impressive and can get big league batters out today.  The change-up has a long way to go to be serviceable and I worry that his all-out delivery will not allow him to have the stamia to make it as a starter.  That said, I rarely get tweets back from pitchers about their performance and you have to appreciate the feistiness of McCullers.  At this juncture, I wouldn’t’ rule anything out.

5. Teoscar Hernandez (OF)

2015 Age: 22 Ceiling: Solid-Reg
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
2014 A+,AA 486 84 21 85 33 .292 .362 68.5 9.2 .382

Teoscar Hernandez had a nice breakout season in 2014 when he posted an .897 OPS, hit 21 home runs, and stole 33 bases in 553 plate appearances across High and Double-A.

At 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, Hernandez passes the eye test with excellent bat speed, good foot speed, and raw power that is starting to translate very quickly into in-game power.  However, the swing has a number of problems, not the least of which is the length that is causing a lot of strikeouts.  In fact, in 486 at-bats, he posted a 68.5% contact rate and it got worse in his 95 at-bats in Double-A.  However, that was to be expected and could get worse as he faces more advanced pitchers.

While there is five-tool capability in Hernandez, he doesn’t have one plus tool in the bag.  Yes, I know the 21 home runs and 33 stolen bases beg to differ, but the speed is 55 to 60 on the 20 to 80 scouting scale and I’m  just not convinced he’ll hit 25 home runs once he hits the big leagues.  A more realistic ceiling is 15 home runs and 20 stolen bases with a .260 batting average.

Fantasy Impact:  While I’m trying to temper expectations in my write-up, Hernandez should be owned in most Dynasty Leagues.  In fact, if he shorten up his swing and improved his two-strike approach, he could easily find his way into our Top 100 list.  The ceiling is a third outfielder on you fantasy team with 15 HR/20 SB ceiling, batting .260.

6. Rio Ruiz (3B)

2015 Age: 21 Ceiling: Solid-Reg
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 215 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
2014 A+ 516 76 11 77 4 .293 .387 82.4 13.6 .335

I had a chance to see the then 19-year-old Rio Ruiz during the opening series in Lancaster and came away unimpressed.  While I liked the bat speed and the chance for future power, I didn’t like body and athleticism (clocked him at 4.41 to first) and found his setup to be noisy and his swing to be choppy.  When I saw him again six months later in the Arizona Fall League, I saw a much more confident hitter with an improved plane to ball.  However, he looked even heavier than when I saw him in the spring and it showed in the field as he struggled with his footwork around third.

What I am more convinced of is that Ruiz can hit and has enough size and bat speed to have at least above-average future power.  First, the approach is impressive and that showed in his stat line in the California League.  In 516 at-bats, he had a 91K/82BB strikeout-to-walk rate.  That nearly 1:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio also continued in the Arizona Fall League.  What hasn’t started to surface is his in-game power.   It’s definitely there during batting practice and while I worry that his size could hurt his bat speed, I still believe there is above-average future power.

Ruiz should start the 2015 season in Corpus Christi with the hopes of bringing the championship Lancaster won in 2014 to South Texas.  With his advanced hit tool, Ruiz could make quick work of the Texas League and start pushing the Astros for a promotion to Fresno, the next Triple-A home of the Astros.

Fantasy Impact:  In rostering prospects in a Dynasty League, I look heavily at a player’s strikeout-to-walk ratio.  The reason is simple…hitting is the hardest tool to develop and usually players who can make strong contact with plate discipline will move faster through the system.  Ruiz can hit and therefore should be rostered in all Dynasty Leagues.  I do worry about his lack of athleticism and the fact that he’s noticeable heavier since being drafted two years.  That said, a .300 batting average with 15 to 20 home runs seems to be a good baseline for projecting Ruiz’s future ceiling.

7. Mike Foltynewicz (RHP)

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling: Closer
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 220 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2014
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 AAA 102.2 98 58 10 4.56 8.94 5.08 1.46

Mike Foltynewicz is one of the more maddening prospects in the game.  He has size and athleticism at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds as well as a plus arsenal that features a fastball that sat 98.14 in his 18.2 innings in the majors.  He should be good, in fact really good, but his lack of pitchability stemming from his inability to command his arsenal has become a real problem.

Despite the concerns, few pitchers in the game have the type of raw stuff of Foltynewicz.  It starts with his double-plus fastball that can hit triple-digits with ease in short-burst.  Even as a starter, his fastball will sit 95-97 MPH.  Plus, he’s able to maintain the velocity through at least five to six innings.  To complement his heater, he throws a 79-80 MPH curveball that when he can throw it for strikes, misses bat.  The changeup also flashes plus and is even more consistent than his changeup.

The problem is his below average control and even worse command.  In looking at his delivery, it’s hurried and with maximum effort.  The release point is not consistent but he just turned 23, so you expect some of that.  However, the results just are not good.  As he moved through the minors and encountered more advanced hitters, the walk rate shot up, walking over 4.50 per nine in both Double and Triple-A.  He also pitches up in the zone, partially because of his velocity, but major league hitters will catch up to an upper nineties offering, particularly when it lacks movement.

While my review is negative, Foltynewicz is still very young and still has a chance to become a very good major league starter.  However, there’s a lot of work to be done and it’ll be interesting to see how the Astros handle him.  After all, both Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh made huge gains in 2014 and therefore, I’m not yet giving up on Folty.

Fantasy Impact:  Foltynewicz is still a win-win situation for fantasy owners.  If his command and control improves, he could become at least a number three starter.  If it doesn’t the Astros will put him in the bullpen where his upside is a Wade Davis level setup man or a potential closer.

8. Derek Fisher (OF)

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling: 1st-Div.
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 205 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
2014 R,SS 155 31 2 18 17 .310 .386 77.4 9.7 .387

Derek Fisher was expected to go in the first round of the 2014 first year player draft, but wound up falling to the supplemental first round with the Astros snagging him with the 37th overall pick.   Part of the reason he fell in the draft was his poor junior year at the University of Virginia.  From his contact rate to his power, everything regressed.  Part of this can be attributed to breaking his hamate early in the year but teams were nonetheless scared off.

That said, I think the Astros got a bargain.  Fisher has a great swing where he keeps his hands inside the ball and enough bat speed and natural strength to project future plus power.  While he only hit two home runs in his first 42 professional games, there is a lot more power in his game.  What was encouraging was his 35K/17BB strikeout-to-walk ratio.  Granted it was rookie ball, but I think the bat will play.  Despite average speed, he did steal a surprising 17 bases as well.

The Astros should start Fisher in Low-A to begin the 2015 season and I fully expect him to make quick work of the level.  He’ll be a full year recovered from his hamate surgery and his power should start to return over the summer; particularly once he gets to Lancaster.

Fantasy Impact:  Fisher has the swing and potential future power to make him a valuable future fantasy asset.  The upside is a .270 hitter capable of 20 to 25 home runs while stealing 10 to 12 bases.  He’s also likely to move quickly through the system with an ETA to the big leagues of 2017.

9. Josh Hader (LHP)

2015 Age: 21 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 160 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 A+,AA 123.1 92 45 11 3.94 9.93 3.28 1.18

We took a lot of heat for naming Josh Hader our 2014 Emerging Prospect and many readers thought there were more deserving players.  However, after taming the California League by posting a 2.70 ERA with a 112/38BB strikeout-to-walk ratio, the prospect world saw what we saw last year – a lefty with really good stuff that plays up because batters just don’t pick up his delivery well.

Hader’s arsenal starts off with a four-seam fastball that sits 90-93 MPH.  Despite the velocity, the pitch lacks plane due to Hader’s lower three-quarters delivery.  However, the lack of plane is partially offset by his ability to throw it for strikes with a lot of deception.  The deception is created from both his slinging three-quarter delivery plus his rocking setup that can really mess with a hitters timing.  He also throws a curve ball and changeup that both flash plus with the curve being the better of the two, particularly against left-handed batters.  Given his delivery, the pitch starts behind left handed batters and then jumps up on them.  In the outing I saw, lefties were constantly bailing, just to be fooled with a strike.

While the arsenal and delivery present significant problems to hitters, particularly lefties, Hader does have trouble repeating his delivery.  This is primarily due to the complexity of the delivery which needs a lot of things to synch together.  However, it’s the complexity of the delivery which makes him so difficult to hit.  It’s a quandary for Hader and why many sources believe he’ll ultimately move to the bullpen.  If he does, his upside is a Andrew Miller type of loogy or possibly a closer.

Fantasy Impact:  If Hader stays in the rotation, he has a ceiling of a high strikeout but homer prone pitcher who could miss bats at a tune of seven to nine batters per nine but have a higher than league average ERA.  That should play enough to make Hader a back-of-the-rotation fantasy starter but might give owners pause to sell high on him.

10. Colin Moran (3B)

2015 Age: 22 Ceiling: 2nd-Div.
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 215 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2015
2014 A+,AA 473 46 7 55 1 .296 .344 83.9 7.2 .337

I’ve never been a huge fan of Colin Moran, but the Astros made out quite well when they acquire the third baseman along with Jake Marisnick from the Marlins in exchange for Jared Cosart.  Simply put, I believe Colin Moran can really hit but his lack of athleticism as well as his current swing path, suggest that his power and speed will be limited.

The 2014 stat line supports the scouting synopsis.  In 514 at-bats across High and Double-A, Moran batted .296 with a .344 on-base percentage.  He also slugged .397 with seven home runs and two stolen bases.

Fantasy Impact:  Moran is only rosterable in an AL Only Dynasty League.  I believe the ceiling is a .300 hitter with a good on-base percentage and 10 to 12 home runs.  There will be no speed.  In a mixed league, you just need more production out of your third base position.  Others will disagree, but if you own him, I would be pointing out those reviews and selling high on him.

2015 Emerging Prospect:

Brett Phillips (OF)

Brett Phillips could easily have made our Top 10 list but I decided to save him as our emerging prospect.  When you see Phillips play, he’s just one of the guys you want on your team.  He plays the game extremely hard but also has the athleticism to become a solid major league contributor.  He has enough bat speed to eventually hit 12 to 15 home runs at the big league level and above average foot speed to steal 20 plus bases.  His plate discipline and contactability also took a step forward this past year and projecting him with an above-average hit tool is reasonable.

17 comments on “Houston Astros

  1. […] You can see the Astros 2015 Prospect List here. […]

  2. Where would Domingo Santana have been ranked on here?

  3. Hey Rich, your prospect write-ups are terrific. Thanks! Atlanta traded Evan Gattis for Foltynewicz, Rio Ruiz, and Andruw Thurman. Is this a decent trade for Braves? What is Thurman’s potential?

    • I tweeted out that I really like the haul that the Bravs got. I think Folty could be a mid-rotation starter or more likely, a lock down closer. Has two plus pitches but control is still spotty. Ruiz can really hit but I don’t like the body and believe he’s a 15-20 home run guy max with little speed, but could be a .280 plus hitter. Thurman is a back-of-the-rotation pitcher without any plus pitches; although his fastball ticked up after he was drafted.

      On the surface, the Braves got the better end of the deal as Gattis is really a DH. He’s got great power but feels like a Chris Carter type of player. Besides, Altuve, they need guys that can get on base. They’ve got some power guys who are going to strikeout a lot in Carter, Springer, Singleton, and Gattis.

  4. Rich do you like Russell less than Correa?

  5. I was surprised to not see Michael Feliz in the top 10. Where do you think he slots in?

    • Just missed the list as well. The Astros might have the deepest system in the league, not the best but the deepest. Athletic, big with a great arm. Still two, probably three years away, but he could be very, very good.

  6. How far off was Tony Kemp? Thanks for the great work

  7. Why no love for Preston Tucker? I was expecting to see him somewhere in the 6 – 10 range on your list. He has been consistent with the bat thru each level. Is his glove that bad?

    • He’s had a really good run and I actually own him in 3 out of my 4 Dynasty Leagues. He has a chance to be a solid player but I doubt he’s a star. Upside is 20 home runs and a .260 batting average. I did get a couple of reports on his lack of bat speed and those individuals were concerned about how much future power he would develop.

  8. Great write-up Rich. What are your thoughts on AJ Reed and his power potential in the majors?

    • I got mixed reviews Mark. Big guy with a swing that is more compact that you would think but the power is more strength based as opposed to bat-speed based. A first base only guy so clearly he’s going to have to hit and hit with power.

      He missed my Top 10 but was in the next 10-15. One of the guys I want to see this year for sure.

  9. […] review of the 2015 Houston Astros Top 10 Prospects is now […]

  10. […] MLB Prospect Rankings: Prospect361.com ranks the top 10 prospects in the Houston Astros farm […]

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