The Houston Astros minor league spring training camp is in full swing now and the Astros have a very promising crop of minor leaguers who will begin their first full year in the Astros farm system. This group includes last year’s first round draft pick Delino Deshields Jr., Austin Wates, Ariel Ovando, Mike Kvasnicka, Mike Foltynewicz, and Ben Heath. While these six players are years away of making an impact at the major league level they are players to keep an eye on in 2011, and possess an abundance of talent that could see these guys shoot threw the system at a rapid pace.
Delino Deshields Jr.
The High school outfielder from Atlanta was taken number 8 overall in last year’s draft. While projected to be a first rounder, Deshields was considered by many to be an overdraft at number 8. The Astros stated that they see Deshields projecting more as a second baseman than as a center fielder. His ceiling could be as high as a 10-20 homer guy that hits for average and stills 50 plus bases. He was considered one of the quickest players in last year’s draft coupled with an athletic build that suggests that he can make the transition to second base. With the high ceiling also comes a low floor. There’s the possibility that he could not stick at second base, which would expose a below average arm in the outfield. It has also been reported that he has had dedication issues and not putting forth his full effort all the time in the past. As witnessed this offseason with his DUI charge he also has a lot of maturing to do before he progresses through the system.
How quickly Deshields moves through the organization will depend on how quickly he is able to transition from center to second base. The projected offensive side of his game would rank him as an above average second baseman with the potential to be a superstar, but his defense and maturity are big question marks that still need to be answered before he is granted elite prospect status. He is definitely a player to watch this year to see just how quickly he comes around.
Austin was drafted last year in the third round as a sophomore in college. The outfielder profiles as a player who should hit for a high average throughout the organization with decent speed and the ability to be a decent defensive outfielder. Weaknesses in Wates game seem to be a lack of power, and the arm strength to hold down an outfield position. There were rumors last year that the Astros had considered trying to transition him into a second baseman as well, but it appears that he is still viewed as an outfielder within the organization so far. Wates is the type of player that could move through the organization quickly due to the fact that his bat is already pretty advanced. The biggest question mark in his game thus far is where he will play in the field.
While Ovando was not drafted last year he was signed on july 2nd, and thus is included in this list. The Astros signed Dominican outfielder Ariel Ovando last season for a 2.8 million dollar signing bonus. Ovando is a 16 year old rightfielder who has demonstrated plus power and above average arm strength. The left handed hitting outfielder has the raw talents to become a future superstar. However due to the fact that he has not played a game stateside yet, he still has a low ceiling due to the fact that it is unknown how his skill-set will play against professional competition. Still Ovando will be a very interesting player to watch this year, and could shoot up the prospect rankings with a good showing at a very young age.
Mike Kvasnicka was the first college player taken in last year’s draft by the Astros, and was also considered by many to be an overdraft. He played catcher his last year in college, but the Astros have stated that they view him more as a third baseman. Kvasnicka was a decent hitter in college, and possesses some power, but not the type of pop that you would like to see as a third base candidate. He would appear to have more value if he could stick behind the plate. His ceiling seems to be 10 to 20 homeruns a year with a decent average and decent defense at catcher or third base. As with the other players that the Astros drafter last year whose positions were unknown his floor is still low as he appears to be a hitter without a clear cut position. What adds to his low floor is the fact that he did not hit that well last year in short season ball posting a .234 average with 5 home runs in 261 at bats.
For Kvasnicka to shoot up the ranks in the organization he will have to prove that his below average offense last year was just a product of getting acquainted to professional ball, and showcase the bat that forced the Astros to draft him in the first round. He also has to prove that he can play above average defense at either third base or catcher. He would appear to have more value at catcher, but with the lack of organizational depth at third base and quality depth at catcher it looks like third base is where he will end up. As a college player he should be more polished and if his bat comes around could progress through the organization at a reasonable pace.
The 6-foot-4, 190 pound high school right-hander was taken at number 19 overall by the Astros in last year’s draft. Foltenewicz’s arsenal includes a fastball that sits at about 93 – 96 MPH, with an above average changeup and curveball. By signing quickly he was able to get in 44 innings in Greenville while posting a 4.03 ERA with a 7.86 K/9 innings ratio. While these numbers are good but not great, they look a lot better if you remove one disastrous start. Control was an issue last year and could determine how quickly he moves through the organization along with the continued development of his off-speed pitches. He possesses solid number – 2 starter potential and could be put on the Jordan Lyles fast track through the organization if his performance dictates it.
Drafted as a catcher in the fifth round, Ben Heath’s performance was a present surprise for the Astros last year making a brief appearance at the double-A level towards the end of the year. His biggest asset is by far his bat. After being drafted Heath hit 10 home runs between low and high A ball before being promoted to Corpus Christi to end the year. His defense needs work, and if he is able to prove that he can stick behind the dish then he will move up the prospect rankings very quickly. He has a ceiling as a decent catcher with above average power, but a floor as a first baseman with a little pop. Due to the fact that he was a junior last year he should be a mature and polished player that could continue to move through the organization very quickly.