Today is Opening Day for many of the Houston Astros affiliates. From Oklahoma City to Quad Cities, the Astros and their fans will finally get to see some of the young talent that GM Jeff Luhnow has acquired throughout his tenure with the club. Since the Astros MLB season may be a little rough, most of the fun this season will be found on the farm.
The Astros started the season strong with an 8-2 win against the Rangers, but followed that strong performance with two weak showings the next two games. Those last two games may be more of what the Astros will be this year, rather than the team we saw Opening Day. Many national writers have pegged the Astros for another 100-loss season, and with the way the Astros played those last two games, they may reach that mark.
But not all will be lost this year. Luhnow did a great job drafting last year, and has pulled off several trades to bolster the Astros farm system. If you want to know where some of the Astros top prospects will be playing this season, here is a list of the Astros Top 20 prospects according to mlb.com, and where they will be starting the season. (For a Bio of each player, check out this link).
1. Jonathan Singleton – Currently serving 50-game suspension. Will likely report to OKC after suspension.
2. Carlos Correa – Quad Cities
3. George Springer -Corpus Christi
4. Jarred Cosart – OKC
5. Lance McCullers Jr. – Quad Cities
6. Delino DeShields – Lancaster
7. Michael Foltynewicz – Lancaster
8. Rio Ruiz -Quad Cities
9. Nick Tropeano – Corpus Christi
10. Brad Peacock – Astros SP4 (Starting tomorrow)
11. Nolan Fontana – Lancaster
12. Jonathan Villar – OKC
13. Domingo Santana – Corpus Christi
14. Vincent Velasquez – Quad Cities
15. Asher Wojciechowski – Corpus Christi
16. Max Stassi – TBA
17. Kevin Comer – TBA
18. Robbie Grossman – OKC
19. Joseph Musgrove – TBA
20. Carlos Perez – Corpus Christi
Position player I am most excited about this year that is not on this list: Ariel Ovando (Quad Cities)
This 19-year old will finally get his chance in full season play. Ovando, who has been compared to the likes of Jason Heyward and Carlos Delgado, has the make of a middle of the lineup bat. Last year he hit six home runs in 223 at bats with a .287 AVG and .794 OPS. This year he will be in a stacked lineup that includes top prospects Carlos Correa and Rio Ruiz. Ovando has the chance to have a breakout year, and could make his way onto the Astros top 10 prospect list with a strong season.
Pitcher I am most excited about this year that is not on this list: Aaron West (Lancaster)
A 17th round steal in last year’s draft, Aaron West dominated the NYPL in his stint with the Tri-Ctiy Valley cats last year. His 2.04 ERA and .957 WHIP in 12 starts last year, gave Astros fans some joy late in the season. He will have to continue to keep the ball on the ground as he will now pitch in the (very) friendly hitter’s park in Lancaster. West has middle-of-rotation upside, and if he can improve on his impressive 59/9 K-BB ratio, we could see him in Houston as soon as late 2014.
A great pick in the 4th round, Ruiz probably could have been a first rounder if not for a blood clot during his senior season. At just 18 years old, Ruiz is still young for Low-A baseball, but has all the tools on becoming a successful player in the MLB. He is still raw and lost valuable time last year being sidelined with a blood clot. He has plus power, and plays a good third base, but there are questions about his overall hitting ability as he tends to chase bad pitches which leads to many strikeouts. Several scouts liken him to Eric Chavez, which would be a heck of a pickup in the 4th round. If he has a good year, he is another prospect that can be a potential top 100 prospect in baseball by this time next year.
Non top 5 prospect (pitcher) I am most excited about this year: Vincent Velasquez (Quad Cities)
Tommy John surgery isn’t as bad as it used to be, which is good news for Vincent Velasquez. After sitting out the 2011 season, Velasquez looked good in nine starts last year. His velocity was in the mid-90’s, and his change up and curveball were solid. Durability is the biggest question mark for Velasquez, but if he can prove that he can handle the workload, the Astros could be looking at their #3 starter of the future.
Position player that needs to improve his stock this year: Jiovanni Mier (Corpus Christ)
The 2009 first round pick by Ed Wade, Jiovanni Mier needs a big season if he wants to see Minute Maid Park as a player. Mier had a strong performance at Lancaster last year, but his season was shortened due to a hamstring injury which cost him almost 2/3 of the season. Mier is a good defender, but needs to continue to work on his hitting. He hit .292 last year in Lancaster, but was a bit old for High A baseball. If Mier has another .300 AVG .800 OPS type season, then he may be the Opening Day shortstop in 2014 for the Astros.
Lyles disappointed many Astros fans this spring with his pitching. He is now part of the tandem-starting pitching that is happening in the minors for the Astros, and needs a good start if he wants to see the Astros sooner rather than later. Jarred Cosart will also be in OKC, and needs to improve this year. He has the stuff, but needs to work on his command of the fastball. Cosart has slipped off top 100 lists each of the last two seasons, and needs to make a jump this year to the Astros whether it be in the rotation, or as a potential closer.
There are many other players that qualify on other top-20 lists, so these players aren’t necessarily the only possible future Astros. There are really many prospects that could have breakout years, and I expect to see a few guys improve this year and establish themselves as some of the best Astros prospects. This is a great year for Astros Minor League baseball, and all fans should check out these team’s play as the Astros will likely have several future Astros from each squad.