Astros Prospects: Investment vs. Performance


Sep 16, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros catcher

Max Stassi

(12) singles during the fourth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

I love baseball. I really do. I mean, I really love baseball. If I could have married baseball, I would have. My wife probably feels like she did marry baseball, since I love it so much. I have a whole room full of baseball cards, player bobbleheads, baseball lunch boxes, baseball Coke bottles, and signed baseballs, bats, hats, and helmets. I even have a baseball M&M dispenser and a baseball Barney the Dinosaur. The only reason I have a room full of baseball stuff is because my wife won’t let me have two rooms full. I love it, I read about it, I watch it.

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Most things about baseball have come to make sense to me over the years, with the exception of three: wasting a pitch on a batter you have 0-2, the designated hitter, and minor leaguers. I will save the DH and pitch selection for another day, because I am still upset at the implementation of the DH and my opinion on 0-2 pitches would result in a small novel.

My intrigue of minor leaguers is two-fold: I have paid a lot more attention to Astros’ youngsters over the past couple of years, waiting on the arrival of real talent; and I have a family friend who will be at Double A in a National League system when camp breaks this spring. This friend’s father is a former college baseball player, and has another son who played baseball in the SEC. He has had a first-hand look at how players move through the minor leagues, and it is his assertion that actual game performance is less important than dollars invested when moving a player through the system. So how does that theory play out with the Astros? Does a lower-round pick have a chance to move up through the Houston system if there is not a lot of money invested in them, even if they perform?

Let’s look at the Top 20 prospects in the Astros’ system.  You have a large number of high-end draft choices as you would expect, including first rounders Carlos Correa, Mark Appel, Colin Moran, Derek Fisher (competitive balance round – 37th overall), and Lance McCullers (supplemental round); second-rounders Vincent Velasquez, Nolan Fontana and A.J. Reed, various international signings, and then the rest, with the latest round draftees being Tony Kemp (5th round), Preston Tucker (7th), Brett Phillips (6th) and Josh Hader (19th round by the Orioles). To see this list, you could draw the conclusion that my friend might be on to something, with very few opportunities for later draftees to have a real chance of reaching The Show. Josh Hader and his 19th round selection would seem to be the most-possible underdog story out of this talented bunch.

If Jose Altuve signed last year as an amateur free agent instead of in 2007, what would his realistic chances have been to move through the farm? After all, he signed for what, $25,000? Would he have really had a chance? Perhaps, because hitting .326 for his minor league career would have opened some eyes, but was he aided by the fact that Houston’s minor league system was so devoid of talent that he stood out?

With all the data and opportunity major league clubs have to gather information on players these days, scouting would seem to be a lot more thorough, thereby theoretically minimizing the risk of missing out on a player. So I ask you – is the promotion of players primarily based on investment, or is the investment made because of the quantified tools of today’s players? What level of performance is necessary to overcome a low draft slot? Is there an Astros farmhand that you think is underappreciated due to how late they were drafted?