The Houston Astros have plenty to be proud of down on the farm. Much of their vast talent collection is placed in Double-A Corpus Cristi to start 2015. However, some names that Astros fans should start learning are showcasing their talents with the Lancaster Jethawks (high-A), the reigning champions of the California League. The stacking of talent was part of the plan or “process” for Astros GM Jeff Luhnow. He wanted the talent-rich farm clubs to learn how to win together. They have been doing that, but Lancaster lost Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr., Rio Ruiz, Teoscar Hernandez, Tony Kemp, Josh Hader and Mark Appel. So, who is there this year?
The biggest name held over from 2014 to 2015 in Lancaster has to be the 20-year-old outfielder Brett Phillips. In only 128 plate appearances in 2014, Phillips scalded California League pitching for four homers, eight doubles, and five steals to accompany his .339 batting average. This breakout performance caught the attention of many people in and out of the Astros organization. He has continued to impress in the early going of 2015. After a rough first few games where he claimed to be uncomfortable at the plate, the young star in the making has sizzled to the tune of a .362 average and a .983 OPS. He won’t catch anyone by surprise this year.
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Phillips is joined by the more young offensive talent this year than perhaps last. The corners of the infield represent some of Houston’s most coveted young prospects. First baseman A.J. Reed is maybe the most well-known. The former Kentucky Wildcat star excelled in his first taste of professional ball in 2014. Between two stops at lower A ball, Reed announced his presence with a 12 homer, 54 RBI, .289 monster season in a mere 285 plate appearances. Just 21 years old, the Astros hope Reed can prove that is exactly the player he is at any level.
Across the diamond, J.D. Davis mans the hot corner. Already on scout’s radar after his 2014 season, where he similarly combined his lower level A ball experiences for impressive results, Davis is off to a hot start in Lancaster. He is batting .364 with ten rbi in eleven games. Also just 21, it is possible to see Davis rise through the Astros system with A.J. Reed over the next couple of years. With only Colin Moran blocking his path to Houston, Davis may be seen as an alternative third baseman of the future.
While we have discussed A.J. Reed, another slugger is making some noise at the first base position as well for Lancaster. Chase McDonald (22) is annihilating the ball. How does a .400 batting average, 3 homers, 10 rbi and a 1.142 OPS through eleven games grab you? Yes, he has struck out 16 times in 45 at-bats, but the production bears watching.
If you are looking for an arm to climb the ranks at a fast rate, you may not have to look much further than Michael Feliz. The 21-year-old Dominican has already cracked many top-10 organizational rankings. MLB Pipeline has him ranked higher (5th) than Phillips, Reed, and Davis. Feliz’s early numbers in 2015 are ugly, so I won’t list them here for fear of turning you off to him. However, he is a valuable commodity as either a trade piece or future rotation man at the big league level.
On the early season, the Jethawks are an even 6 – 6. It remains to be seen how these young stars will perform and what other stars will burst forth from this group of talented young players.
I’ll be covering Lancaster all season and posting a weekly update on Wednesdays. Stay plugged into Climbing Tal’s Hill to learn about all of the young studs the Astros have stockpiled that may soon earn their way into a stadium near you.
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