Over the next two weeks we're getting everyone ready for the 2014 college season. Once that wraps up, we'll unveil our Top 100 Prospects list as we all wait eagerly for the arrival of spring training. But as we wait for the games to begin, we are still in the middle of prospect season, with the final Top 10 Prospects list going up on the site tomorrow and the Prospect Handbooks arriving in the Baseball America offices any day now.
As always, if you have a question you’d like answered in Ask BA, send it to email@example.com and please included your name and hometown.
Q: Would you take prospects 16-30 in the 2014 Astros system over the 1-15 prospects of the Astros’ 2010 system?
Donito Burgess, Austin, Texas
BA: Interesting question. Could the back end of one of the best farm systems in baseball top the front end of one of the worst farm systems in the game?
The Astros had the 30th-ranked farm system heading into the 2010 season, but looking back, it was not one of the all-time worst systems.
The 2010 Astros had three Top 100 Prospects, with catcher Jason Castro (No. 41), shortstop Jio Mier (No. 71) and righthander Jordan Lyles (No. 91). To compare, the Angels are the 30th-ranked farm system in the Prospect Handbook this year and they have one, possibly two, players in Top 100 Prospects consideration. In fact, I'd argue that the Astros farm system going into the 2008 season, when the club also ranked 30th, was worse than the 2010 edition. That year, catcher J.R. Towles (No. 53) was the only Astros prospect to crack our Top 100.
After Towles, the Astros did have outfielder Michael Bourn (No. 4) and Bud Norris (No. 5) on their Top 10 prospects list, but the system was quite thin with Chris Johnson (No. 13) as the only other Top 30 prospect to go on to have a significant career. Johnson also ranked No. 16 on the Astros' 2010 list.
So both the Astros' 2008 and 2010 systems were thin, but each produced a potential star, which makes up for the depth the system lacked. The 2010 Astros list has Castro, who produced a 4.5 WAR season in 2013 while making the American League all-star team. If he can keep that up, the Astros will not be the least productive system from 2010.
The 2008 list had Bourn, who has averaged .277/.342/.375 with 48 steals over the past five seasons, as well as a useful back-end starter in Norris. Both also produced a serviceable third baseman in Johnson.
In other words, while the Astros were thin in 2010 (and 2008), it's going to be hard for the back of this year's list to produce similarly significant players. I'm not going to list all 15 of those players—sorry, that's reserved for those who buy the book, which we encourage you to do—but the 16-30 for this year includes useful big league-ready relievers such as Kevin Chapman, potential back-end starters such as Nick Tropeano, Kyle Smith and Kent Emmanuel, longshot power arms Jandel Gustave and Reymin Guduan and high-ceiling position players like Brett Phillips.
Houston will likely find some future useful big leaguers among that group, but you’d have to be extremely optimistic to believe that any of them will match the production of Castro or Bourn. Given a choice, I'd clearly take the Astros' 2010 top 15 compared to the 16-30 on this year's list.
If we reshape the question, however, we might make it more interesting: How about this year’s 11-30 against the 2010 Top 10?
The Astros are one of the deepest systems in baseball when it comes to potential everyday players. Rio Ruiz, Max Stassi, Delino Deshields Jr., Josh Hader and Andrew Thurman would have made a lot of Top 10s this year, but they had to be content to sit at 11-15 on this year's Astros list.
While that quintet might not match the production of Castro or Bourn, it's not unrealistic to see the Astros getting one or two everyday regulars out of the group. Add in the depth of the system's remaining prospects, and that group of 20 against the Top 10 from the 2010 group would be a very close call. Forced to choose, I’d still take the 2010 group because Castro has developed into one of the better catchers in the American League. But I’d be almost equally happy with the current Astros’ 11-30.