Houston Astros Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Jim Callis
1. Roy Oswalt, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 170. Drafted: Holmes (Miss.) JC, D/F 1996 (23rd round). Signed by: Ralph Bratton/Brian Granger/James Farrar.
Background: One way the Astros try to keep player-development costs down is by using the draft-and-follow process. They identify raw players and try to sign them after they refine their skills in junior college. Their best work may have been done with Oswalt, though he didnt come cheap. He blossomed so much that he would have been a first-round pick had Houston not handed him a $500,000 bonus. He started 2000 at high Class A Kissimmee before being promoted to Double-A Round Rock for what was supposed to be one emergency start. When Oswalt responded with a 15-strikeout shutout, he never looked back. He led Texas League starters in strikeouts (9.8) and fewest hits (7.4) per nine innings, and his 1.94 ERA was the circuits lowest in a decade. While Round Rock was winning the league playoffs, Oswalt was in Sydney with the U.S. Olympic team. He contributed to the gold-medal effort with two strong starts in wins against bronze-medalist Korea, allowing two runs in 13 innings.
Strengths: Oswalt pitched under control in 2000, which is why his career took off. He still pitches up in the strike zone at times, but for the most part he worried about painting the black at 92-94 mph rather than trying to reach back and throw 96. Righthanders have absolutely no chance when he throws his heat knee-high on the outside corner. He hides the ball well, and when he doesnt try to max out his velocity, his fastball explodes out of his hand with late life. Oswalts curveball jumps straight down, and his changeup at times is a third above-average pitch. Hes stingy with walks and home runs and limited lefthanders to a .201 average in Double-A. Hes a warrior who always gives his best effort.
Weaknesses: Oswalt needs to remember that less is more when it comes to his fastball, that he has more command and movement when he throws in the low 90s. He needs more consistency with his curveball and changeup, which he doesnt always finish off.
The Future: If he continues to progress like he did last year, Oswalt will be ready for Houston after a half-season in Triple-A. He has the stuff to be a No. 1 starter down the road.
2. Wilfredo Rodriguez, lhp
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 180. Signed: Venezuela, 1995. Signed by: Andres Reiner/Rafael Cariel.
Background: The Astros have mined Venezuela better than any organization, signing 12 eventual major leaguers. None has earned a victory for Houston, though Rodriguez should change that. After leading the high Class A Florida State League in wins and strikeouts in 1999, he was stymied by shoulder tendinitis and a hamstring pull last year. Rodriguez was at this best in the postseason, winning the opener and clincher in the Texas League finals.
Strengths: Rodriguez is a rare power lefthander. He throws a 93-95 mph fastball with plenty of life, as well as a hard curveball. At 6-foot-3 and with long arms, he throws his pitches on a nasty downward plane.
Weaknesses: Rodriguez needs to polish his mechanics. He has an inconsistent release point that costs him command. Hell need to throw his changeup more often and for more strikes as he moves up.
The Future: After pitching well in the playoffs and in the Venezuelan League, Rodriguez is back. Hell begin 2001 in Double-A and need another year and a half in the minors. The Astros havent had a lefty in their rotation since Mike Hampton, and Rodriguez should fill that void.
3. Tim Redding, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Monroe (N.Y.) CC, D/F 1997 (20th round). Signed by: Mike Maggart.
Background: Redding was a center fielder as well as a pitcher in college before signing as a draft-and-follow in 1998. He stalled as a pro starter in 1999 before moving to the bullpen and blowing away Class A Midwest League hitters. Returned to the rotation in 2000, Redding was the Florida State League MVP and didnt permit an earned run in 162Ž3 innings in the Texas League playoffs.
Strengths: Managers rated Reddings fastball the best in the FSL. He hits the mid-90s and is capable of touching 98 mph with a four-seamer that rides or getting filthy sink with a two-seamer. His power curveball can be unhittable, and his changeup is above-average.
Weaknesses: Redding sometimes tries to guide his pitches, which leads to lapses in control. He needs to improve the consistency of his curveball and changeup, as well as a slider he added last year. Hes very competitive but sometimes gets too emotional.
The Future: Once he tweaks his command and his secondary pitches, Redding will be ready for the majors. He should reach Triple-A at some point in 2001. He could become a big league closer one day.
4. Tony McKnight, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HSTexarkana, Ark., 1995 (1st round). Signed by: Chuck Edmondson.
Background: McKnight went 22nd overall in 1995 as a signability pick who accepted $500,000, the lowest bonus among first-rounders that year. He was overworked in high school, throwing more than 250 pitches one day, and resulting elbow and shoulder problems hindered him in his first two years. He had a breakthrough season in Double-A in 1999.
Strengths: McKnight reminds scouts of Ron Darling because he has three plus pitches at times: a 92-94 mph fastball, a curveball and a changeup. He throws strikes and has a deceptive delivery. When he was less than 100 percent physically, he was tagged as soft, but he is now recognized as a competitor.
Weaknesses: McKnight must understand hes not a power pitcher. His fastball isnt especially lively, and moves less when he gets it up in the strike zone. He sometimes overthrows and hangs his pitches.
The Future: McKnight pitched well in Houston but would benefit from some more Triple-A experience. Hell probably get it, though he could make the big league rotation with a strong spring.
5. Robert Stiehl, rhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205. Drafted: El Camino (Calif.) JC, 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Doug Deutsch.
Background: The Astros hope Stiehl can make the same catcher-to-closer transition that Ricky Bottalico and Troy Percival did. Stiehl barely pitched until last spring, when he threw 97 mph in front of 80 scouts in his first start. Most of the time, he caught for eight innings and then took the mound in the ninth.
Strengths: Stiehl has a fresh, loose arm that can throw 93-94 mph fastballs with regularity. He also has an 81-82 mph power curveball that breaks straight down. Pro hitters went 5-for-37 (.135) with 20 strikeouts against him in his pro debut. Hes very strong and athletic.
Weaknesses: Stiehl developed a sore shoulder toward the end of the season and was shut down with tendinitis. Its not a long-term concern. Hes raw as a pitcher and in need of experience. Houston will make him a starter this year to get him some innings. In that role, hell have to pick up a changeup and learn to keep his pitch counts down.
The Future: The Astros realize Stiehl will need plenty of time to develop and will remain patient. To that end, hell start this season in the low Class A Michigan rotation. His future remains in the bullpen.
6. Adam Everett, ss
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 167. Drafted: South Carolina, 1998 (1st round). Signed by: Jeff Zona (Red Sox).
Background: Everett was the key player received from Boston in the Carl Everett trade in December 1999. Just before the trade, the Red Sox paid Everett $725,000 and put him on the major league roster, apparently part of a side deal to defer part of his original $1.725 million signing bonus. Despite a lackluster Triple-A performance last year, Everett started for gold medal-winning Team USA at the Olympics, where he went 1-for-23.
Strengths: Everett has Gold Glove tools. His range and arm are outstanding, plus he has sure hands and keen instincts. Those who believe in him offensively envision him as a No. 2 hitter in a couple of years, based on his bat control, ability to draw walks and speed.
Weaknesses: Everett will have to get a lot stronger to become a No. 2 hitter, and some think that projection is too optimistic. He cant handle inside fastballs, and he chases sliders off the plate. He has a little power, which can be a detriment because he hits too many fly balls.
The Future: Everetts defense could be so overwhelming that hell beat out Julio Lugo for Houstons shortstop job in spring training. Everett would be much better off working on his hitting in Triple-A.
7. Greg Miller, lhp
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 215. Drafted: HSWest Aurora, Ill., 1997 (5th round). Signed by: Mike Rizzo (Red Sox).
Background: Everett was the bigger name in the Carl Everett trade, but the Astros did their homework and also got Miller from the Red Sox. An all-state basketball player at his Illinois high school, he made four appearances in the Texas League playoffs last year without allowing an earned run.
Strengths: Miller has a tremendous pitchers body and is creative on the mound. He mixes four pitches, all of which are at least average, and throws them for strikes. He has an 89-93 mph fastball, a vastly improved curveball, a changeup and a slider. Unlike a lot of lefties without dominant stuff, he doesnt have any problems getting righthanders out.
Weaknesses: Because he lacks a consistently plus pitch, Miller might have trouble with more advanced hitters. His arm action is a little bit long, so hes not as deceptive as he could be, though he counters by hiding the ball with his delivery.
The Future: Miller will return to Double-A in 2001, this time back in his familiar role as a starter. The Astros love his makeup and dont foresee him having any difficulty making the jump.
8. John Buck, c
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HSSalt Lake City, 1998 (7th round). Signed by: Doug Deutsch.
Background: Buck batted just .255 in two years in short-season ball, though he made the New York-Penn League all-star team in 1999. He put his game together last season, when Midwest League managers thought he was a better prospect than Seattles Ryan Christianson, the top catcher taken in the 1999 draft.
Strengths: Buck has solid all-around skills. Offensively, he has a quick bat and fine patience. One day, some of his doubles will turn into home runs. Behind the plate, he took charge of Michigans pitching staff and ranked third in the league by throwing out 39 percent of basestealers.
Weaknesses: Buck doesnt extend his arms enough on his swing, leaving him vulnerable inside and making it difficult for him to pull the ball. Hell cut down on his strikeouts once he learns to read breaking pitches. He doesnt run well and could become a baseclogger down the road. His release gets long, robbing him of accuracy on his throws.
The Future: Buck made impressive strides in 2000, especially considering his age. Hell spend most of this year in high Class A, and the Astros hope hell be ready to take over when newly acquired Brad Ausmus slows down.
9. Mike Nannini, rhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 170. Drafted: HSHenderson, Nev., 1998 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Deron Rombach.
Background: At Green Valley High, Nannini threw back-to-back no-hitters as a senior and was part of four straight Nevada state championships. He broke into pro ball with 16 consecutive scoreless innings in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 1998. He reached high Class A at age 19 last season.
Strengths: Though he lacks size, Nannini doesnt lack stuff. He can touch the mid-90s with his fastball, and he has a plus slider and a decent changeup. He did not allow a home run in 256 at-bats against lefthanders in 2000. His competitive makeup spurred the Astros to challenge him more than they usually do with a young pitcher.
Weaknesses: Like Oswalt and McKnight, Nannini gets into trouble when he thinks like a power pitcher. At times hell overthrow and lose command and movement on his fastball. His heater occasionally dips into the high 80s. His secondary pitches could use more consistency.
The Future: After the progress he showed in the Florida State League in 2000, Nannini could move up to Double-A to begin this season. At this rate, hell be pushing to arrive in Houston by late 2002.
10. Keith Ginter, 2b
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Texas Tech, 1998 (10th round). Signed by: Ralph Bratton.
Background: Ginter exploded in 2000. He was Texas League MVP after leading the minors in on-base percentage (.457) and his league in average and hit by pitches (24). In September, he led Round Rock to a playoff championship, then hit his first big league homer off Jimmy Haynes.
Strengths: Ginter is a student of hitting who has a short, quick stroke reminiscent of Paul Molitors. He has strong hands and arms, and he excels at reading pitches, so he doesnt struggle with breaking balls. He showed more power and speed in 2000 than he had in his first two years as a pro. Defensively, his biggest asset is his quick release when turning double plays.
Weaknesses: Though he can go the other way, Ginter likes to pull everything he sees. That aside, most of the work he needs to do concerns his defense. Hes average at best as a second baseman. Hes a bit stiff in the field, and his arm is just adequate.
The Future: If Ginter continues to mash, the Astros will likely forgive his defense. Its possible he could move to third base. Assuming Craig Biggio is healthy this year, Ginter will spend 2001 in Triple-A.
Rest of the Best:
11. Brad Lidge, rhp
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