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Astros Prospects 2-10
Age: 26. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 215. Drafted: Southern California, 1999 (6th round). Signed by: Doug Deutsch.
Background: Unlike most players, Lane has accepted and handled tougher defensive assignments as he has risen through the minors. He broke in as a first baseman, moved to the corners of the outfield and spent 2002 as a center fielder. While his run of three consecutive league RBI titles and two straight league MVPs ended, he had a solid year and looked good in his big league debut.
Strengths: Lane is the systems top offensive talent, projecting as a .275-.280 hitter with 25-30 homers. He has enough power and bat speed to take good fastballs out of the park. Lane has improved all facets of his outfield play and has a solid average arm thats also accurate. He also runs well for his size.
Weaknesses: Lane needs to improve his pitch selection and draw more walks. He has gotten much better going back on balls, but hes still more serviceable than a standout in center.
The Future: Best suited for right field, Lane is better than Lance Berkman in center and is ready for a big league job. If the Astros move Craig Biggio to the outfield, Lane might come off the bench in 2003.
3. Brad Lidge, rhp
Age: 26. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Notre Dame, 1998 (1st round). Signed by: David Lakey/Jerry Marik.
Background: Lidge entered 2002 with the best arm in the system and a checkered medical history that included nearly as many surgeries (three) as pro victories (four). Houston planned on making him a full-time reliever to keep him healthy, but New Orleans needed him in his rotation, and he more than doubled his career innings total without hurting his arm. He did pull an abdominal muscle and required offseason arthroscopic surgery to repair a minor cartilage tear in his left knee.
Strengths: Lidges slider is as good as any in the game. It has so much life that it gets mistaken for a spitter. His velocity dipped in 2002, but he still threw at 92-94 mph. Getting regular innings allowed him to improve his changeup to combat lefthanders.
Weaknesses: Lidge has lost so much time to injuries that hell have to be a reliever unless his command immediately takes a major jump forward. Thats not terrible, but his ceiling as a starter would be huge.
The Future: Lidges career continues to parallel Robb Nen, who had a similar injury history. Lidge should make the Astros this spring.
4. Jimmy Barrett, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HSCumberland, Md., 1999 (3rd round). Signed by: Mike Maggart/Gerry Craft.
Background: Barrett spent two years in the Rookie-level Appalachian League and two more in low Class A, but his breakthrough was worth the wait. He became more committed to his offseason workout program and the results showed. Barretts velocity, secondary pitches and command all improved. He missed time in April with back spasms but was fine afterward.
Strengths: Barrett, who threw 89-92 mph in 2001, got his fastball back up to 95 with an easy arm action that belies how hard he throws. His curveball gained consistency and he showed signs of eventually mastering a changeup. Barrett also throws a natural cutter. He stopped being hard on himself and let his natural ability take over, which helped him immensely.
Weaknesses: Now that hes accomplished the broad strokes, Barrett needs to work on the nuances of pitching. He can throw his fastball for strikes but needs to locate it better within the strike zone. He also must show he can handle a level the first time around.
The Future: Barrett will move up to Houstons new high Class A Salem affiliate this season. He reminds one scout of a poor mans Jason Isringhausen without the power curveball.
4. Chris Burke, 2b/ss
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 183. Drafted: Tennessee, 2001 (1st round). Signed by: Danny Watkins.
Background: Burke seemed ready for Double-A. The Southeastern Conference player of the year and the 10th overall pick in 2001, he went straight to low Class A and hit .300 in his pro debut. But he struggled at Round Rock throughout last year and regressed in most areas.
Strengths: Burke has the tools and makeup to be the leadoff hitter Houston needs. His bat and speed are above-average. Though he messed up his approach trying to adapt to the Texas League, he did a better job of using the whole field, bunting and learning to relax in instructional league. He covers a lot of ground at either second base or shortstop.
Weaknesses: To bat first in the lineup, Burke will have to draw more walks. His stolen-base instincts were disappointing during the season but looked better in instructional league. His arm isnt quite enough for shortstop, and even at second base he sometimes has trouble.
The Future: In a perfect world, Burke would have started 2002 in high Class Abut the Astros didnt have an affiliate there. Hell probably repeat Double-A at the beginning of this year and make his big league debut toward the end of 2004.
6. Tommy Whiteman, ss
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 175. Drafted: Oklahoma, 2000 (6th round). Signed by: David Henderson.
Background: A Native American whose given name is Owner of Outstanding Horses, Whiteman is the first pro athlete from the Crow Nation. Like Chris Burke, he had difficulty with the jump from low Class A to Double-A in 2002. Whiteman, who missed a month with a hamstring injury, rebounded in the Arizona Fall League, where he earned all-star honors by hitting .330 and making two errors in 26 games.
Strengths: Hes an offensive shortstop whos better suited than Burke for the position because he has a stronger arm. Whiteman flashes all five tools, including hitting for average and gap power. Hes not fazed by power fastballs. Tall and rangy, he gobbles up grounders.
Weaknesses: Whiteman is 23 and has yet to prove he can hit above low Class A. He probably will have to draw more walks. He drops his arm slot and flips his throws on routine plays, hurting his accuracy.
The Future: Burke and Whiteman will be teammates at Round Rock again this year. Whiteman will get most of the time at shortstop and occasionally will play third base. He might have enough bat for the hot corner if he has to play their full time down the road.
7. Rodrigo Rosario, rhp
Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 166. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996. Signed by: Julio Linares/Rick Aponte.
Background: Rosarios 2002 got off to an inauspicious start when his birthdate was revealed to be two years earlier than previously believed. That meant his breakout year at low Class A Lexington came when he was 23. Nevertheless, Rosario didnt have the same trouble Houstons other top prospects did while making the jump to Double-A.
Strengths: Rosario throws four pitches, all of which come in at the knees or lower, and and at times each can be above average. His most trustworthy weapon is a 91-95 mph fastball with late sink and boring action. His slurvy curveball is his No. 2 pitch, and he also employs a slider and a changeup.
Weaknesses: He must get stronger after coming down with a tired arm at midseason last year. Rosario likes to vary his arm angle, but when he drops down too low his breaking stuff flattens out and misses the strike zone. He needs to decide on a third pitch and use it.
The Future: Rosario hadnt bounced all the way back this winter in his native Dominican Republic, where he had a 23.63 ERA in three appearances. If healthy, hell advance to Triple-A and could reach Houston by the end of the year.
8. Hector Gimenez, c
Age: 20. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 180. Signed: Venezuela, 1999. Signed by: Andres Reiner/Euclides Vargas.
Background: A Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League all-star in 2001, Gimenez was no less impressive during his U.S. debut last year. He went directly to low Class A, where managers rated him the best defensive catcher in the South Atlantic League, and hit well with the exception of a 5-for-40 slump in May. He missed four weeks with a groin injury.
Strengths: Some Astros officials think Gimenez is a better defensive catcher than John Buck, though thats not the consensus opinion. Gimenez, who threw out 32 percent of basestealers in 2002, has at least as much arm strength and a better release. He also receives and moves well. Gimenez strong wrists and quick bat give him power from both sides of the plate.
Weaknesses: Gimenez still has a lot to learn about plate discipline. He tends to chase high pitches out of the strike zone. He has below-average speed but has sound instincts on the bases.
The Future: Ticketed for high Class A in 2003, Gimenez will move one level at a time through the system. If hes as good as he looked last year and Buck also delivers on his promise, the Astros will have some very attractive options behind the plate.
9. Chad Qualls, rhp
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 205. Drafted: Nevada, 2000 (2nd round). Signed by: Gene Wellman.
Background: Add Qualls to the list of Astros prospects who could have used some time in high Class A last year. After leading the low Class A Midwest League with 15 wins in his 2001 pro debut, Qualls lost his first six Double-A decisions. He led the Texas League in strikeouts but also finished second in losses and walks.
Strengths: Qualls is a sinker-slider pitcher and both are quality offerings. Righthanders have little chance when he throws his slider from a three-quarters angle. He can reach the mid-90s, but hes more affective burying his fastball low in the zone at 90-93.
Weaknesses: Once Qualls figures out commandboth throwing strikes and locating his pitches within the zonehell be in the majors. Hes not mechanically sound, though hes strong enough to fight through it. He made some progress under Round Rock pitching coach Mike Maddux. Qualls can get too predictable, relying too much on his slider while eschewing his changeup, and hasnt solved lefties yet.
The Future: Qualls may return to Double-A, though he wont be able to work with Maddux, whos Milwaukees pitching coach. His long-term role may come in relief because of his stuff and his command.
10. Santiago Ramirez, rhp
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 189. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1997. Signed by: Julio Linares/Rick Aponte/Luis Coronado.
Background: Ramirez didnt make it past low Class A in his first five pro seasons, but his six scoreless outings for the Dominican Republic at the November 2001 World Cup showed he might be ready to turn the corner. He didnt just turn ithe blew right past it and reached Triple-A in 2002. His age was revised upward two years but it isnt a major issue now that hes so close to Houston.
Strengths: Ramirez always has shown arm strength. He has a 92-93 mph fastball that he can pump up to 95, and he locates his heater well. He didnt succeed as a starter because he had no breaking ball, but he has found some consistency with a hard curveball.
Weaknesses: He needs a good pitching coach and catcher to keep him focused, and Ramirez had two of the best last year at Round Rock with Mike Maddux and John Buck. He still has to gain more feel for his curveball and slider.
The Future: In all likelihood, Ramirez will open 2003 in Triple-A to build up his confidence. By the end of the year, he could be forming a dynamic setup trio with Octavio Dotel and Brad Lidge in Houston.
Best of the Rest
The Astros embargo on signing draft picks last summer didnt cost them their first three choices, but it did mean that all three righthanders never got the chance to take the mound in a pro game. Seeing them in instructional league only whetted Houstons appetite that much more. Derick Grigsby, the top junior college prospect in the draft, comes from the same high school as Royals fireballer Colt Griffin. Grigsby can bring the heat, too, supplementing a mid-90s fastball with a mid-80s slider. Second-rounder Mitch Talbot resembles a young Ron Darling with his delivery, arm action and feel for three pitches. Third-rounder Rory Shortell, a San Diego State product, is the most advanced of the three.
Houston is searching for a true center fielder, and the farm system should provide options beyond Lance Berkman and Jason Lane in the near future. Henri Stanley has the best bat among the candidates, leading the Double-A Texas League with a .542 slugging percentage last year. The drawback is that his arm may be too weak to play in center on a regular basis.
Other choices include Gavin Wright, who has fine all-around tools and played well in the Texas League playoffs; Victor Hall, a speedy leadoff type acquired in the major league Rule 5 draft; and Charlton Jimerson, an exceptional athlete trying to translate his raw ability into results.
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The Top 10 Prospects lists are based on players' projected long-term worth and on discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of Opening Day 2003.