|Complete Index of Top 10 Prospects|
the 2007 Prospect Handbook
30 scouting reports on every team
|1.||Hunter Pence, of Born: April 13, 1983 • B-T: R-R • Ht: 6-4 • Wt: 210|
|Drafted: Texas-Arlington, 2004 (2nd round) • Signed by: Rusty Pendergrass|
Pence was the Southland Conference player of the year and batting champ (.395)
in 2004, but he wasn't a premium draft prospect because he looked gangly and
awkward and used an unorthodox set-up at the plate. Higher on him than most
clubs, the Astros made him their top pick, taking him in the second round (64th
overall) and signing him for $575,000. He has gotten better as he has moved up
the ladder, slowed only by a strained left quadriceps in the second half of
2005. Managers rated him the most exciting player in the Double-A Texas League
last year, and Pence batted .387 with a team-high nine RBIs in the playoffs,
leading Corpus Christi
to a championship. Pence batted .339 in the Arizona Fall League before the
Astros suspended him following a drunken-driving charge in late
Strengths: Pence doesn't do anything pretty but he does most things well. His approach at the plate is anything but textbook, as he chokes up on the bat and has a hitch in his swing. There were concerns that advanced pitchers might be able to pound him inside, but he put that notion to rest in Double-A. Pence has quick hands, terrific bat speed and plenty of strength, so he has no problem catching up to any fastball. He tinkered with his load last year, lifting his back elbow and turning his right wrist slightly so he could impart more backspin on balls. That improved his ability to drive pitches, which he does to all fields. Pence isn't the most fluid runner, but he has above-average speed and an aggressive nature on the basepaths. He stole 17 bases in 21 tries in 2006 after going just 12-for-22 over his first three pro seasons. When he entered pro ball, he had a below-average arm that figured to limit him to left field. But he since has improved his throwing mechanics, accuracy and arm strength. While his arm action still looks funky, he had 13 assists last year while spending most of his time in right field. He also saw extended action in center down the stretch. He brings a high-energy mindset to the ballpark every day.
Weaknesses: While Pence has solid plate discipline, he also has a bad habit of chasing sliders off the plate. He uses an open stance and sets up away from the plate, so he sometimes has trouble covering the outside corner. Houston believes he can get the job done in center field, though scouts from outside the organization knock him for taking less than optimal routes to balls. The Astros praise his makeup and believe his embarrassment over the DUI charge last fall will mean it was just a one-time mistake.
The Future: Houston would like to give Pence a couple of months at Triple-A Round Rock, but those plans may change after incumbent center fielder Willy Taveras went to the Rockies in December's Jason Jennings trade. Chris Burke is the favorite to replace Taveras, but Pence has a better arm and arguably better instincts in center. The long-term plan is for Burke to succeed Craig Biggio at second base, creating an outfield opening, but Pence could force the issue in 2007.
|2.||Troy Patton, lhp Born: Sept. 3, 1985 • B-T: B-L • Ht: 6-1 • Wt: 185|
|Drafted: HS—Magnolia, Texas, 2004 (9th round) • Signed by: Rusty Pendergrass|
the commissioner's office talked owner Drayton McLane out of signing 2003
third-round pick Drew Stubbs for $900,000, MLB didn't bat an eye when the
Astros Patton (also set to attend the University of Texas) the same amount as a
ninth-rounder a year later. He recovered from a 1-6 start at high Class A Salem
last year to reach Corpus Christi, where he contributed to a Texas League
Strengths: Patton is a lefthander with stuff, savvy and moxie. He runs his fastball from 89-94 mph, generates exceptional life at times and easily gets inside on righthanders with it. His changeup improved significantly last year and has nice fade. His hard curveball was his top pitch in high school but now ranks as his third pitch. He's athletic and repeats his compact delivery well.
Weaknesses: Patton likes to drop down when he throws his curve, making it difficult to stay on top of the pitch and alerting hitters that it's coming. He had minor shoulder fatigue in each of the last two seasons, resulting in diminished mechanics and command that led to his early slump in 2006. For someone who can command the outside corner, he pounds the inner half a little too much.
The Future: Once he adds a little strength and consistency, Patton will be ready for the big leagues and possibly could grow into a No. 2 starter. He'll probably open 2007 in Triple-A.
|3.||Matt Albers, rhp Born: Jan. 20, 1983 • B-T: L-R • Ht: 6-0 • Wt: 215|
|Drafted: San Jacinto (Texas) JC, D/F 2001 (23rd round) • Signed by: Rusty Pendergrass|
Background: A local
product who played at a suburban Houston high school and nearby San Jacinto
(Texas) Junior College, Albers has had one of the system's best arms since
signing as a draft-and-follow in 2002. But he took his career for granted
before last season. He showed more dedication in 2006, when he was the Texas
League pitcher of the year, led the circuit in ERA and made his big league
Strengths: Albers' 91-94 mph two-seam fastball runs in on righthanders and away from lefties, and it chews up bats. He also can hit 97 mph with a four-seamer when needed. He uses a hard breaking ball with slider velocity and curveball break, and it's a solid-average pitch. He does a good job of repeating his windmill delivery, so his command should continue to improve.
Weaknesses: Albers' changeup is making progress but he needs to trust it more. He sometimes rushes his mechanics and gets under his pitches, losing life and leaving them up in the zone. He had problems with alcohol earlier in his career but has put that behind him.
The Future: Ticketed for Triple-A at the start of the season, Albers primarily will work on his changeup and his consistency in 2007. He has a ceiling as a good No. 3 starter and could help solidify the back of Houston's rotation later in the year.
|4.||Jimmy Barthmaier, rhp Born: Jan. 6, 1984 • B-T: R-R • Ht: 6-4 • Wt: 210|
|Drafted: HS—Roswell, Ga., 2003 (13th round) • Signed by: Ellis Dungan|
Background: A highly
recruited quarterback in high school, Barthmaier signed for a 13th-round record
$750,000 in 2003. He went just 4-7, 5.24 in the first three months last year,
the first time he ever struggled in pro ball, before righting the ship and
finishing on a 7-1, 1.82 tear. He had less polish and more ceiling than any
starter in a talented Salem rotation, leading the high Class A Carolina League
in both strikeouts and walks.
Strengths: Barthmaier has life on his fastballs, pitching at 91-93 mph with his two-seamer and reaching 96 with his four-seamer. His heat sets up a curveball that managers rated the best in the Carolina League. Under the guidance of Salem pitching coach Stan Boroski, Barthmaier made progress with his changeup and his control in the second half of 2006. Strong and athletic, he has missed just one start in four years of pro ball—and that was because of an ankle injury.
Weaknesses: He battles inconsistency with all his pitches and his command. Barthmaier overthrows his fastball and loses movement, he hangs some curveballs and he still fights the feel for his changeup. His arm action is long and there's effort to his delivery, which makes it harder to throw strikes. Showing more maturity and improving his preparation would be a big help.
The Future: Barthmaier could make a dynamic closer, and moving to the bullpen would allow him to focus on his fastball and curve while not worrying about pacing himself. For now, he'll remain a starter and advance to Double-A.
|5.||Juan Gutierrez, rhp Born: July 14, 1983 • B-T: R-R • Ht: 6-3 • Wt: 200|
|Signed: Venezuela, 2000 • Signed by: Andres Reiner/Pablo Torrealba/Rafael Lara|
Gutierrez repeated both the Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer and Appalachian
leagues, the Astros had to protect him on their 40-man roster before he got to
full-season ball. They haven't regretted the decision. He missed six weeks last
year with a tender elbow, but returned and did not allow a run in his last four
regular-season starts. He won both his playoff outings and was Corpus Christi's Game One
Strengths: Gutierrez has lit up radar guns from years and attacks hitters with a 92-95 sinker. Though he was reluctant to use his secondary pitches until he needed them against more advanced hitters, this curveball and changeup are solid. One scout liked his changeup more than his fastball, which is saying something.
Weaknesses: If Gutierrez had his way, he'd still try to blow the ball by most hitters, so he needs to be encouraged to keep mixing pitches and changing speeds. His command is improving but still requires further work. He hasn't had arm problems in the past, but Houston will watch him closely after his elbow issues cropped up.
The Future: All three of his pitches show at least flashes of being out pitches, giving Gutierrez the highest ceiling among the system's pitchers. Destined for Triple-A at the start of 2007, he has the profile to help Houston as a starter or reliever in the second half.
|6.||J.R. Towles, c Born: Feb. 11, 1984 • B-T: R-R • Ht: 6-2 • Wt: 195|
|Drafted: North Central Texas JC, 2004 (20th round) • Signed by: Pat Murphy|
Towles' five-tool ability at catcher excites the Astros, but they wish they
could see more of it. After finger surgery in 2004, they brought him back
slowly the following year, and he was bothered by tendinitis in his right knee
during the second half of 2006. He has played in just 165 games in 2 1/2 pro
Strengths: Towles handles the bat well and has good pitch recognition. He has added 20 pounds of muscle and developed pull power since turning pro. More athletic than most catchers, he runs well and can steal a base when the opportunity presents itself. Managers rated him the best defensive catcher in the low Class A South Atlantic League last year, when he showed consistent 1.95-second pop times and solid receiving skills. He also calls a good game.
Weaknesses: None of his injuries has been serious or chronic, but Towles has lost valuable development time. He'll turn 23 before he advances past low Class A. He struggles against quality breaking balls, but his tools are fine and he just needs experience to polish his overall game.
The Future: Add it all up, and Towles could be Jason Kendall with more power and better receiving skills. Houston would love to see him stay healthy enough to catch 110-120 games this year in high Class A.
|7.||Paul Estrada, rhp Born: Sept. 10, 1982 • B-T: R-R • Ht: 6-1 • Wt: 220|
|Signed: Venezuela, 1999 • Signed by: Andres Reiner|
Like Juan Gutierrez, Estrada spent four years in Rookie ball, and he didn't get
to low Class A until his sixth pro season. The Astros decided to skip him a
level to Double-A in 2006, and Estrada responded by nearly leading the Texas
League in strikeouts while working out of the bullpen. He led minor league
relievers by averaging 13.6 whiffs per nine innings.
Strengths: Estrada has one of the minors' best curveballs, as his looks like a power knuckler before breaking straight down. He also can get strikeouts with his 83-86 mph splitter, and he achieves a lot of sink and armside run with his 92-94 mph fastball. With so much to worry about, hitters take a lot of ugly swings against him.
Weaknesses: A lot of Estrada's strikeouts come on curveballs out of the zone and splitters in the dirt, and that approach might not work as well against more discerning hitters in the majors. He falls in love with his secondary pitches, and Houston has to keep leaning on him to throw his fastball. His stuff isn't as sharp when he pitches on consecutive days.
The Future: Texas League observers were convinced Estrada could have helped the Astros as a set-up man at the end of last season. They'll be more conservative and start him in Triple-A this year, though he should be one of their first in-season callups.
|8.||Felipe Paulino, rhp Born: Oct. 5, 1983 • B-T: R-R • Ht: 6-2 • Wt: 180|
|Signed: Venezuela, 2001 • Signed by: Andres Reiner/Omar Lopez|
announced his arrival in the United States with his first pitch—a 96 mph
fastball at Rookie-level Martinsville in 2003. He has the best pure arm
strength among the Astros' starting pitching prospects. They've clocked him as
high as 100 mph, while other clubs have seen him hit 102.
Strengths: Paulino usually works at 93-96 mph with his heavy fastball and drives it down in the strike zone with a straight-over-the-top delivery. He changed his curveball grip two years ago and now has a hard 80-85 mph downer that's a plus-plus pitch when it's really on.
Weaknesses: Still raw after five years as a pro, Paulino doesn't command much beyond his fastball. His shoulder flies open and he falls toward first base in his delivery, making it difficult to stay on top of his curveball and to locate his work-in-progress changeup. He started working on a slider last August. He's a shaky fielder who led high Class A Carolina League pitchers with seven errors in just 21 chances last year.
The Future: Though Houston will continue to groom Paulino as a starter in Double-A this season, it's easy to envision him becoming a late-inning reliever. In that role, he could rely more on his fastball and not have to worry about his changeup.
|9.||Max Sapp, c Born: Feb. 21, 1988 • B-T: L-R • Ht: 6-2 • Wt: 220|
|Drafted: HS—Orlando, 2006 (1st round) • Signed by: John Bunnell|
Astros planned on taking a college pitcher with the No. 23 choice in the 2006
draft, but when all the arms they liked went off the board, they took Sapp. Signed
for $1.4 million, he went to short-season Tri-City because 2005 second-rounder
Ralph Henriquez needed to repeat Rookie ball. Sapp held his own as the youngest
regular in the New-York Penn League before battling elbow tendinitis late in
Strengths: Sapp went in the first round because of his bat. He has a strong frame and plus power. Reducing a high leg kick that he used as a trigger improved his timing and gives him a better chance to hit for average. He has a good approach for a young player, including a willingness to draw walks. His arm strength is his best defensive tool, and he led NY-P catchers by throwing out 42 percent of basestealers.
Weaknesses: Some clubs worried that Sapp wouldn't be able to remain behind the plate, but he sold the Astros by promising to commit to it. Thick and barrel-chested, he has lost weight and started doing Pilates to improve his agility. His receiving still needs work, especially on pitches out of the zone. He's a below-average runner.
The Future: Sapp has enough bat to get the job done at first base, but Houston is confident he'll stay at catcher. He'll move up to low Class A Lexington this year at age 19.
|10.||Chad Reineke, rhp Born: April 9, 1982 • B-T: R-R • Ht: 6-6 • Wt: 210|
|Signed: Miami (Ohio), 2004 (13th round) • Signed by: Nick Ventuno|
The Astros have a knack for finding college seniors, with Eric Bruntlett,
Morgan Ensberg, Jason Lane and Chad Qualls all contributing to their 2006 club.
Next in line is Reineke, who went in the 13th round after going 13-9, 4.63 in
four years at Miami (Ohio). He has alternated between starting and relieving in
pro ball, pitching better in the latter role once he reached Double-A last
Strengths: Reineke uses his 6-foot-6 frame to deliver his pitches on a steep plane, and yet his 93-95 mph fastball seems to climb on hitters. His hard slider has late sweep and is a strikeout pitch at its best. His delivery was much improved in 2006, with less effort and better balance. He's comfortable pitching out of the bullpen with the game on the line.
Weaknesses: Reineke is more effective in relief because he doesn't have to worry about his changeup. It shows good dive at times, but it's inconsistent and he's reluctant to throw it. His fastball has velocity but only sporadic life, so he'll need to keep it down against big leaguers.
The Future: If Houston wants to continue trying Reineke as a starter, he'll return to Double-A. If he's going to stay in the bullpen, he could move up to Triple-A. Either way, he could make his major league debut late in 2007.
|Complete Index of Top 10 Prospects|
the 2007 Prospect Handbook
30 scouting reports on every team
Credits: Pence: Andrew Wooley
Patton, Albers, Barthmaier, Gutierrez, Paulino: Steve Moore
Towles: Rich Abel
Estrada, Sapp: Bill Mitchell
Reineke: Carl Kline