Houston Astros: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Houston Astros: Scouting Reports




Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after 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 April 1, 2009.

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When the Astros wheeled across the finish line in 2008, team officials said they had two reasons to be optimistic. The big league club improved by 13½ games over the year before, and the June draft launched what Houston hopes is the rebirth of a depleted farm system.

If that sounds as if it's grasping at straws, well, it is. The Astros have traveled a bumpy and unsettling road since their 2005 World Series loss to the White Sox, so they'll take anything they can get in order to combat the painful reality that they have fallen from power in the National League Central.

While the Astros finished 86-76 and leapfrogged the Cardinals for a third-place finish, they had to hoof it to get there. Talk of wild-card contention briefly bubbled up in August but quickly faded despite a 42-24 second half. Nevertheless, it provided first-year general manager Ed Wade with some comfort after attempting to clean up the mess he inherited.

The immediate future hardly looks encouraging, however. Between the majors and the recent draft class, the farm system has been gutted in recent years by trades, the loss of draft picks and the unwillingness of owner Drayton McLane to pony up signing bonus money that might have cushioned the fall.

In 2007, for example, Houston gave up its first- and second-round picks as free-agent compensation, then failed to sign its third- and fourth-rounders. A year later, just one player from the first six rounds of that draft, outfielder Collin DeLome, remains in the organization.

The aftermath has been tough to stomach. Astros minor league affiliates combined for a disturbing .397 winning percentage in 2008, easily the worst mark in baseball. Scouts from other organizations say they have to search far and wide to find Houston prospects who might be big league contributors.

The Astros say the reconstruction is under way. They spent $6.5 million on the 2008 draft, their first under scouting director Bobby Heck. Heck, a former disciple under then-Brewers scouting director Jack Zduriencik, demonstrated that he wasn't afraid to take chances, spending the 10th and 38th choices on catcher Jason Castro and righthander Jordan Lyles though neither was considered a consensus talent for those slots. Initial returns on both players, however, were positive.

After the season, Houston handed out contract extensions through 2010 to Heck, farm director Ricky Bennett and assistant GM David Gottfried.

At the same time, however, the Astros continued their penurious ways by announcing they would pull out of Venezuela. Thanks to the efforts of Andres Reiner, who left to join the Rays three years ago, they had been scouting pioneers in the nation, signing such players as Bobby Abreu, Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, Melvin Mora and Johan Santana.

The organization also experienced several changes. Longtime field coordinator Tom Wiendenbauer was reassigned to the scouting department, with administrative coach Al Pedrique taking his place. Triple-A Round Rock manager Dave Clark moved up to become the big league third-base coach after Jackie Moore left to become bench coach for the Rangers.

1.  Jason Castro, c   Born: June 18, 1987B-T: L-RHt: 6-3Wt: 210
 Drafted: Stanford, 2008 (1st round)Signed by: Joe Graham/Bobby Heck
Jason CastroBackground: Castro was a known commodity before attending Stanford, as he was one of the top high school catchers in Northern California at Castro Valley High. The Red Sox drafted him in the 43rd round in 2005, though he would have gone higher if not for his college commitment. It wasn't until his breakout summer of 2007 in the Cape Cod League when he truly stamped himself as a premium pro prospect, however. Castro hit .263 in his first two college seasons, and then he posted the Cape's second-best average (.341). He would have pulled more catching duty had he not deferred to Buster Posey, the Florida State All-American and eventual Giants 2008 first-rounder, so he also played first base and the outfield. By last June, he found himself as the Astros' first-round pick and centerpiece of the organization's push for a farm system turnaround. Drafted 10th overall, he signed for $2.07 million, the second-largest bonus in Astros history behind 2001 first-rounder Chris Burke's $2.125 million bonus. That came after Castro paced Stanford to the College World Series, leading the Cardinal in both average (.376) and total bases (171) while finishing with 14 home runs and 73 RBIs.

Strengths: Castro has all the tools to be a legitimate offensive catcher. He's got a loose swing from the left side, yet it has loft and scouts have rated his raw power at 55-60 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His success comes from staying inside the ball, and he should be able to hit for average. As a lefthanded hitter, most of his power is up the middle, and scouts expect that he'll become stronger and, thus, could develop power the other way. Castro spent most of his first two years at Stanford as a reserve, mostly at first base and DH. Scouts warmed up to him after his Cape performance, then saw him as a first-rounder when he smoothly handled catching duties as a junior. He shows good leadership and seemed to enjoy calling games, something college catchers rarely handle. He has soft hands and blocks balls well. His arm strength and accuracy also are solid, and scouts like his footwork and quick release.

Weaknesses: While one scout thought he had the best swing on the West Coast, Castro can get too loose at the plate. That could spell trouble, particularly against lefthanders. He showed in Hawaii Winter Baseball he could stay in against them, but advanced lefthanders will try to get Castro to chase. He also sometimes has trouble against sliders from righthanders. In his debut, he would square the ball on those pitches but roll over and hit grounders to first base. Because he didn't call games in college, he'll have to hone that skill in the minors. He threw out 33 percent of basestealers in his pro debut.

The Future: Because the Astros left the Carolina League and signed a new high Class A affiliation agreement with Lancaster, they can calmly shepherd Castro into his first full season by keeping him on the West Coast in the California League. It shouldn't be a great jump considering he played briefly last season, with additional time in Hawaii Winter Baseball. He seems a safe bet to at least be a solid major league catcher, with the potential to be quite a bit more.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Tri-City (SS)
.275
.383
.384
138
10
38
9
0
2
12
22
32
0
 
2.  Bud Norris, rhp   Born: March 2, 1985. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 195.
 Drafted: Cal Poly, 2006 (6th round). Signed by: Dennis Twombley.
Bud NorrisBackground: It was an up and down season for Norris, but the Astros were encouraged by how it closed. An elbow strain kept him out from mid-May to early July at Double-A Corpus Christi, but he responded with a strong second half (3.85 ERA in 43 innings) despite being on 75-pitch limits. Overall, he struck out 9.5 per nine innings.

Strengths: Norris seems clear of health issues and proved it in the Arizona Fall League. Thanks to a stocky build and strong legs, he pounds the zone with his fastball and shows a hard, short slider. The fastball was clocked at 98 mph in the AFL, but he works better when it's 93-95 and he spots it. Thanks to an adjustment in his delivery, he created better angles to attack hitters. The slider benefited the most, breaking down and away from righthanders.

Weaknesses: Norris is generously listed at 6 feet, so he doesn't get great downward plane on his pitches, and his fastball can flatten out if he tries to simply blow it by people. He'll need to maintain his improved delivery after a slight drift had kept him from getting good life on his pitches. He also needs to fully integrate his changeup. He shows a feel for it but didn't show it often in the fall.

The Future: Many believe Norris could challenge for a big league role in spring training. At the least he could be the club's No. 6 starter, biding his time at Triple-A Round Rock and waiting for a need. Long-term, he'll need a true third pitch to remain a starter.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Corpus Christi (AA)
3
8
4.05
19
19
0
0
80
89
8
31
84
.286
 
3.  Ross Seaton, rhp   Born: Sept. 18, 1989. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 215.
 Drafted: HS-Houston, 2008 (3rd round supplemental). Signed by: Rusty Pendergrass/Mike Burns.
Ross SeatonBackground: Seaton was relatively unheralded at the beginning of his senior year. But then he touched 96 mph in the spring, rocketing up draft boards, and landed as the top pitcher in the Texas prep ranks. He then graduated as his high school's valedictorian and signed for $700,000 as a third-round supplemental pick. He didn't sign until late July and made just three starts in his pro debut.

Strengths: Scouts love Seaton's big frame and feel and command of three pitches, even out of a quarterback-like release. He has a smooth and easy delivery that's repeatable, allowing his fastball to sit consistently at 90-94 mph. His slider can be devastating to young hitters, and his changeup is a nice weapon. The Astros liked the way he pitched to contact in instructional league.

Weaknesses: Seaton tends to get jumpy off his back side, resulting in hurried, off-target throws. One scout said Seaton needed to use his legs more out of his delivery because, like many young pitchers, he tries to generate most of his velocity from his upper body. An adjustment there would help sharpen the slider, turning it into more of a late breaker.

The Future: Given his drive, frame and maturity, Seaton projects to be a No. 2 starter in the majors with a shot to be a top-of-the-rotation figure. He'll likely open at low Class A Lexington, in the same rotation with Jordan Lyles, Houston's supplemental first-round pick.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Greeneville (R)
0
0
13.50
3
3
0
0
4
8
1
2
4
.381
 
4.  Brian Bogusevic, of   Born: Feb. 18, 1984. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 215.
 Drafted: Tulane, 2005 (1st round). Signed by: Mike Rosamond.
Brian BogusevicBackground: Bogusevic rated No. 19 on this list a year ago, but that was when he was a lefthander trying to solve command issues that had plagued him ever since he signed for $1.375 million as a first-rounder in 2005. In July, he agreed it was time to ditch pitching. A two-way star at Tulane, Bogusevic received a refresher course and then enjoyed a spectacular return to the Texas League.

Strengths: Bogusevic quickly made the conversion as a hitter and played center field well. He has a good approach at the plate and lets the ball get deep in the zone, allowing him to stay inside the ball well. It's a controlled approach, and his hits typically travel up the middle and to the opposite field. He covers a lot of ground in center and naturally has an above-average arm.

Weaknesses: Unlike Rick Ankiel, the last lefty to make a similar conversion, Bogusevic has trouble pulling inside pitches. His wrists aren't as quick as Ankiel's, who in the year he made the switch hit 21 home runs largely because he could turn around hard fastballs. Pitchers can get aggressive with Bogusevic and run it inside on him as a result.

The Future: After a good performance in the Arizona Fall League that led to 40-man roster status, Bogusevic will get pushed to Round Rock. His athleticism will get him to the majors, and his bat could leapfrog him over Michael Bourn.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Corpus Christi (AA)
.371
.447
.556
124
21
46
10
2
3
20
16
24
8
Salem (HiA)
.217
.357
.435
23
4
5
2
0
1
6
4
1
1
 
5.  Chris Johnson, 3b   Born: Oct. 1, 1984. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 220.
Drafted: Stetson, 2006 (4th round). Signed by: Jon Bunnell.
Chris JohnsonBackground: Johnson, the son of former big leaguer Ron Johnson, is the Astros' best power prospect in the high minors and could be an answer to the parent club's uncertain third base situation. He made a successful jump to Double-A in 2008, anchoring the Corpus Christi lineup before earning a late July promotion to Round Rock.

Strengths: Power is Johnson's best attribute. At the plate, he typically drives balls to left field and up the middle as he uses a wide stance and strong arms to get the bat head through the zone. Defensively, he has a plus arm at the hot corner, and when he gets to balls his throws whiz through the air, with observers oohing and awing during his infield drills.

Weaknesses: Even though Johnson saw his on-base and slugging percentages increase from previous seasons, he still has a habit of getting too aggressive and selling out for the longball. He can get fooled by breaking pitches. And because of a thick lower half, his range is just decent at third base.

The Future: Johnson seems like he's at least a half-season away from contributing in the major leagues, but he could reach the Astros soon following the departure of Ty Wigginton, whom the Astros chose not to re-sign.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Corpus Christi (AA)
.324
.364
.506
330
43
107
24
0
12
58
20
61
5
Round Rock (AAA)
.218
.252
.287
101
10
22
2
1
1
9
5
25
0
 
6.  Jordan Lyles, rhp   Born: Oct. 19, 1990. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 185.
 Drafted: HS-Hartsville, S.C, 2008 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: J.D. Alleva/Clarence Johns.
Jordan LylesBackground: The Astros veered off the board in drafting Lyles in 2008 draft. He was not in BA's predraft Top 200, though he was the top prep prospect in South Carolina and briefly flirted with playing college football as a receiver. He signed for $930,000 on the night of his high school graduation, spurning a University of South Carolina scholarship.

Strengths: Lyles has a free and easy, classic delivery that the Astros say needs little tweaking. He shelved his cutter once in pro ball, and saw an immediate improvement in his fastball as it jumped from 86-88 mph in the spring to 90-96 all summer. He had good command of it even with the added velocity. His curveball has rotation and shape to it, and he also has shown a feel for a changeup.

Weaknesses: Consistency will be paramount as Lyles advances through the system. He has trouble repeating his secondary stuff, especially the curveball. It flattens out at times. He has a tendency to elevate his fastball, and that will get him knocked around higher up in the minors.

The Future: Lyles projects to be a solid No. 3 starter at this point, with a shot to be a No. 2. The Astros have plenty of time to nurture him and will tag-team him with Ross Seaton at Lexington to open 2008.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Greeneville (R)
3
3
3.99
13
13
0
0
49.2
44
4
10
64
.228
Tri-City (SS)
0
0
6.35
2
2
0
0
5.2
7
2
7
4
.292
 
7.  Felipe Paulino, rhp   Born: Oct. 5, 1983. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 245.
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2001. Signed by: Andres Reiner/Omar Lopez.
Felipe PaulinoBackground: Just as excitement built around Paulino in spring training 2008, the Astros shut him down because of a pinched nerve in his throwing shoulder. With his return maddeningly pushed back time and again, he made only an August appearance at Round Rock before bursitis in his shoulder forced him back to the disabled list. He was hoping to get some winter work in in the Dominican League, with the Astros optimistic he would be ready in spring training.

Strengths: Paulino, who converted from shortstop early in his career, is an absolute flamethrower once clocked at 102 mph. Even if there is a slight dip in his velocity, he has enough to dominate and attack hitters because he showed an ability to locate his fastball before the injury. And if it's on, watch out for his hammer 80-85 mph curve.

Weaknesses: Like most hard throwers, Paulino needs an effective third pitch to maintain a rotation slot. The curve and changeup are not consistent enough, and his eagerness to attack leads to flying open in his delivery. Because he missed most of 2008, he'll also have to shake off the rust and re-focus on making necessary adjustments on his offspeed pitches.

The Future: The Astros have few arms with as much upside as Paulino's and will give him every opportunity to work his way to the big leagues. He could be best eased in as a set-up man with eyes on the closer's job. That is, if he can stay healthy.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Round Rock (AAA)
0
0
0.00
1
0
0
0
0.2
1
0
1
1
.333
 
8.  Drew Sutton, 2b/ss   Born: June 30, 1983. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190.
 Drafted: Baylor, 2004 (15th round). Signed by: Pat Murphy.
Drew SuttonBackground: With his career in danger of stagnating, the switch-hitting Sutton returned to Corpus Christi for a second full season, blistered the Texas League and won a spot on the 40-man roster after the season. He led the TL in hits, doubles and runs, while finishing second in OBP and third in slugging.

Strengths: For a lanky middle infielder, Sutton shows surprising power, as he tracks the ball into the zone before typically making solid contact. That's on top of being a potential high OBP guy. He also looks slightly better and more comfortable from the left side. Prior to the season, he smoothed out his swing by working with Jaime Cevallos, a former golf pro who uses computer models as a learning tool. Even better, Sutton carried over his success to the Arizona Fall League.

Weaknesses: The biggest question facing Sutton is whether he will hit against advanced pitching. He must continue to do a better job of taking strike one and working the count rather than fishtailing through an at-bat by being overly aggressive. He isn't a true shortstop, though he has enough arm for the position, but could fill in there. He's better at second, showing poise in making the pivot. He has also played third base and center field.

The Future: Sutton will head to Round Rock this year, with a shot to become a midseason callup. Because he can play several positions, he ideally fits as a utility player.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Corpus Christi (AA)
.317
.408
.523
520
102
165
39
4
20
69
76
98
20
 
9.  Collin Delome, of   Born: Dec. 18, 1985. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195.
 Drafted: Lamar, 2007 (5th round). Signed by: Rusty Pendergrass.
Collin DeLomeBackground: DeLome was the highest-drafted Astro to sign in 2007, a dubious honor considering Houston didn't own first- or second-round picks and compounded that by failing to sign its third- and fourth-rounders. Signed for $135,000, DeLome entered pro ball fairly raw but had an encouraging debut in the New York-Penn League, followed by 22 home runs in Class A ball last year.

Strengths: DeLome is a toolshed and has a great body that's lean and athletic. He shows good power from the left side and generates great bat speed. He also has great foot speed as well as arm strength for a center fielder. In instructional league, he got down the line in 4.01 seconds on drag bunts.

Weaknesses: DeLome struggled to make enough contact in his first full season and, to tame his penchant for strikeouts, he'll need to shorten an extremely long swing. He starts out with a twitch in his back elbow and then has difficulty checking his swing because he is so aggressive. If he quiets it down, he could start to go up the middle, but right now he's another in a long line of pull-happy young hitters.

The Future: Scouts envision DeLome as a corner outfielder with legitimate power if he can develop a better approach. He is expected to reach Double-A this season.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Lexington (LoA)
.261
.329
.513
226
41
59
9
6
12
36
18
71
7
Salem (HiA)
.232
.305
.443
237
40
55
14
3
10
35
17
57
7
 
10.  Jay Austin, of   Born: Aug. 10, 1990. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 170.
 Drafted: HS-Atlanta, 2008 (2nd round). Signed by: Lincoln Martin/Clarence Johns.
Jay AustinBackground: Austin was one of the youngest players in the Rookie-level Appalachian League last year, which was why the Astros aren't fretting too much about the meager offensive production in his pro debut. He hit 50 home runs in his prep career and signed for a $715,000 bonus.

Strengths: While Houston has a few toolsy outfielders in its system, none have the same all-around potential as Austin. A lefthanded hitter and center fielder, he has the range to patrol the middle garden, the bat to handle leadoff and speed that could make him a major basestealing threat. His swing is fluid and quick and he shows good hand-eye coordination. His tendency for now is to hit line drives with some power to the gaps. He's a plus runner with 4.1-second times down the line.

Weaknesses: Austin tried carrying over his home run hitting from high school and racked up strikeouts. Scouts found that he tends to cheat in his approach as he leans forward with his body, although it's not exactly a lunge. A good curveball can wipe him out. In the outfield, he's learning to track fly balls and to take better routes. He has a below-average arm.

The Future: One scout compared Austin to Michael Bourn, not as fast but with a better bat. The Astros plan to station Austin with the Lexington workout group in spring training.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Greeneville (R)
.198
.277
.236
212
31
42
4
2
0
14
19
69
14

Complete Index of Top 10 Prospects
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30 scouting reports on every team

Photo Credits:
Andrew Woolley (Castro)
Rodger Wood (Seaton, Austin)