Houston Astros Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

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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, 2011.

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History will look back at 2010 as a year when the Astros switched directions. Houston began to retool at the major league level and re-emphasized scouting and player development. Most significantly, owner Drayton McLane put the team on the market after the season.

Franchise stalwarts Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt were the two biggest remaining links to the franchise's lone pennant, won in 2005. But as the Astros got off to a 0-8 start and sat at 17-34 in mid-May under first-year manager Brad Mills, it was the clear the team had no chance to contend. General manager Ed Wade finally was able to convince McLane that it was time to rebuild, and Houston traded both Berkman and Oswalt in July.

Oswalt went first, going to the Phillies for J.A. Happ and two prospects, outfielder Anthony Gose and shortstop Jonathan Villar. Houston immediately spun Gose to the Blue Jays for Brett Wallace. Two days later, Berkman joined Oswalt as an ex-Astro as he was traded to the Yankees in exchange for righthanded reliever Mark Melancon and minor league infielder Jimmy Paredes. Happ and Melancon bolstered the Astros' pitching staff, Wallace took over at first base for Berkman and Villar and Paredes immediately became two of the system's best prospects.

The trades brought in some much-needed talent to an organization slowly climbing out of the hole it dug with a run of poor drafts and a fallow period in Latin America. Combined with the Astros' narrow focus on competing at the major league level and not investing in their future, those factors conspired to drain the system.

While Houston hasn't hit the jackpot yet in three drafts under assistant GM/scouting director Bobby Heck, those drafts have given the system a boost. Jason Castro, Heck's first first-rounder, graduated to the majors in 2010 and has a chance to have a career similar to the player he's often compared to, A.J. Pierzynski. Heck's second selection, righthander Jordan Lyles, has blossomed from a surprise supplemental first-round pick in 2008 to the Astros' top prospect and reached Triple-A as a teenager.

Houston had extra picks and emphasized athletes in the 2010 draft. Heck hasn't been afraid to buck the industry consensus, and he did it again by taking outfielder/second baseman Delino DeShields Jr. with the eighth overall pick. DeShields signed for $2.15 million, a club record for a draft pick. The club also gave out it largest international bonus ever, landing Dominican outfielder Ariel Ovando for $2.6 million.

The Astros still have much more work to do with their farm system, which Baseball America ranks as the 26th-best in the game, and the major league club, which has had three losing seasons in the last four years after only one sub-.500 record in the previous 15. A rotation built around veterans Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez and younger arms Happ and Bud Norris holds promise, but the bullpen needs help and the offense ranked 28th in the majors in scoring and 29th in home runs last year.

In the short-term, Houston needs more production from Castro and Wallace, not to mention veteran Carlos Lee, who is still owed $37 million over two years. The Astros also hope third baseman Chris Johnson can build on an impressive half-season big league debut.

Mills showed some managerial acumen, as the Astros went 40-33 in the second half and played with more energy than they had under his predecessor, Cecil Cooper. Now Mills needs more young talent to work with.

1.  Jordan Lyles, rhp   Born: Oct. 19, 1990B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 185
 Drafted: HS—Hartsville, S.C., 2008 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: J.D. Alleva/Clarence Johns
Jordan LylesBackground: Lyles starred in three sports at Hartsville (S.C.) High, which also produced NFL defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth. While he used his 6-foot-4 frame to start in basketball and even played on summer AAU teams, Lyles stood out more in baseball and football. As a prep senior, he was an all-state wide receiver with 81 catches for 1,568 yards and 23 touchdowns. His three-sport background kept him off the baseball showcase circuit, but he entered the spring of 2008 as the top prep prospect in the Palmetto State and committed to South Carolina. Coached by 1994 Braves first-round pick Jacob Shumate at Hartsville, Lyles came out of basketball season throwing just 86-88 mph. Astros area scout J.D. Alleva and crosschecker Clarence Johns stayed on him all spring, and Lyles' velocity became more consistent as he got into baseball mode. He clinched Houston's interest with a strong workout at Minute Maid Park, where he hit 90 mph and commanded his fastball well. The Astros drafted him 38th overall and signed him for $930,000. Considered an overdraft at the time, Lyles has made Houston look smart. He has breezed through the minors and was the only teenager to play in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 2010.

Scouting Report: Lyles has mound presence and a knack for pitching that are beyond his years. He throws four average to plus pitches, and his athleticism, clean arm action and textbook delivery help him throw quality strikes with all of them. His fastball sits at 88-93 mph with average life. He commands it well down in the strike zone and to both sides of the plate. While his fastball grades out as a tick above average thanks to his command, his slider and changeup are true plus pitches. Scouts prefer his changeup, which he throws with good arm speed and has some depth. At times, it's a 70 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale. His changeup helped him neutralize lefthanders at Double-A Corpus Christi, though he was hit harder at Triple-A Round Rock. Lyles throws a low-80s slider with depth and also a cutter that reaches as high as 87 mph. He's able to pitch inside well with the fastball and cutter, which helps him saw off hitters and sets up his changeup on the outside corner. Lyles has great body control, allowing him to repeat his delivery and pound the strike zone. He has been durable as a pro, never missing a start in three seasons and pitching a career-high 159 innings last year.

The Future: He may gain a little more fastball velocity as he matures a bit more physically, but Lyles already gets plenty of extension out front. He doesn't overpower hitters now and won't be a power pitcher. He profiles as a No. 3 starter on a major league contender. During the Winter Meetings, manager Brad Mills said Lyles was a leading candidate for the fifth spot in Houston's rotation, competing with journeyman Nelson Figueroa, free-agent signee Ryan Rowland-Smith and Rule 5 draft picks Aneury Rodriguez and Lance Pendleton. Lyles could use some time to solve Triple-A hitters, but he'll pitch in the big leagues in 2011, whether it's in April or later.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Corpus Christi (AA) 7 9 3.12 21 20 0 0 127 133 10 35 115 .267
Round Rock (AAA) 0 3 5.40 6 6 0 0 32 48 2 11 22 .348
2.  Delino DeShields Jr., of/2b   Born: Aug. 16, 1992B-T: R-RHt: 5-9Wt: 188
 Drafted: HS—Norcross, Ga., 2010 (1st round)Signed by: Lincoln Martin
Delino DeShields Jr.Background: Rated by Baseball America as the top 12-year-old prospect in 2005, DeShields has worn the spotlight that comes with that notoriety and his name for years. His father Delino Sr. played 13 seasons in the majors and was traded straight up for Pedro Martinez in 1993. The son went eighth overall in the 2010 draft—four spots higher than his old man went in 1987—and signed for $2.125 million, a franchise draft record.

Scouting Report: Few 2010 draftees can match DeShields' athleticism, top-of-the-line speed and sheer explosiveness. He has should be even more of a basestealing threat than his dad, who swiped 463 bases in the big leagues. His bat speed helps him catch up to the best of fastballs, and he has the strength to project to hit for average power. His swing is fairly low-maintenance and compact. The Astros started DeShields in the center field and intended to move him to second base in instructional league until elbow soreness kept him from throwing. He has a below-average arm, but it's fine for second or center.

The Future: The Astros expect DeShields to be give second base a try in 2011 at low Class A Lexington. His bat will play either at second or in center as a dynamic leadoff man or perhaps even a No. 3 hitter.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Astros (R) .111 .200 .111 9 3 1 0 0 0 0 1 2 0
Greeneville (R) .313 .356 .433 67 11 21 6 1 0 8 5 18 5
3.  Jonathan Villar, ss   Born: May 2, 1991B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 180
 Drafted: Dominican Republic, 2008Signed by: Sal Agostinelli (Phillies)
Jonathan VillarBackground: Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $105,000, Villar began blowing up as a prospect when he made his full-season debut last year. The Astros targeted him in the Roy Oswalt trade, securing him as the key piece after general manager Ed Wade saw him play in person. They immediately pushed Villar to high Class A Lancaster after acquiring him.

Scouting Report: Villar has impressive raw tools, with his speed, arm and defense all rating ahead of his bat at this point. That's not a huge shock considering he has plus-plus speed and arm strength, and some scouts think his shortstop play will be just as good once he develops. He has big-time range, especially to his left. The game still gets too quick for him at times, which contributed to his 56 errors in 130 games last year. Villar is overly aggressive at the plate, and his swing (especially from the left side) can get long. He has a hitch in his lefthanded stroke and will have to shorten up to make more consistent contact. He doesn't have much power, though it's not an important part of his game.

The Future: He needs to polish his skills, but Villar has huge upside as a switch-hitting, top-of-the-order disruptor and potential Gold Glove shortstop. With 2009 first-round pick Jio Mier pushing him from behind, he could spend 2011 in Double-A.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Lakewood (Lo A) .272 .332 .358 371 61 101 18 4 2 36 26 103 38
Lancaster (Hi A) .225 .294 .372 129 18 29 6 2 3 19 12 50 7
4.  Mike Foltynewicz, rhp   Born: Oct. 7, 1991B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 220
 Drafted: HS—Minooka, Ill., 2010 (1st round)Signed by: Troy Hoerner
Mike FoltynewiczBackground: Foltynewicz gave up a three-run homer in the afternoon on draft day last June, but got a lift that evening when the Astros made him the first Illinois high school pitcher drafted in the first round since the White Sox selected righthander Kris Honel in 2001. The Astros bought him out of a Texas scholarship with a $1.305 million bonus, the second-largest Houston ever has given to a pitcher.

Scouting Report: While Jordan Lyles is a better overall prospect, Foltynewicz has the best raw arm in the system and flashes three plus pitches. His fastball hit 96 in the spring and sat at 93-96 mph in instructional league, though it dipped into the upper 80s at times during his debut. He has good life on his fastball and pitches aggressively with it. His changeup was his best pitch in his debut, featuring heavy late sink and good arm speed, and it comes out looking like his fastball. Houston tightened up his slurvy breaking ball in instructional league, and if the changes take he'll have a true curveball in the upper 70s. His delivery is fairly clean and his arm works well.

The Future: Ticketed for low Class A in 2011, Foltynewicz has a high ceiling and just needs innings to improve his feel and command. If he maintains his top-end velocity and improved breaking ball, he could be a future front-of-the-rotation starter.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Greeneville (R) 0 3 4.03 12 12 0 0 45 46 3 15 39 .272
5.  Jio Mier, ss   Born: Aug. 26, 1990B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 175
 Drafted: HS—Bonita, Calif., 2009 (1st round)Signed by: Doug Deutsch
Jio MierBackground: The first prep shortstop drafted in 2009, Mier signed for $1.358 million, then ranked as the top position prospect in the Rookie-level Appalachian League afer hitting .276/.380/.484. His first full pro season was rougher, as he was hitting .199 as late as June 17. He grinded his way through the season, however, batting .260 in the second half and ranking sixth in the low Class A South Atlantic League with 63 walks.

Scouting Report: Mier draws J.J. Hardy comparisons as a solid athlete with smooth actions and sound fundamental skills at shortstop. He's fairly consistent and projects as a possible plus defender with soft hands and a slightly above-average arm. He controls the strike zone and has average raw power. He has a frame capable of carrying more weight and will have to eat better and get stronger after losing 15 pounds during last season. While Mier has a quick bat when he's right, his slow start led to pressing and a stiff, robotic stroke as he worried about his swing mechanics. He struggled at times with his first serious bout of adversity. He has average speed.

The Future: The acquisition of Jonathan Villar pushed Mier down the organization's depth chart. Villar is younger but has played at a higher level, and the Astros will separate them in 2011. Mier figures to start the season in high Class A.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Lexington (Lo A) .235 .323 .314 493 83 116 31 1 2 53 63 107 15
6.  J.D. Martinez, of   Born: Aug. 21, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 195
 Drafted: Nova Southeastern (Fla.), 2009 (20th round)Signed by: Greg Brown
J.D. MartinezBackground: The Astros had a strong report on Martinez thanks to area scout Greg Brown, who since has become the head coach at Martinez's alma mater. He signed for $30,000 as a 20th-round pick, then won the short-season New York-Penn League batting title (.326) in his pro debut. He won the South Atlantic League MVP award and ranked second in the minors in hits (183) while reaching Double-A in 2010.

Scouting Report: A late bloomer physically, Martinez has added 20 pounds since signing, gaining strength for his unorthodox swing. He gets his front foot down early, lays the bat back and then unloads with good natural timing. Despite the front-foot approach, he recognizes pitches, stays back on breaking balls and squares up good pitches. His flat swing path means much of his power is to the gaps, and he projects to hit 35-40 doubles and 15-20 homers annually. He's capable in right field and has an accurate arm but profiles better in left because he has below-average speed and fringy arm strength.

The Future: Martinez already has moved quickly and will start 2011 back in Double-A. If Houston finds a taker for Carlos Lee's albatross contract, Martinez could provide a high-energy, low-cost replacement. He profiles as a second-division regular.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Lexington (Lo A) .362 .433 .598 348 83 126 31 3 15 64 33 55 3
Corpus Christi (AA) .302 .357 .407 189 24 57 9 1 3 25 15 42 2
7.  Jimmy Paredes, inf   Born: Nov. 25, 1988B-T: B-RHt: 6-1Wt: 178
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2006Signed by: Victor Mata (Yankees)
Jimmy ParedesBackground: Paredes advanced slowly through the Yankees system, in part because of 2008 shoulder surgery that pushed him to the right side of the infield. He showed enough tools in his 2010 full-season debut to be the key prospect the Astros got from New York in the Lance Berkman trade. Paredes ranked second in the South Atlantic League in hits (158) and third in steals (50).

Scouting Report: Houston has targeted athletes and speed while rebuilding its farm system, and Paredes fits the mold. He's both quick and fast, with an explosive first step and easy plus speed. He has a feel for stealing bases, getting caught just 11 times last year. He has more power and a better swing from the right side. As a lefty, he has a contact-oriented approach and needs to incorporate his lower half more in his swing. Paredes' arm strength has returned to average, and he has decent hands and infield actions. Footwork was a problem for him at second base, and most scouts discount his ability to stay in the middle infield. Some see him as a better fit in center field.

The Future: The Astros moved Paredes to third base in instructional league and were pleased with the results, adding him to the 40-man roster. He'll play the hot corner in high Class A this year.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Charleston (Lo A) .282 .312 .408 404 59 114 24 6 5 48 18 82 36
Lexington (Lo A) .299 .331 .442 147 24 44 10 1 3 17 7 25 14
8.  Tanner Bushue, rhp   Born: June 20, 1991B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 180
 Drafted: HS—Farina, Ill., 2009 (2nd round)Signed by: Troy Hoerner
Tanner BushueBackground: Bushue split time between baseball and basketball in high school, and his athleticism attracted the Astros. He wasn't expected to be a second-round pick in 2009, but his late helium, projectable frame and flashes of 93-mph heat prompted Houston to jump up and draft him there. Lexington's youngest player for much of 2010, he missed two weeks with a toe injury that required postseason surgery but still led the Legends with 134 innings—and the South Atlantic League with 18 homers allowed.

Scouting Report: The owner of the system's best curveball, Bushue uses a high arm slot to throw it with plenty of depth. He commands the curve well and misses bats with it. His velocity backed up in his first full season, with his fastball usually sitting at 86-88 mph and his curve operating at 69-73. He'll need to add strength and improve his finish in his delivery to get to the low-90s fastball the Astros and most scouts who saw him as an amateur projected him to have. Bushue has decent feel for his developing changeup. His delivery is fluid and he throws with ease, giving him good control.

The Future: Houston hopes Bushue's experience, full health and some added strength will lead to improved velocity in 2011. He'll need it as he heads to Lancaster's launching pad.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Lexington (Lo A) 7 8 4.11 25 25 0 0 134 129 18 48 114 .256
9.  Austin Wates, of   Born: Sept. 2, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 179
 Drafted: Virginia Tech, 2010 (3rd round)Signed by: Everett Stull
Austin WatesBackground: Wates was an NCAA Division I recruit in soccer as well as baseball, hinting at his athletic ability. He established himself as a prospect by hitting .312 with wood bats in the summer Cape Cod League in 2009. He hit .367 as a three-year starter at Virginia Tech, where he was one of a school-record eight Hokies drafted in 2010, signing for $550,000 as the 90th overall pick.

Scouting Report: While he played first base and the outfield corners in college, Wates profiles best in center field thanks to his above-average speed and athleticism. His below-average arm is playable in center, and his bat fits better there. Wates has an unorthodox swing that's short but a bit loopy. While he has a knack for barreling balls and uses the entire field, his swing path lends itself to average power at best. He has a polished approach, having developed better patience and improved pitch recognition as he's gained experience. He also has good instincts on the bases and should be an asset as a basestealer.

The Future: An athlete who can hit, Wates has a chance to be a Shannon Stewart type of offensive player with center-field ability as a bonus. His polish gives him the chance to move quickly, and he could start his first full pro season in high Class A.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Astros (R) .000 .250 000 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 0
Tri-City (SS) .316 .447 .500 38 11 12 2 1 1 6 8 6 9
10.  Ariel Ovando, of   Born: Sept. 15, 1993B-T: L-RHt: 6-4Wt: 180
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2010Signed by: Felix Francisco
Background: Houston once owned a virtual monopoly on top Venezuelan talent, but that pipeline dried up when scout Andres Reiner moved on to the Rays. Now the Astros are trying to re-establish themselves in Latin America, which led to signing Ovando for a franchise-record $2.6 million last July on the recommendation of Felix Francisco, who helped sign Andruw Jones and Rafael Furcal when he worked for the Braves. The Astros announced the signing with a lengthy press release comparing Ovando physically to players such as Cliff Floyd, Jason Heyward and Darryl Strawberry.

Scouting Report: Big money in Latin America often goes to players who show present hitting ability and power, and that describes Ovando. The Astros like his feel for hitting and solid pitch-recognition skills for his age, which make them confident he'll get to his plus raw power. Power is his best tool, and Ovando's swing produces some real explosiveness. His swing also has a lot of moving parts in it, but Houston believes he can tone that down while maintaining his natural rhythm. His long, lean frame leads to some length and holes in his swing. The Astros project Ovando as a future right fielder, though he has inconsistent throwing mechanics, and grades on his arm strength range from below to above average. He's a fringe-average runner who should slow down as his body thickens, as he has the frame to add at least 20 pounds as he matures.

The Future: Ovando had a solid instructional league while facing the best pitching he's ever seen, an encouraging start. He'll begin 2011 in extended spring training before making his pro debut with one of the organization's two Rookie-level teams. When Ovando signed, GM Ed Wade said he "should move quickly through the minor league system," but Ovando's most likely big league ETA is still three to four years away.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Did Not Play—Signed 2011 Contract

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