2012 Houston Astros Top 10 Prospects Chat With John Manuel

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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.

Moderator: John Manuel will answer your questions beginning at 2 p.m. ET.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): Did OF Jordan Scott get top 10 consideration, and what did scouts like and dislike about him?

John Manuel: No. I'm flattered that people really like our league rankings, otherwise I'm pretty confident I wouldn't get Jordan Scott questions. Right now, his profile appears similar to a younger Jake Goebbert — a LH bat who profiles best defensively in left field, and the power is a real question going forward. He was in instructional league and had a nice Appalachian League season, but I'm not 100 percent sure Scott will make the top 30, not to mention the top 10. I look forward to him proving me wrong in 2012.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Ariel Ovando - did he crack the top 30 this year? Thoughts on his time in the NY-P?

John Manuel: He wasn't in the NY-P; he was in the Appalachian League and didn't really do a whole lot. There were flashes of talent, though. I ranked him in the 30 over Scott, despite my great esteem for Matt Eddy. I gave Ovando a bit of a mulligan for the fact he's a 17-year-old who has been home for all of three months the last 15-16 months and who is making a million adjustments in terms of lifestyle. He's a very high risk player but the reward is still a prototype right-field profile. He's just very far away; I don't see him in full-season ball until 2013.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): A couple of days ago in the 2012 HS Top 100 chat, Conor Glassey speculated that if the draft were held today, Byron Buxton could be considered by the Astros for the #1 overall pick next year. Would you concur with this, or do you see them going after someone such as Mark Appel or Deven Marrero?

John Manuel: One more from Jaypers ... I'm sure Buxton and several other high school players will be in consideration, but I see them leaning college. Appel and Marrero fit the No. 1 overall pick profile — college power arm with some polish, or college middle infielder, a true shortstop, with some offensive upside. Mike Zunino, the Florida catcher, would be in that mix too. I know the Astros were sitting on Appel and Marrero in fall ball already. That said, there's a new owner in town; who's to say the current GM and assistant GM (that would be Bobby) will still be in charge by June? I have done our last two Astros lists and have really enjoyed getting to know Bobby Heck, but I also know Jim Crane has had a lot of time to consider what he would do once the sale goes down. I don't have inside knowledge, but I know owners don't always stand pat when they spend $600+ million.

    Frank (Chicago): What are your thoughts on Tanner Bushue at this point?

John Manuel: It's difficult to be a prospect when you aren't healthy. Bushue tweeted in August that he may as well buy property in Lexington, and that was a prescient tweet. He needs to get stronger and work a bit harder this offseason to earn a spot in Lancaster. He's still a prospect but for me he's been passed by the likes of Folytnewicz and R.J. Alaniz; I think I even have Ross Seaton ranked ahead of Bushue at this point. Still a lot of projection, and he's going into his third full season. Time to get moving.

    Vinnie (Dallas): Did Adrian Houser make a case for the top 10?

John Manuel: Somewhat, and scouts liked what they saw out of him in instructional league; I had two scouts outside the Astros who saw him there bring him up as one that impressed, so he's in the 11-15 range. Intriguing power young arm, another young arm ahead of Bushue to reference the previous question. I thought the Astros' top nine especially was fairly set, and then I was searching for a 10th guy, went through several iterations before settling on Nash. Houser was under consideration there.

    Grant (NYC): Did you and BA's staff underestimate Jose Altuve going into this season? Had he not exhausted his eligibility, where would he have ranked on this list?

John Manuel: Obviously yes, in that they didn't have 27 prospects better than him. A lot of those guys who ranked ahead of him last year will never get to the major leagues and he did. Wish I'd ranked him 10th instead of Ovando, who didn't need that extra pressure. I didn't really give him any thought for this list, but he'd probably rank in the top 10, 7-10 range, because he's probably a second-division regular. For me, that's his ceiling. We undervalued him; I think many others have over-valued him. Easy player to root for, but the reality is, while he does some things well, he's pretty limited in other areas. Wouldn't be a top 100 guy if he were eligible, and his future is less rosy than those of J.D. Martinez or Jimmy Paredes, who also zoomed through the minors with him.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): With the Astros shifting to the AL in a couple of years, do you see Singleton eventually becoming a DH, or are you confident he'll remain at first? If not him, who is most likely to fill that role?

John Manuel: Just realized I got another Jaypers Q ... I wrote up Nash as a future DH, and he'll probably be the dude there when we do the lineup for the book (the decision hadn't been finalized for the issue and I don't think we updated it today for the web, which is my bad) ... Singleton's fine at first base, and I don't get the sense the Astros think Brett Wallace will stand in his way. I joked with Bobby Heck during the Draft Report Cards that Chase Davidson could be a future DH for them as well, and that's Davidson's best position, but I don't consider him a true prospect with his slider bat speed.

    Harry (Houston, TX): Ross Seaton - prospect or suspect?

John Manuel: Seaton's still in the top 20 actually. Seaton is the poster boy for just how shallow the Astros' system was when Bobby Heck took over. As Jim Callis and I tweeted last week, the Astros rank last in big leaguers from 2005-2007, just four big leaguers produced in that span, and only one of any significance in Bud Norris. Not only did Houston get no big leaguers, they got very few solid organizational soldiers there. It was three horrid drafts in a row, and the '02-03 drafts also stunk (Mitch Talbot and Josh Anderson are the best picks in that period). The 04 draft has produced six big leaguers including Hunter Pence and Ben Zobrist; very good draft. But from 2002-2007, with one exception, Houston was very bad at drafting. That forced the organization to push guys like Seaton; they had no one else to go to Double-A this year. Seaton had a 6-plus ERA at Lancaster last year and got promoted. That shouldn't have happened. One of the things the Astros are most pleased about is how many of their prospects will be able to repeat a level in 2012, because they finally have some depth. So Seaton is still just 22, and we can see him pitch at Double-A when he actually should be there. At times he pitches with a 60 fastball and 60 slider; he hasnt' missed a start in 3 years; he's got a big, durable body. There are building blocks there. Now he has to have a little success, but I'd argue between going to Lancaster and getting promoted to Corpus when he really wasn't ready, he's been set up to fail for two straight years. I just don't think the Astros had much of a choice.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Does Jio Mier still make it into your top 30? Thoughts on his disappointing season?

John Manuel: I directly asked a club official that, and he gave me several reasons why Mier was not a disappointment. So the club isn't down on Jio Mier. He's still in the 30. For me, he is a bit of a disappointment but we probably need to purge his power display from the Appy League from our heads. He still has swing issues detailed in last year's top 10. He's a solid defender at short though, much better on routine plays, and he controls the strike zone well for a young hitter, with more than 60 BBs each of the last two years. There's something there but until he fixes his mechanical swing, it's hard to call him a regular.

    Ben (Leland Grove): With this new influx of prospect, about where would the Astros system rank overall to you now? Could they crack the Top 20 yet?

John Manuel: I like the Top 10 just fine, and the system has better depth. But no, looking through the NL organization top 30s (they're all in for the Handbook), it's a 20-25 system at this point. I can think of several off the top of my head that I think will rank below Houston, probably including the Twins that I will do, plus the White Sox, Marlins, probably the Indians, maybe even the Orioles despite their killer top two or three prospects . . . so closer to 20, but still not a top 20 organization yet, more than likely.

    Chris (Alabama): Gut feeling - is Jack Armstrong a future SP or RP? Did he reach the upper half of your 30?

John Manuel: He's at the back of the 30. If I had to pick one I'd say reliever. He's had one year where he pitched a lot, and his stuff by the summer in the Cape in 2010 was down. He's shined exactly once — as a freshman in the Cape. In his longest outing of 2011, he threw more balls than strikes (against Florida), and he didn't do anything more than throw a few bullpens in instructional league. People need to keep all this in mind when setting their expectations for Jack Armstrong Jr.

    William (Pensacola, Florida): Safe to say that Delino DeShields Jr was the most disappointing prospect in the system this year ?

John Manuel: Not at all. I think he was the 2nd-youngest player in the SAL on Opening Day, behind only Bryce Harper, and he really made strides defensively. He made 7 errors the first two weeks and then 16 the rest of the year, and scouts outside the organization agreed with the Astros' assessment that he should be able to stick at second defensively with continued work and improvement. He drew walks, he stole some bases, he showed some juice ... you'd love it if he performed better, but realistically, with his lack of experience (this was his first full-time baseball summer ever), he should have been in the New York-Penn League this year. He'll go back to Lexington next year; if he doesn't hit more, then we should get worried.

    Greg (Ohio): So John its been over 1 year since the Astros traded Oswalt/Berkman, whats the verdict on the guys Houston got in return?

John Manuel: Well most of those guys are in the majors; I like Mark Melancon (always did) and Jimmy Paredes from the Berkman deal. I think Paredes would be a better option at 2b than Altuve long-term and believe he profiles better there, but Houston really has no other decent 3B option (not a Chris Johnson guy). From the Oswalt deal, Happ is what he is, Brett Wallace has been a disappointment and I'd much rather have Nyjer Morgan lookalike Anthony Gose, and then there's Jonathan Villar. I love Villar, though I think in part I wonder if I'm trying to make up for screwing up his name in the Phillies top 30 two years ago. Houston clearly sold low on Berkman considering what he did in 2011 in St. Louis, but that's really on Ed Wade and Drayton McLane, isn't it? That team wasn't going anywhere in 2009, and Berkman would have brought more return if he were traded sooner. As it is, they could get their future middle infield in Villar and Paredes out of it, plus a closer in Melancon and whatever Happ turns into, likely a 4th-5th starter at his peak. Decent return, but no star unless Villar makes more contact down the line. They did better dealing Pence and Bourn.

    Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): Of the pitchers advancing from short season Tri-city to full season Lexington, who is your favorite?

John Manuel: Not sure that too many will graduate, because Bushue and Folty at least will repeat. RJ Alaniz could repeat; I would imagine Alex Sogard and Carlos Quevedo will go up to Lancaster, leaving 2-3 spots for the likes of Nick Tropeano, who could jump up to Lancaster because of his fastball-changeup combo; Kyle Hallock and Jonas Dufek will be in that mix; so will Armstrong, who needs innings but is unlikely to be ready for 120-150 innings, more likely he'll get 75-110 if he's healthy. Out of all those guys who could be at Lexington, I'd pick Tropeano, but go Armstrong next.

    Granny (New York): How many of the top 10 would you consider top 100 worthy?

John Manuel: I guess the answer is four. See, I like the Astros' top seven prospects, not all as top 100 guys, but as legitimate guys where you aren't making excuses for them in the top 10, like I had to with DeShields a few minutes ago. Domingo Santana seems like a fun No. 100 type of guy but so does Paul Clemens, high-risk guys with a lot of upside. More realistic, I am confident their top four prospects are top 100 guys, because I don't see many shortstops with Villar's upside in the minors. As one club official said, he could play 3 more years in the minors and still debut in the majors as a 23-year-old.

    William (Pensacola, Florida): Before the trade deadline last year, it was written that the Astros hired a independent scout to evaluate the Astros system from top to bottom. He determined that no more then five players would ever play in the Majors. Is this a common practice for teams ? Would you agree with his conclusion before the Hunter Pence & Micheal Bourn trades?

John Manuel: I saw that and thought it was surprising; I know some organizations get an amateur scout or maybe one of their international guys to give them a different pair of eyes to evaluate the entire system. That said our reports on the Astros system in the first half of the season were pretty poor. They really needed that influx of talent just to give their younger guys a chance. The biggest criticism I think that can be made of the last four years of drafts would be that the college players picked haven't been great; they need more from the likes of Austin Wates, Mike Kvasnicka, or going back some years, guys like Chris Hicks, TJ Steele, Jon Gaston, Brandt Walker, etc. ... and that's 2009 draft is looking rough period. Mier, Bushue, Nash, Jon Meyer, 4th-rounder B.J. Hyatt ... ugh. NOt a good class. I believe it would be a valid criticism to say when the system was digging out of such a deep hole, maybe it should have tried to fill some holes with more college guys in the '08 and '09 drafts. I would say it's just harder to evaluate these guys when they are having to play over their heads at every level. One other factor — the Astros have had zero continuity in player development. They had total turnover of all their minor league coordinator from 2010 to 2011 and now they're changing pitching coordinators again, hiring Jon Matlack. There's a lot of little things working against them, plus as I said earlier, that one good draft from 2002-2007.

    Greg (Ohio): Singleton's "baseball athletic" Cozart's delivery "energetic"; how did they describe their season "unpresedented" or "record breaking"?

John Manuel: I believe "bad" was sufficient.

    Ryan (AZ): I see JD Martinez is listed as the starting left fielder in your projected 2015 lineup. Is he still a prospect? What can you tell me about him? Thanks!

John Manuel: He doesn't qualify as a prospect anymore since he got 208 major league at-bats and posted a .742 OPS there. I like the bat, recognize his limited athleticism but think he has a solid chance to still be a starter if and when Houston returns to respectability. He's unconventional in his setup and swing but so was Pence. The Astros could use a few more J.D. Martinez success stories.

    Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): Chris Wallace really put on a show at the SAL Home Run Derby this past summer. In the 2nd round he hit 15 homers, and the guy in second place hit 4. In the 3rd and final round Chris won the Derby hitting 13 while the 2nd place finisher hit 3. Is this stunning performance at all reflective of his prospect status, or is it regarded just as an aberation?

John Manuel: I think you know the answer to this question. Wallace went to Double-A and didn't hit for near the power he did in low A, but he has put himself toward the front of the organization's depth chart for catchers, and I think he's a Top 30 guy. But he wasn't really considered for the top 10. Right now, he's a good organizational player, and that's of great use to the Astros. Two and three years ago, they didn't even have that.

    Dale (Sugar Land, TX): You have Tropeano as having the best change in the system. Was he close to the top 10 and can you give a brief scouting report on him?

John Manuel: He is close to the top 10, for two reasons�that changeup and a spike in fastball velocity this summer that I got from outside the organization first. I saw Tropeano in the spring for Stony Brook and was unimpressed, but the scouts I talked to saw a different guy this summer in terms of his fastball. Maybe he's the next Jake Buchanan in terms of a college draftee who can have some success at Lancaster.

    CJ (Atlanta): Thanks for the Chat! But don't count Telvin Nash as a DH just yet... He has much better speed and instincts than people initially think. Also, he's a huge work ethic guy and trains relentlessly every off-season in Atlanta with a close-knit group of Jason Heyward, Xavier Avery and Charlie Culberson and always show up more improved as a baseball athlete every year. He'll find a position in the field.

John Manuel: He does have a great work ethic. He's also a huge dude who doesn't have the athleticism of those guys, or even of Jonathan Singleton in terms of his first base defense. Nash also doesn't run well enough to be an average defender in left field, according to the majority of scouts I've talked to. He can still work on that, trim up his body a bit and be passable in left field. But more than likely he's a 1B-DH down the line, CJ.

    Michael (Raleigh): Does Bud Norris really have top of the rotation potential? More potential than Cosart?

John Manuel: There's no real No. 1 starter in the organization. Cosart has front-of-the-rotation stuff but hasn't figured out how to use it yet. He also has a body and delivery that still prompt some scouts to consider him a better bet as a reliever. Also, Bud Norris is pretty good—8.83 K per 9 in his 2 full seasons as a starter, with a fastball averaging around 93 and a mid-80s slider. He's not bad, and he has a more durable body (and more of a track record for durability) than Cosart. I like Cosart quite a bit, have for a couple of years, ranked him for the Phillies top 30 when he first signed ... but he's not a sure thing to start. Perhaps I should have put Mark Appel there.

    Steve (Dallas): Where do you see Jose Cisnero in the future??? Starter or Reliever and is he a prospect??? His k/inn pitched rate was great.

John Manuel: Cisnero is in the top 30, and he did have a lot of strikeouts. More important, he kept the ball in the ballpark (just 13 HR at Lancaster in 125 or so IP), and he saw his velocity jump this year. But he also ranked third in the Cal League in walks ... that can't be ignored. I think he's headed to Double-A next year but see him eventually as more of a reliever, just doesn't sound like his arm action will lend to starter-level command down the line.

    Mike (Colorado): Adam Bailey hit at every level last year that ended at AA Corpus Christi. Would you consider him a prospect? And his upside. Thanks for the chat

John Manuel: Adam Bailey will have to keep slugging to be a prospect. He's got power and he has a right field arm; our reports continue to be less sanguine on his hittability, and he had a pretty poor K-BB rate this year. At the least, he's a solid organizational player, and right field is far from locked up in 2012 in Houston; are Travis Buck and Nick Stavinoah going to platoon out there? (#sarcasm) Bailey has a shot but I don't think the organization considers him a future regular, and Jake Goebbert is ahead of him in the pecking order — similar profile as a LH-hitting corner OF, better hitter though less power, and Goebbert was the guy who went to the Arizona Fall League, not Bailey.

    Dave (Atlanta): What's the outlook for Juan Abreu? Is he just a hard thrower, or does he have the other pitches necessary to become a closer?

John Manuel: I think he's a hard thrower who is good bullpen filler for a second division big league team. I don't think he throws enough quality strikes to be a big league closer on a contending team.

    Mike R (Little Rock, AR): How do Villar's hit tools rate? Aside from the power influx was there really any indication he's going to hit enough to find his way to Houston?

John Manuel: He has bat-to-ball ability, but I don't think he's going to be Jose Reyes and win a batting title anytime soon. I like a guy with some pop who also will beat out some infield hits along the way. He's 20 and a switch-hitter who already has reached Double-A. Some patience is needed with Villar, and evaluating him by the numbers, I think his age is the most important number to consider. He should have been in A ball all year.

    Greg (Fullerton, CA): Springer compare to Sizemore? Will his average stay high enough to keep him playing full time as a pro?

John Manuel: Not a good comp ... RH vs. LH bat, and Sizemore's worst tool is his throwing arm, whereas Springer has a big arm. I put a comp in the writeup that I believe is a better comp. I don't think he's going to have quite this kind of power, but he has Matt Kemp upside in terms of being a power-speed CF. The difference is Kemp is bigger, so that's not a perfect comp either. Mike Cameron, who has similar size, would be a more realistic career for Springer.

    Jason (Lancaster, CA): Any real chance that we get to see Springer here in 2012?

John Manuel: I think that's probable, should start in low A but could jump up to Lancaster quick. With a good spring he could start there. Emilio King, Santana and Jay Austin might be your Lancaster starting OF, with Springer, Jordan Scott and Brandon Meredith and Drew Muren likely to low A.

    Mark S. (Cleveland): I am glad to see BA finally coming around on Singleton. I know the staff there—with one exception—didn't care for him much when he was in High School. He's a super nice kid and very gifted. A quibble re Springer: "in the Matt Kemp mold"?? I know "mold" softens the statement, but isn't that going a shade too far? Springer is talented, but Kemp is near Mays-ian. Even with semantic cushioning, I couldn't put Springer in that league.

John Manuel: Duly noted on Kemp-Springer; see the previous answer. I think you're wrong on our assessment of Singleton there. He had a poor senior year; that had to be factored in. HS bats (and he's a bat, not an all-around guy, we can agree) who hit under .400 in high school make me wary. He signed for $200k in the eighth round; 30 teams passed on him for seven rounds, and he was the 26th pick in the 8th round. He didn't sign for way over slot; anyone could have taken him higher. We had him No. 196 in our Top 200 and he went No. 257.

    GopherBoy (IL): Where is Mike Kvasnicka on the Astros propect top 30? Pretty mediocre year for an older high draft pick. What's his future look like?

John Manuel: Not an encouraging year for Kvasnicka. If he doesn't hit next year, I could see him moving back behind the plate. He is a switch-hitter who is fairly new to switch-hitting (started as a soph. in college), and he was playing a new position. He gets a bit of a mulligan for that, so let's see how he does in 2012 with fewer adjustments to make.

    Burt (Cuba): What's up with Jay Austin? Pretty good fall LG

John Manuel: You can judge him off those 45 at-bats. I'll judge him on his .665 OPS over the other 1,579 ABs in the minors. I'm certainly not rooting against him, but he's not making the top 30 this year. He's got a long track record of not hitting at this point.

John Manuel: Thanks for the questions. Remember our Brewers top 30 goes tomorrow with the esteemed Tom Haudricourt presiding. I'll be back this winter for Twins and Yankees Top 10s as well.