2013 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.

John Manuel: Sorry, will be a minute late here, just wrapping up something with a scout.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): How close to the top 10 was Domingo Santana, and what did evaluators have to say about his tools while playing in the CAL?

John Manuel: Hey everyone, thanks for coming. Good place to start as any — Santana was in my first iteration of the Top 10. I just kept coming back to safer bets like Tropeano and Fontana because of Santana's propensity to swing and miss, but he's about as good as a No. 11 prospect as there is right now, and his Grade-Risk will be pretty equal to those of Tropeano and Fontana. I believe pretty strongly in those two as solid big leaguers; Santana has a higher reward but is much higher risk. I just worry about his adjustments to breaking balls and his overall hit tool. But I could have run him up the list as high as No. 8 and defended it easily.

    Ben (Leland Grove): How many of these guys are top 100 worthy to you?

John Manuel: Tough to tell without having all 30 top 30s available, but realistically, you're looking at the top 7 guys, down to Cosart. It would be pretty hard to see Ruiz in the Top 100, and if you think Cosart's just a reliever, that makes him borderline. Last year, for example, Lance Lynn was in a similar spot, we thought he was a reliever and barely snuck him into the back of the 100, at 97 or so. But it's a very strong top 10 for me, and one of the deeper systems in the game. That started last year with the trades and, as I recall saying in last year's podcast on the NL Central, the Astros were confident that improved depth would allow them to let players like Folty & DeShields repeat levels and succeed, and that is exactly what happened. Good year for the organization, other than of course in the major leagues.

    Grant (NYC): Was Wojo anywhere near the top 10? Thoughts on his being able to handle AA after the trade?

John Manuel: As a fairly polished college pitcher, he got to Double-A right on schedule. It's obviously better that he pitched well there than that he didn't. Our reports are that his slider is not the wipeout pitch that it was when he was an amateur. Still has a big body and big fastball, those remain his best assets. But he used to thrive off his slider as his strikeout pitch, and now that doesn't seem to be his modus operandi. It's more of a cutter these days. See him as more of a Bud Norris type to put it in the Astros vernacular — potential starter but possibly more upside as a reliever. He wasn't strong in the top 10 mix but he's more of a 15-20 fit.

    Manny (New York): It might be early to ask this, but what BA grade would you give to Carlos Correa? Thanks!

John Manuel: It's going to be high. My first stab at it the other day was 70-High. We try to take another look at them all in a spreadsheet before the book goes out to make sure we're consistent as possible with all 900 guys. Correa is playing in the Puerto Rican League this winter, and I'm starting to think he's got a shot at playing for Puerto Rico in the WBC. I don't see that there are 27 better guys. That would be a fun reason to watch the WBC.

    Kyle (Houston): How convinced are you that Singleton's future role won't be as a DH?

John Manuel: Very well could be; that's a good point. He's not exactly nimble around the bag, and as I noted in the writeup, he made careless errors this year. But DH obviously involves more than being bad at defense, or else Prince Fielder would have been a DH some this year. How many true DHs are there, aside from Big Papi? Even Adam Dunn played 50 games or so in the field this year. So Singleton probably is going to play a lot of 1B in his career; it would behoove him to get better.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): To your knowledge, were the Astros ever planning to draft Mark Appel this year, or was Correa always their guy?

John Manuel: I do not have hard info on the Appel part of that; I would have to check again with Jim Callis on that one. To our understanding the Astros were calling other players than Correa and offering them approximately what Correa got, and our best information is that Byron Buxton was the other player in their mix.

    Pierre (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada): Do you think the Astros will choose Austin Meadows or a college pitcher with their # 1 pick in June 2013?

John Manuel: Pretty early for that, but certainly this year's draft gives some indication that the organization doesn't just view this as one pick. It's a continuum, it's an entire draft and the complete bonus pool that is considered. I'm aware Meadows is one of the top HS players; just in my one look in Chicago, fellow Georgia prep outfiedler Clint Frazier was better, more electric than Meadows. At this time last year, we were not thinking Correa would be in the No. 1 overall mix. So don't get too ahead of yourself.

    Jerry (Houston, Texas): Is Bobby Borchering still a legit prospect?

John Manuel: As long as he can hit, he's a prospect. He's a potential future DH but also a guy who needs to control the strike zone a bit better now that he's out of the Cal League.

    Simon Peters (San Antonio, Texas): Domingo Santana's numbers are great. Why isn't he part of the top 10?

John Manuel: Just about everyone has great numbers at Lancaster. You can make the Santana argument on tools a lot better than you can on numbers.

    Joey (Whitby, Ontario): Is the Astros farm system part of the top 5 now?

John Manuel: It is probably around 4-7 for me. Off the top of my head, the best ones are St. Louis, Seattle, Texas, with Arizona in that mix as well. Miami, Pittsburgh and San Diego also seem similar to Houston. To me, that's a good group of eight, I would guess those are the top systems.

    Brian (Vancouver): True or False? Nolan Fontana is Jeff Keppinger.

John Manuel: False. He's a better defender, not a power guy, just false.

    Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): John, thanks for the chat. Drew Muren breezed through A-,A+, and AA last season - what's not to like?

John Manuel: I thought I read that wrong at first and realized no, you were talking about the CS Northridge guy. He's kind of an interesting sleeper. Physical tools are there, but he just turned 24 and barely got to Double-A. Plus he's never really hit for much power; not many 6-foot-6 guys without power hanging around the big leagues. But he did play well when he played this year. Wasn't really thinking of him as a Top 30 guy, more of a depth chart guy. Would have made it in past years with that season but the system is much deeper now.

    Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): J. Meyer and J. Mier - who is the higher ranked guy now that we have some past performances to judge them on?

John Manuel: Mier over Meyer. Not sure Jonathan Meyer can be a prospect anymore. Jio Mier, on the other hand, was having a bounce-back year before he got hurt. Sounds like he'd addressed some issues in his swing and that seemed to play out in the AFL. Jio will still be in the 30; I don't even know that I've ever ranked Meyer, this is my third year doing the list and I don't think he's made it yet.

    Greg (Ohio): How are Adrian Houser, Jack Armstrong Jr developing?

John Manuel: Armstrong had Tommy John surgery. I thought that was one of the lesser picks of the Bobby Heck era, not just taking him in the third round but going over slot for him. I'm not a big fan of the dudes whose track record rests on one summer in the Cape Cod League. Adrian Houser is coming along slowly but surely. He is still adjusting to the shorter time between starts in pro ball in terms of having his velocity and quality of stuff being consistent from outing to outing. Next year will be big for him, he should make the jump to full-season ball.

    Greg (Ohio): in hindsight was Jarred Cosart the best choice in that Philly trade?

John Manuel: Compared to the other players they got? I would say it was Singleton, then Cosart, then Santana. Still a good haul, even if none of them has reached the majors yet. Still should be four ex-Phils in top dozen with Jonathan Villar, from a previous deal, also ranking high.

    Robert (Corpus Christi): Is there any possibility that relievers Josh Zeid and Jason Stoffel, both unprotected, could be selected in the rule V draft? Stoffel had 20+ saves and Zeid, who throws up to 97 with a better than 1SO per inning, both appear to have some qualities that may interest some teams.

John Manuel: Sure, maybe. Neither one of them stands out. Zeid may have touched 97 here or there, but that's not where he pitches; he's come along though and threw the ball well for Team Israel in the WBC as well. Stoffel knows what he's doing, knows how to get the 27th out, knack for closing and all that. But his stuff is short for that role in MLB. I don't see either one being a strong consideration, there are other guys with bigger arms or better secondary stuff available.

    Dave (Atlanta): The return from the Michael Bourn trade looks weak with Juan Abreu and Jordan Schafer out of the organization and shaky performaces from Brett Oberholtzer and Paul Clemens. Who's the better choice for a rebound in 2013: Clemens or Oberholtzer?

John Manuel: Clemens has the better arm; I liked him a lot last year. Of course after ranking him I got some pretty heinous reports on his makeup from his amateur career. As Adam Sandler once said, information that would have been useful YESTERDAY . . . Anyway, everyone likes the arm, but he didn't make things easy on himself last year. I would take Oberholtzer, but he's more of a JA Happ, back of the rotation type, as we wrote last year.

    Greg (Ohio): Whats the projection on Brady Rodgers and his system best control?

John Manuel: The report on him as an amateur was that he was a poor man's Mike Leake. That's probably not fair because Leake is a different cat, but the point is Rodgers is a command over stuff kind of guy. The projection is back of the rotation if it all works out. Might not be the second-best pitcher out of this draft class (assuming McCullers is first); reports on fellow Pac-12 righty Aaron West of Washington were very strong after signing. I would look for both to join Adrian Houser in the low Class A rotation next season, and it's possible one of those guys — likely Rodgers — would skip ahead to the Cal League.

    Jean-Yves Hebert (Montreal): Where did Jonathan Villar fit in, 11-15? With Correa the obvious SS and Fontana ahead on the depth chart, is Villar no longer a prospect to start at the MLB level, is there a prognosis on him and his career? He seemed to have a decent mix of speed and pop to this point.

John Manuel: Still think he's a guy, he's in the 11-15 range, but yes, he's getting pushed now, and as I mentioned earlier, Jio Mier is a factor as well. Nice org depth chart at short thought. I would anticipate Villar to start the year at Triple-A, with Mier at Double-A, Fontana at high A (or possibly those could be reversed, with Fontana at AA, Mier at hiA), and Correa at low A. That's an enviable group of talent at shortstop for any organization, I would think.

    Chip Hoffman (Towanda, Pa.): Is Rio Ruiz truly the pretty bat he is reputationed to have? Will he display true power or moderate power with high average? The comparison given was Eric Chavez, not bad but in the end a moderate 3B. Does Rio's glove not play or was the 2016 projections just fitting pieces together?

John Manuel: Chip, your memory's a bit short, I suppose. An Eric Chavez peak is pretty excellent, not "not bad" or a "moderate 3b." That was a 4- or 5-hole hitter on a championship team. That's a lofty comparison. From 2000-2007, Chavez won six Gold Gloves and averaged 28 homers a year while playing in Oakland. Not sure anyone would call that "moderate." The Astros feel very strongly about Ruiz, and I've talked to scouts who thought the same about him outside the organization. He's got to go do it, but there's athleticism and a third-base profile there to get excited about. He's the best 3b prospect in the system.

    Kyle (Chicago): Where do Marc Krauss and Bobby Borchering fit in the organization's future in your mind?

John Manuel: I mentioned Borchering before; Krauss wasn't protected on the 40-man roster, which I thought was a bit surprising. The Astros are a bad American League team right now and could use a cheap DH, but apparently they thought they had better choices there than Krauss. I think Krauss is one of the bigger names available for the Rule 5, but there has to be a team that sees him as a DH or 1B or I suppose LF option that has fewer options than Houston does at those spots. Defense holds him back from being an easy Rule 5 pick, but being exposed to the Rule 5 is a pretty obvious sign that the Astros are not counting on him.

    Joe LeCates (Easton, MD): John, a good day to you, and thank you for the chat. I think it's safe to say you and I share a certain #cheeseball-meter-on-high likeness for McCullers, so on a personal level, what do you think happens with him over the next several years? Pen or starter, and to what level?

John Manuel: I do enjoy the McCullers family, and I still have a pic of me with Lance Sr. on the wall here at BA World HQ. Lance Sr. was a horse for me in fantasy a generation ago ... anyway, Lance Jr. impressed a lot of jaded scouts in Florida this spring with the progress he made. That's a significant factor in thinking he can start long-term. He had never done it prior to his senior year in high school. He always had relieved after playing a position, or just pitched shorter stints in showcases in the past. This spring, he showed he could pitch, he could pace himself, maintain his stuff's very high quality, at the amateur level and again at the pro level. He still has a ways to go, Joe, but I'm optimistic for him at this early stage. If I had to bet, I'd bet on him starting, but it's like 55-45. Still a very close call. Always easier to bet on a guy relieving though.

    Aladeen (Tampa FL): Is Andrew Aplin a top 30 prospect to you?

John Manuel: Going to be tough to fit in some of the other draft guys and all the trade guys; there are only 30 spots and the organization is deep. I like Aplin but he doesn't appear to have the profile as a regular. That's fine if you're good at everything else, and he is — runs fine, defends very well, makes contact, draws some walks, steals some bases. He's a good extra outfielder down the line. Not sure that gets him in the top 30 at this time, but it would in other organizations. He's one of the 900 best prospects in the minors, even if that doesn't get him into the Handbook.

    Grant (NYC): What's the word on Tyler Heineman? Thanks, John.

John Manuel: Similar to Aplin, only less offensive potential and more defensive value as a catcher. Gonna have to see him impact the baseball once he gets to full-season ball though.

    Dan (Andover): Is Jose Cisnero a SP or RP in your opinion? Top 30 guy?

John Manuel: Still has a chance to start and is a pretty interesting guy. Glad we ranked him last year despite the 6 ERA, which I guess tells you about the limitations of ERA and the offensive nature of Lancaster. He's closer to the 11-15 range than being out of the 30, that's for sure. He has a live arm, but it's hard to see guys with that fringy control as starters. That's the most important piece for him, because his fastball has good velocity and excellent life at times.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Did the Astros draft someone special in Brett Phillips? Thought on his game?

John Manuel: Liked Phillips quite a bit before the draft; selfishly wanted him to come to college because we could have seen him locally here at N.C. State. Also a tough call for the Top 30 but does have a chance to be an impact guy, a potential top of the lineup guy with his speed and bat ability. Still some rawness there, was never a full-time baseball guy in high school, but I think it is fair to get excited about him, because it sounds like he can hit.

    Joel (KCK): What separates Correia from former #1 pick Tim Beckham? I remember reading all of the same things about Beckham before he was drafted. Another thing that scares me is the fact that not one product of this Puerto Rico academy has ever graduated to the majors. Can you put my fears to rest? Thanks!

John Manuel: Well, the PR Baseball Academy has about an eight-year track record, so give it a little time, first of all. Second of all, those are good points on Tim Beckham. We did say some of the same things about him. Correa is a bit different physically, but I guess the main thing I will say that Beckham wasn't as athletic after signing as he was before. I don't know that we've ever had it explained to us, but I'm sure the Rays projected him to get a bit better physically when they drafted him. Instead, every report we got early on Beckham in his first full pro season was that he wasn't standing out athletically. We'll see if the same thing happens with Correa, but I can't tell you that it won't. No one saw it coming with Beckham, not that I know of. So that's a fair complaint or worry. That said, most prep shortstops of that ilk turn out better than Beckham. The Upton brothers did; Manny Machado has. Just took a few minutes to look up prep shortstops drafted that high, and the guys that haven't worked out either were built very differently (Matt Bush, Chris Nelson, Lou Montanez) or are Beckham. So I hope for your sake and the Astros he's better than Tim Beckham. As I've said, I still like Beckham, just not as a star.

    Fred (Illinois): What do you expect for Robbie Grossman in 2013?

John Manuel: Good sign for the farm system that Grossman is a 13-20 type rather than a top 10 guy. He doesn't really have a good fit, but I bet he's a regular in Houston sooner than later. I just see him as a second-division regular. I would look for him to start the year in Triple-A but wouldn't be shocked if he held down left field in Houston for the second half of 2013. He has some polish, obviously works counts, has some athleticism. He just doesn't have a big plus tool that makes you think he'll be a regular.

    Joel (KCK): Is Drew Stubbs a good comp for George Springer? Seems as though Springer has a lot of trouble making consistent contact, but at the same time, he oozes tools. Is a 20-20 season with a sub .250 average in the cards for his future in the show?

John Manuel: No sir. Different kinds of players physically and in terms of their tools. For me, Stubbs' defining characteristic is his near-80 defense in CF, and that does not describe Springer, so there has to be a better comp, some other toolsy OF that strikes out a lot. I think of Rickie Weeks more for Springer when it comes to their swings and physicality, and offensive production could be along the same lines. Obviously that comp is flawed by Weeks' repeated attempts to play 2b but Rickie had three straight OPS+ years of 120 or so at his peak; I can see Springer doing that. He'll be a bit better offensive player, I believe, than what you're thinking.

    Joel (KCK): Is Singleton as the #1 1B prospect in the minors a product of a lack of good 1B prospects at the moment, or is it simply because most good prospects haven't been relegated to 1B this early in their careers? Or is he just that good? Thanks?

John Manuel: A little of all of that. Many good young 1Bs have moved on to the majors the last two years, such as Rizzo, Grandal, Hosmer, Mark Trumbo (who admittedly we had soured on), Belt, Goldschmidt, Freeman, Ike Davis ... that's a lot of young 1Bs. I'm sure I left someone out; still, you can see my point, the talent at the position is at an ebb after flowing very well in recent years. But Singleton, to me, fits right in with that group. He may not wind up an elite 1B but I don't think it's out of the question for him to have some .900-plus OPS years with 25-30 home runs at his peak. He should be a first-division regular; I think he'll fall short of being elite.

    Nick (Cary, NC): What can you tell me about Aaron West? I know his stats in the NYP league don't mean too much, but he appears to have 3 quality pitches and good command. Thanks!

John Manuel: Sounds like you read your draft report card! Yes, he bumped 95 twice when the Astros saw him against Stanford (they weren't there to see West, they were watching Appel), and he has thrown a lot of strikes, a good sign for a guy who already has had Tommy John surgery. He has the fastball command, body and arm action to make the Astros think he can be a starter. The secondary pitches are average, the fastball is plus and he repeats his delivery. Might make the 30; more than likely he will not because the system is deep. Three years ago, the first year I did the 30, that would have put him in the top 10!

    LL Towers (Cyberspace): Correa, Lindor, Baez, Bogaerts, Hanson !! All listed as shortstops. Rank them in order . And are all 5 in the top 20 overall ?

John Manuel: I do not believe all are top 20 overall but all top 50 for sure. Hanson I believe will be more 30-50 type, and Lindor is tough to rank with the others considering how much more offensive they appear to be. Baez goes first for me of that group, closely followed by Bogaerts, and I could see it the other way. Then I'd go Correa, Lindor and Hanson, with Hanson having the least chance to stay at short.

    @ProspectD2J (Toronto): Hey John, thanks for the chat. Which of the prospects obtained in the midseason trade from the Blue Jays are the Astros most excited about? I noticed that none of them made your top 10 list.

John Manuel: Asher Woj and Joe Musgrave, though Musgrave didn't do much after the trade. The Astros liked him a lot as an amateur though.

    Joe LeCates (Easton, MD): John, having done both lists - and just being kind of awesome - I can think of no one better to ask: Buxton was regarded by many as the top talent in this year's draft, and of course Correa came away the top pick - who do you like more right now?

John Manuel: I took this question to mean that Buxton and Correa are awesome, not me, because they are. It was exciting to write about both players so close together because they are so intriguing. In some ways, Correa sounds too good to be true. That said, so does Buxton. There's more projection involved on Correa because he's a tall infielder, and I think some scouts have a hard time getting past that and automatically slide him to third. But if he can play short ... I think I'd have to take him over Buxton. I know the consensus was Buxton, but I think I'd take Correa as an infielder. Both are awesome or special or however you want to describe them. I gave them the same grade for the Handbook.

    Not Jaypers (Wisconsin): John, any chance the Astros hold back Correa, Ruiz, Mccullers until the weather gets warmer in the Midwest League?

John Manuel: I don't think so. You have to play in the cold in the major leagues, you know.

    John (Long Island): What player outside the top 10 could you see making the 2016 lineup.

John Manuel: I could see Santana in there; I could see Vincent Velasquez in there in a future rotation. He's not far off the top 10, surprised no one asked about him, kind of a forgotten man. I could even see Ross Seaton as a back of the rotation guy, he had his best year, consolidated some gains, got some confidence, good to see for a guy who has really had it tough in pro ball from a results standpoint. Grossman like I said could be in the actual 2013 lineup, forget fanciful 2016 lineup. It's a deep system.

    Noah (Cincinnati): Hi John.. My Dad represents Bobby Doran. He led the Astros with innings and tied Folty with wins.. After being an All-Star in tough Cal League, and great success in last 5 starts in AA, Bobby is looking like AA rotation. I know the Astros like him! Where did he fit in your top 25? He WAS a 4th rounder for a reason. He was hurt in 2011. It was great to see him do good this year. Thanks, Noah

John Manuel: Noah, your dad has made his opinion on Doran well-known. I will take the question because Doran did have a nice season and has a chance to be in the 30 as well. I mentioned Seaton in the last answer, let's compare Doran and Seaton. Seaton is a bit younger; he has a proven track record of durability. Doran has a bigger fastball; neither has a plus secondary pitch, but Doran has a plus fastball in terms of velo. Seaton locates it better. I think the more successful MLB career will come down to timing and luck between the two of them; they are quite similar. To me they are six in one, half dozen the other. (Tell that to the captain's mother . . .)

    Greg (Ohio): What kept Preston Tucker out of top 10?

John Manuel: Lack of a defensive home, strength-oriented swing isn't the prettiest or smoothest. I like Preston Tucker, though not as much as Aaron Fitt has. He is a nice depth piece but in a system this deep, I don't see him in the 30. Not a great fit defensively, he's a 5-foot-11 1B who does his best as an outfielder, but he's a below-average right fielder. Good power, though, could make some other Top 30s.

    John (Detroit): Any pitching sleepers in short season and rookie leagues we should be tracking?

John Manuel: Try Michael Feliz, a big-bodied 18-year-old Dominican whose fastball touched 97 in the GCL. They had some other power arms on that GCL team in the upper 90s, and apparently Jandel Gustave hit 100, but most of the other big arms didn't have any feel for pitching. Feliz pitches a little and showed some ability to spin a breaking ball, so that sets him apart from guys like Gustave and Reymin Guduan.

    Pat (Cincinnati, OH): How about OF Ovando?

John Manuel: Might be more like 1B Ovando according to our reports. All will depend on the bat with him.

    Richard (San Diego): I didn't see a catcher in the TOP 10 do the Astros have any Catching Prospects in the system that can move into the Top 10?

John Manuel: Not really a true two-way offense-defense catcher in the system right now. Just not a strong point of an otherwise impressive farm system.

    Bruce (Montreal, Canada): A few years ago, the Royals' were perceived as a team of the future because of their great farm system. With another good draft, do you think the Astros will be considered a "team of the future"?

John Manuel: Good way to end ... I think they could be a year away from that, yes. It is the Astros' misfortune to pick No. 1 overall in back to back years with no Strasburg, no Harper, at least not an obvious guy. But Correa sounds special. Lance McCullers could be. The system has depth. It has pitchers and hitters, shortstops, outfielders, corner bats ... everything but catchers really. I'm sure the LHP depth could be better. The organization was headed in the right direction at this time last year; I liked the top 10 last year. Jeff Luhnow & his crew have accelerated that process, I believe, made it more efficient. Between the size of the market and the size of the pending TV deal, plus the talent in the system, I think the Astros are definitely on the way up. I don't think the system has quite the talent the Royals had a couple of years ago, but I trust the Astros to surround that talent better and to develop the pitching better than was the case in KC. Should be fun to watch.

John Manuel: Two hours is going to have to do it. We're going to go from a deep system in Houston to a thinner one with the Angels on Wednesday, when Ben Badler comes through the chat room. Thanks for the questions, enjoy.