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Top Ten Prospects: Houston Astros
Complete Index of Top 10s

By Jim Callis
December 2, 2005


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, 2006.

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TOP TEN PROSPECTS
1. Jason Hirsh, rhp
2. Troy Patton, lhp
3. Fernando Nieve, rhp
4. Jimmy Barthmaier, rhp
5. Eli Iorg, of
6. Hunter Pence, of
7. Felipe Paulino del Guidice, rhp
8. Juan Gutierrez, rhp
9. Brian Bogusevic, lhp
10. Josh Flores, of
BEST TOOLS
Best Hitter for Average Hunter Pence
Best Power Hitter Luke Scott
Best Strike-Zone Discipline Ben Zobrist
Fastest Baserunner Josh Flores
Best Athlete Charlton Jimerson
Best Fastball Felipe Paulino del Guidice
Best Curveball Jimmy Barthmaier
Best Slider Jared Gothreaux
Best Changeup Mitch Talbot
Best Control Jason Hirsh
Best Defensive Catcher J.R. Towles
Best Defensive Infielder Tommy Manzella
Best Infield Arm Tommy Manzella
Best Defensive Outfielder Charlton Jimerson
Best Outfield Arm Charlton Jimerson
TOP PROSPECTS
OF THE DECADE
Team Player, Pos. 2005 Org
1996 Billy Wagner, lhp Phillies
1997 Richard Hidalgo, of Rangers
1998 Richard Hidalgo, of Rangers
1999 Lance Berkman, of Astros
2000 Wilfredo Rodriguez, lhp Rangers
2001 Roy Oswalt, rhp Astros
2002 Carlos Hernandez, lhp Astros
2003 John Buck, c Royals
2004 Taylor Buchholz, rhp Astros
2005 Chris Burke, 2b Astros
TOP DRAFT PICKS
OF THE DECADE
Team Player, Pos. 2005 Org
1996 Mark Johnson, rhp Tigers
1997 Lance Berkman, 1b Astros
1998 Brad Lidge, rhp Astros
1999 Mike Rosamond, of Braves
2000 Robert Stiehl, rhp Astros
2001 Chris Burke, ss Astros
2002 Derick Grigsby, rhp Out of baseball
2003 Jason Hirsh, rhp (2nd round) Astros
2004 Hunter Pence, of (2nd round) Astros
2005 Brian Bogusevic, lhp Astros
LARGEST BONUSES
IN CLUB HISTORY
Chris Burke, 2001 $2,125,000
Brian Bogusevic, 2005 $1,375,000
Robert Stiehl, 2000 $1,250,000
Derick Grigsby, 2002 $1,125,000
Brad Lidge, 1998 $1,070,000

Tim Purpura’s first year as Astros general manager got off to an ominous start. His predecessor, Gerry Hunsicker, declined Jeff Kent’s $9 million option for 2005 shortly before his abrupt resignation, and Purpura was unable to re-sign Kent.

Then Purpura was held hostage by free agent Carlos Beltran, who waited until a January deadline before turning down a club-record $105 million contract offer. At that point, no other comparable options remained, and Houston already had concerns about Lance Berkman’s right knee and Jeff Bagwell’s right shoulder. The Astros’ offense never truly recovered, finishing 11th in the National League in scoring and dead last in road games.

Houston started the year 15-30, giving it the game’s third-worst record on May 24. But just like they had in 2004, the Astros made a stunning comeback, going 74-43 the rest of the way—the best record in baseball—to earn their second straight wild-card berth. They reached the World Series for the first time in the franchise’s 44 seasons, losing a hotly contested sweep at the hands of the White Sox.

The club’s farm system has slipped in recent years because of unproductive drafts and increased competition for talent in Venezuela, an arena Houston once dominated. Yet the Astros’ first-ever World Series club had a predominantly homegrown flavor. They signed and developed their four best hitters (Berkman, Craig Biggio, Morgan Ensberg, Jason Lane), as well as 20-game winner Roy Oswalt and closer Brad Lidge.

Though Baseball America rated the talent in the system 22nd among the 30 organizations entering 2005, six rookies made the World Series roster. The top three players on this list a year ago—second baseman/outfielder Chris Burke, righthander Ezequiel Astacio and outfielder Willy Taveras—all became regulars in the second half. Chad Qualls proved to be a valuable set-up man, and lefty Wandy Rodriguez and outfielder Luke Scott also made contributions.

Whether many of them will become more than role players remains to be seen, however. The system also doesn’t have much to offer in the near future beyond righthanders Jason Hirsh and Fernando Nieve. It may be two or three years before a homegrown position player can challenge for a spot in the lineup.

Concerned about the talent drain, Hunsicker reassigned former scouting director David Lakey after the 2004 draft and promoted coordinator of pro scouting Paul Ricciarini to replace him. Ricciarini used his 2005 first-round pick on Brian Bogusevic, addressing the lack of talented lefthanders in the system, then focused on high-ceiling athletes. Outfielders Eli Iorg (supplemental first round) and Josh Flores (fourth) join Bogusevic on this Top 10 list.

It will take more than one draft to rebuild their system, though the Astros have bought some goodwill with their fans during the last two years. To sustain that momentum, they’ll have to use trades and free agents in the short term.



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