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, 2007.
|1.||Hunter Pence, of|
|2.||Troy Patton, lhp|
|3.||Matt Albers, rhp|
|4.||Jimmy Barthmaier, rhp|
|5.||Juan Gutierrez, rhp|
|6.||J.R. Towles, c|
|7.||Paul Estrada, rhp|
|8.||Felipe Paulino, rhp|
|9.||Max Sapp, c|
|10.||Chad Reineke, rhp|
|Best Hitter for Average||Hunter Pence|
|Best Power Hitter||Hunter Pence|
|Best Strike-Zone Discipline||Mike Rodriguez|
|Fastest Baserunner||Josh Flores|
|Best Athlete||Charlton Jimerson|
|Best Fastball||Felipe Paulino|
|Best Curveball||Paul Estrada|
|Best Slider||Chad Reinke|
|Best Changeup||Chance Douglass|
|Best Control||Chris Sampson|
|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|
|First Base||Lance Berkman|
|Second Base||Chris Burke|
|Third Base||Morgan Ensberg|
|Left Field||Carlos Lee|
|Center Field||Hunter Pence|
|Right Field||Luke Scott|
|No. 1 Starter||Roy Oswalt|
|No. 2 Starter||Troy Patton|
|No. 3 Starter||Jason Jennings|
|No. 4 Starter||Fernando Nieve|
|No. 5 Starter||Matt Albers|
OF THE DECADE
|1997||Richard Hildalgo, of||Yankees|
|1998||Richard Hildalgo, of||Yankees|
|1999||Lance Berkman, of||Astros|
|2000||Wilfredo Rodriguez, lhp||San Angelo (United)|
|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|
|2006||Jason Hirsh, rhp||Astros|
|TOP DRAFT PICKS|
OF THE DECADE
|1997||Lance Berkman, of||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|
|2006||Max Sapp, c||Astros|
IN CLUB HISTORY
|Chris Buke, 2001||$2,125,000|
|Max Sapp, 2006||$1,400,000|
|Brian Bogusevic, 2005||$1,375,000|
|Robert Stiehl, 2000||$1,250,000|
|Derick Grigsby, 2002||$1,125,000|
fter recovering from a 61-62 start in 2004 and a 15-30 beginning in 2005 to win the National League wild card in both years and reach the World Series in the latter season, the Astros couldn't execute a similar comeback in 2006. They nearly pulled off their biggest miracle to date, however.
Houston dug itself a 49-56 hole in the first four months and trailed the Cardinals by 8 1/2 games in the NL Central with 12 to play. The Astros then swept four games from St. Louis and went on a 10-2 run that left them just a game short of the eventual World Series champions. They now have now posted six consecutive winning seasons, capturing one division title and two wild cards during that span while missing the playoffs by a single win on two other occasions. The increased cost of that success has been staggering.
When Minute Maid Park opened in 2000, the Astros ranked 16th in baseball with a payroll of $66.4 million. At that point, they were known for trading players such as Carl Everett and Mike Hampton when they got expensive. They built a deep farm system with thrifty draft picks, emphasizing draft-and-follows and college senior signs, and by dominating the Venezuela talent market.
It's a different story now. Houston was Baseball America's Organization of the Year in 2001, when we ranked their minor league talent the third-best in the game. The Astros system hasn't rated higher than 20th since—it currently checks in at No. 22—so owner Drayton McLane has opened his wallet to sustain the winning.
Local product Andy Pettitte received a three-year, $31.5 million contract to come home after the 2003 season, and his buddy Roger Clemens has collected more than $40 million during the same span. Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, Richard Hidalgo, Jeff Kent and Roy Oswalt have received eight-figure salaries as well.
Houston's payroll soared to $107.7 million in 2006, trailing only the game's financial giants: the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets. The Astros continued to spend this offseason, giving Carlos Lee a six-year, $100 million deal in an attempt to bolster an offense that ranked 11th in the NL last year.
Because Houston hasn't drafted as well and has faced stiffer competition in Venezuela in recent years, the system hasn't been able to feed the big league club as it once did. While the top four home run hitters (Berkman, Morgan Ensberg, Craig Biggio, Jason Lane), leading winner (Oswalt) and closer (Brad Lidge) in 2006 were all homegrown products, precious little new blood has arrived on the scene.
Not only have the Astros paid dearly for veteran help, but they've also sacrificed young talent. They traded righthander Mitch Talbot and shortstop Ben Zobrist to the Devil Rays for Aubrey Huff last July. Righty Jason Hirsh was the club's top pitching prospect until Houston packaged him with 24-year-old center fielder Willy Taveras and 25-year-old righty Taylor Buchholz to get Jason Jennings from the Rockies in December. Hirsh has similar upside to Jennings, who will require a hefty extension if the Astros want to keep him off the free-agent market after the 2007 season.