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Houston Astros Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams

By David Rawnsley

1. Lance Berkman, OF
Age: 23  B-T: B-L  Ht: 6-1  Wt: 205
Drafted: Rice, 1997 (1st round)  Signed by: Ralph Bratton

Top Prospects of the 90s

1990 Eric Anthony, of
1991 Andujar Cedeno, ss
1992 Brian Williams, rhp
1993 Todd Jones, rhp
1994 Phil Nevin, 3b
1995 Brian Hunter, of
1996 Billy Wagner, lhp
1997 Richard Hidalgo, of
1998 Richard Hidalgo, of
1999 Lance Berkman, of
Background: After not being drafted out of high school, Berkman rose to prominence at Rice, where he led the NCAA with 41 home runs and 134 RBIs as a junior before joining his hometown organization. He has dominated minor league pitching the same way he dominated college pitching. Barely a year after signing, Berkman was promoted to Triple-A and in his third game at New Orleans, he hit three home runs. He turned the same trick again in the clinching game of the inaugural Triple-A World Series, a series in which he was the MVP.

Strengths: Berkman has shown just about every offensive skill you would want to find in a run producer. He is a switch-hitter with well above-average raw power from both sides of the plate. His swing is still quick and compact, enabling him to make consistent contact and maintain a high batting average. Berkman's patience at the plate is extraordinary for a young hitter and in his first full year he finished fifth in the minor leagues with 97 walks. Defensively, Berkman's conversion to left field from first base has been successful. He gets good jumps on fly balls, has an average left-field arm and is surprisingly sure-handed.

Weaknesses: Berkman is a much stronger hitter from the left side, where he is more patient and benefits from having more at-bats. He played with a sore right ankle throughout much of 1998, which made him more of a front-foot hitter from the right side and took away his power. While Berkman is mobile in the outfield and a good straight-ahead runner, he's primarily a station-to-station runner on the basepaths.

The Future: The master plan is for Berkman to take over in left field, with Moises Alou moving to right. When this will happen depends on Derek Bell's status. Bell enjoyed the best year of his career last season but this is the last year of his contract. Even if any trade rumors involving Bell are unfounded, it would not be a surprise if Berkman's production didn't surpass Bell's and give the already high-powered Astros offense another potent weapon.

1998 Club (Class) AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Jackson (AA) .306 425 82 130 34 0 24 89 85 82 6
New Orleans (AAA) .271 59 14 16 4 0 6 13 12 16 0

2. Mitch Meluskey, C
Age: 25  B-T: B-R  Ht: 6-0  Wt: 185
Drafted: HS--Yakima, Wash., 1992 (12th round)  Signed by: Steve Avila (Indians)

Background: The Astros acquired Meluskey from the Indians in a minor league trade for outfielder Buck McNabb in April 1995, two days after he had been optioned to a co-op Class A club in Bakersfield. He has blossomed offensively since. In '98, he was among Triple-A leaders in batting average (third), on-base percentage (second) and slugging percentage (ninth).

Strengths: Meluskey is a switch-hitter with power, contact and excellent plate discipline from either side of the plate. His entire package bears a strong resemblance to Todd Hundley's.

Weaknesses: The knock on Meluskey has been that he puts offense ahead of defense and does not work as hard with pitchers as he could. He has the tools to be a good big league catcher defensively and under constant guidance, he has made progress with the leadership side of catching.

The Future: By trading Brad Ausmus to Detroit, the Astros obviously think Meluskey is ready to claim a large role on the team. Expect Meluskey to catch two to three times a week at the start while he adjusts defensively. His role should expand as the season progresses.

1998 Club (Class) AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
New Orleans (AAA) .353 397 76 140 41 0 17 71 85 59 2
Houston .250 8 1 2 1 0 0 0 1 4 0

3. Wade Miller, RHP
Age: 22  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-2  Wt: 185
Drafted: Alvernia (Pa.) College, 1996 (20th round)  Signed by: Mike Maggart

Background: Miller made just 10 starts in 1998 because he had minor surgery to relieve scar tissue on a tendon in the middle finger of his right hand. He was set to pitch in Venezuelan this winter, but the Astros changed those plans when Miller experienced shoulder soreness from overthrowing before his first start.

Strengths: When healthy, Miller throws a live 95 mph fastball and a hard, tight slider that freezes hitters. Despite pitching only one year of college baseball and having less than 300 innings of professional experience, Miller has excellent command and an advanced feel for pitching.

Weaknesses: Neither of Miller's 1998 injuries are regarded as serious. But he lost about 100 innings of development time and still could use work on his changeup.

The Future: Scott Elarton, Mike Hampton, Jose Lima and Shane Reynolds all pitched in the bullpen before starting for Houston. A strong spring training and a quick Triple-A start could put Miller on the same track.

1998 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H BB SO
Jackson (AA) 5 0 2.32 10 10 0 0 62 49 27 48

4. Wilfredo Rodriguez, LHP
Age: 20  B-T: L-L  Ht: 6-3  Wt: 180
Signed: Venezuela, 1995  Signed by: Andres Reiner

Background: Rodriguez is the latest prospect from the Astros acclaimed academy in Venezuela. Scout Andres Reiner, now a special assistant to the general manager, signed him as a 16-year old who was throwing 82-83 mph.

Strengths: After a quick maturation into a 91-93 mph power pitcher, Rodriguez bumped his velocity up another notch by hitting 95 mph in instructional league. He has long arms and legs and throws from a deceptive mid-3/4 release point. His ability to throw strikes and dominate Midwest League hitters at 19 is noteworthy.

Weaknesses: Rodriguez' curveball can be a plus pitch but is still inconsistent, mostly because of mechanical troubles. His changeup is far behind his other two pitches.

The Future: For all the Venezuelans the Astros have signed and brought to the big leagues, none of the pitching prospects have stuck. Rodriguez is still at least two years away from his first major league opportunity, but he shows the potential to be a top-of-the-order starter.

1998 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H BB SO
Quad City (A) 11 5 3.05 28 27 1 0 165 122 62 170

5. Daryle Ward, 1B
Age: 23  B-T: L-L  Ht: 6-2  Wt: 230
Drafted: Santa Ana (Calif.) JC, 1994 (15th round)  Signed by: Rob Wilfong (Tigers)

Background: The Astros acquired Ward in December 1996 in a nine-player deal with the Tigers, and he turned in his second consecutive strong season in 1998. His combined totals at Double-A and Triple-A as an Astro: .319-44-194.

Strengths: Ward keeps his hands and weight back exceptionally long for a power hitter, enabling him to stay balanced on offspeed pitches and control the strike zone like a singles hitter. His power numbers are deceptive because both Jackson and New Orleans are both difficult home run parks.

Weaknesses: The Astros tried moving the 240-pound Ward to left field last season in attempt to identify a position for him on the big league roster, but the experiment didn't go well. Ward's lack of mobility was exposed and Lance Berkman's rise as a prospect pushed him back to first base, where he is average defensively at first base. He has good hands but below-average range.

The Future: Few question Ward's ability to hit big league pitching, but he won't get an opportunity in Houston as long as Jeff Bagwell is healthy. Ward would seem to be a logical candidate to be dealt this season.

1998 Club (Class) AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
New Orleans (AAA) .305 463 78 141 31 1 23 96 41 78 2
Houston .333 3 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 2 0

6. Chris Truby, 3B
Age: 25  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-2  Wt: 190
Signed: HS--Mukilteo, Wash., NDFA/1992  Signed by: Greg Whitworth

Background: After being named the New York-Penn League's MVP in 1994, Truby did not improve for three years in Class A ball and was a candidate to be released at the start of 1998. He responded by hitting .302-31-112 overall while jumping through two levels.

Strengths: Astros hitting coaches made a major adjustment in Truby's stance late in 1997, raising his hands from chest-high to well above his shoulders, enabling him to drive fastballs better. Truby's defensive skills have always been above-average. He has soft hands and a strong, accurate arm. He is a below-average runner but has excellent baserunning instincts.

Weaknesses: With Truby's age and his short-term track record of success above short-season ball, there are still a lot of questions about where his real talent level rests.

The Future: The acquisition of 1996 National League MVP Ken Caminiti blocks Truby's immediate path. If Truby hits for power in a full year at Triple-A, he could still be a valuable commodity.

1998 Club (Class) AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Kissimmee (A) .311 212 36 66 16 1 14 48 19 30 6
Jackson (AA) .289 308 46 89 20 5 16 63 20 50 8
New Orleans (AAA) .412 17 6 7 1 1 1 1 1 3 1

7. Julio Lugo, SS
Age: 23  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-0  Wt: 165
Drafted: Connors State (Okla.) JC, 1994 (43rd round)  Signed by: Chuck Edmondson

Background: The Dominican-born Lugo moved to New York City when he was 15 years old. Lugo's younger brother, Ruddy, is a top prospect at Xaverian High in Brooklyn and could be drafted in the first two rounds in '99 as either a pitcher or shortstop.

Strengths: Lugo has a chance to be a complete offensive player. He has well above-average speed and is an aggressive and instinctive baserunner. He has hit 28 triples the last two years and has the raw power to hit 15-20 home runs a year in the big leagues. Lugo also has good hands and enough arm strength to play shortstop at the major league level. His makeup is outstanding.

Weaknesses: The questions about Lugo center mostly around his footwork. He lacks the smooth balance that characterizes top-flight shortstops, especially when charging balls or going into the hole.

The Future: Lugo was called up to Triple-A New Orleans to play shortstop in the Triple-A playoffs. He showed he is ready to be challenged after three years in Class A ball.

1998 Club (Class) AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Kissimmee (A) .303 509 81 154 20 14 7 62 49 72 51

8. Carlos Hernandez, SS/2B
Age: 23  B-T: R-R  Ht: 5-9  Wt: 175
Signed: Venezuela, 1992  Signed by: Andres Reiner

Background: Hernandez has worked his way through the Astros system one level at a time. Originally signed as a shortstop, he has begun playing that position again after playing second base almost exclusively for five years. Hernandez was MVP of last year's Pacific Coast League playoffs.

Strengths: Hernandez is an acrobatic athlete with exceptional quickness and a flair for playing the game. He has the hands, range and arm strength to become a top-flight defensive second baseman.

Weaknesses: Perhaps in part because of Hernandez' aggressive nature, he has had trouble acquiring the leadoff skills that would make him a top prospect. He takes few pitches, has resisted learning how to bunt and makes too many mistakes on the bases.

The Future: Like most Astros position prospects, Hernandez' most direct path is blocked at the major league level. All-star Craig Biggio is considered the cornerstone of the franchise, so Hernandez' ability to play shortstop will determine his future in this organization.

1998 Club (Class) AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
New Orleans (AAA) .298 494 64 147 23 2 1 54 21 81 29

9. Roy Oswalt, RHP
Age: 21  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-0  Wt: 170
Drafted: Holmes (Miss.) JC, 1996 (23rd round)  Signed by: James Farrar

Background: Originally drafted out of a rural Mississippi high school, Oswalt signed for $500,000 as a draft-and-follow after a year in junior college. He was scheduled to pitch at Quad City last season but sprained his elbow in spring training. The Astros chose to rehab the injury conservatively and kept him in extended spring training.

Strengths: Despite his slender frame, Oswalt has nasty raw stuff. His fastball is regularly in the 93-95 mph range and has touched 97. His curveball has the potential to become a plus major league pitch and the top breaking ball in the system. He has walked 54 hitters in 164 professional innings--impressive for a power pitcher.

Weaknesses: Durability is the first hurdle Oswalt has to clear. As he begins to build up innings, he needs to develop a changeup and spot his pitches better within the strike zone.

The Future: The Astros will start Oswalt in Class A ball in 1999 but with Oswalt's plus pitches and mature fundamentals, he has the potential to move quickly.

1998 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H BB SO
Auburn (A) 4 5 2.18 11 11 0 0 70 49 31 67

10. Mike Nannini, RHP
Age: 18  B-T: R-R  Ht: 5-11  Wt: 175
Drafted: HS--Henderson, Nev., 1998 (Supplemental 1st round)  Signed by: Deron Rombach

Background: Nannini's approach has already earned him a special place among Astros development people. They love his bulldog approach, which walks the line between cocky and "Get out of my way, I'm going to get this done." The Astros drafted him in 1998 with their compensation pick for losing free agent righthander Darryl Kile.

Strengths: Despite his size, which is closer to 5-foot-9 than the listed 5-foot-11, Nannini has a fastball that sits in the 94-95 mph range from first pitch to last pitch. He already has outstanding control of the pitch..

Weaknesses: Nannini's curveball and changeup are still in their developing stages and he will have to be pushed to throw them enough to master them.

The Future: Two of the Astros top pitchers are Mike Hampton and Billy Wagner, neither of whom stands taller than 5-foot-10. So Houston could be the ideal organization for Nannini. Astros executives already have referred to him as a "righthanded Billy Wagner," a high compliment.

1998 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H BB SO
GCL Astros (R) 1 1 1.49 8 6 1 0 36 23 13 39

Rest of the Best:

11. Jeromie Robertson, lhp
12. Derek Root, lhp
13. Brad Lidge, rhp
14. Tim Redding, rhp
15. John Buck, c

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