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Astros Top 10 Prospects

By Jim Callis
February 5, 2003

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After finishing with the National League’s best record and winning Baseball America’s Organization of the Year award in 2001, the Astros slipped last year. Their performance at the major and minor league levels was disappointing. A strong farm system was supposed to feed a big league club expected to contend for its fifth NL Central title in six years. Neither happened, as Houston underachieved and finished 13 games behind the Cardinals.

Shortstop Adam Everett and third baseman Morgan Ensberg broke camp as Astros starters but played their way out of those jobs. Lefthander Carlos Hernandez battled shoulder problems that persisted into the offseason. Jason Lane and Kirk Saarloos showed flashes of talent, and Brandon Puffer and Ricky Stone had their moments in middle relief. But Houston needed more and didn’t get it.

The story was the same in the minors. It wasn’t a disastrous year, but the Astros didn’t match their previous standards. Their six affiliates combined to win at a .535 clip, the fifth-best record in baseball. But after capturing a total of seven championships over the previous four years, Houston farm clubs came up empty in 2002.

Houston also stumbled when it came to the draft. With a strike possible, Astros owner Drayton McLane declared a midsummer embargo on signing picks. The club eventually signed its top three selections but didn’t get to see any of them in game action, and fifth-rounder Pat Misch returned to Western Michigan.

Houston has moved to upgrade the quality of its minor league affiliates in recent years, and its arrangement with Double-A Round Rock has been a huge success on and off the field. In order to play in another top facility, Lexington’s Applebee’s Park, the Astros fielded two low Class A teams for two years, at the expense of having a high Class A club.

That set-up created problems last year. Some of Houston’s best prospects struggled because they had to skip a level and go from low Class A to Double-A. The situation has been rectified for 2003. The Astros’ agreement with low-A Michigan expired, and they established a new agreement with high Class A Salem.

Houston’s stock hasn’t tumbled like Enron’s, which relinquished its ballpark naming rights in 2002. But an organization that ranked among the best in both the majors and minors a year earlier has fallen back toward the middle of the pack.

Top Prospects
Of The Past Decade

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
2000 Wilfredo Rodriguez, lhp
2001 Roy Oswalt, rhp
2002 Carlos Hernandez, lhp

Prospect Archives

1999 Top 10 Prospects
2000 Top 10 Prospects
2001 Top 10 Prospects
2002 Top 10 Prospects
• Top 10 Prospects Since 1983
• Top Prospects for all 30 teams
1. John Buck, c

Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HS–Taylorsville, Utah, 1998 (7th round). Signed by: Doug Deutsch.

Background: Area scout Doug Deutsch has signed six major leaguers, including 2002 revelation Kirk Saarloos and otherwise overlooked college seniors Morgan Ensberg and Jason Lane. But his biggest find may prove to be Buck, who drew little attention as a Utah high school senior in 1998. He made quick adjustments to pro ball. Perhaps more than any player, Buck was hurt by Houston’s lack of a high Class A club the past two years. He had to jump to Double-A Round Rock without the benefit of high Class A experience last year. The transition was made more difficult when, on the first pitch he caught of the 2002 season, he was hit on the back of his left hand by the hitter’s bat. Buck was unable to grip a bat properly in the early part of the season and posted his worst offensive numbers since short-season ball in 1999. Nevertheless, he made the Texas League’s postseason all-star team.

Strengths: Few catching prospects can match Buck’s all-around package. He projects as a .275 hitter with 20 homers now that he has learned to turn on fastballs and recognize breaking pitches. His defense grades out better than his offense. Buck has plus arm strength and threw out 36 percent of basestealers last year. His receiving skills are solid, though he can improve on balls outside of the strike zone. Buck’s makeup may be his greatest strength. He’s a student of the game who takes charge of a pitching staff. He believes making his pitchers more successful is a huge part of his job.

Weaknesses: Somehow while catching games in the Texas heat, Buck put on 15 pounds, which made him sluggish in August and in the Arizona Fall League, where his swing lengthened and his offense tapered off. He’s starting to become a baseclogger and spent the offseason working on his flexibility and agility. Buck has been more aggressive going after pitches early in the count, but the Astros would like him to recapture the plate discipline he had earlier. His release on his throws can get inconsistent.

The Future: Buck figures to spend 2003 in Triple-A New Orleans, one of the tougher hitter’s parks in the Pacific Coast League. Brad Ausmus’ contract expires after the season, and the Astros hope Buck can carry at least part of the big league load in 2004.

2002 Club (Class)














Round Rock (AA)














Click here for prospects 2-10.

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