Houston Astros: Top 10 Prospects Chat With Kary Booher

Houston Astros: Chat

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, 2009.

Q:  Ben from Leland Grove asks:
Would you rank the Astros' system 30th overall as they were last year, or have they moved up any?

Kary Booher: First, a big welcome to everybody out there, especially our friends in the Midwest that are freezing and, more than anyone, need for opening day to hurry the heck up. I'll try to answer as many questions as I can. But if yours is not answered directly, hopefully it can be grouped in with others. We'll try to shoot for 90 minutes or so. Everybody up and ready?

Kary Booher: Ranking the Astros system was probably the most difficult assignment in this year's prospect handbook. And you're probably safe to assume that Houston's system will plunge to the bottom of our rankings this year. As I penned in the overview, many scouts concurred that the Astros system is lacking in talent across the board, at least before talking about the 2008 draft class that Houston hopes becomes the torch-bearer for bigger and better things. Fortunatetly it appears they have a good plan in place, with Bobby Heck now running the scouting department. For those of you who don't know, Heck served under Jack Zduriencik in the Brewers system until last year and many are optimistic that Heck will replenish the system much in the way Zduriencik did before getting a well-deserved promotion to be the Mariners' GM.

 Q:  Frank from Williamsville, IL asks:
What is the latest on Max Sapp?

Kary Booher: At last check, Sapp released from an Orlando hospital on Jan. 9 after suffering from spinal meningitis. He reportedly suffered a seizure on Dec. 11. The Astros are hoping for the best, but they plan to give Sapp all the time he needs to recover before expecting him to be back on the field.

 Q:  Joe from South Dakota asks:
This is easily the worst system in baseball right? Bud Norris #2...I never heard of half of these guys.

Kary Booher: As I wrote earlier, this was a very difficult organization to rank. Some guys that appear within the top 30 probably would not make other team's Top 30s. That said, Norris is a legit prospect. Scouts loved his fastball in the Arizona Fall League and see him both as a workhorse starter or as a back of the bullpen type. His fastball was up to 98 in the fall league and that was a very encouraging sign to the Astros, who had to shut him down for a stretch in May and June and then only eased him back in at Double-A Corpus Christi.

 Q:  Craig from Calgary, Alberta asks:
You have Brad Dydalewicz as having the best change-up in the system. What else can you tell us about him, and is he a future top 10 candidate?

Kary Booher: Dydalewicz generated a lot of excitement, both inside and outside of the Astros system. Houston drafted him in the eighth round in 2008 out of Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas and gave him more like third-round money ($425,000). There's a lot to like. He was 94-95 on the fastball in instructs and is trying to harness a sweeping slider. The interesting thing is that he's an athlete. He apparently suffered an ACL tear while playing football in high school and has a track record of winning.

 Q:  Mitch Dowden from Pickering, LA asks:
There seems to be no other left-handed option at starting pitcher in the top ten or on the projected lineup so can you tell me if there is any left-hander you think that could be a part of the big league rotation? And what is your thoughts on Taylor Lumnsden, the left hander from Kansas City, can he vie for a big league role this year, possibly in the rotation?

Kary Booher: It was no accident that the Astros drafted four lefthanders in the first 10 rounds in 2008. It's a system that's hurting, with their best lefty in the high minors probably Polin Trinidad, who had a nice year at Double-A Corpus Christi. But he's more of a touch and feel type of guy. Of the lefties drafted, Dydalewicz is the most intriguing. But they also went the proven route (David Duncan of Georgia Tech, fifth round) from a terrific conference (SEC) and he could move quickly given their depth. As far as Lumsden, given the state of the Astros, it's not out of the question that he could get a look for a starting role in the majors. But he's coming off a terrible year at Triple-A Omaha (3-13, 7.21 with 62 walks and 44 strikeouts) and was not that overwhelming in winter ball either.

 Q:  Andrew from York, PA asks:
I'm looking for quick status update on three injured Stros' prospects. Paulino hasn't pitched in winter ball—what is his status? How is Josh Flores recovering from his missed season due to knee problems, and will it impact his speed? And is Tip Fairchild all the way back from injury?

Kary Booher: The Astros were hoping that Paulino would get in some time this winter, but they scrapped those plans in December. They still believe he will be ready in spring training, but that seems like a big if. He suffered bursitis in his pitching shoulder last spring and made only one appearance all year. Before, he was to be reckoned with, with a fastball that could reach 100 mph. The Astros tell me that he was throwing off flat ground this winter, but who knows where his velocity will be. As for Flores, scouts said he looked pretty rusty in instructs, his first time back on the field since blowing out his left knee after slipping on a sidewalk last offseason. Considering that they are thin on athletes in the system, they really need Flores to come through this year in Corpus Christi and not only show that he's healthy but could contribute in the majors down the road.

 Q:  Ken from Lakewood CA asks:
Thanks for the chat Kary. I see that you did the Angels Prospect Report. How would Castro rank in the Angel system, being as they have a better, deeper pool of talent? How many teams would Castro rate as close to #1? Guess I'm asking if he's the real deal or more by default to the Astros having such a weak minor league talent pool right now.

Kary Booher: Good question. Did anyone spot BA's Q&A a few weeks ago with Angels scouting director Eddie Bane? In it, he was quoted as saying that, "I don't think we would trade (Hank) Conger for any minor league catcher in the game right now." Bold statement, of course, and one that probably raised eyebrows considering Matt Wieters and J.P. Arencibia starred in the Arizona Fall League after terrific seasons. I'd rank Castro within the Angels Top 10, just not sure where. Nick Andenhart, their righthander, ascended to the top spot because no one else did enough to overtake him. But I could see Castro, because of his bat and potential behind the plate, being in the top three and ahead of Conger especially simply because Conger's health is such a huge question mark. Remember, Conger spent most of the year batting as DH in the Cal League and did not open the season until May 31. Castro didn't reach No. 1 status in the Astros system by default, though, although you can make a case that others did (for instance, I gambled on Paulino's health and rated him in the top 10). Castro was a first-rounder for a reason and his skills set is top 10 worthy in almost every other organization.

 Q:  Raymond from New York asks:
Hi Kary ! Happy new year. I was surprised that Jay Austin made the top 10 due to his young age,small size, raw tools and strikeout problems. Why was he even drafted as high as 56th overall ? Was it because the Astros thought the Braves would take him later in the 2nd round (they had two #2 picks) or the Astros had him there on their board ? thanks

Kary Booher: No one generated more internal debate here (as in here at BA) on the Astros Top 10 as Austin. Some in the Astros politicked for him to be ranked there, and others outside the system thought he could sneak into the Top 10 given their shallow pool of legit prospects. The big question is the one you pointed out — will the bat play? The Astros sent him to Rookie-level Greeneville and he had an ominous debut, hitting just .198/.277/.236 with 62 strikeouts and 19 walks in 212 at-bats. That made it a tough call for Top 10 consideration, but his other tools pushed him high. The Astros took him because, frankly, they need athletes. He was raw to begin with, so grade the stats with a bit of caution.

 Q:  Mitch Dowden from Pickering, LA asks:
Which two outfielders do you see teaming up with Hunter Pence in Minute Maid Park in the future? Me personally I see Brian Bogesviuc and Collin DeLome because of their potential power.

Kary Booher: In the near future? I'd say Bogusevic. That is, if he continues to hit this year as he did last year, much to the surprise of many. It was a phenomenal turnaround, to go from first-round draft pick as a pitcher (where he obviously struggled with command) to picking up a bat in midseason 2008 and hitting .371/.447/.556 with 15 extra-base hits, including three home runs. The knock on him in the Arizona Fall League was his struggles to turn on the inside fastball. He's great at going the other way. But unlike Rick Ankiel, who I had the opportunity to see come through Double-A Springfield, it appears Bogusevic doesn't have the quick wrists like Ankiel. As for DeLome? Hmmm. Dunno. He's more of left fielder only. But if Josh Flores proves to be healthy, I could see him up there as well. And don't write off Michael Bourn just yet. One scout that saw him in winter ball thought the light bulb came on, with Bourn showing all of his tools.

 Q:  J.R from Dallas asks:
Where did Eli Iorg fall to? A rather unimpressive year for a 24 year old in AA. Any Chance he makes majors in 2009 or 2010?

Kary Booher: Iorg was one of the more stunning free falls in the prospect handbook, going all the way to the late teens/high 20s, although Einerston completely fell out. As one veteran scout said, "He doesn't pass the excitement test." And that's just one knock against Iorg, a first-round pick from 2005. Some sources questioned his willingness to be a good teammate in the clubhouse but, by and large, his bat is questionable. I think he'll get a chance at some point this season, but only because the Astros have an investment in him and could use him possibly as a fourth outfielder.

 Q:  Jean from Sandusky, OH asks:
What can you tell us about J.B. Shuck and T.J. Steele, and did either make your Top 30?

Kary Booher: Steele made the list (in the 20s) and Shuck was considered. For Steele, he's like a lot of outfielders just coming into pro ball in that there are questions where the bat will play. He's got the athleticism. But he struck out 51 times against six walks at short-season Tri-City in his debut, although he did manage to hit .283/.320/.403. Shuck, by the way, was one of those guys that was fun to think about. One scout that saw him in college last spring encouraged me to rank him as my longshot guy simply because of his build. Apparently he has incredibly large hands, bricklayer hands as the scout described them. He can run a 4-flat down the line and works deep counts. Probably someone to keep an eye on within the 08 draft class.

 Q:  Adam from Miami asks:
How is Sergio Perez not in the top 10? Was Chris Salamida listed in the top 30? Thanks

Kary Booher: Perez did receive consideration for the Top 10. In fact, he received quite a bit of it before examining Jay Austin's case for it. The Astros liked the way he pitched in the Arizona Fall League after missing significant time in 2008 because of a groin injury and then a fracture in his hand, suffered on a bunt attempt. He was more 91-94 on the fastball and had average secondary stuff, with some shape to an 11-5 curve. Salamida, however, is not in the Top 30.

 Q:  Jon from Lexington, KY asks:
Where did Leandro Cespedes rank? He had a good second half in Lexington going 2-2 with a 2.43 ERA after the break with 82 strikeouts and 19 walks in 70.2 innings. He was killed by Lexington's terrible offense, evident by his 0-0 record with a 0.71 ERA in five starts in July.

Kary Booher: Here's a test case of why ranking the Astros system was so difficult. Cespedes' numbers look fantastic, and they are. And if you're ranking solely on stats, then, yes, I can see him in the top 15. For weeks, I tried to find a scouts' opinion of him and finally did in early December. And then this is where eyeing stats and receiving an actual report cross paths, with the report obviously carrying more weight. He was only average with the fastball at 88-91 and showed a slider and split, but apparently was better with the split. But he has mechanical issues and was pitching in low Class A at age 21. I gave him credit. He's from the Dominican, used the first half of the season to get comfortable and then took off. So I ranked him ... well, just check out the handbook. You might be pleasantly surprised.

 Q:  Bn from Dallas asks:
Bud Norris... Setupman/Closer in the making or #4/5 starter?

Kary Booher: Are we betting? Real American dollars? For my money, he's a setup man down the road

 Q:  Ben from Dallas asks:
Who is you pick to be the impact player called up this season on the MLB roster

Kary Booher: Bud Norris. I'm just not sold yet on Paulino's health. And even if Paulino is healthy, who's to say the Astros push it and risk further injury? That puts Norris right up there. I said earlier that he could be a set-up man down the road. But he could be an immediate option for the Houston rotation, which is partly banking on the health of former Astro and oft-injured Mike Hampton. Another guy I could see cracking the majors this season and making an impact is Chris Johnson, their power-hitting third baseman who had a fine year last season at Corpus Christi and got a late-season look in Round Rock.

 Q:  Ben from dallas asks:
What is your best case, worst case, and most likely to happen scenario with Towles and Castro

Kary Booher: Best case: Towles rallies with a tremendous years, holds down the fort until Castro arrives and, hopefully for Houston, is the centerpiece of a trade that featches prospects. And Castro delivers on his promise. Worst case: This is the Astros. Considering the state of their system and that some of the leadership in place was not responsible for a terribly thin system, it's probably not fair to talk about worst case.

 Q:  Gustavo Gonzalez from Caracas, Venezuela asks:
What do you think about Brad Dydalewicz and Chris Hicks? are they legitimate prospects?

Kary Booher: Great to hear from our Latin American readers, and it's notable to hear from one in Venezuela, where the Astros plan to close up shop after years and years of success finding talent there. (It's more of a cost-cutting move than Hugo Chavez's threats to close the country to MLB). We touched on Dydalewicz earlier, but let's talk up Hicks, who generated a lot of discussion in putting the handbook together. He was the Astros' 14th-round pick in 2008, out of Georgia Tech, where Hicks was a set-up man and closer the past two seasons. He also touched 96 mph in Hawaii Winter Baseball last fall. But don't expect him to remain in the bullpen. The Astros, like a lot of other clubs are doing now with college closers, would like to see how he fares in a starting rotation. Outside of the power fastball, he has a so-so knuckle curve and seems worth enhancing.

 Q:  Jaime from Cleveland, Ohio asks:
I know he is undersized, but lefty Luis Cruz was impressive as one of the youngest starting pitchers in the Appalachian League. Did he make the top 30? And do you see him sticking as a starter?

Kary Booher: Cruz was the Astros' ninth-round pick out of Academia Santa Monica in Puerto Rico and is the rawest of their drafted pitchers. He actually didn't start throwing until being trotted out for a tournament his senior year and was up to 93 after being drafted. Apparently he has a J.C. Romero build and is just as deceptive. I can see him reaching Double-A as a starter and, if the fastball continues to have life, why not keep him there? It's a lot easier to go from starter to reliever than the other way around.

 Q:  Toby from Detroit asks:
Who is the Astros' #31 prospect, and what excluded him?

Kary Booher: My No. 31 Astros prospect? Hmmmm. Not sure if I should divulge secrets. Well, OK. It's Friday and the boss isn't reading (or so I hope not). Drum roll please ... my No. 31 was ... Kyle Greenwalt, a righthander drafted in the 20th round in 2007 out of Souderton, Pa. He was among a batch of guys that qualified for that No. 31 slot — good, just not good enough. Scouts liked the way he was agressive on the inner half of the plate but were given moments of pause because he fell behind in counts and showed only a so-so slider. He was nudged off the list by two offseason moves in December (they appear on the list) as well as this caveat: He had to repeat the Appy League. Nevertheless, perhaps a sleeper.

Kary Booher: That's going to have to do it for the Astros chat. Thanks to everyone who wrote in and hopefully your questions were answered. And, if not, hopefully you enjoyed spending part of your afternoon with BA. Overall, I think the Astros won't be at the bottom of the rankings forever, for those of the die-hards out there wondering if help is truly on the way. With Bobby Heck now the draft czar and management committed to rebuilding the farm system, the Astros should begin to climb in our yearly rankings. The big key is if the 2008 draft class shows well in 2009 and the subsequent drafts provide support and, of course, prospects. It'll be a slow process, but have patience. With that, have a great weekend, everybody.