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Houston Astros Top 10 Prospects 2010

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Want to build a farm system overnight? One glance at Baseball America's organization talent rankings suggests a proven template.

The Rangers went from 28th entering 2007 to fourth in 2008 to first in 2009, getting a boost from the prospects they received by trading Mark Teixeira, not to mention Eric Gagne and Kenny Lofton. The Athletics spent three years near the bottom of the rankings before zooming from No. 27 in 2008 to No. 3 in 2009, thanks largely to the talent they received in deals for Joe Blanton, Rich Harden, Dan Haren and Nick Swisher.

At the July 31 trading deadline, the Astros had a .500 record and ranked sixth in the National League wild-card race. Despite having the oldest roster in baseball and a run differential that suggested the team was due for regression, Houston stood pat rather than seizing an opportunity to trade big leaguers and rebuild a farm system that ranked dead last entering 2009.

The Astros tanked afterward, finishing 74-88 to drop to 17 games under .500 since they played in the 2005 World Series. Despite the eighth-highest Opening Day payroll ($103 million), Houston ranked 27th in baseball in scoring and 23rd in runs allowed.

Focusing on the big league club and neglecting their farm system, the Astros haven't acquired a significant prospect via trade in years. Instead, their strategy has been to sign veteran free agents (costing them draft picks as compensation) and to deal prospects for veterans. That philosophy proved painful last season when Ben Zobrist emerged as one of the game's better players, three years after Houston sent him to the Rays in a deal for Aubrey Huff. Zobrist wasn't highly regarded at the time but has proven a costly loss.

After years of poor drafts that culminated with fifth-rounder Collin DeLome being their highest signed pick in 2007, the Astros restructured their scouting department. Bobby Heck's first draft as scouting director in 2008 has yielded two promising prospects, catcher Jason Castro and righthander Jordan Lyles. Neither was a consensus choice at their draft slots, but Houston has seen rewards from going against the industry grain.

Castro has the potential to be the franchise's most successful first-round choice since Brad Lidge in 1998. Houston's only other first-rounder to reach the big leagues since then was Chris Burke, the 10th overall pick in 2001, and he never developed as hoped.

Houston's 2009 first-rounder, shortstop Jiovanni Mier, also has exceeded expectations thus far. After Castro, Mier and Lyles, the talent and depth in the system drops off precipitously. Houston's domestic affiliates posted the worst combined winning percentage (.420) in baseball last season, and no U.S. affiliate has produced so much as a winning record since 2007. The farm system isn't likely to provide much help in 2010 with the big league club needing to fill holes throughout its lineup and rotation.

Where do the Astros go from here? Heck was a regional crosschecker for the Brewers when they built through the draft and jumped from No. 30 to No. 1 in BA's talent rankings from 2001 to 2004. Houston will have a prime opportunity to add to its system with the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft, its highest selection since taking Phil Nevin No. 1 overall in 1992.

Dealing their big leaguers for youngsters could accelerate an Astros turnaround as well. But under owner Drayton McLane, the team has shied away from committing to rebuilding.

TOP TEN PROSPECTS
1. Jason Castro, c
2. Jiovanni Mier, ss
3. Jordan Lyles, rhp
4. Sammy Gervacio, rhp
5. Chia-Jen Lo, rhp
6. Ross Seaton, rhp
7. Tanner Bushue, rhp
8. Jay Austin, of
9. Jon Gaston, of
10. T.J. Steele, of

BEST TOOLS
Best Hitter for Average Jason Castro
Best Power Hitter Jon Gaston
Best Strike-Zone Discipline J.B. Shuck
Fastest Baserunner Jay Austin
Best Athlete Jay Austin
Best Fastball Arcenio Leon
Best Curveball Ashton Mowdy
Best Slider Sammy Gervacio
Best Changeup Jordan Lyles
Best Control Fernando Abad
Best Defensive Catcher Jason Castro
Best Defensive Infielder Jiovanni Mier
Best Infield Arm Jiovanni Mier
Best Defensive Outfielder T.J. Steele
Best Outfield Arm Yordanny Ramirez

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PROJECTED 2013 LINEUP
Catcher Jason Castro
First Base Lance Berkman
Second Base Tommy Manzella
Third Base Chris Johnson
Shortstop Jiovanni Mier
Left Field Carlos Lee
Center Field Michael Bourn
Right Field Hunter Pence
No. 1 Starter Roy Oswalt
No. 2 Starter Wandy Rodriguez
No. 3 Starter Jordan Lyles
No. 4 Starter Bud Norris
No. 5 Starter Ross Seaton
Closer Sammy Gervacio

TOP PROSPECTS OF THE DECADE
2000 Wilfredo Rordiguez, lhp Out of baseball
2001 Roy Oswalt, rhp Astros
2002 Carlos Hernandez, lhp Rays
2003 John Buck, c Royals
2004 Taylor Buchholz, rhp Rockies
2005 Chris Burke, 2b Braves
2006 Jason Hirsh, rhp Yankees
2007 Hunter Pence, of Astros
2008 J.R. Towles, c Astros
2009 Jason Castro, c Astros

TOP DRAFT PICKS OF THE DECADE  
2000 Robert Stiehl, rhp Out of baseball
2001 Chris Burke, ss Braves
2002 Derick Grigsby, rhp Out of baseball
2003 Jason Hirsh, rhp (2nd round) Yankees
2004 Hunter Pence, of (2nd round) Astros
2005 Brian Bogusevic, lhp Astros
2006 Max Sapp, c Astros
2007 *Derek Dietrich, 3b (3rd round) Georgia Tech
2008 Jason Castro, c Astros 2009 Jiovanni Mier, ss Astros

LARGEST BONUSES IN CLUB HISTORY
Chris Burke, 2001 $2,125,000
Jason Castro, 2008 $2,070,000
Max Sapp, 2006 $1,400,000
Brian Bogusevic, 2005 $1,375,000
Jiovanni Mier, 2009 $1,358,000

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