Sign Up! Join our newsletters, get a FREE e-Edition
One way the Astros try to keep player-development costs down is by aggressively using the draft-and-follow process. They identify raw players and try to sign them after they refine their skills in junior college. That's how they got Darryl Kile and up-and-coming prospects Tim Redding and Gavin Wright, among others. Their best draft-and-follow work may have been done with Oswalt, though he didn't come cheap. He blossomed so much in his second season at Holmes (Miss.) Junior College that he would have been a first-round pick had Houston not handed him a $500,000 bonus shortly before the 1997 draft. Oswalt has a plus fastball, but he seemed more concerned with his velocity than in becoming a refined pitcher in his first three pro seasons. That changed in 2000. He began decently at high Class A Kissimmee before being promoted to Double-A Round Rock for what was supposed to be an emergency start. When he responded with a 15-strikeout shutout, he never looked back. He went on to lead Texas League starters in strikeouts (9.8) and fewest hits (7.4) per nine innings, and his 1.94 ERA was the circuit's lowest in a decade. While Round Rock was winning the league playoffs, Oswalt was in Sydney with the U.S. Olympic team. He contributed to the gold-medal effort with two strong starts against Korea, allowing two runs in 13 innings. Oswalt pitched more under control in 2000, which is why his career took off. He still pitches up in the strike zone with his fastball at times, but for the most part he worried about painting the black at 92-94 mph rather than trying to reach back and throw 96. Righthanders have no chance when he throws his heat knee-high on the outside corner. He hides the ball well, and when he doesn't try to max out his velocity, his fastball explodes out of his hand with late life. His curveball jumps straight down, and his changeup at times serves as a third above-average pitch. He's stingy with walks and home runs (allowing just six last year), and he limited lefthanders to a .201 average in Double-A. He's an absolute warrior who always gives his best effort. Oswalt needs to remember that less is more when it comes to his fastball, that he has more command and movement when he throws in the low 90s. He needs to get more consistent with his curveball and changeup, as he doesn't always finish off the latter pitch. If Oswalt continues to progress like he did last year, he'll be ready for Houston after spending a half-season in Triple-A. He has the stuff to be the club's No. 1 starter down the road, though the more established Scott Elarton does as well.
The Astros have mined Venezuela better than any organization, signing 12 major leaguers. None has earned a victory for Houston, though Rodriguez should change that soon. After leading the high Class A Florida State League in wins and strikeouts in 1999, he was stymied by shoulder tendinitis and a hamstring pull last year. Rodriguez was at this best in the postseason, winning the opener and clincher in the Texas League finals. He is a rare power lefthander. He throws a 93-95 mph fastball with plenty of life, as well as a hard curveball. At 6-foot-3 and with long arms, he throws his pitches on a nasty downward plane. Rodriguez needs to polish his mechanics. He has an inconsistent release point that costs him command. He'll need to throw his changeup more often and for more strikes as he moves up through the organization. After pitching well in the playoffs and in the Venezuelan League, Rodriguez appears to be back. He'll probably begin 2001 in Double-A and need another year and a half in the minors. The Astros haven't had a lefty in their rotation since trading Mike Hampton, and they're looking to Rodriguez to fill that void.
Redding was a center fielder as well as a pitcher at Monroe Community College before signing as a draft-and-follow in 1998. He stalled as a pro starter in 1999 before moving to the bullpen and blowing away Class A Midwest League hitters. Returned to the rotation in 2000, Redding was the most valuable pitcher in the Florida State League and didn't permit an earned run in 16 2/3 innings in the Texas League playoffs. Managers rated Redding's fastball the best in the FSL, and he has used it to fan 431 batters in 359 pro innings. He repeatedly hits the mid-90s, and he's capable of touching 98 mph with a four-seamer that rides or getting filthy sink with a two-seamer. His power curveball can be unhittable, and at times his changeup is above-average. Redding sometimes tries to guide his pitches, which leads to lapses in control. He needs to improve the consistency of his curveball and changeup, as well as a slider he added last year. He's competitive but sometimes gets too emotional. Once he tweaks his command and his secondary pitches, Redding will be ready for the majors. He should reach Triple-A in 2001. Because Houston has pitching depth, it's possible he could become a big league closer one day.
McKnight was a signability pick who accepted $500,000, the lowest bonus among first-rounders in 1995. He was overworked in high school, throwing more than 250 pitches one day, and resulting elbow and shoulder problems hindered him in his first two years as a pro. He had a breakthrough season in Double-A in 1999 and made four quality starts in six tries in his big league debut last year. He reminds scouts of Ron Darling because he'll show three plus pitches at times. He works with a 92-94 mph fastball, a curveball and a changeup. He throws strikes and has a deceptive delivery. When he was less than 100 percent physically, he was tagged with a reputation for being soft, but he has shed that and is recognized as a competitor. Though he has good stuff, McKnight must understand he's not a power pitcher. His fastball isn't especially lively, and moves less when he gets it up in the strike zone. He'll sometimes overthrow and hang his pitches. He didn't exactly overmatch hitters in the minors last year before his September callup. McKnight pitched well in Houston but would benefit from more Triple-A experience. He'll probably get it, though he could make the big league rotation with a strong spring.
The Astros drafted Stiehl in the first round last year, hoping he can make the same catcher-to-closer transition that Ricky Bottalico and Troy Percival did. Stiehl barely pitched until this spring, when he threw 97 mph in front of 80 scouts in his first start. Most of the time, he caught for eight innings and then took the mound in the ninth. Stiehl has a fresh, loose arm that can throw 93-94 mph fastballs with regularity. He also has an 81-82 mph power curveball that breaks straight down. Pro hitters went 5-for-37 (.135) with 20 strikeouts against him in his pro debut. He's strong and athletic but developed a sore shoulder toward the end of the season and was shut down with tendinitis. It's not a long-term concern. He's obviously raw as a pitcher and in need of experience. Houston will make him a starter next year to get him innings. In that role, he'll have to pick up a changeup and learn to keep his pitch counts down. The Astros realize Stiehl will need plenty of time to develop and will remain patient. To that end, he'll start this season in the low Class A Michigan rotation. His future remains in the bullpen.
Everett was the key player Houston received from Boston after it decided it couldn't afford Carl Everett (no relation). Just before making the trade, the Red Sox paid Everett $725,000 and put him on the major league roster, apparently as part of a side deal to defer part of his original $1.725 million signing bonus. Despite a lackluster Triple-A performance last year, Everett started for gold medal-winning Team USA at the Olympics, where he went 1-for-23. Rated the Triple-A Pacific Coast League's best defensive shortstop in 2000, Everett has Gold Glove tools. His range and arm are outstanding, and he has sure hands and keen instincts. Those who believe in him offensively envision him as a No. 2 hitter in a couple of years, based on his bat control, ability to draw walks and speed. He did bat .292 in his final two months in the PCL after a .215 start. Everett will have to get a lot stronger to become a No. 2 hitter, though, and several PCL managers think that projection is too optimistic. He can't handle inside fastballs, and he chases sliders off the plate. He has a little power, which can be a detriment because he hits too many fly balls. Everett's defense could be so overwhelming that he'll beat out Julio Lugo for Houston's shortstop job in spring training. He would be much better off working on his hitting in Triple-A.
Adam Everett was the bigger name in the Carl Everett trade, but the Astros did their homework and got Miller as well. An all-state basketball player at his Illinois high school, he spent two years in Rookie ball before beginning his ascent through the minors. He made four appearances in the Texas League playoffs last year without allowing an earned run. Miller has a tremendous pitcher's body and is creative on the mound. He mixes four pitches, all of which are at least average, and throws them for strikes. He has an 89-93 mph fastball, a vastly improved curveball, a changeup and a slider. Unlike a lot of lefties with not-quite-dominating stuff, he doesn't have any problems getting righthanders out. Because he lacks a consistently plus pitch, Miller might have trouble with more advanced hitters. Then again, with his feel for pitching, he might not. His arm action is a little bit long, so he's not as deceptive as he could be, though he counters by hiding the ball with his delivery. Miller will return to Double-A in 2001, this time back in his familiar role as a starter. The Astros love his makeup and don't foresee him having any difficulty making the jump.
Buck batted just .255 in two years in short-season ball, though he made the New York-Penn League all-star team in 1999. He really put his game together last season, when Midwest League managers thought he was a better prospect than Seattle's Ryan Christianson, the top catcher taken (11th overall) in the 1999 draft. Buck has solid all-around skills. Offensively, he has a quick bat and fine patience. One day, some of his doubles will turn into home runs. Behind the plate, he took charge of Michigan's pitching staff and ranked third in the league by throwing out 39 percent of basestealers. Buck doesn't extend his arms enough on his swing, leaving him vulnerable inside and making it difficult for him to pull the ball. He'll cut down on his strikeouts once he learns to read breaking pitches. He doesn't run well and could become a baseclogger down the road. His release sometimes gets long, robbing him of accuracy on his throws. Buck made impressive strides in 2000, especially considering his age. He'll spend most of this year in high Class A, and the Astros hope he'll be ready to take over when newly acquired Brad Ausmus slows down.
At Green Valley High, Nannini threw back-to-back no-hitters as a senior and was part of four straight Nevada state championships. He broke into pro ball with 16 consecutive scoreless innings in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 1998. He has moved quickly, reaching high Class A at age 19 last season. He finished strong there, going 5-1, 2.37 in his last seven starts. Though he lacks size, Nannini doesn't lack stuff. He can touch the mid-90s with his fastball, and he has a plus slider and a decent changeup. He didn't allow a home run in 256 at-bats against lefthanders in 2000. His competitive makeup has spurred the Astros to challenge him with promotions more than they usually do with a young pitcher. Like Roy Oswalt and Tony McKnight, Nannini gets into trouble when he thinks he's a power pitcher. At times he'll overthrow, and he'll lose command and movement on his fastball. His heater usually arrives in the low 90s, but occasionally it will dip into the high 80s. His secondary pitches could use more consistency. After the progress he showed in the Florida State League in 2000, Nannini could move up to Double-A to begin this season. At this rate, he'll be pushing to arrive in Houston by late 2002.
After a strong debut at short-season Auburn and a so-so year at Kissimmee, Ginter exploded in 2000. He was Texas League MVP after leading the minors in on-base percentage (.457) and his league in average and hit by pitches (24). In September, Ginter led Round Rock to a playoff championship, then hit his first big league homer off Jimmy Haynes. Ginter is a student of hitting who has a short, quick stroke reminiscent of Paul Molitor's. He has strong hands and arms, and he excels at reading pitches, so he doesn't struggle with breaking balls. He showed more power and speed in 2000 than he had in his first two years as a pro. Defensively, his biggest asset is his quick release when turning double plays. Though he can go the other way, Ginter likes to pull everything he sees. That aside, most of the work he needs to do concerns his defense. He's average at best as a second baseman. He's a bit stiff in the field, and his arm is just adequate. If he can continue to mash, the Astros will be likely to forgive his defense. It's also possible he could be moved to third base. Assuming Craig Biggio is healthy this year, Ginter will spend 2001 in Triple-A.
The Astros absolutely love Lidge's arm--when it's healthy. And it has rarely been healthy since they made him the 17th overall pick in the 1998 draft. After three years as a pro, Lidge has racked up more elbow operations (three) than victories (two), and his eight starts last year were a career high. His latest surgery came in November, when he had bone chips removed after they prompted his early exit from the Arizona Fall League. Houston has changed his mechanics and had him scrap his curveball in favor of a slider in order to reduce the stress on his elbow. When he's 100 percent, Lidge has touched 98 mph and throws a consistent 94-95. His slider can be unhittable at times and has draw comparisons to those of J.R. Richard and Todd Worrell. Because Lidge has yet to pick up a changeup or show any durability, his future may lie in the bullpen. He's expected to pitch in Double-A in 2001.
The Astros don't have much in the way of minor league outfield depth, which isn't a major problem because the big club is stacked with Moises Alou, Lance Berkman, Richard Hidalgo and Daryle Ward. The exception in the system is Wright, who strained his right wrist and hurt his right shoulder in center-field mishaps last year, injuries that limited him to 43 games. He's a line-drive hitter with stolen base speed and home run potential. If all goes well, he could be a 20-homer, 40-steal guy. Wright projects as a .275-.280 hitter who could bat leadoff if he tightens his strike zone. He's also the best defensive outfielder in the system, getting good jumps and using his wheels to make up for an adequate arm. Though he missed much of 2000, he'll probably move up to high Class A this year.
Jamison is the sleeper of the organization, and the Astros believe he'll have a breakthrough season in Double-A. They rated him as a second- to fifth-rounder at the beginning of 1999, but he went 5-1, 6.24 as a junior at Missouri and slid to the 17th round. In his first full season, he limited opponents to a .190 average and would have led the Midwest League in ERA had he thrown enough innings to qualify. He came up just short because he spent the first five months in the bullpen. Once he moved to the rotation and had a restrictive pitch count raised, he responded with five quality starts in six tries, including a playoff victory. Jamison throws 89-94 mph, and the late movement on his fastball and quality slider induces a lot of swinging strikes and ground balls. His changeup is pretty good for a third pitch. He has issued a few more walks than desired as a pro, though they haven't gotten him into much trouble.
When Hernandez is on, he's really on. He clinched an Appalachian League division title with an 18-strikeout gem in 1999, and threw a Midwest League no-hitter last May after missing all of April with a lower-back strain. The key for him is his curveball. When he has it working, it's devastating and untouchable, but there are plenty of occasions when he bounces it in the dirt and can't throw it for strikes. Hernandez needs to learn to pitch off his fastball, which has average velocity and can touch 93 mph, rather than fall in love with his curve. His changeup is developing, though he alternately abandons and overuses it. His stuff is better than his feel for pitching, but he's still young enough to figure it out. Hernandez will move up a step to high Class A in 2001.
Ensberg played on Southern California's 1998 College World Series-winning club, stealing home on the front end of a triple steal in the championship game against Arizona State. He ranks fourth all-time in homers in the Trojans' storied history, trailing only Mark McGwire, Geoff Jenkins and Eric Munson. Ensberg joined those three in the majors at the end of 2000, his breakthrough season. After batting .236 with a total of 20 homers in his first two years as a pro, he surged to a .300 average and 28 longballs while helping Round Rock win the Texas League title. He improved his plate discipline and his ability to read pitches, keying his success. He can get pull-conscious, leaving him vulnerable to breaking balls or pitches on the outer half. Though he was rated the Texas League's best defensive third baseman, Ensberg still has work to do on the hot corner. He needs to be more consistent with his footwork and throwing. Ticketed for Triple-A to begin 2001, he has more upside than Houston's big league third basemen, Chris Truby and Charlie Hayes. Ensberg may have to fight off Keith Ginter, who could move from second base, in the future.
Linebrink was rated San Francisco's No. 2 prospect entering 1999, but was slow to bounce back from arthroscopic shoulder surgery that offseason. He struggled for a year and half until the Giants traded him for Doug Henry last July, then he started to regain his past form. The Astros made mechanical adjustments so Linebrink would stop throwing across his body, which had made it difficult for him to pitch inside against lefthanders. He throws three pitches, none of them soft: a 92-94 mph fastball, a slider and a splitter. His splitter can be effective when he stays on top of it, but he doesn't always do so. A former starter, he has taken to relieving because he doesn't need an offspeed pitch and it takes less of a toll on his arm. After a strong Arizona Fall League showing, he'll compete for a major league bullpen job this spring.
McNeal was the Midwest League MVP in 1999, when he led the circuit with 38 homers and 131 RBIs. Those numbers plunged to 11 and 69 last year, when he skipped a level and went to Double-A. Part of the problem was an injured tendon in his right wrist, which required surgery after ending his season in mid-August. But another part of the problem is that he doesn't pull the ball, lacks the instincts to make adjustments and stubbornly resists instruction. He's more of a cripple hitter than a true power hitter who can turn around a quality fastball. He doesn't have good balance and is too aggressive at the plate. For a player with a Cecil Fielder physique, McNeal is actually pretty agile. He was named the best defensive first baseman in the Texas League last year and has surprisingly quick feet and hands. His spring-training performance will determine whether McNeal returns to Double-A or moves to Triple-A this year.
Pluta was a power-hitting outfielder until he threw 90 mph at a workout as a freshman in high school. He has pitched full-time for just three years, and it showed during his senior year at Las Vegas High. Despite a mid-90s fastball, he went just 4-3, 4.76 (though he continued to hit, batting .478-8-43). As a result, he was available when the Astros picked in the third round of the 2000 draft. Pluta signed late and has yet to make his pro debut. He was impressive in instructional league, touching 98-99 mph on occasion. He'll need to learn there's more to pitching that velocity, however. Pluta tends to fly open with his delivery and overthrow, which makes him wild up in the strike zone and less deceptive. The life on his fastball is also inconsistent. His hard curveball and changeup have potential but need work. His upside could be higher than that of 2000 first-rounder Robert Stiehl. But Pluta also could continue to struggle if he can't make the transition from thrower to pitcher.
Undrafted following his 1999 junior year at Nevada, Qualls added 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason. His stuff got stronger, too, as he started throwing 91-94 mph with a plus slider, and Houston took him in the second round. His fastball has nasty sinking action, and righthanders have little chance against him when he throws it from a low three-quarters arm angle. Like Anthony Pluta, he signed late and won't make his pro debut until 2001. Qualls is much more polished than Pluta and should be the first draftee from the Astros' 2000 class to reach the majors. His mechanics are a bit of a concern, however. He's a maximum-effort guy who has trouble maintaining his arm slot. That might mean his best long-term role will be as a reliever, though he'll remain a starter for now.
Barrett didn't win a game at Martinsville in his pro debut in 1999, then returned there last year and was the Appalachian League's second-best pitching prospect, trailing only Braves first-rounder Adam Wainwright. Barrett has a live arm, capable of reaching 95 mph and most often pitching at 88-93. His curveball has fine rotation and deception, and he has a good changeup for a teenager. He has a feel for pitching and is working on adding a slider as a fourth pitch. Barrett will need to improve his mechanics, as he throws mostly with his upper body and doesn't use his legs to generate leverage. Making changes also might help him throw more strikes. Barrett will get his first taste of full-season ball in 2001, when he'll be in Michigan's rotation.
The Astros like to save money by taking college seniors in the draft, though they've also found a number of prospects that way. Hill is one of six such players on this list, joining Keith Ginter (No. 10), Morgan Ensberg (No. 15), Chad Qualls (No. 19), Ryan Lane (No. 22) and Royce Huffman (No. 26). Hill capped his college career by ranking among the NCAA Division I leaders and topping the Mid-Continent Conference with 23 homers and 88 RBIs in 1999, then showed power and speed in his pro debut that summer. He continued to do the same in 2000, though he missed most of the year with a ribcage pull and a knee strain. He did come back to hit .374 in August and help Michigan win the Midwest League championship. He has a quick bat that enables him to catch up to quality fastballs, and the ball jumps off his bat. He has instincts to match his quickness on the bases, and he'd make a good right fielder if he could improve his throwing. He'll also need to work on his plate discipline. Because he's already 24, Hill figures to reach Double-A at some point in 2001 despite his inexperience as a pro.
Lane played with Morgan Ensberg on Southern California's 1998 championship team, hitting a grand slam and earning the victory in the College World Series finale against Arizona State. He tied a CWS record with four homers in the tournament, and his overall .517 average matched Mark Kotsay's career mark. Lane came up big in the postseason again in 2000, batting .370-2-10 in six games as Michigan won the Midwest League title. He has led his league in RBIs in each of his two pro seasons, though he also has been older than most of his competition each time. His biggest assets are his bat, which produces line-drive power to all fields, and his makeup. He sometimes looks for breaking balls too much, allowing pitchers to sneak a fastball by him, and he's just adequate as a baserunner and defender. As an outfielder, he has a decent arm but his range limits him to left field. Lane probably should have been promoted out of low Class A in 2000, though he never complained. He could skip a level and head straight to Double-A to begin this season.
The Dodgers have one of the worst farm systems in baseball, but didn't see fit to protect Franklin before the 1998 Winter Meetings, allowing the Astros to grab him in the Triple-A portion of the Rule 5 draft. Franklin posted a 1.59 ERA and reached Double-A in his first year in the Houston organization, and spent the final two months of 2000 in the majors. His repertoire--an 88-mph fastball, a slider and a changeup--is unremarkable, but he gets outs, especially against lefthanders. Between Triple-A and the majors last year, Franklin limited lefties to a .257 average, no homers and a 26-4 strikeout-walk ratio in 105 at-bats. His numbers weren't nearly as pretty against righties: .294 average, six homers and a 32-27 strikeout-walk ratio in 163 at-bats. Franklin might be nothing more than a lefty specialist, but he can be a good one. Closer Billy Wagner is the only other southpaw reliever on the club's 40-man roster or list of spring invitees, so Franklin should make the Astros to open 2001.
Kessel was the lone minor leaguer in the trade that sent Mike Hampton and Derek Bell to the Mets last offseason. Kessel hadn't progressed past Class A in five years in the New York system. Shoulder surgery in 1998 was partly to blame, and spending two years playing point guard for Texas A&M's basketball team also retarded his development. He still owns Aggies records for assists by a freshman and sophomore. Kessel showed enough in his first season with the Astros to make the 40-man roster this winter. His best pitch may be a curveball he added in 2000, though he throws his slider more often. His fastball is more notable for its movement than its velocity, and he uses his changeup effectively. Kessel will have to be more precise with his command to succeed at higher levels. He tends to fade quickly, as his fastball dips from 89-91 mph to 84-85 mph after about 60 pitches. He projects as a middle reliever/spot starter, and he needs at least another year in the minors before he'll be ready for Houston.
A punter/wide receiver/defensive back/punt returner at Texas Christian, Huffman was named one of college football's 10 best special-teamers by Sports Illustrated in 1999. His versatility also extends to the diamond, where he was the Florida State League's all-star utilityman in 2000, his first full year as a pro. Huffman won't hit for power, but he can do almost everything else offensively. He makes contact, hits the ball where it's pitched, enhances his on-base ability by drawing walks and is an effective basestealer, succeeding in 32 of 37 attempts last season. While he's a tremendous athlete, he doesn't have a home defensively. He can't play shortstop, and he's nothing special at second or third base because he needs to improve his hands, throwing and footwork. If he does that, he could be a useful big league utilityman in a couple of years, especially because there's no reason he can't play the outfield as well.
Doyne's makeup was questioned after he attended four high schools in four years, surfacing last spring at Land O'Lakes (Fla.) High, where he was the ace of an all-prospect rotation that also included lefthander Derek Thompson (second round, Indians) and righthander Kurt Shafer (eighth round, Pirates). Doyne was academically ineligible at Tampa's Catholic High as a junior, in part because of a learning disability. The Astros say his reputation is unfounded, and that he's a good kid with a solid makeup. No one doubts his fastball, which consistently reaches 94-95 mph and maxes out at 98 mph. At least one manager thought Doyne had the best raw arm in the Appalachian League. But at this point, velocity is all he has going for him. He pitches up in the strike zone and rarely throws strikes. His maximum-effort, over-the-top delivery causes scouts to cringe because he looks like an injury waiting to happen. His curveball should be at least average in time, but he's just learning to throw a changeup. Doyne has plenty of potential but needs plenty of polish.
German spent three seasons in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League before making his U.S. debut in 2000. He earned all-star recognition in the Appalachian League after hitting .320 with a league-high 24 doubles. He has a quick bat and plenty of raw power that should produces more homers in time. He’s too aggressive at the plate, trying to pull everything and not taking walks. His bat will have to carry him. He played some third base last year and has the arm and hands for the position, but he lacks range and doesn’t read balls well off the bat. Those also are handicaps at first base, where he’s merely adequate. German also has below-average speed. He likely will play at Michigan in 2001.
Missouri's career high school home run leader, Whitesides hit 11 longballs in 20 swings during a predraft workout at Kauffman Stadium for the Royals. Compact and muscular, he reminds the Astros of Lenny Dykstra. Whitesides didn't show much power or anything else in his pro debut, primarily because he has a classic aluminum-bat swing and will need time to adjust to wood. He also must learn the strike zone and the art of reading pitches. He has a lot of pure speed, but he's still in the process of realizing how to use it on the bases. Though Whitesides played center field last year, he doesn't get good reads on fly balls. He also doesn't have the arm for right field, so he may wind up in left. Houston may want to take it slow with Whitesides and keep him in short-season ball at Auburn this year.
Helquist had a lackluster first full year in pro ball. After hitting .365 in his first 23 Midwest League games, he batted just .191 the rest of the way and missed much of the last two months with nagging muscle pulls in his legs. He has no outstanding tool, but he's average across the board and has above-average instincts. Helquist has some bat speed and raw power. He has worked on shortening his swing so he can make better contact, and he needs better balance at the plate. Righthanders can trouble him with breaking balls, holding him to a .206 average in 2000. Drafted as a shortstop, he played mostly third base last year because Donaldo Mendez handled shortstop for Michigan. With Mendez lost at least temporarily in the major league Rule 5 draft to the Padres, Helquist may get a chance to play short this year. That's certainly an idea worth exploring, as is letting Helquist return to low Class A to work on his hitting.
Rosamond has four impressive tools, but lacks the most important one. That still didn't stop the Astros from making him their top pick in the 1999 draft, a supplemental pick received as compensation for losing Randy Johnson as a free agent. Three years earlier, they took him in the 71st round out of Madison (Miss.) Central High, where he was coached by his father Mike. Built like Dale Murphy, Rosamond has center-field range and a right-field arm. He has plenty of speed and power. He hasn't shown the aptitude to hit, however. He batted just .292 in college at Mississippi and has dropped to .224 since turning pro and switching to wood. Rosamond doesn't show much instinct at the plate, struggling to read pitches or make adjustments. He chases balls out of the strike zone and has whiffed 217 times in 194 pro games. Rosamond is tough on himself, which doesn't make hitting any easier. He skipped a level last year, so perhaps Houston will return him to the Florida State League in 2001. The Astros aren't giving up on him yet, but they sound like they might if he doesn't hit this year.