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The Astros scouted Singleton heavily for the 2009 draft, Bobby Heck's second as scouting director. Singleton had a subpar senior season at Millikan High in Long Beach and fell to the eighth round, where he signed with the Phillies for $200,000. Almost immediately, he outperformed his draft round. He tore up the low Class A South Atlantic League in the first half of 2010, and though he cooled off afterward, he still ranked as the circuit's No. 1 prospect at season's end. With Ryan Howard signed through 2016, Philadelphia moved Singleton to left field in instructional league after the 2010 season, then moved him to Houston last July. He accompanied righthanders Jarred Cosart and Josh Zeid and outfielder Domingo Santana in a deal Hunter Pence. One Phillies official said of all the prospects his team has traded the last three years--a group that also includes Carlos Carrasco, Travis d'Arnaud, Kyle Drabek, Anthony Gose and Jonathan Villar--Singleton has the highest upside. Scouts use words like "explosive" and "impact" when describing Singleton's bat. He has pure hitting skills with emerging home run power. He uses the whole field naturally while showing the bat speed to turn on good fastballs. He has the barrel awareness, hitting rhythm and timing teams want in a middle-of-the-order threat. He draws power from both his lower half and his strong hands and wrists. Singleton's well above-average pop presently plays more as average, as he's too patient at times and lets pitches go by that he should drive. He has advanced pitch recognition for his experience level, though, which should allow his power to grow as he gains experience. The biggest concern will be how fares against lefthanders. Scouts say he hangs in well against breaking balls for his age, but he batted .248 with no homers against southpaws in 153 at-bats in 2011. While he's not as athletic as his father Herb, who played quarterback for Oregon in the early 1970s, Singleton is "baseball athletic," as one Astros official put it, with good body control and coordination. He's better defensively at first base than in left field, where his well below-average speed was a hindrance. Houston still could give him some time in left to maintain some versatility but prefers him at first, where he has nimble feet. He has enough arm strength for first base and makes accurate throws. One scout expressed some trepidation that Singleton could get too big and immobile if he doesn't watch his body. Brett Wallace was the key piece in the deal that sent Roy Oswalt to the Phillies in 2010, but he won't be an impediment to Singleton, the Astros' first baseman and No. 3 hitter of the future. Singleton will start 2012 at Double-A Corpus Christi and could spend the next two seasons in the minors and/or move back to left field if Wallace fulfills his early promise. If Wallace continues to struggle to get to his power, Singleton could take over in Houston in 2013. The best first-base prospect in the minors, he has a chance to hit .300 with 25-30 homers annually.
Shortly after Cosart starred in the 2011 Futures Game--he missed the 2010 contest with elbow tenderness--the Astros acquired him from the Phillies in the Hunter Pence deal. Promoted to Corpus Christi after the trade, he allowed one run or less in five of his seven Double-A starts. Some scouts describe Cosart's delivery as maximum effort, while Houston prefers to call it energetic. All sides agree his quick arm and athleticism produce electric stuff. "You see this little guy out there and then--wham!--the ball explodes out of his hand," said one scout. Cosart's fastball sits around 95 mph and touches 98, and his curveball has excellent shape and upper-70s power when it's on. He also flashes a plus changeup that he throws with good arm speed. Cosart needs to add some strength and control his delivery in order to throw more strikes, which helps explain why someone with dominant stuff averaged a modest 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 2011. Some scouts question his durability because of his wiry build and high-effort delivery. Cosart has the stuff to be a No. 1 starter, though he may lack the command, consistency and durability to be a true ace
Drafted out of high school by the Twins in the 48th round, Springer instead went to Connecticut, honing his raw tools and helping the Huskies reach back-to-back NCAA regionals. He also starred for the U.S. college national team in 2010 before becoming the 11th overall pick last June, the highest-drafted Husky ever. His $2.525 million bonus is the largest in Astros draft history. Springer has a power-speed combination in the Mike Cameron mold and could be a five-tool player if his bat becomes more consistent. His quick hands and strong wrists generate explosive bat speed and above-average power potential. His approach at the plate vacillates between too passive and too aggressive, but he sliced his strikeout rate from 29 percent as a sophomore to 16 percent as a junior. He needs to keep improving his pitch recognition and feel for the strike zone, but he isn't afraid to draw a walk. With his plus speed and arm strength, Springer can play center or right field. His speed also plays on the bases, as he stole 64 bases in 73 tries in his final two college seasons. The most well-rounded position player in the system, Springer could move quickly. He'll start 2012 at low Class A Lexington, with his bat dictating his timetable.
Villar signed for a $105,000 in 2008 with the Phillies, who sent him to the Astros in the Roy Oswalt trade two year later. Teaming with steadier but less toolsy Jose Altuve at high Class A Lancaster and Corpus Christi, Villar had an uneven 2011 season, striking out a system-high 156 times and committing 36 errors. Villar's tools are loud, as he earns 60 and 70 grades on the 20-80 scouting scale for his speed, arm and defensive ability at shortstop. He's flashy, sometimes to a fault, on defense. Some scouts thought he coasted during the regular season, leading to careless errors and empty at-bats, but Villar competed much better in instructional league. He's a switch-hitter with solid gap power, particularly from the right side, but he won't fully tap into it until he stops chasing pitches out of the strike zone. He's more of a slasher while hitting lefthanded. An aggressive basestealer, he led Houston farmhands with 34 thefts in 46 tries in 2011. Villar may be the toolsiest shortstop in the minors other than the Rangers' Jurickson Profar, who's much more polished. The Astros hope to let Villar catch his breath at bit with a return to Double-A, but he could play his way into the major league mix in 2012.
Clemens broke Javier Lopez's single-game strikeout record at Robinson High (Fairfax, Va.), then took his raw power arm to Louisburg (N.C.) JC before signing with Atlanta as a seventh-rounder in 2008. Astros field coordinator Paul Runge got to know him at the end of his three-decade tenure in the Braves organization and recommended him strongly when Houston made the Michael Bourn trade last July. The Astros also acquired Jordan Schafer and pitchers Brett Oberholtzer and Juan Abreu in the deal. Clemens' fastball sits at 93-96 mph. He has cleaned up his delivery and shortened his arm action over the last few years, helping him find the strike zone more often, but he's still effectively wild. He has improved his direction to the plate, wasting less energy in his high-effort motion. Clemens' secondary pitches have progressed, and his mid-70s downer curve is a plus pitch at times. He also throws a hard cutter/slider hybrid as well as a solid changeup than enables him to handle lefthanders better than righthanders. Houston added Clemens to its 40-man roster in November and intends to keep him as a starter to hone his control and repertoire. He'll begin 2012 back at Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he made his final start of 2011. At worst, his strong arm should make him an effective big league reliever.
Santana was just 16 when he made his U.S. debut in 2009. He started 2011 as an 18-year old in low Class A with the Phillies, who signed him out of the Dominican for $330,000, and he stayed in the South Atlantic League after getting included in the Hunter Pence trade. Santana had 10 multihit games in his 17 starts for Lexington. Scouts acknowledge Santana's raw hitting approach and most think he'll always have his share of strikeouts. If he makes consistent contact, though, he could become a prototypical right fielder in the Jermaine Dye mold. Santana's combination of tremendous leverage and excellent bat speed creates monstrous raw power. He needs at-bats to see more pitches, learn to identify them and manage the strike zone better. He's an average runner, though not a basestealer, and has a plus arm. He has the tools to be an above-average defender in right field. The Astros envision an outfield of the future with J.D. Martinez in left, George Springer in center and Santana in right by the time they become competitive. If Santana cuts down on his strikeouts, he could move rapidly. He has a chance to put up sick numbers in Lancaster in 2012.
Oberholtzer grew up in suburban Philadelphia and was a fan of Michael Bourn when Bourn was a Phillies minor leaguer. He introduced himself to Bourn when their paths crossed in spring training when the Braves and Astros played, then he was traded--along with his Double-A road roommate Paul Clemens--for Bourn last July. Oberholtzer combines a four-pitch mix with pitching savvy to try to let hitters get themselves out. He has a No. 4 starter profile with no plus pitch but a durable, innings-eating frame, and he knows his strengths and weaknesses. Oberholtzer pitches inside with his 88-92 mph fastball, and his slider can be an asset when he locates it. He can back-foot it against righthanders and it helps him neutralize lefties. His average curveball has good shape, and his average changeup features solid arm speed. Without a true out pitch, Oberholtzer needs to hone his average control and improve his command of all his pitches. He has some funkiness in his delivery that gives him some deception. He has some similarities to J.A. Happ, another Houston trade acquisition, and to avoid Happ's 2011 struggles Oberholtzer will have to locate his pitches better. He and Clemens are headed to Triple-A in 2012 and will jockey for callup when the Astros need another starter.
The son of the big leaguer who once was traded for Pedro Martinez and now manages in the Reds system, DeShields doesn't look like his lithe father. He's built more like Mike Tyson and was a star prep football player before being drafted eighth overall in 2010. Signed for $2.125 million, he struggled in 2011 as the sixth-youngest player in the South Atlantic League. DeShields' youth and inexperience showed in his first full pro season. He didn't make consistent contact but still showed bat speed and strength. He must improve his ability to identify pitches and work counts. He could develop average power, though he mostly drives balls to the gaps for now. DeShields graded as an 80 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale as an amateur, and as a 70 runner as he adjusted to the pro grind, though he's still learning to maximize his speed on the bases. In his first extended time at second base, he improved his footwork and double-play pivot and became more consistent after making seven errors in his first 13 games. He has a fringy arm that will play in center field if he can't stick in the infield. The Astros are encouraged by DeShields' progress and still love his upside. He'll probably head back to low Class A to start the 2012 season.
The Astros signed the top high school pitcher out of Illinois in back-to-back drafts in Tanner Bushue (second round, 2009) and Foltynewicz (19th overall, 2010). Recipient of a $1.305 million bonus, he lost his first nine decisions as a pro, including six of his first seven starts in 2011. A classic raw Midwestern prep pitcher, Foltynewicz is the best homegrown arm in the system. He combines a good pitcher's frame and athleticism to throw four-seam fastballs that sit in the low 90s and top out at 96 mph. Houston has deemphasized an 89-93 mph two-seamer and a slider he used in high school, having him use mainly four-seamers and focus on a curveball. The Astros liked how he made the adjustments and had to stay on his catchers to have him throw more curves. Foltynewicz still is learning to throw the curve with power and confidence, but it has plus potential. He has solid feel for an average changeup. He needs to refine his control and command, because he doesn't throw enough strikes or miss enough bats. After adding pitching depth via trades, Houston won't have to rush Foltynewicz. He'll return to Lexington to open 2012 and should get tested by Lancaster's gusting winds and rock-hard infield later in the season. If everything comes together, he can be a No. 3 starter.
A prep teammate of Tim Beckham, the No. 1 overall pick in 2008, Nash was recruited by college football programs before committing to Kennesaw State for baseball. He homered five times in his first 15 games in 2011, his first stab at full-season ball, before a broken hamate bone in his left hand sidelined him for two months. Scouts look for players with a carrying tool, and Nash has one in his well above-average righthanded power. Even after hamate surgery, which usually saps a player's pop, he homered nine times in 210 at-bats. He has good bat speed and even better strength, and his bat will get quicker if he can eliminate a wrap in his swing. That flaw also leads to an excessive amount of strikeouts, though he's not afraid to take a walk. Nash has seen time at both first base and left field but projects as a subpar defender at both spots. He's a well below-average runner with fringy arm strength and iffy hands. With Jonathan Singleton joining the organization, Nash is blocked at first base and will have to work hard to become a passable left fielder. With the Astros moving to the American League, he could be their future DH. If healthy, he could put up huge home run numbers in Lancaster in 2012.
Houser was the fourth Oklahoma high school pitcher drafted in 2011, and he still went 69th overall. It was a banner year in the state, and House was able to lead his Locust Grove High team (coached by his father Mike) to a state 4-A championship as both a pitcher and center fielder. He comes from a baseball family, with a cousin (Bob Davis) who played in the majors and an uncle (James Knott) who pitched briefly in the Mets system. The Astros gave Houser a $530,100 bonus in the second round to dissuade him from attending the University of Oklahoma. He made strides after signing, tossing five shutout innings in his final outing in the Rookie-level Appalachian League and impressing scouts in instructional league. Houser has two pitches that grab scouts' attention, with a low-90s fastball notable both for its sinking life and his ability to run it up to 95 mph, and a hard curveball. He uses a high arm slot and works up and down in the zone with his fastball and curve. As with most young pitchers, he still has work to do with his changeup and fastball command. Houser likely will work on those areas of his game in extended spring training before going to short-season Tri-City in June.
Tropeano ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Atlantic Collegiate League after his freshman year, then helped lead Cotuit to the Cape Cod League championship in 2010 as the ace of the Kettleers' playoff staff. As a junior he led Stony Brook's emerging program to the America East regular-season title and a 42-12 record. Tropeano has honed a consistent formula, commanding his fastball and an excellent changeup that was one of the finest in the 2011 draft and is the best in the system. Tropeano's changeup is so good--he throws it with deceptive arm speed and achieves quality fade--that he pitched off it too much as an amateur, to the detriment of his fastball and slider. After signing for $155,700 as a fifth-round pick last June, he found more fastball velocity simply by throwing the pitch more often. He pitched at 91-94 mph at times last in the short-season New York-Penn League and sat at 88-92 during instructional league. His slider has modest break and remains his third pitch. Tropeano's fastball command and changeup should help him move quickly, and he could reach high Class A in his first full pro season. The development of his slider will determine whether he remains a starter or moves to the bullpen, where he might be a late-inning asset with his dominant changeup.
At North Carolina State, Buchanan was a stock 6-foot righthander with an average three-pitch mix. After signing for $120,000 as an eighth-round pick in 2010, his career changed in March, when he decided to start throwing a slider, which soon morphed into a cutter. He also focused on throwing more twoseam fastballs in preparation for an assignment to high Class A. Buchanan didn't thrive at home, posting a 6.86 ERA at the wind tunnel that is Lancaster's Clear Channel Stadium, but he was outstanding on the road with a 2.17 ERA. He did it by pounding the strike zone aggressively with an 87-91 mph fastball that touches 92, featuring the sink to produce a sterling 3.2 groundout/airout ratio with the JetHawks. Buchanan leans heavily on his cutter, using it and his fastball to pitch inside effectively. He also throws a changeup with some fade, and he uses his curveball as an early-count change of pace as well. He's efficient with all his pitches and sequences smartly, helping him shackle lefthanded hitters (.541 OPS in the Cal League). Buchanan doesn't make mistakes in the middle of the plate, allowing him to post the lowest ERA (3.91) ever for a full-time starter in the 16-season history of the Lancaster franchise. Buchanan finished the year with a strong Double-A start and will return to Corpus Christi to see if he can continue to avoid the middle of the plate. He profiles as a workhorse No. 4 or 5 starter.
The Astros' most successful homegrown Latin American player in 2011 was 5-foot-7 Venezuelan second baseman Jose Altuve, who in many ways is the opposite of the organization's new poster boy for its Latin program, Ovando. Built like a shooting guard or wide receiver, Ovando is 6-foot-4 and still growing. He signed for a franchise-record $2.6 million in 2010 and had high expectations placed upon him from the start. Even in a half-season league, he had trouble staying healthy as nagging ankle, wrist and hamstring injuries cost him at-bats. It was a good lesson on how he'll need to get stronger to survive the minor league grind. Ovando did improve simply by playing in an organized setting for the first time, and the Astros hope to see a jump in performance in 2012, now that he has gone through two instructional leagues and a summer of games. Ovando's carrying tool, his outstanding raw power, was evident in batting practice more than in games. He has excellent leverage in his loose swing and impressed Appalachian League managers with his athleticism. All aspects of his game are raw, from his approach at the plate to his baserunning to his defense. He flashes plus arm strength, though it grades as below-average at times, and has fringy speed. Ovando could repeat Rookie ball or advance to the New York-Penn League after starting this season in extended spring training.
Alaniz has better stuff than the typical nondrafted free agent. His high school senior season was canceled in 2009 because of a swine flu outbreak in the Rio Grande Valley. He spent the summer pitching in tryouts and in a league based at Atlanta's East Cobb complex before the Astros signed him for $150,000. Alaniz is far from a finished product but has a chance to develop two plus pitches. His fastball is one of the system's best, sitting at 92-95 mph at times and featuring short, late sink. He uses his heater confidently, with one club official saying, "He likes to grip it and rip it." His belief and control with his fastball helps him keep an aggressive tempo when he's throwing strikes. Alaniz found an effective grip with his changeup as the 2011 season progressed and started to trust it more in the second half. The more he used it, the more he threw it with the same release point and sinking action as his fastball. His changeup is a plus pitch on occasion. Houston considered his curveball the best in the system a year ago; it's a solid pitch at times but lacks consistency. Too often, his curve gets early, loopy action rather than late, sharp break, and he needs to a better job of staying on top of it. Alaniz throws strikes and has gained about 20 pounds since signing, so he's on the path to developing the control and durability to be a workhorse starter. He's also an intriguing possibility as a power reliever. He'll remain in the rotation this year in high Class A.
Signed for an over-slot $700,000 as a supplemental third-rounder in 2008, Seaton embodies some of the best and worst elements of the Astros system. In a thin organization, he's taking a long time to develop and hasn't performed well. He's also very young and has been pushed out of necessity, pitching the entire 2011 season in Double-A at age 21 after posting a 6.64 ERA at Lancaster the year before. He was overmatched for much of last year but compiled a 3.43 ERA in the final month after improving his mechanics and getting better extension. Club officials credit Corpus Christi pitching coach Don Alexander with getting Seaton out front more, allowing him to better locate his fastball inside against righthanders. He also quickened his delivery's tempo and shortened his arm action. Seaton pitches with a quality fastball at 91-94 mph. His slider improved along with his mechanics, giving him a second plus pitch at times. His fringy changeup will have to get better for him to combat lefties, who put up an .824 OPS against him last year. Seaton could take a step forward in 2012, when he repeats a level for the first time with what should be an older, more competitive Corpus Christi club.
Since Bobby Heck started running the team's draft in 2008, Shuck is one of four Astros picks to reach the majors, joining Jason Castro, Jordan Lyles and J.D. Martinez. Shuck has the lowest ceiling of the group and he's close to reaching it. His ability to be a regular hinges on whether he'll be able to play center field capably. Shuck hits singles, draws walks and leaves scouts wanting more. He has a slashing, contact-oriented approach that enabled him to hit .302 in the minors while striking out just once every 10.2 plate appearances. He also draws a fair share of walks, making him a top-of-the-order option. However, Shuck doesn't do much else. He's a plus-plus runner down the line, but his speed doesn't play that well on the bases or in the field because he lacks instincts and aggressiveness. Though he pitched at Ohio State, he lacks the arm strength to play right field and hasn't distinguished himself in center. Shuck will compete for Houston's center-field job in 2012 and could settle in as a fourth outfielder if he doesn't win it.
The Astros have drafted several college hitters with single-digit draft picks in recent years and still are waiting for one of them to break out. Their top two such selections from 2010, Austin Wates and Mike Kvasnicka, had modest full-season debuts last year. Wates split time between first base and the outfield at Virginia Tech, and Houston likes both his bat and his speed. He played all three outfield positions in 2011, hitting .300 while leading Lancaster in doubles (23) and RBIs (75) while ranking second in steals (26). Considering the offensive nature of the high Class A California League and Lancaster's Clear Channel Stadium, his .413 slugging percentage was a downer. Wates' swing and approach are the issue. He has natural feel for hitting and for making consistent contact, but he inside-outs the ball and is content to shoot singles to center and right field. He has yet to learn to turn on balls consistently and show any pull power, and his swing lacks loft. Wates shows some raw power in batting practice. His plus speed enables him to steal bases and make up for his inexperience in the outfield. He has a decent arm, certainly enough for left or center field. If Wates can stick in center, it will put less pressure on his bat and enhance his profile significantly. He'll work in all three outfield spots again this year in Double-A.
The Royals originally signed Abreu and watched him develop one of the best fastballs in their system before a contract snafu let him hit the open market in 2009. The Braves turned him from a minor league free agent find into part of the four-player package they sent to the Astros for Michael Bourn last July. Abreu didn't spend much time in the minors with Houston before making his major league debut, and he got 12 of his 20 big league outs via strikeouts. His violent delivery never will be used in instructional videos, as he has a significant head whack. His arm is quick enough to catch up to the rest of his body, though, and he pumps 93-98 mph fastballs close enough to the strike zone. He also throws a slurvy breaking ball at 78-81 mph. He doesn't have much control, however, and he averaged 5.4 walks per nine innings in the minors. He's hard to hit, so he doesn't always pay for those free passes. The more strikes Abreu throws, the more high-leverage innings he'll earn in Houston. He has a good shot at earning a spot in the big league bullpen in 2012.
After the Red Sox selected Gonzalez from the Cubs in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft in December, they traded him to the Astros for Triple-A Rule 5 pick Marco Duarte, a righthander out of the Rockies system. Gonzalez has a chance to stick in Houston, where the middle infield took a hit with the free-agent departure of shortstop Clint Barmes. Gonzalez signed as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela and made a methodical climb up Chicago's system, posting a career-best .742 OPS and reaching Triple-A for the first time in 2011. He chokes up on the bat and has solid bat control, making consistent contact from both sides of the plate. His lack of power and only modest basestealing ability limits his offensive upside. He's an average runner who's above-average under way and has solid defensive tools. Gonzalez played a career-high 99 games at shortstop in 2011 and spent the winter playing second base in Venezuela. His range and arm are likely a bit shy for him to be an ideal everyday shortstop. Gonzalez's defensive versatility enhances his chances to remain in Houston, which has to expose him to waivers and offer him back to the Cubs before it can send him to the minors.
Keuchel won 19 games in three seasons at Arkansas, leading the Razorbacks to the 2009 College World Series, and he's continued to win in pro ball, even in an Astros system all too accustomed to losing. He was the only Houston farmhand to reach 10 victories in 2011. He's a rare lefthanded sinkerballer who pitches inside even though his fastball sits at only 84-87 mph. He has touched 90-91 in the past but generally relies on movement and location. Keuchel mixes up his tempo, at times adding a hitch to his delivery, and also employs a slow curveball to keep hitters off balance. His best pitch is a sinking changeup that has better action than his fastball and grades as solid or better. Righthanders batted .255 against him last year, while lefties hit .305. His overall package compares best to finesse southpaws such as Zane Smith or Doug Davis. Keuchel is extremely durable, working 174 innings in 2010 and 189 last year (including his time in the Arizona Fall League). A potential back-of-the-rotation starter or middle reliever, he'll have to keep proving himself one level at a time. He'll start 2012 back in Triple-A, where he was rocked in four of his seven late-season starts.
DeLeon signed as a shortstop but never hit, batting .213/.283/.323 in four pro seasons. His arm strength and athleticism made more an easy transition to the mound, and he earned a spot on the 40- man roster after working just 28 innings in his pitching debut in 2010. His performance and stuff varied in 2011, when he served as the closer on a bad Lexington team. When he's on, DeLeon's fastball sits at 93-97 mph and peaks at 98. In other outings, he operates in the low 90s. His slider is even more inconsistent, but at times it's a short downer that grades as an average pitch. More often it's a spinner, and he generally lacks feel for spinning the ball. He has started using a changeup that's too firm but gives hitters something else to think about. DeLeon has a quick arm and high-energy delivery that add some deception. He'll need to prove he can get outs at higher levels when working back-to-back nights, but his 40-man roster spot and big fastball make a call to Houston possible by September. He'll likely start 2012 in high Class A but could open in Double-A if he has a good spring.
The first high school shortstop drafted in 2009, Mier has progressed slowly since going 21st overall and signing for $1,358,000. He entered pro ball with a reputation as a smooth defender at shortstop and raised expectations by slugging .484 while ranking as the No. 1 prospect in the Appalachian League. He hit seven homers in 192 at-bats in his debut but has added just nine more in 915 at-bats since. A good athlete with fringy speed, Mier has above-average defensive tools with soft hands and an accurate, average throwing arm. He improved at making the routine play in 2011, cutting his errors to 22 after making 34 the previous season. He made better decisions and avoided high-risk plays. Mier encouraged the Astros by hitting .280/.392/.453 in the first seven weeks last season, but then he went into a 3-for-31 slump and continued to struggle even after a promotion to extremely hitter-friendly Lancaster. His swing gets long and mechanical, and good fastballs get by him. His best asset at the plate is his patience, as he has drawn 129 walks the last two seasons. He isn't as explosive or athletic as minor league teammates Jonathan Villar or Delino DeShields Jr., and Mier's lack of offensive upside likely limits him to a future utility role. Mier will head back to high Class A to try to shorten up his swing.
Like Mike Foltynewicz, Bushue is an Illinois high school product with a lanky pitcher's frame. The similarities end there, however, because Bushue doesn't have Foltynewicz's power repertoire. Bushue's strong suit is his fastball command, which helped him win five of his first six starts last year at Lexington. He pitched off an 88-92 mph fastball that he located to all four quadrants of the strike zone. However, he started wearing down by June, spending six weeks on the disabled list with back spasms, and posted a 7.43 ERA after his return before being shut down in late August. Bushue's curveball is his next-best pitch, and when it's on it's a 12-to-6 breaker with good shape. It can get loopy at times, too. He also throws a slider and changeup, and neither pitch stands out as an effective third offering. Bushue has to add some strength to his frame in order to stay healthy over a full season and to maintain his delivery during games. He could be headed back to Lexington for a third season if he doesn't wow the Astros in spring training, but he has a shot to earn a spot in Lancaster. If he gets stronger and refines his secondary pitches, he could develop into a No. 3 or 4 starter.
Kvasnicka's dad Jay was an eighth-round pick in 1988 and reached Triple-A in the Twins system. Mike shot up draft boards in 2010 thanks to his profile as a switch-hitting catcher, even though he only caught part-time in college at Minnesota. The Astros liked his bat more than his potential behind the plate. They considered him one of the best college position players in the 2010 draft and paid him $936,000 as the 33rd overall pick. Kvasnicka hasn't caught as a pro, instead moving to third base, where his size, strong arm and solid athleticism should allow him to be an average defender. However, he made 31 errors in his first full season, and his bat will to have to play better than it did in 2011 for him to become a regular. Houston officials point out that Kvasnicka was playing a new position and is still fairly new to switch-hitting, which he began in 2009. His lefthanded swing is flatter and geared more for line drives, as evidenced by his one home run in 339 at-bats from that side last year. His righty stroke has more natural lift and pop. He's a below-average runner, though he could handle an outfield corner if needed. Scouts outside the organization report they didn't see any plus tools out of Kvasnicka, who wore down in the second half and needs to improve his offseason conditioning to gear up for the 2012 season. If his bat doesn't come around, Houston could move him back behind the plate. For now, he's headed to high Class A to play third base in 2012.
Cisnero led the Cal League in strikeouts per nine innings (11.9) while ranking second in opponent average (.246) and sixth in strikeouts (152). However, his 6.06 ERA was the sixth-worst in the league. (Four of the bottom six ERAs belonged to JetHawks pitchers.) Cisnero throws an 87-91 mph two-seamer with fair sink and a 92-94 mph four-seamer that scrapes 97. The more he used his four-seamer last year, the better his velocity got. He lacks command of both fastballs and nibbles too often, leading to deep counts and too many walks. Cisnero has enough velocity and life to challenge hitters more and develop passable control, but he's unlikely ever to have average command with his long arm action. He throws a slider that gets sloppy and hammered at times, and a changeup that doesn't have enough separation from his fastball. Cisnero has a good pitcher's frame and could use a bit more urgency. One scout likened him to Jamie Navarro for his frame, stuff and demeanor. Cisnero could wind up as a No. 4 starter or seventh-inning reliever. He'll escape Lancaster and advance to Double-A in 2012.
Velasquez had a strong pro debut after signing for $655,830 as a second-round pick in 2010, but he hasn't pitched in a game since. He needed Tommy John surgery after the season after tearing a ligament in his elbow and missed all of 2011. He also didn't pitch as a high school junior in 2009 because of a stress fracture and strained ligament in his elbow. Velasquez returned in instructional league last fall and looked strong. He still had some rust but showed his full menu of pitches, with the only setback a bout with biceps tendinitis that prompted the Astros to skip his final start. He worked in the low 90s and touched 95 mph with his fastball in instructs, a touch better velocity than he showed prior to surgery. His fastball command was spotty, as is often the case for pitchers coming back from ligament reconstruction. Velasquez's changeup and curveball were sharp and crisp at times, though inconsistent because of his layoff. Houston wants to be careful with him, so he'll probably begin 2012 in extended spring training and stay on a carefully monitored workload. He showed the potential to be a No. 3 starter before he got hurt.
Originally signed by the Tigers in 2003, Cruz was released three years later before signing with the Mets and resuscitating his career. He reached Double-A in 2011 before pitching with Cibao in the Dominican League, where Rick Aponte is the pitching coach. Aponte holds the same job at Rookie-level Greeneville in the Astros system and provided positive reports on Cruz to Houston's front office, and the club's scouts seconded his enthusiasm. The Astros made Cruz the No. 1 overall pick in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft in December. Some scouts saw Cruz hit 100 mph during the winter, and the Astros have reports of a consistent high-90s fastball. His sweepy slider sits in the low 80s and improved with Aponte's coaching this winter. Cruz, who pitched for Spain in the 2009 World Cup, has pitched just 59 innings above Class A and has averaged 5.5 walks per nine innings in his career. The Astros have to keep him on their major league roster throughout 2012, or else put him on waivers and offer him back to New York. He factors into the 2012 Houston bullpen.
Armstrong's father started the All-Star Game for the National League in 1990, his lone winning season in an enigmatic big league career. Armstrong's college career at Vanderbilt was similarly puzzling, and the Astros hope he has more staying power as a pro after signing him for an over-slot $750,000 in the third round of the 2011 draft. He's physically gifted with athleticism and a monster frame. While he was dominant at times in the Cape Cod League in 2009, he was a starter for only one of his three seasons with the Commodores and pitched just 17 innings last spring while battling back problems. Armstrong's fastball can sit in the low 90s and has touched 97 mph in short stints. His hard curveball and his changeup have their moments, too, but he didn't use them as much in 2011 as he had in the past. Armstrong signed too late to pitch and wasn't healthy enough to pitch in games during instructional league games, instead working out in the bullpen. He has much more upside than the back-of-the-rotation college pitchers the Astros have drafted in recent years, such as Jake Buchanan and Dallas Keuchel, but he's far behind them in polish and health. Houston will handle him carefully in his pro debut, worrying more about keeping him on the mound than his level of competition.
Wallace attended Cy-Fair High in suburban Houston, playing with Pirates farmhand Robbie Grossman and Nats minor leaguer Caleb Ramsey. He also played with Ramsey in college at Houston, where he hit 19 homers in his final two seasons as the regular catcher. Wallace's 2009 junior season almost ended before it began when he was hit in the face with a pitch in February, and he still wears a protective mask at the plate to protect his reconstructed face. He needed five metal plates and 42 screws to help repair the broken bones. The Astros drafted him as an organizational soldier in 2010, signing him for $5,000 in the 16th round. Wallace ranked third in the system last year with 20 homers and 78 RBIs. He has good strength, the leadership skills for catcher and an outstanding work ethic. He works out at the Astros' local facility all offseason, and his efforts helped reshape his body and prepare him for the pro grind in 2011. His best tool is his solid power, which could become plus if he improves his pitch recognition and patience. He probably strikes out too much to hit for a high average in the big leagues. Behind the plate, he's a solid receiver with the ability to handle a pitching staff. He has a fringy arm and threw out 21 percent of basestealers last year, including just three of 30 in Double-A. He spent one-third of his time as a DH and fits a backup catcher-profile. He'll head back to Corpus Christi in 2012.
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