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Astros Chat with Jim Callis
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Moderator: Jim Callis will begin taking your Astros questions at 3 p.m. ET.

 Q:  Tim Purpura from Houston asks:
Should I give Willy Taveras a shot at starting this year (considering his potential to win several Gold Gloves)? Will Zeke Astacio be a front of the rotation starter down the line, and how does his ceiling compare with previous guys such as Oswalt during this stage in their career?

Jim Callis: Defensively, Taveras would be Houston's best center field option for 2005, but he's not ready to contribute offensively. Astacio's stuff went from pedestrian to good in the course of one year, and if that's for real he could possibly be a No. 2 starter. Realistically, he's a No. 3. He's also 25, and at that age Oswalt had three major league seasons under his belt. I wouldn't compare Astacio to Oswalt.

 Q:  John Jackson from Dallas asks:
Matt Albers has some problems with the Astros organization during the 2004 season. Where does he stand with the Astros now? Is this going to be an ongoing type problem?

Jim Callis: Albers had problems with alcohol in 2004, got suspended and spent a month in rehab. He has one of the best arms in the system, and the Astros hope, for his sake and theirs, that he has his problems under control.

 Q:  Fabian from School Library asks:
Ian Kinsler (under the premise he may move to 2B), Robinson Cano, Chris Burke, which is the best prospect and why? Is the difference between each of the three, if there is one, a great difference?

Jim Callis: I'd take Burke over the Rangers' Kinsler and the Yankees' Cano. Not a huge difference, and I'm not sure Burke the type of No. 1 prospect whose going to be an all-star, but I believe in his bat and glove a little more than I do with Cano and Kinsler.

 Q:  michael from austin asks:
other than zeke astacio and willy taveras, who weren't previously in the astros system, which pitcher and hitter do you think helped themselves the most in 2004? and who backslid the most or didn't live up to projections?

Jim Callis: Limiting it to guys who have been in the system the last two years, I would say outfielder Josh Anderson and righthander Juan Gutierrez boosted their stock the most in 2004. Righty Jason Hirsh and outfielder Charlton Jimerson backslid the most.

 Q:  Kevin from Houston asks:
No Qualls on the list? I know he's still eligible. Zobrist not making it surpised me as well. I assume each of them will be in the top 15 though....right?

Jim Callis: I won't reveal all our rankings beyond the Top 10 -- buy the Prospect Handbook! -- but Qualls is 11 and Zobrist is 16. Qualls could have made the Top 10 and is a safer bet than some of the guys there, though his ceiling probably is as a setup guy. Zobrist had a great pro debut, but his tools are average (that's not a bad thing, of course) and he was 23 in short-season ball.

 Q:  Michael Stern from Rochester NY asks:
Jim - great job on the chats - keep it up! Regarding Josh Anderson - is his KBB ratio a concern to the Astros? I noticed in 2003 his 53 K and 16 BB in only 74 games is more in line with his Carolina lague numbers this season - what do you see as his potential down the line?

Jim Callis: Thanks, Michael. Anderson's overall tendency to play a little reckless, both at the plate and in the field, is a concern to the Astros. He's exciting but needs to control the strike zone better than he did after his promotion.

 Q:  John Jackson from Dallas asks:
The Astros have a remarkable dearth of third base prospects. Do you know if they have plans to address this during the 2005 draft? Are they any legit third base prospects the Astros might be able to get in the first 2 or 3 rounds of the draft?

Jim Callis: Teams don't usually address a specific position in the draft, and a lot of pro third baseman were amateur shortstops, so even if the Astros did it might not be immediately obvious. They do lack third-base talent, and I couldn't come up with a single prospect to put at third base on our organization depth chart. It looks like Houston will own the 24th, 38th and 72nd picks in 2005. Among the guys they could take a shot at are California high schooler Sean O'Sullivan and Miami's Ryan Braun.

 Q:  Tom from Houston asks:
How high do you think C. Jimerson's ceiling is? Thanks

Jim Callis: Charlton Jimerson is a wonderful athlete and an inspiring story, and he may have the highest ceiling of any hitter in the system. But he just hasn't shown any signs that he's going to be able to make consistent contact or hit enough to do anything in the majors.

 Q:  John Jackson from Dallas asks:
Ronnie Martinez had a remarkable 2004 season at Tri-City. I know that Andres Reiner was high on him in Venezuela. Where do you see Martinez fitting into the Astros system long-term? And, where would you rank him?

Jim Callis: Martinez was MVP in the short-season New York-Penn League, but he wasn't young for the league at 21. He also has a below-average fastball and just one pitch (curveball) that figures to work at the upper levels. He needs to add some velocity and round out his repertoire before he's someone the Astros can count on.

 Q:  Doug from La Porte asks:
Astros SS of the future....Everett, Zobrist, or Whiteman?

Jim Callis: Adam Everett, though Tommy Whiteman can push him if he continues to hit like he did last year.

 Q:  Kevin from Chicago asks:
Who has more upside, Einertson or Dopirak?

Jim Callis: I'd take Cubs first baseman Brian Dopirak over Mitch Einertson. Dopirak has had success two levels higher than Einerston, and to be honest, who was touting Einertson even coming into the draft? His big summer came out of nowhere, and I'd like to see him do it again before I fully believe.

 Q:  Stu from Houston asks:
What's your take on Burke -- stud, starter, utrility guy or flop?

Jim Callis: Starter.

 Q:  Steve from Springfield, Illinois asks:
The Astros continue to be excited about switch-hitting catching prospect, Hector Gimenez. Who will have a better major league career, Gimenez or John Buck (acquired by KC in the Carlos Beltran deal)?

Jim Callis: I'll go with Buck. I'm not sure Buck will hit for average, but I think he can hit 15 or so homers per year. Gimenez is a little better defensively, but the jury is still out on his bat.

 Q:  Ron from New York asks:
Jim, what can we expect from Chris Burke and Jason Lane this year? One concern I have is that if Lane was such an outstanding hitter with "ridiculous" power, he probably should have cracked the majors right now. Is he a 35 HR guy?

Jim Callis: Burke: .270.350.425 with 10 HR, 20 SB. Lane: .280.360.490 with 25 HR. I agree with you on Lane, he has deserved a starting job for nearly two years. He has a 35-homer ceiling, don't know that I'd bet the house on him reaching it.

 Q:  Scott from Dallas, TX asks:
Where do you rank upper-level Astros fielding prospects Todd Self and Brooks Conrad, as both have been All-Stars and put up nice numbers at each rung of the system?

Jim Callis: Self gets on base, but as a first baseman without any home run power, he's looking at a best-case scenario of coming off a big league bench. Conrad is a scrappy overachiever who probably won't get much of a shot in Houston with Burke ahead of him at second base.

 Q:  Roscoe from Round Rock, Texas asks:
How favorably does LHP Troy Patton compare with LHP Scott Kazmir at similar stages in their careers?

Jim Callis: Two entirely different animals. Kazmir had power stuff, with a great fastball and a great slider. Patton has a good fastball and a good curveball, and he has more feel than Kazmir, but he's not in the same class. Had signability not been a concern for either player, Kazmir would have gone in the top 5-10 picks in 2002, while Patton would have been a second-rounder last year.

 Q:  Michael Stern from Rochester NY asks:
Reading between the lines it almost seems as though you think Josh Anderson has a higher ceiling than Tavares. Is it because Tavares has done it at a higher level that he's ranked higher? Who do you see as the future CF in Houston - Tavares or Anderson?

Jim Callis: I'm not sure how I conveyed that impression. Taveras has a chance to become Juan Pierre, maybe even a better version, and while I like power as much as the next guy, that would make Taveras a pretty good player. Anderson tore up low Class A but came back to earth some in high Class A. He has more pop than Taveras, but Taveras is a better hitter for average, gets on base better, is faster, is a better center fielder and has a better arm. Taveras is the likely center fielder of the future.

 Q:  Lee from Houston asks:
Can I have a scouting report on Gutierrez? I know nothing about him outside of numbers.

Jim Callis: Sure. I'm hopped up on Sudafed and exhausted from working on the Prospect Handbook, so I'll just give you the scouting report from the Handbook (I'm not doing this for any other prospects, though!): Because Gutierrez has repeated both the Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer and Appalachian leagues, he had to be protected on the 40-man roster this offseason, before he even threw a pitch in full-season ball. While he remains raw, the Astros weren't going to risk losing him in the major league Rule 5 draft. He tied for the Appy lead in victories with Greeneville teammate Levi Romero, and Gutierrez capped his season by pitching seven innings of one-run ball in the championship clincher. He already has two plus pitches in his 90-96 mph fastball and a big breaking curveball. Houston also praises his makeup, pointing to his leadership as a key factor in Greeneville's championship. Guttierez' changeup should become at least average, but he needs to use it more. He had difficulty maintaining his mechanics early in the summer, so for a while he won with just his fastball. If he learns how to repeat his delivery, he'll also be able to improve his control, which wavers at times. He has a sturdy frame but needs to make sure it doesn't go soft on him. Gutierrez was old for the Appy League at 21, and now that the clock on his three options has started ticking, the Astros will accelerate his development. It's possible he could skip a level and open 2005 in high Class A.

 Q:  Josh Hiller from Litton's Property Law Class, San Antonio asks:
What's happened to the vaunted Venezuela pipeline? It seems that the top talent out of Venezuela is getting signed to big-money contracts instead of developing slowly through the academies.

Jim Callis: Shouldn't you be paying attention in class? The Astros aren't handing out huge bonuses in Venezuela, but they're still finding talent. Our Top 30 list includes four Venezuelans: RHPs Fernando Nieve and Juan Gutierrez, C Hector Gimenez and SS Wladimir Sutil. Also keep an eye on LHP Enyelbert Soto. Keep in mind, too, that other teams now realize how much talent is in Venezuelan, and the Astros no longer are the only club that operates an academy down there. There's a lot more competition now.

 Q:  Brian from Cypress, TX asks:
How does the HOU organization rate vs. other MLB clubs (ranked 29th last year)? It seems like the Wagner & Robertson trade along with the 2004 draft have boosted the organization a bit.

Jim Callis: Between trades and the draft, the Astros have brought a lot of new blood into the system in the last year. But before you get too excited, remember that it's easy to overrate players who haven't had much of a chance to fail. Houston's system is improved, but it still ranks in the bottom third in baseball.

 Q:  Brian from Cypress, TX asks:
What have you heard about the effort to teach Einertson how to play 2B in the Inst. league.

Jim Callis: It didn't go well, so Einertson will continue to play the outfield.

 Q:  Bill from New Brunswick, NJ asks:
Do you believe the Astros will eventually be better-off as a team, without the long-term financial commitment to Carlos Beltran? Roger Clemens went even further at his recent press conference when he said, "No knock to Carlos, but he didn't do a whole lot." Clemens' remarks seem odd, until you realize that in 152 AB's at Minute Maid Park, Beltran hit only .224 with 7 HR's and 19 RBI.

Jim Callis: They'll have more financial flexibility, but that won't help the Astros if they don't spend the money wisely.

 Q:  Randy from Houston asks:
I was surprised to see Pence in the top 10 rather than Jimmy Barthaimer or Jason Hirsch. Could you elaborate on these two and where they rank in the system?

Jim Callis: Barthmaier could push his way onto the Top 10 next year. For now, he's a little raw and has work to do with his secondary pitches and mechanics. He's in the 11-15 mix. Hirsh lost some velocity in 2004, and his stuff is very inconsistent. He's in the 26-30 range.

 Q:  Carlos from Santa Fe, NM asks:
How good of a prospect is SS Wladimir Sutil? He seemed to have a solid season in the Appalachian League and followed that up with another fine showing in Winter League ball.

Jim Callis: Sutil stands out with his glove and defensive ability, but he still has a long way to go with the bat. I'd put him in the "keep an eye on" category for now. Promising, but far from a sure thing.

 Q:  Browning Nagle Jr. from Bronx asks:
Do you think that Taylor Buchholtz will ever reach the potential he showed when he was in the Phillies organization?

Jim Callis: He still has time, as Buchholz is just 23. He has a well above-average curveball and a plus fastball. He just needs to stay healthy and be more aggressive about going after hitters. Buchholz was starting to turn his season around last year when he strained his shoulder.

 Q:  Tom McCullough from York PA asks:
Jim: Does the trade of John Buck signal that the Astros now think that Hector Gimenez will hit enough to be a starting catcher in the major leagues? Thanks.

Jim Callis: The Astros believe in Gimenez, but I wouldn't read that into the trade of Buck. They had a chance to go grab Beltran, and they weren't thinking of their future catching when they made the move.

 Q:  Lance from Butte, Montana asks:
It seemed to me that Hunter Pence was a little overmatched by the quality of pitching in the Short Season Playoffs. DOes this concern you about his future projectability to the majors?

Jim Callis: No. Tri-City played five playoff games, and that's an awfully small sample size to worry about. And it's not like the pitching was significantly better than he saw during the regular season. Bottom line, Pence can hit.

 Q:  Bruce from La Jolla, CA asks:
Will OF Jordan Parraz hit enough to become a big leaguer or will he make it to the mound with his power arm?

Jim Callis: Parraz has a lot of tools but needs to figure out how to use him. He doesn't throw nearly enough strikes with his power arm to think about pitching at this point.

 Q:  Jason from Peoria IL asks:
Do the Astros have the upper level prospects to compete this year after losing Beltran and Kent?

Jim Callis: I think the Astros will still contend. Jason Lane and Chris Burke won't match the production of Beltran and Kent, but they'll be fine. And I don't see another NL Central team that can run away with the division. I just can't get overhwelmed by the Cubs' offense or the Cardinals' pitching staff.

 Q:  Brian from Cypress, TX asks:
Where do you see Nieve fitting into the rotation in a few years?

Jim Callis: Nieve still has to polish his breaking ball and come up with a reliable changeup. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he wound up as a reliever down the road.

 Q:  Witlon from Ohio asks:
Would Rule V draft pick D.J. Houlton have been in the Astros top 10 had he not been selected and is he a good bet to stick with Los Angeles all season?

Jim Callis: No. He had a nice year in Double-A, but he was 24 and repeating that level. Houlton has a good curveball and competes well, but the rest of his stuff is ordinary. He got crushed in Triple-A in 2003. That's not a Top 10 Prospect.

 Q:  Dave from Kentucky asks:
What is your opinion on Ervin Alcantara? His tools of power and speed certainly look like he might be a top 30 prospect.

Jim Callis: He did make the list. The biggest knock against Alcantara is that he's four years older than the Astros believed he was when he signed. Nice tools, but you'd be a lot more excited about him if he were 19 and not 23 when he put up his solid 2004 season in low Class A.

 Q:  Jeff from Philadelphia asks:
What does Luke Scott project as? Anything more than the throw-in in the Taveras deal?

Jim Callis: Scott is more than a throw-in. He's one of the best lefty power hitters in the system. He's already 26, so he's not going to become a star, but he can help out in the major leagues.

 Q:  thebig747 from Milwaukee, WI asks:
Other than 3B, which you identified already, what is the most glaring weakness in the Houston farm system? Thank you.

Jim Callis: Lefthanded starting pitching. There's a huge dropoff after Troy Patton, and he has yet to make it out of Rookie ball.

 Q:  james parker from vancouver asks:
Einertson's not a big guy. What led to the power surge? He seems to have strong forearms in the photos I've seen of him. Also, what do scouts think of his bat speed?

Jim Callis: Einerston has very good bat speed, and the ball jumps off his bat.

 Q:  Race Bannon from Kuala Lampur asks:
Thanks for the chat, Jim. Is the N.L. Central the weakest division for prospects? Burke was a bit old for AAA --- any star potential there, or a steady average middle infielder? Thanks again!

Jim Callis: Hadn't thought of it along those lines, but give me a second . . . Yes, the NL Central probably is the weakest. The Brewers and the Cubs have good systems, the Pirates are in the middle of the pack, and the Astros, Reds and Cardinals are fairly weak compared to the rest of baseball.

 Q:  Terry Puhl from At the swimming poll asks:
If Fernando Nieve can control his secondary pitches, curve and slider, do you see him moving up as an Astro prospect, possibly to #1? Or will he be resigned to the fate of a setup man. Thanks!

Jim Callis: Yes. If it all comes together for Nieve, he can rocket up this list. But as I mentioned earlier, he has a fair amount of improvements to make.

 Q:  Marcus from Baton Rouge, LA asks:
1B Scott Robinson seems to be a major disappointment. Do you think otherwise?

Jim Callis: "Major" might be a little harsh considering last year was his first full pro year. But Robinson didn't inspire any more Mark Grace comparisons with a mediocre year in low Class A, and he's going to have to get stronger.

 Q:  Salvatore from Newark, NJ asks:
Do you believe that RHP Jared Gothreaux is a major league pitcher?

Jim Callis: With his slider, he'll get a shot at the bullpen in the next couple of years.

 Q:  Tim from Boston, MA asks:
Where are the Astros left-handed pitching prospects? Do you know of any?

Jim Callis: After Patton, the best are Mark McLemore, Enyelbert Soto, Wandy Rodriguez and Josh Muecke, but they all already project as relievers.

 Q:  Eric from Houston asks:
What's the latest on 2002 2nd rounder Mitch Talbot? He was #12 in your 2004 Prospect Book and had a nice season for Lexington. I'm a bit surprised to see Buchholtz ranked ahead of him, but won't argue with the rest.

Jim Callis: Talbot is very polished for his age and has the best changeup in the system. He has a solid fastball, but he really needs to improve his breaking ball.

 Q:  Dave from Palm Coast, FL asks:
How good of a prospect is RHP Levi Romero?

Jim Callis: He's a one-pitch guy right now, relying on an 89-93 mph four-seam fastball. If he can come up with something to go with that pitch, he might be something.

 Q:  Robert from Spring asks:
Who's the biggest sleeper in the organization?

Jim Callis: He has gotten very little buzz, but the Astros are pretty intrigued by Lou Santangelo's upside. If he can make more consistent contact, they're going to have a catcher with power and good defensive skills.

Moderator: We're dragging Jim back to work on the Prospect Handbook now, so that's it for today. Thanks for all the good questions, and we'll be back Wednesday with Tom Haudricourt and the Brewers, and again Friday with Will Lingo talking about the Cardinals.

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