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Top Ten Prospects: Houston Astros
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Jim Callis
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2005.
Then the Astros suddenly reversed course, winning 31 of their final 39 games to surge into the playoffs. They beat the Braves in the Division Series and took a three-games-to-two lead in the Championship Series before the Cardinals rallied to deny them a trip to the World Series. That disappointment only took away slightly from the most successful season in the franchise’s 44-year history, both on the field (Houston never had won a postseason series before) and at the box office (the club drew a record 3,087,872 fans).
Shortly after the World Series ended, the architect of the Astros’ success resigned. General manager Gerry Hunsicker tired of haggling with owner Drayton McLane over big league payroll and player-development costs. Hunsicker presided over five playoff teams in nine years. Though he never had the biggest budget or the deepest farm system, Hunsicker was able to make trades both large (Carlos Beltran) and small (Brandon Backe) to address the team’s needs.
Fortunately for Houston, it had one of the game’s top GM prospects on hand to replace Hunsicker. Assistant GM/farm director Tim Purpura was immediately promoted and spent much of his first winter as GM waiting for Beltran to decide if he’d accept a club-record $105 million contract offer. Beltran ultimately declined, costing the Astros a dynamic talent.
Virtually every key management position has seen a change since the beginning of the 2004 season. Houston hired Tigers farm director Ricky Bennett to fill Purpura’s old role. Hunsicker reassigned scouting director David Lakey in June and gave those duties to Paul Ricciarini, the club’s coordinator of pro scouting.
The farm system has gone through upheaval on the field as well, after sliding from third in Baseball America’s talent ratings after 2001 to 29th after 2003. Five of Houston’s 10 best prospects, including four of the top five, have joined the organization since the end of the 2003 season.
Righthanders Ezequiel Astacio and Taylor Buchholz arrived in the Billy Wagner trade with the Phillies. Outfielder Willy Taveras was plucked from the Indians in the major league Rule 5 draft, and Hunsicker swung a deal with Cleveland to retain his rights. Outfielders Mitch Einerston and Hunter Pence and lefthander Troy Patton were products of Lakey’s last draft, with early returns indicating it may have been one of his best. Einertson, Pence, Patton and several other draft picks contributed heavily to Astros affiliates winning championships in the short-season New York-Penn and Rookie-level Appalachian leagues.
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