As we're now into the offseason, I will be taking a team-by-team look at some of the prospects in the system that could be of interest for those of you in keeper leagues. The goal with each team is to take a look at a few players who are likely to have an impact in the Majors in 2012, a few who could be ready by the start of 2014, and a few more who are a long ways away, but could be interesting as well. The hope is that each organization will have enough players to fit into these categories, but some of the systems aren't going to, in all likelihood. The first team up is the team that finished with the worst record, the Houston Astros.
The Astros have been in a bit of a holding pattern, as they continue to wait for prospective owner Jim Crane to take over the team and allow them to start making long-term plans. The system coming into the year was considered one of the worst in baseball, but solid trades have infused the minor leagues with some solid prospects.
Shuck was called up later in the season last year, and it remains to be seen whether or not he will be given a shot to make the big league club. The team already has Carlos Lee and J.D. Martinez in the corner outfield spots, so he would likely have to outperform Brett Wallace or Martinez to get a starting job. More likely, he will either be a bench outfielder, or even could be sent back to AAA despite playing parts of two seasons there already.
His upside if he makes the roster seems to be mostly in very deep leagues and possibly in NL-only leagues. He has the potential to steal 15+ bases if he receives full-time playing time, but that's probably a big if at this point. I wouldn't concern myself with him though in standard 10 and 12 team leagues unless he shows a lot more in Spring Training.
Could Be Ready by 2014
Singleton was one of the key pieces acquired in the Hunter Pence trade at the trade deadline. The trade allowed Singleton to return to first base, as opposed to the move to the outfield the Phillies had him do. Back when he was traded, John Sickels had this to say about Singleton:
His plate discipline is quite good and he draws plenty of walks, but he hasn't fully tapped into his natural strength yet. Singleton is a poor defensive outfielder but is solid at first base. I rated him a B+ pre-season and will stick with that, especially since he's only 19 years old.
Singleton had excellent power and hitting numbers in both the Sally League and the Florida State League, so I'm inclined to believe that the performance on both counts is legitimate. He was a top prospect last year, and is likely to be in the top 50 on most prospect lists. I think he will likely be ready by the end of the 2013 season, and my best guess is that he could project to be a 25-30 home run hitter during his peak years with a solid batting average.
Cosart was also acquired in the Pence trade, and was recently rated as the top prospect in the Astros' system by Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. He had this to say about Cosart as a part of his top 11 report:
The Bad: Cosart's numbers are nowhere close to what they should be based on his stuff. His mechanics can quickly get sloppy and violent, which costs him both command and movement on his secondary pitches. He can focus too much on overpowering hitters and forgetting about his secondary pitches or sequencing. "My projection changes on him every time I see him," said one scout. "And in my history, a lot of pitchers like that end up closing."
Cosart really sounds like a true high-risk, high-reward type. He clearly struggled with walks throughout 2011, as he averaged over 3 per 9 innings. He seems likely to start the season back at AA in the Texas League, and could potentially spend the whole season there if his struggles continue. I would tentatively say that he could be ready sometime in 2013, but I really want to see the performance to start out 2012.
Oberholtzer was one of the players acquired in exchange for Michael Bourn. John Sickels had this to say when the trade happened:
He works with an 88-93 MPH fastball, and has a solid slider and changeup combination, along with a decent curve a few times a game. He throws strikes and profiles as a number four starter. I had him a Grade C+ pre-season and see him in the C+/B- range right now.
He has shown a bit of upside based solely on his performance in 2010, but his control numbers weren't repeated in 2011 (3+ BB/9 vs. 1.4 in 2010). You can find a pretty good scouting report from David Coleman over at Crawfish Boxes here. Realistically, I'm not sure I see the upside to make him a top prospect to watch for keeper leagues, except for those that are extremely deep. Off the top of my head, he seems to me like he would fall somewhere between 150-200 if I were ranking top prospects.
Long-Term Prospects (Won't Be Ready until At Least 2015)
Santana also arrived as a part of the Hunter Pence trade, and he may have more upside than nearly any prospect in the Astros system right now. He was signed out of the Dominican Republic, and spent all of 2011 in the Sally league. That league isn't exactly known for being a hitters' paradise, and Santana more than held his own, hitting .287 with 12 home runs across two teams in that league. It sounds like he has a lot of upside, especially considering that he was just 18 years old in a league where the average age was 21. The strikeouts are extremely concerning, but his age leads me to believe he could still pull it together fairly quickly. I think he is likely to start at High-A, but since the Astros affiliate is in the California League, I'm not sure how much the numbers he posts there will tell us about his abilities.
This Year's Top Draft Pick
George Springer - Springer only played in 8 games during the 2011 season after signing, but did steal 4 bases in those games. Here's what Jeff Reese at MLB Bonus Baby had to say as a part of their Astros' draft recap:
There are those that love George Springer and there are those that are skeptical. Whichever side you may fall, the tools cannot be denied. Springer established his prospect status during his Sophomore season at UConn, displaying a power/patience/speed mix that left few who saw him unimpressed. The bat speed was ridiculous but the swing was high effort and came with plenty of swing and miss. During the summer preceding his Junior season, his stock exploded when observers saw him in the Cape and during Team USA's run.
Clearly, there's always upside in 1st round picks, but it will be interesting to see what he can do when he gets to full season ball next year. While in college he consistently hit double digit homeruns and stole 30+ bases in each of his last two seasons, so we could see a player with the potential for 15+ homers at his peak and 30+ stolen bases. I imagine that he will either start 2012 in low-A in the Sally league, or if they are looking to challenge him they could send him to High-A in the California League.