2014 Minor League Keeper Thoughts: Houston Astros

Bob Levey

The prospect staff at Fake Teams continues their fantasy prospect rankings and system reviews with an in-depth look at the Houston Astros

The prospect staff here at Fake Teams will be taking an in-depth look at each major league organization, including our top 10 fantasy prospects, an overview of the organization's minor league system as a whole and potential opportunities for playing time in 2014. Our goal is to provide you with more information as you prepare for minor league drafts for dynasty and keeper leagues, as well as look at players that could potentially be worth watching during the spring, as they could be in line to potentially help your fantasy team. We will be reviewing two teams per week until we are through all 30 teams, and you can see the schedule of when your favorite team will be reviewed below.

System Schedule

AL East

AL Central

AL West

NL East

NL Central

NL West

Baltimore

Chicago

Houston
(Today)

Atlanta
(12/5)

Chicago
(12/23)

Arizona
(1/9)

Boston

Cleveland

Los Angeles
(11/21)

Miami
(12/9)

Cincinnati
(12/26)

Colorado
(1/13)

New York

Detroit

Oakland
(11/25)

New York
(12/12)

Milwaukee
(12/30)

Los Angeles
(1/16)

Tampa Bay

Kansas City

Seattle
(11/28)

Philadelphia
(12/16)

Pittsburgh
(1/2)

San Diego
(1/20)

Toronto

Minnesota

Texas
(12/2)

Washington
(12/19)

St. Louis
(1/6)

San Francisco
(1/23)

Organizational Overview
By Jason Hunt(@jasonsbaseball)

The Astros are a mixed bag in terms of organizational strength right now. The major league team has never been as bad as it has been for these past three years, losing at least 106 games in each of the last three seasons. This is due in part to the scorched-earth rebuild that the team has been going through since the arrival of Jeff Luhnow prior to the 2012 season, as years of pushing to compete at the expense of the farm finally caught up in 2011.

Since Luhnow arrived, the team has been strategically doing what many in the industry thought impossible: attempt to rebuild completely, trading literally anything of any value away in order to push for the future, and (what appears to be) purposefully bottoming out with a terrible team. Trades of high-priced veterans like Wandy Rodriguez, Carlos Lee, and Brett Myers have helped the organizational depth, and flipping previous acquisitions like Jed Lowrie brought even more talent into the system.

The organization has received a lot of credit for thinking outside the box when it comes to personnel decisions, most specifically the hiring of Baseball Prospectus alums like Mike Fast, Kevin Goldstein, and their most recent one, Colin Wyers. It seems that Luhnow's aim is to bring in smart people to help him make these decisions, which is lauded by some for not getting caught up in a game of "This is How Baseball Teams Should Do Things". and berated by others for bringing in people who haven't worked their way up through the game in the same ways as previous front office types. We will know how well it is working in a few more years, but the early results have been good in terms of organizational strength.

Having the top pick in the draft for two straight seasons will help to improve your system in a hurry, but the team has done well within the boundaries of the new draft rules to bring in as much high-level talent as possible. They've been able to get players like Lance McCullers and Rio Ruiz into their system despite these limitations, and have added the likes of Mark Appel this season as well. They'll pick first again for a third straight season, with NC State lefty Carlos Rodon the early favorite to end up in Houston this time around.

Overall, the organization looks bad at the major league level, as Jose Altuve remains one of the team's few current cornerstones there, but the future is extremely bright in Houston. Jarred Cosart and Jonathan Villar have already debuted in the majors, and will likely be starters for the team in 2014. It's very likely that we also George Springer and Jonathan Singleton in the Majors as well, taking over in center field and at first base. It's also likely that both Carlos Correa and Mark Appel could be up by the start of 2015, and really give the Astros a ton of impact talent at the major league level. The future is bright for the Astros, but may require just a little more patience to get there.

2013 Graduates

The following players have surpassed their rookie maximums of 130 AB, 50 IP, or 45 days of service time prior to September 1st of this year.

Brett Oberholtzer (innings), Jarred Cosart (innings), Brad Peacock (innings), Kevin Chapman (service time), Josh Fields (service time), Paul Clemens (service time), Jose Cisnero (service time), Josh Zeid (service time), Brandon Barnes (at bats), L.J. Hoes (at bats), Robbie Grossman (at bats), Jonathan Villar (at bats), Marc Krauss (at bats), Jake Elmore (at bats)

Major League Opportunities in 2014
By Jason Hunt(@jasonsbaseball)

It's a bit hard to argue that there aren't potentially a ton of opportunities on a team that lost 111 games, and with the Astros there are a lot of positions that are essentially locked in because there's not really a much better option available now. The shortstop position is a perfect example, as Jonathan Villar debuted to some success this year, but will give way when Carlos Correa is ready for the Show. However, until Correa is there, Villar will be more than serviceable for the team.

The team saw Jason Castro emerge as a solid everyday catcher, and is locked into an extension for Jose Altuve at second base. We also saw the team give Matt Dominguez the everyday third base job, although I wonder honestly if they would unseat him if they thought they could find a better option that made sense. He had the best year of his career to this point, hitting 21 home runs and playing above-average defense. Amongst the rest of the lineup, the most likely changes are to come in the outfield with the arrival of George Springer, and also the likely arrival of Jonathan Singleton to hold down first base or designated hitter. When Singleton is ready, it seems unlikely that players like Brett Wallace or Chris Carter are going to keep him in a holding pattern at AAA.

The team has already seen one of their top pitching prospects reach the Majors with Jarred Cosart making ten starts in the second half last year, and really only Jordan Lyles and Brett Oberholtzer are locked into some of the other rotation spots as of now. It's possible that the team goes with their current options in the rotation (Peacock, Keuchel, and Clemens), but could also see prospects like Mike Foltynewicz and Asher Wojciechowski get shots at the spots as well.

The team has been the subject of rumors surrounding some of the bigger name free agents this offseason, but I don't know if I see the team spending a lot on a player like Shin-Soo Choo if they don't anticipate competing until at least the 2015 season. The front office has shown that they are fine with having an extremely low payroll in the name of finding out what some of their prospects can do, despite the qualms of the Players' Association about it. That said, GM Jeff Luhnow has made note of the fact that if a free agent makes sense long-term, they'll still look at them despite this window.

I don't know if I see a drastic improvement in the 2014 season, as the team will look to continue to develop their prospects and recent graduates. A 2015 or 2016 timeline seems more likely, as the prospects in the minors start to reach the bigs and provide impact at key positions.

Top 10 Fantasy Prospects
By Andrew Ball(@andrew_ball)

Our top 10 fantasy prospect rankings are based upon standard 5x5 fantasy baseball leagues, with a balancing of ceiling and present value. While we are having discussions regarding these lists as a collective group, the top 10 fantasy prospect rankings are finalized by the writer listed above. Players are no longer considered prospects once they exceed either 130 at bats, 50 innings pitched, or 45 days of service time in the Majors prior to September 1st.

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Photo Credit: Bob Levey

#1 Carlos Correa (SS)

FANTASY STATISTICS (ALL LEVELS)

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

0.320

73

9

86

10

SECONDARY STATISTICS

PA

OBP%

SLG%

BB%

K%

519

0.405

0.467

11.2%

16.0%

OTHER INFORMATION

AGE ON 1/1/2014

B/T

ROSTER STATUS

LEVELS

19

R/R

Not On 40 Man Roster (Must Protect After 2016)

A

Leading up to the 2012 draft, the public perception seemed to be that Houston's choice at the top would come down to college righty Mark Appel, or high school outfielder Byron Buxton. When draft day actually arrived, however, the team threw everyone for a loop and selected Correa, a 17-year-old Puerto Rican shortstop, and signed him to a well-below slot $4.8 million deal. The savings then allowed them to land Lance McCullers and Rio Ruiz later in the draft. But make no mistake, the Astros took Correa because they felt that he had superstar potential, and thus far they appear to be on to something. While he did get a brief taste of pro ball last year after signing, his full season debut is what has evaluators excited. Playing the entire season as an 18-year-old, Correa went to the pitcher-friendly Midwest League and hit .320/.405/.467 with 45 extra base hits and 10 steals in 117 games. Unlike other young players, Correa didn't wear down over the long season either, racking up a .906 OPS in the season's final month while leading Quad Cities to a league title.

Correa is everything you'd want in a prospect, and then some. Physically he looks ready to play in the big leagues right now, standing a chiseled 6-foot-4 and drawing physical comparisons to Manny Machado and Alex Rodriguez. Past the physique, Correa has what some have called "elite" makeup -- he's extremely mature for his age and his approach can be considered nothing less than professional at all times, an attribute that allows him to make adjustments almost instantaneously. And then of course there are the tools.

His hit and power both grade as future plus attributes, possibly both 70's once he gets to the big leagues. The power is a bit more divisive since it's yet to show up in games in terms of home runs, but the frame, bat speed, and probability that he'll hit are all good signs that he'll develop into a 25-35 home run a year player. The Astros at least seem to think he will, as scouting director Mike Elias described Correa as having "freak-show" power when he signed last year.

In the field, he draws well above average marks for his hands, instincts, and arm, and he lead all MWL shortstops with a .971 fielding percentage. He may have to slide to third base eventually if he continues to fill out, but it won't be for a lack of ability, and he should be a plus defender at the hot corner if that is the case. His running speed is a tick above average now, but again, as he matures that will fall to average or possibly even slightly below.

Essentially, Correa is a monster prospect, among the very best in any organization, and I think he has been slightly overshadowed to this point by the accomplishments of the player drafted right after him, Byron Buxton. Buxton, while fantastic in his own right, is nine months older than Correa and he wasn't playing shortstop this year, making Correa's season even more special in my opinion. There have been rumors that Correa may open next season in Double-A, and if that's the case it isn't unrealistic that he could find his way to Houston sometime in 2014.

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Photo Credit: Scott Halleran

#2 Mark Appel (RHP)

FANTASY STATISTICS (ALL LEVELS)

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

K

3

0

3.79

1.18

33

SECONDARY STATISTICS

IP

HR/9

GO/AO

BB%

K%

38

0.47

2.24

5.6%

20.6%

OTHER INFORMATION

AGE ON 1/1/2014

B/T

ROSTER STATUS

LEVELS

22

R/R

Not On 40 Man Roster (Protect After 2016)

Rk, A

Once Houston passed on Appel in the 2012 draft, he went into sort of a free fall all the way to eighth, where the Pirates selected the Stanford junior. The Boras-client never really got close to signing with Pittsburgh, however, opting instead to return to Stanford for his senior season. The decision proved to be wise when the Astros called his name first overall in the 2013 draft, giving him a $6.3 million bonus to sign. Upon signing, Appel made a ten-start cameo in the New York-Penn and Midwest Leagues, pitching well, but not really dominating like a top overall pick should.

The big right-hander has a workhorse starter kit -- a rugged 6-foot-5 frame, two potential plus pitches, and a strong head on his shoulders. The fastball is a big one, working in the mid-90's and touching 98 mph deep into his starts. From time to time he also mixes in a two-seam variation that has plenty of arm side run and we may see him go to that pitch more as he moves up the professional ranks. His breaking ball of choice is a slider, a regular bat-misser with tilt and late bite in the mid-80's. He also works in a changeup, but as a pitch he used infrequently as an amateur he still needs a lot of development time with it.

The knock on Appel, maybe unfairly, is that he has never truly dominated like the stuff would suggest. It appeared that he was finally moving past that during his senior year (2.12 ERA, 11.00 K/9), but with his pro debut the whispers started once again. If recent memory should serve as any example though, Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander both had similar reputations and they've been just fine. Not saying that Appel is going to be as good as either of those two -- just a reminder that minor league stats can be somewhat misleading and that development is not linear.

It seems that the perception is that Appel is not an elite prospect, an unwarranted sentiment as far as we're concerned. Jason Hunt passed along a suggestion from the Baseball America podcast that it may be simply because he's compared to Jonathan Gray and Kris Bryant, both of whom had fantastic debuts. Those comparisons don't seem all that relevant; we should be focusing on what the player will do, not what they've already done. Appel ranks here because his floor is extremely high, maybe the highest of any minor league arm. Even if he never realizes his full potential, he should be an inning-eating number three starter and the upside is there for more than that. He's basically major league ready, though it's likely that he'll spend a portion of the season in the upper minors before debuting in Houston sometime next season.

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Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle - USA Today Sports

#3 George Springer (OF)

FANTASY STATISTICS (ALL LEVELS)

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

0.303

106

37

108

45

SECONDARY STATISTICS

PA

OBP%

SLG%

BB%

K%

590

0.411

0.600

14.1%

27.3%

OTHER INFORMATION

AGE ON 1/1/2014

B/T

ROSTER STATUS

LEVELS

24

R/R

Not On 40 Man Roster (Must Protect After 2014)

AA, AAA

Despite some strong performances across the minor leagues, George Springer bested them all with his tremendous 2013. The former first-round pick from Connecticut University got off to a blistering start at Double-A Corpus Christi, and upon promotion to Triple-A he actually improved his torrid pace. Once the season had finished, Springer had compiled a composite .303/.411/.600 line with 37 home runs and 46 stolen bases.

An outstanding athlete, Springer realistically might have four plus tools when he's done developing. While the 37 bombs were hit in hitter-friendly environments, he's got legitimate 30+ homer power, a trait that's become increasingly rare in prospects.  He also runs well, grading as a 65 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale. Springer gets quality reads, both on the bases and in centerfield, which allow his speed to play up. The 46 steals were no fluke and it would be no surprise if he approaches that total in the big leagues. And of course he's got a strong, accurate arm as well, making him a true two-way threat.

Notice that his hit tool wasn't included in the plus tools. Simply put, that's because it won't be a plus tool. It may not even be an average tool. For all of his accolades, Springer continues to swing and miss at an alarming rate. Since leaving the New York-Penn League, he's struck out in at least 24.4% of his trip to the plates at every level, a concern for any player. To his credit, Springer has been said to have a solid approach and he's also walked more than 12% of the time, but what that means is that he's swinging through pitches in the strike zone. Those pitches are only going to get firmer and move more as he advances, so we could be looking at some huge strikeout totals.

Even if the hit tool is below average, if Springer can manage to hit .240, a reasonable projection, he could be a top flight fantasy producer because of the power/speed combo. The talent is there for a little bit more, but the expectation is that he develops into a Mike Cameron-type player, a well above average all-around contributor with some star-level seasons, just not a true star.

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Photo Credit: H. Darr Beiser - USA Today Sports

#4 Jonathan Singleton (1B)

FANTASY STATISTICS (ALL LEVELS)

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

0.230

42

11

44

1

SECONDARY STATISTICS

PA

OBP%

SLG%

BB%

K%

367

0.351

0.401

16.1%

30.0%

OTHER INFORMATION

AGE ON 1/1/2014

B/T

ROSTER STATUS

LEVELS

22

L/L

On 40 Man Roster (3 Options Remaining)

A, AA, AAA

Singleton came to Houston as part of the 2011 trade that sent Hunter Pence to Philadelphia at the trade deadline. Since joining the organization, he's generally been regarded as one of the top-two prospects in the system, but the star has faded a little lately. While every other player in the top half of the list took steps forward in 2013, Singleton never seemed to really get on track. He began the season with a 50-game suspension for a positive marijuana test, and once he returned he looked out of shape and his play suffered in his taste of Triple-A.

At his best, Singleton is among the elite hitting prospects in the game. He combines a patient (sometimes too patient) approach with good leverage and torque to drive balls to all parts of the yard. He's also the rare power hitter that uses the whole field and athough it's not the consensus, he has a good chance to hit for average in addition to the power. Defensively, he's limited to first base - where he might be above average -- without a chance to profile elsewhere, which does put more pressure on the bat.

Personally, what concerns me is his conditioning in 2013. Frankly, as a ballplayer, his livelihood is contingent on being in peak physical shape, and coming off the suspension in less than that makes me question his desire. That doesn't outweigh the tool package, not by a long shot, but it does create a little doubt about his future. Singleton still has a chance to be a well above average producer in the middle of Houston's lineup -- he just needs to show that he wants it, and he needs to do so this year. Expect him to start 2014 back in Oklahoma City, and if all goes well he may end up an Astro around the All-Star break.

#5 Mike Foltynewicz (RHP)

FANTASY STATISTICS (ALL LEVELS)

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

K

6

3

3.07

1.33

124

SECONDARY STATISTICS

IP

HR/9

GO/AO

BB%

K%

129.1

0.84

1.5

12.1%

22.7%

OTHER INFORMATION

AGE ON 1/1/2014

B/T

ROSTER STATUS

LEVELS

22

R/R

Not On 40-Man Roster (Protect After 2014 Season)

A+, AA

The 19th pick in the 2010 draft, Foltynewicz's first two minor league seasons were less than impressive. On completion of his second season, the righty was 5-14 with an ERA over four through 38 career starts. That's all in the past now, though, as he posted a 3.14 ERA in the Sally League last year before totaling a 3.06 mark between Hi-A and Double-A this past year.

Folty, as he's known, has one well above average tool -- he throws hard. Really, really hard. His four-seam fastball is a true 80-grade pitch that has been gunned up to 103 mph. He does have trouble controlling the heater at the higher end of the velocity spectrum, but dialing it back just means that he sits 96-98, still well within the range of the top hurlers in the game. Beyond that, though, it's not a great profile. His breaking ball is a slow, loopy curveball that only flashes as average and the changeup gets firm and lacks movement. Plus, his command is fringy at best and he walked 66 hitters in 129.1 innings this season.

Yet, that velocity is enticing. Without question big league pitchers need more than just top end fastball speed to succeed, but it sure does make things easier. If the command profile tightens up slightly and the secondary stuff can jump a full grade, he could be an exceptional starting pitcher. That seems unlikely at this point, but Houston knows the profile will play in the bullpen, so there's no downside to keeping him in the rotation for now and dreaming on the arm. If it doesn't happen then it doesn't happen and he's probably a very good reliever, maybe even a closer. He'll head to either Double-A or Triple-A to start the year, and the bet is that he sees Houston's pen sometime in 2014, even if he ends up a starter in the long run.

#6 Domingo Santana (OF)

FANTASY STATISTICS (ALL LEVELS)

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

0.252

72

25

64

12

SECONDARY STATISTICS

PA

OBP%

SLG%

BB%

K%

476

0.345

0.498

9.7%

29.2%

OTHER INFORMATION

AGE ON 1/1/2014

B/T

ROSTER STATUS

LEVELS

21

R/R

Not On 40-Man Roster (Must Protect This Offseason)

AA

Another piece of the 2011 Hunter Pence trade (that also included Jarred Cosart, sorry Phillies fans), Santana could be the best power hitter in a system full of them. Playing the 2013 season at 20-years-old, Santana finished third in the Texas League in home runs, behind two players in their mid-20's. A big boy at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, he's extremely strong and when he gets extension on a pitch, it isn't coming back.

The utility of the power though is entirely tied to how much contact he'll make, a question mark for sure. The hit tool is a bit below average at present, thanks to his "if it's near the zone then I should attack it" mentality at the plate and an inability to do much with better velocity on his hands. BP's Jason Parks noted that a source told him:

His swing can get long and labored, like he picked out the heaviest/longest bat in the pile and brought it to the plate. If you can put a ball inside, he really struggles to get his hands in and square it. But he's very strong and when he gets it moving, he might lack control be he can make a baseball go a long way, especially if a pitcher makes a mistake out over the plate.

Along with the power, he's also surprisingly limber for his size. He's not graceful by any means, but Santana should profile nicely as a fringe average defender with his plus arm strength putting him in right field. The swing and miss tendency caused by the hole on the inner half of the plate is a real concern, yet it's one that's fixable with a slightly better approach and some loosening up at the plate.

Evaluators that like him, like him quite a bit, comparing him to a healthy version of Nelson Cruz. That's an interesting comp because Cruz appeared to be a 4-A player well until his mid-20's before adjusting and becoming the player that he is today. I expect Santana will spend all of next year working on his contact skills and approach in the upper minors before debuting in Houston sometime in 2015.

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Photo Credit: David Kohl - USA Today Sports

#7 Lance McCullers (RHP)

FANTASY STATISTICS (ALL LEVELS)

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

K

6

0

3.2

1.35

117

SECONDARY STATISTICS

IP

HR/9

GO/AO

BB%

K%

104.2

0.26

2.02

11.0%

26.2%

OTHER INFORMATION

AGE ON 1/1/2014

B/T

ROSTER STATUS

LEVELS

20

L/R

Not On 40 Man Roster (Protect After 2016)

A

Considered by many to be the toughest sign of the 2012 draft class, Houston used the savings they got with Correa to land McCullers for $2.5 million. The son of former big league reliever Lance McCullers Sr., Junior pairs an electric fastball with a devastating breaking ball to form one of the best two-pitch combos in the minors. The heater is a steak sauce, premium A-1 offering both in velocity and life and rates well when compared to Foltynewicz's. It works easily in the mid-90's, touching 99 mph on occasion. Unlike Folty, though, that might be McCullers second best offering as the breaking pitch is close to plus at present and it projects higher as he continues to refine it. Sometimes referred to a curve, sometimes a slider, the offering is a power breaking ball that will undoubtedly miss bats at the highest level.

This past year, only his second season starting full-time professionally or otherwise, should be viewed as a big success for McCullers. Sent to Low-A Quad Cities, he struck out 117 in 104.2 innings and finished with a solid 3.18 ERA. Still, the doubt that he can start long term lingers. Because he's only been starting for a limited time, his delivery is inconsistent and some close to the situation have said he still is trying to find comfort in his pregame routine.

Adding to the negatives are a well below average third pitch, a changeup that lacks any real separation or feel at this point, and a slight loss of stuff as games progress. The situation is very close to the one with Foltynewicz -- Houston will continue to develop him as a starter until they feel it's a lost cause because he is move valuable in the rotation. He ranks behind Folty on the list because being farther away, there is more risk that he'll end up in the bullpen or fail to reach his upside. He should start the season in Hi-A, but given the development problems associated with pitching in the California League, we could see McCullers get an extended look in Double-A next season.

#8 Vincent Velasquez (RHP)

FANTASY STATISTICS (ALL LEVELS)

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

K

9

3

3.55

1.17

142

SECONDARY STATISTICS

IP

HR/9

GO/AO

BB%

K%

124.2

0.65

1.38

7.9%

27.4%

OTHER INFORMATION

AGE ON 1/1/2014

B/T

ROSTER STATUS

LEVELS

21

B/R

Not On 40-Man Roster (Protect After 2014 Season)

A, A+

Velasquez gives the Astros a third low probability, high upside right-handed pitching prospect along with Foltynewicz and McCullers. 2013 was an important step in his development as he made his full season debut a full-year removed from Tommy John surgery that kept him off the mound entirely in 2011. By all accounts, the numbers and the reports, the season went quite well. Velasquez posted a very-respectable 3.19 ERA in the Midwest League, allowing just 90 hits and 33 walks with 123 strikeouts in 110 innings. Some might worry that nine of his appearances come out of the bullpen, but that was just to limit his innings since he had yet to throw more than 50 frames in a professional season.

Like McCullers, he also has two pitches that stand out in his arsenal -- his fastball and changeup. The fastball is plus to better, sitting 92-95 for the duration of his outings. He throws the pitch downhill and his control and command seem fully recovered from the injury. The changeup is another weapon, a present plus pitch that projects as more with strong separation, arm action, and fade. It's good enough that he uses it against same-side hitters too, not just against lefties. Velasquez also throws a curveball, but it's a slow, soft pitch and not a true hammer. Presently it's below average, and some think it will never play above fringe-average, placing a greater importance on his control and command.

Of the three, Velasquez appears to be the best bet to be a starter long-term, though it comes with the lowest ultimate ceiling. That's not to say he can't be a very good pitcher if things come together -- if the breaking ball makes a big improvement we're talking about a top-of-rotation arm -- it's simply the reality of the situation. He should be on the same development plan as McCullers, so expect him to reach Corpus Christi at some point next season.

#9 Rio Ruiz (3B)

FANTASY STATISTICS (ALL LEVELS)

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

0.260

46

12

63

12

SECONDARY STATISTICS

PA

OBP%

SLG%

BB%

K%

472

0.335

0.430

10.6%

19.5%

OTHER INFORMATION

AGE ON 1/1/2014

B/T

ROSTER STATUS

LEVELS

19

L/R

Not On 40-Man Roster (Protect After 2016 Season)

A

Entering the 2012 draft, Ruiz was a bit of an unknown, so much that many teams shied away completely. He was coming off of two injuries, a sprained left knee suffered during football and a blood clot in his neck that ended his baseball season in March. Despite that, Houston took him in the fourth round and used the remaining Carlos Correa savings to sign him for $1.85 million.

At first glance his 2013 numbers don't stand out, but he slugged .520 in the season's second half with 8 of his 12 home runs coming after the break. While that is safely in arbitrary end point territory, the improvements came with matching reports that he was making adjustments at the plate.

Almost universally, Ruiz is lauded for having a really pretty swing, just short and easy with no glaring flaws. Every Rio Ruiz at bat is approached methodically, and he zones pitches up very well for his age. He also has good bat speed and what we saw in the second half of 2013 may have been him tapping into the power he displays in batting practice.

On the downside, the glove needs work. He has plenty of arm strength to profile at third, but his footwork and range aren't great in any sense. He does have good body control and it seems like he wants to play third, it's just going to take a lot of repetitions to make it happen. If he can't stay here, he'll shift across the diamond to first base. He should be ticketed to open 2014 in the California League, so take his offensive numbers with a grain of salt next year, and focus more on his recognition skills and the development of his defense at third.

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Photo Credit: J. Meric - Getty Images

#10 Delino DeShields (2B/OF)

FANTASY STATISTICS (ALL LEVELS)

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

0.317

100

5

54

51

SECONDARY STATISTICS

PA

OBP%

SLG%

BB%

K%

534

0.405

0.468

10.7%

17.0%

OTHER INFORMATION

AGE ON 1/1/2014

B/T

ROSTER STATUS

LEVELS

21

R/R

Not On 40 Man Roster (Protect After 2014 Season)

A+

The last spot on our list was a difficult decision. The Astros have a very deep and talented farm system, with many players that would be top-ten worthy in other organizations. Ultimately, we went with the guy with the fantasy upside in Delino DeShields. DeShields' pop, Delino DeShields Sr. swiped more than 400 bases in his big league career and if everything falls right, his son may top that total.

The eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft, DeShields struggled in his first tour of full season ball in 2011, hitting just .220 in the South Atlantic League. Motivated to improve, he showed up in 2012 in better shape and he fared much better hitting .287/.389/.428 with 101 steals. The steals went somewhat unnoticed because Billy Hamilton had to go and steal 155 bases in the same season, but that's still a massive total. This past season he spent the entire year in the California League, taking advantage of the friendly hitting-environment to tally a .317 average with more pop than he's shown before. The steals total dropped to just 51, though that was in 24 fewer games as well.

First and foremost, DeShields is a burner. He's a 75-grade runner, who's still learning to put that speed to good uses on the baseball field. He's been caught stealing 49 times in less than 400 professional games, a rate he will have to improve if he wants an analytically-inclined team like the Astros to continue giving him the green light.

During his first few years in the minors, DeShields played second base but the team has moved him back to the outfield in the Arizona Fall League, a move that looks be permanent. That's probably for the best, as Jose Altuve is locked in at second for the big league club and his speed will be an asset tracking down fly balls, though it doesn't help his fantasy value any.

He's a good hitter, with some strength in his swing, and he shows patience, lending to the idea that he could be a very quality leadoff man. The risk is that he's yet to face more advanced pitching and as he is challenged in the zone more, he'll need to continue making hard contact. Several reports also note concern regarding his effort and desire, never a good thing for a prospect. In the end the reviews are mixed, and not one of us would be surprised if he falls well short of his ceiling, but the speed alone is such an asset in fantasy that he had to be included on the list.

Other Interesting Prospects
By Andrew Ball (@andrew_ball)

Max Stassi, C - Part of last offseason's Jed Lowrie trade, Stassi started the year in Double-A and hit himself all the way to Houston with a .277/.333/.529 line in the Texas League. He's blocked by Jason Castro, a shame because Stassi appears ready for a shot at an everyday role. He combines good receiving skills with a power bat, and may be of interest to someone as a trade chip.

Teoscar Hernandez, OF - Hernandez is a toolsy centerfielder that hit 13 homers and swiped 24 bags in the Midwest League this season. Still very raw, he has a long way to go in refining his approach and tapping into the power that many have projected. His ceiling as a 20-30 player rivals DeShields, it's just farther away at this point.

Nolan Fontana, SS - Fontana may end up a better real player than a fantasy one. He lacks high-end tools or elite projection, but he should stay up the middle (more likely at second), has a patient approach that fuels his high OBP totals thus far, and he's a grinder that gets the most out of what he's got.

Michael Feliz, RHP - A little too far away from maturation to displace anyone on the top ten, Feliz had a fantastic debut in the New York-Penn League. The 6-foot-4 Dominican righty registered a 1.96 ERA and struck out 78 in 69 innings. He has a big fastball, and good command for his stage of development, but everything else is a dream at this point. Keep eyes on him in 2014, as he very well may shoot up this list next year.

Nick Tropeano, RHP - Probably the first farmhand to get the call in 2014, Tropeano is a back of the rotation starter, but one that can help in AL-only leagues or deep mixed formats. He throws strikes and limits damage with a solid fastball and changeup, he just doesn't project out well compared to the players above him.

For more on the Astros, be sure to check out SBNation's The Crawfish Boxes. For more on the minor leagues and prospects in general, check out SBNation's Minor League Ball.

About the Authors

Jason Hunt is a contributing writer for Fake Teams, specializing in the minor leagues and prospects.
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Andrew Ball is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score and Fake Teams, specializing in fantasy baseball and the minor leagues.
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Brian Creagh is a contributing writer for Fake Teams, specializing in fantasy baseball and the minor leagues.
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Matt Mattingly is a contributing writer for Fake Teams, specializing in fantasy baseball and the minor leagues.
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Sources

Baseball America
Baseball Prospectus
Baseball Reference
Fangraphs
The Crawfish Boxes
Vimeo
Youtube

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