With two of the worst farm systems in baseball and one of the most promising, the NL Central is quite the mixed back of prospects. If "potential future rewards" were how you ranked teams in the division, the Pirates may be up 5 or 6 games at this point. Amazingly, they're only behind three games right now and are trying to motor towards their first winning season in 19 years.
Pittsburgh is an example of a team that's good now and could get much better in the future. That's perhaps somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. On one end of that spectrum are the Brewers; a team that has mortgaged their future for a chance to win now. Nearly at the midway point of the season, the plan has worked out so far.
Then there's the team that nobody wants to be. A team that is bad now and could only get worse. You'd hate to say that any team could become the next version of the Pirates and go nearly two decades without a record above .500, but the Astros currently have the worst record in baseball and sadly, perhaps, the worst farm system.
They've done badly in the draft, they've done badly in trades, and they've done horribly in the international free agent market. It's hard to believe that they were in the World Series just six seasons ago.
Now they sit at the bottom of baseball, four games behind the 2nd worst record in the game (which so happens to belong to their division-mate Chicago Cubs) and they've already graduated the player who was far and away the best prospect in the system.
They've had 9 first round picks between 2005 and 2009 and those players have combined for 111 games played by hitters and 5 starts by Jordan Lyles. 44 of those games which belong to failed pitcher Brian Bogusevic.
Indeed, some of the top pitching prospects in the minors reside in the NL Central. Unfortunately for the rest of the division, most of those pitchers belong to the Pirates. Onto the rest....
Top Player to Debut in 2011: None
I can't help but write a little something on the Brewers process and how it has gotten them into the division lead. Their drafts between 2002 and 2008 have yielded unbelievably positive results. I am biased because he is the GM of Seattle now, but not enough can be said about the Brewers era of scouting while Jack Zduriencik was there. Their first round picks between 2002 and 2005 were Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Mark Rogers, and Ryan Braun. While Mark Rogers can be considered a failure, nearly the entire 2004 draft was a bust (outside of Justin Verlander at 2 and Jered Weaver at 12.) The other 3 are the core of the team.
Their first round picks in 2006 and 2008 (Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi) were key parts used to acquire Zack Greinke. 2007 first round pick Matt LaPorta was essential to acquiring CC Sabathia who willed the Brewers to the playoffs for the first time since 1982. Brett Lawrie, drafted in 2008 as well, was used to acquire Shaun Marcum. Very few teams could ever hope to be so right on first round picks over such a period of time. You hope that you can, but teams so rarely do. (2008 35th overall pick Evan Frederickson can be considered a lost cause as well.)
If the Brewers had decided to hold onto their future, they certainly could have an excellent farm system, but instead they decided to have a good team in 2011 and how can you fault them for that when players like Odorizzi and Lawrie haven't debuted yet and LaPorta certainly looks like he was sold at his highest moment.
(In addition to that, Yovani Gallardo was drafted in the 2nd round in 2004)
Top Player to Debut in 2010: Jonathan Lucroy, C
Any time you get a catcher who swing the stick a little bit, you don't want to be quick to dismiss it. Heck, if a catcher has a hot week you might want to pick him up on a flier. Lucroy was a 3rd round pick by the Brewers in 2007 and in his 2nd season in the minors he hit .301/.377/.495 with 20 HR in 129 games across 2 levels. His debut last season wasn't spectacular (.253/.300/.329 in nearly half-a-season) but he's followed that up with a .287/.330/.446, 7 HR, 33 RBI, good for a 111 OPS+. Lucroy recently had a rough 21 game stretch that saw him hit .138/.174/.200, so he's not yet reliable on an everyday basis. But like teammate Casey McGehee before him, you never know when an average hitter can get hot and rack up a lot of run scoring opportunities hitting next to Fielder and Braun.
Prince Fielder Successor?: Hunter Morris, 1B
With Fielder having the best season of his career, he may be pricing himself out of Milwaukee. That's where Morris could step in as early as 2012. He was a 2nd round pick by the Red Sox out of high school but chose to go to Auburn instead and the Brewers drafted him in the 4th round in 2010. Baseball America didn't list him in the Brewers top 10 prospects before the year but they did rate him as the best power hitter in the system. He hit .282/.315/.511 with 11 HR in 65 high-A games this year before a recent promotion. Morris may not have the upside of Fielder, but could be an interesting first base sleeper prospect.
Top Pitching Prospect: Tyler Thornburg, RHP
Did I mention the system was thin? The Brewers have a number of interesting pitching prospect and it's just the fact that Thornburg has had the best numbers this season that I'm listing him here. I'll mention a few other names as well. Thornburg was a 3rd round pick in last seasons draft and he has yet to take a loss in his professional career. Pitching in single-A this year he went 7-0, 1.57 ERA, 68.2 innings, 49 hits allowed, 76 K's, 25 bb's. With the recent trades, the failure of Mark Rogers to turn his career around, and 2010 1st round pick Dylan Covey deciding to go to college instead of sign with the Brewers, Thornburg could find himself atop the Brewers prospect lists if he continues to succeed. He has now made 1 start in high-A and went 5 innings, 2 hits, 6 K's, and 0 bb's.
Wily Peralta is a 22-year-old with AA Hunstville and the right-hander is 5-6, 4.68 ERA, 75 Ks', 31 bb's in 77 innings.
Cody Scarpetta, RHP, was rated as the 2nd best prospect in the system by BA (after Rogers), after posting 10 K/9 last season. This year he's 4-3, 4.08 ERA in 75 innings with 72 Ks, 38 bbs, 66 hits allowed in AA.
For any of these pitchers, they don't seem to have a realistic shot to join the rotation until 2013 since the Brewers rotation is all signed through next year and doing well enough. If an injury happens, which of course is entirely possible if not likely, Thornburg seems to have the highest upside at this moment. Did I mention the system is thin?
Top Player to Debut in 2011: Eduardo Sanchez, RP
Sanchez is "only" a relief pitcher, but he's a really good relief pitcher who could be picking up mucho saves in the near and long-term future. Baseball America rated him as the Cardinals #7 prospect, lofty praise for a bullpen guy. In 28.2 innings this year he's struck out 33, walked 16, and allowed only 14 hits. With Ryan Franklins days as closer all but over, Sanchez will have to compete with current closer Fernando Salas for future opportunities. Salas is a good pitcher in his own right and just 26 years old, so there's no guarantee that Sanchez will be the closer in 2012, but he's at least worth a roster move for owners who like good setup guys or handcuffing closers.
Top Hitter Near the Majors: Zach Cox, 3B
I am not a big fan of Zach Cox. He got a big signing bonus after being drafted 25th overall last season and came into the year ranked #62 by BA. I don't think he'll hit for a lot of power and it's questionable if he can be a major league 3B when you combine the questionable bat and the defense. That being said he did hit .335/.380/.439 in high-A this year. However, in 32 AA games he's hitting .207/.290/.293 with 2 HR. He does have one good thing going for him however: he plays third base in the Cardinals organization. I am not a believer in David Freese and with his injury this year it has shown how bad things can get offensively when they have nobody hitting in that spot. He's a big name with some talent and he could get an opportunity by next season.
Top Prospect in the System: Shelby Miller, SP
Miller was the 19th overall pick out of high school in 2009 and he's done nothing but shoot up the charts since then. He features a high-90's fastball, a very good curve, and a change-up that I've seen rated as at least "average" to "impressive" The proof is in the pudding however and that's what I'm most concerned about as Miller has been lights out.
Many people believed if he pitched well he could earn a late season promotion to AA. Well, after 9 starts at high-A he was 2-3 (when will people understand that win-loss records mean NOTHING! I just point them out for the sake of people who are curious) with a 2.89 ERA, 81:20 K:BB ratio in 53 innings and 40 hits allowed. The 20 year old was promoted to AA and is 3-1 in 5 starts, 33:8 in 32 innings and 26 hits allowed. If the Cardinals are in the playoff hunt come September is crazy to think of an Adam Wainwright-type transition for Miller, who some are calling the best pitching prospect in the game? He should join the rotation by 2012, a full year ahead of schedule, and it won't be all that surprising. Wainwright is working back from TJ (He says he wants to come back this season, but that seems unlikely) and Chris Carpenter will be 37(!) years old. Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook don't figure into the long-term plans, but Miller, Jaime Garcia, and Kyle McClellan form an interesting core for the future of the rotation along with a healthy Wainwright.
Two Aces?: Carlos Matias, SP
Some people believe that Matias, formerly Carlos Martinez, has at least the upside of Shelby Miller. A scary thought considering. The Cards swooped up Matias on the IFA market last June when he was rated by some as the best picher available and with a fastball that rated as an 80 on the 20-80 scale. His results in single-A as a 19 year old this year are impressive: 2.33 ERA, 50:14 in 38.2 innings and 27 hits allowed. There's no reason to rush Matias now, allowing him to work on his changeup and curveball so he can become the ace he has the potential to be. Matias could be a #1 starter in the big leagues by 2014 if all goes well.
Keep Him Handy: Allen Craig, OF/2B/3B/1B
Craig was rated by BA as the organizations 5th best prospect and best power hitting prospect going into the season. He's thus far played a least 1 game at all of the positions listed which could make him very handy in fantasy leagues this year and next. His results so far have been outstanding: .336/.405/.523 in 40 games and with previous players like Freese and Jon Jay performing better than expected, there's reason to believe that Craig could become a solid fantasy contributor.
Top Player to Debut in 2010: Pedro Alvarez, 3B
There's been a lot of owners who express nothing but disappointment with Alvarez, but he was far from terrible in his rookie season. Despite the strikeouts (which are a legitimate concern) he hit .256/.326/.461, 16 HR, 64 RBI, 21 doubles in 95 games as a 23 year old. He hit just .208/.283/.304 with 2 HR and 10 RBI in 36 games this year before getting injured and he's not expected back until some time after the All-Star break. With seemingly constant setbacks and ever-present concerns about his work ethic, few people know what to make of Alvarez. But the potential for a future 35-HR threat still remains, and hitting cleanup for the Pirates in the future is much better than it used to be thanks to Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata at the top of the order.
Other Top Player to Debut in 2010: Jose Tabata, OF
When the Pirates traded Xavier Nady to the Yankees for Tabata in 2008 (other players were involved, but this is the crux of the deal to me) it was the first time I can remember thinking "Hmm, the Pirates are moving in the right direction." Constantly shuffling out their best players for prospects for years and years wasn't working obviously, but this one felt different. Nady was of no use to the Pirates, nor was Damaso Marte, also sent to the Yankees, and yet they got back someone interesting. There were mixed opinions on Tabata, but just the fact that there were positive opinions at all sounded good to me. Some thought he had excellent potential, others thought he would never pan out. So far the deal has worked out splendidly for the Pirates (along with Jeff Karstens) and Tabata hit .299/.346/.400 with 19 SB in 102 games last year at just 21 years old. He started slower this year and has recently hit the DL with a quad strain, but Tabata is only 22 and has a bright future as a potential 40 SB threat with a lot of runs scored.
Top Player Close to the Majors: Starling Marte, OF
Marte didn't make BA's top 100, but they did list him as the 4th best prospect in a pretty deep system. The 22 year old centerfielder has played 70 AA games this year and is hitting .337/.368/.483, 4 HR, 25 RBI, 16 SB, 22 doubles. He wasn't called up to replace Tabata this time, but if he continues to hit well and display good speed, I could see him joining the outfield in 2012, if the Pirates choose to slide Garrett Jones to 1B on a permanent basis.
Top Prospect in the System: Jameson Taillon, SP
Taillon was the 2nd overall pick last year and BA's #11 prospect headed into the season. It will be interesting to see if #1 pick Gerritt Cole would slide ahead of him in the rankings, but either way the Pirates have 2 potential #1 starters added to their system over the last 2 years. Taillon displayed a ridiculous amount of talent for a high-schooler, featuring a high-90s fastball and what some called the best curveball in the draft as well. It's no surprise that he has gotten strikeouts in his debut but the control for a player his age is astounding so far: 42.2 innings, 38 K's, 4 bbs, 40 hits allowed 3.16 ERA in single-A. There's no reason to rush him, though he could see high-A at some point this year.
Overall Look at the Pitching:
It's debatable that there are better groups of pitching prospect in baseball, at least headed into the season: Atlanta and Kansas City to name two. But the Pirates could make a good case, especially after drafting Cole this year, to have a deep system with a few very high-upside guys. After the failures of Brad Lincoln, Danny Moskos, Bryan Bullington, and John Van Benschoten, they could really use that. It's because of those names that I won't pretend to know if these guys will pan out, but they've got the potential to be very good or great.
Stetson Allie: It was a risky 2nd round choice last year as few people thought he would sign. Some think he may eventually become a closer. He just made his professional debut recently and after 2 starts has struck out 6 and walked 7 in 5 innings. He pitches in the mid-to-high 90s and believes his "slider" to be his out pitch.
Luis Heredia: At just 16 years old, Heredia is already turning heads and making his professional debut this season. Even Taillon was quoted as saying that he is learning from the minor league minor. His IFA bonus of 2.6 million was the highest in the history of the franchise, and I can't recall this kind of hype for a pitcher of this age since Felix Hernandez. I'm not comparing the two, I'm just saying its really rare for players of this age to get this kind of experience and praise so early.
Nicholas Kingham: The Pirates use of money in the IFA market and the draft over the past several years is a big reason as to why they could be competing for a World Series by the middle of the decade. Kingham doesn't seem to have quite the upside of the others, but he was a 4th round pick signed away from Oregon last year. He's made 3 low-A starts this year and has struck out 13 in 13 innings, 6 walks, and 15 hits.
The Pirates have several other interesting pitching prospects like Bryan Morris, Jeff Locke, and Zack Van Rosenberg, but they haven't quite performed up to par this year.
Top Player to Debut in 2011: Todd Frazier, Util
It seems like a long-time coming for Frazier, the first round pick in 2007. He was a BA top 100 prospect in 2009 and 2010, but after a somewhat disappointing 2010 season (as well as other prospects just being better) he's slipped on the prospect lists just a little bit. Truthfully, he wasn't all that bad: .258/.333/.448, 17 HR, 14 SB in AAA and he's been better this season: .278/.365/.516, 14 HR, 11 SB in 73 games but he's now 25 years old. Frazier has spent time at every infield position in the minors as well as left field. He's gotten all of 1 PA in the majors but seems to be on the cusp of making it on a permanent basis. He could come in handy to fantasy owners who like multiple-position threats with a little power and a little speed.
Top Player to Debut in 2010: Aroldis Chapman, LHP
Chapman was described as the left-handed Stephen Strasburg who could hit 104 on the radar gun. The speed was as good as advertised, but Chapman has shown almost no control in 2011. There were concerns when he came into the league that he'd never be a starter, and so far he's done nothing to convince us otherwise. I still believe that his worst case scenario would be Carlos Marmol, and he could be a dominating closer someday, but he was so bad at time this year (in May he went .1 innings over 3 appearances with 1 hit allowed, 9 walks and 0 strikeouts) that the only thing we know about him so far is that he can throw the ball really, really hard. He needs to find out where its going, and if he ever does, watch out.
Top Player Close to the Majors: Devin Mesoraco, C
Mesoraco was the 15th overall selection in 2007 who immediately seemed like a lost cause. He found that cause last year and hit .302/.377/.587 with 26 HR in 113 games across 3 levels. That bumped him up to 64 on BA's top 100 entering this season and he's not yet disappointed. .315/.395/.525, 8 HR, 28 2B in 70 games with 32 walks and 50 K's. Ramon Hernandez is a free agent after the year which should be Devin's chance to grab the starting job, where he could be a fantasy stud at catcher.
Another Catcher: Yasmani Grandal, C
The Reds decided to take another catcher at 12th overall in last years draft. Grandal has come onto the scene in a big way hitting .303/.409/.513 with 10 HR in 62 games. He was recently promoted to AA and is hot on Devin's heels. I wouldn't encourage the Reds to make a move on one of these guys just yet, as we've seen "catcher loaded systems" fall apart before (The Rangers a couple of years ago) so they should just be happy with where they are at right now. But Grandal doesn't seem like he's too far away from contributing at the next level.
Another Y Guy: Yonder Alonso, 1B/OF
Alonso was the 7th overall pick in 2008, and his prospect status has slipped just a little bit since then as we wait for his big breakout. He's never been bad, he's just never been amazing and he's blocked at 1B forever by Joey Votto. He's been working in the outfield over the last year which means the Reds still don't care about outfield defense. He's hitting .303/.371/.485 with 9 HR in AAA this year and doesn't have much left to prove there. He is on the cusp of the majors and could be a trade chip for the Reds.
Fastest Player in the Minors?: Billy Hamilton, SS/2B
He's currently hitting .237/.294/.326 at single-A ball, but Hamilton may possess a tool so special it will get him to the majors no matter how badly he hits. Mentioned by Jeremy in the Minor League Monitor several times this year, he's stolen 103 bases in his last 140 games and caught only 17 times. Hamilton is still 2-3 years away, but is one to keep an eye on.
Top Player to Debut in 2010, part 1: Starlin Castro, SS
He's probably the best homegrown Cubs position player to come around in a very long time, and yet offensively he's still a work in progress. That's not to say that he's been bad: .307/.346/.421 in his career so far, it's just that he's still got a lot of room to grow. As a defensive-whiz at the toughest position and for a player that already stays steady above .300 at age 21 he's one of the more exciting young players in the league. Castro has avoided the sophomore slump and has improved in almost each and every category: In 46 less games than what he had last year he already has the same amount of stolen bases (10), just 10 fewer doubles (21), 1 fewer home run (2), 4 fewer RBIs (37), and 2 more triples (7).
Last season he was caught stealing 8 times and this season just once. If Castro continues to develop like this he could turn into a doubles machine with 20-30 stolen bases, a ton of runs, and 200 hits. He got plenty of hype in last years rookie class, but was overshadowed by players like Jason Heyward, Stephen Strasburg, and Buster Posey. But when it's all said and done, he may be the most valuable out of all of them in real life. In fantasy, he's still a work in progress, but he's getting there. (And faster than those 3)
Top Player to Debut in 2010, part 2: Andrew Cashner, SP
Cashner exhausted rookie eligibility last year when he pitched 54.1 major league innings (50:30 K:BB ratio, 4.80 ERA in relief) but he most likely would have remained a top 100 prospect if he didn't eclipse the magic mark of innings pitched in 2010. He's made just 1 major league start this year (5.1 innings, 2 hits, 2 K's, 1 BB) but has been excellent in the minors. Most of his time has been spent in AA, but in 21 AAA innings he has 17 K's, just 2 BB's, and a .86 ERA. Cashner has spent most of the season on the DL since getting injured in his April 5th start, and the hope is that he can return in a month but more will be found out when he sees a doctor today. Whether it's later this season, or the beginning of 2012, Cashner should for all intents and purposes be a member of the Cubs starting rotation. If they're smart, or able to, the Cubs will have dealt Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster by then.
Top Prospect in the System: Brett Jackson, OF
The Cubs hope that Jackson, along with Cashner, can break a long losing streak of their 1st round picks. You'd have to go back to Mark Prior in 2001 to find the last Cub to make a significant major league contribution and we know how that worked out. Before him was Corey Patterson in 1998, who also turned into a disappointment. They drafted Jon Garland 10th overall in 1997 and traded him for Matt Karchner. Kerry Wood in 1995 has had his good moments and bad moments, but overall is a "What could have been?" story. They drafted Rafael Palmeiro in 1985 and then traded him and Jamie Moyer to Texas for a lot of nothing. You might have to go back to Shawon Dunston, the #1 pick in 1982, as one of the few Cubs 1st round picks to significantly contribute to the Chicago Cubs. And even he was worth 10.0 brWAR in his career.
Stop me if you've heard of these top 10 picks: Josh Vitters, Ryan Harvey, Luis Montanez, Ryan Kieschnick, Earl Cunningham, Ty Griffin, Mike Harkey, Derrick May. Most of you have problably heard of Josh Vitters and then stopped me. I had to stop myself too.
Oh yeah, Brett Jackson. Jackson, the 31st pick in the 2009 draft, is the top Cub left in the system. That's not a whole lot of praise, because the Cubs system is weak, but Jackson is quite good and was rated as BA's #38 prospect. The Cubs, like the Brewers, sold off a large part of their future in an effort to win now. The problem is that the Cubs weren't 1 or 2 pieces away from winning now. They're like 5 or 6 pieces away, and that would include getting rid of Alfonso Soriano. Instead, they inexplicably traded Chris Acher, Hak-Ju Lee, Brandon Guyer, Sam Fuld, and Robinson Chirinos for Matt Garza and two other players. And I even like Matt Garza. Archer, Lee, and Guyer were the 1st, 4th, and 10th best players in the system per BA. Even Sam Fuld is a player I'd much rather have than Soriano.
Jackson hit .297/.395/.493, 12 HR, 30 SB, 32 doubles, 14 triples in 128 games last year. He mixes power and speed and draws a lot of walks, though he strikes out more than once per game on average. On the major league level he could make an ideal leadoff hitter, something that Kosuke Fukodome is not. He's struggled this year in AA, .246/.361/.427, but he's still a very good prospect and should join the Cubs no later than 2012.
Top Pitching Prospect: Trey McNutt, RHP
He was a steal in the 32nd round in 2009 and came into this season as the #48 prospect in baseball. McNutt pitched across 3 levels last season and in 116.1 innings had 132 K's, 37 bb's, 93 hits allowed and a 2.48 ERA. He's missed time with injury this season and pitched just 39.2 innings with 22 K's and 16 bb's. He's still just 21 and in AA. He could join the rotation by 2013 if all went well.
Josh Vitters Update: Josh Vitters, 3B
Vitteres was the 3rd overall pick in 2007, drafted out of high school and expected to turn into power-hitting superstar. He had a good full-season debut in 2008, hitting .322/.357/.495, 5 HR, 38 RBI, 28 doubles, in 65 games. Not a lot of walks, a whole lot of doubles and he was just 18. The next year he split between A and high-A and hit .284/.314/.456, 18 HR, 19 doubles, 65 strikeouts, 12 walks in 120 games. He walked fewer times in almost twice as many games as he did in 2008, hit 11 less doubles, though the home runs went up and the strikeouts went way down. People were beginning to become skeptical of Vitters, but still a teenager, people didn't want to give up on him. Last season he hit .247/.312/.405 with 10 HR and 20 doubles in 91 games. Now people are more ready to give up on him.
He fell off the BA top 100 for the first time entering this season. He has hit .279/.315/.442, 7 HR, 17 doubles, 8 walks and 19 strikeouts in 69 games. He's only 21 and at AA, but Vitters, despite his low strikeout rates, doesn't walk enough or hit for enough power to be an elite or even above average offensive third baseman.
Top Player to Debut in 2011: Jordan Lyles, SP
It's a scary proposition to the Astros farm system that Lyles is 14 innings away from exhausting his rookie eligibility. The 20 year old was far and away the best prospect left in the system, but the major league team couldn't go on any longer without him seeing that they're the worst team in baseball. Lyles was the #42 prospect per BA going into the season and has made 6 major league starts: 36 innings, 28 K's, 8 bb's, 4.75 ERA. Not too bad for a kid who can't drink yet.
The team isn't competing in the near future, but they've got some good pieces to build around with Lyles, Bud Norris, Michael Bourn, Brett Wallace, and Hunter Pence. However, those building blocks most likely aren't coming from the minor league system any time soon. They'll be lucky if they can get anything significant in return for Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez, or Brett Myers at this point, but they should try. Rodriguez may be the best bargaining chip they have left.
Top Player to Debut in 2010: Brett Wallace, 1B
The opinions on Wallace varied so much that the former #13 pick was traded 3 times before he ever reached the majors. Every team that wanted him, eventually decided that they could do without him. Most thought he would never hit enough to make it in the pros, but for the Astros that's not a requirement. So far they have lucked out and Wallace has surprisingly hit .291/.377/.414, 4 HR, 22 RBI, 19 doubles this season. It's far less power than you expect from a first baseman, and that may ultimately be his downfall, but Wallace is one of the few bright spots in a very dark season. If he could move off to a position that didn't require him to hit 20 home runs, he'd be just fine.
2010 8th Overall Pick: Delino DeShields, Jr, 2B
Teams like the Pirates, Nationals, and Royals have been able to turn their fortunes a bit without missing too hard on their high draft picks or by striking gold. It's not as easy to pick at 8 then it is top 5, but you can't make excuses. You either got it or you don't. It's still far too early to grade last years draft, but early returns on DeShields aren't great. In 66 high-A games he's hitting .198/.286/.324 with 6 HR, 27 RBI, 14 SB, 8 CS, and 72 K's. He's just 18 years old and if he does reach the majors, it likely won't be for another 3 years at least, but the system is so thin that I have to talk about somebody.
Defense and Stolen Bases: Jonathan Villar, SS
Villar was acquired by the Astros in the Roy Oswalt deal and is said to have a major league ready glove at SS. However, he is just a .259 career hitter in the minors without any power. What he does have is 24 stolen bases in 67 minor league games this year, the last 20 spent at AA and he is just 20 years old.
His fantasy profile at the major league level isn't as good as Castro, and may compare more favorably to Elvis Andrus but even that may be a stretch. He could be in the majors by next season just based on the Astros needs and his ability to play defense, but he probably shouldn't find his way onto fantasy rosters that soon.
One More to Mention: JD Martinez, OF
Without much success from other Astros prospects like Tanner Bushue, Jio Mier, Mike Kvasnicka, or Jay Austin, I'm not left with much to talk about. Martinez is one of the few players having a good season thus far. Currently at AA Corpus Christi he is hitting .315/.382/.468, 6 HR, 45 RBI, 16 2B in 61 games. He is 23 years old, so he's not especially young for the league and should move up to AAA. He primarily plays left field, a spot currently occupied by Carlos Lee's 18.5 million dollars through next season. If they are able to trade Lee, Martinez could see the majors soon and profile as a high contact hitter with moderate power but few stolen bases.
Addition: Just because the 'Stros need all the help they can get, here's a link to a piece from John Sickels today on Xavier Cedeno.