Another year leads to another terrible season for the Astros. This time, however, they finished worse than last in the NL Central. They finished worst in the entire major leagues. As you might expect with such a record, the Astros played a handful of rookies. The diminuitive Jose Altuve won some hearts, but he wasn’t particularly good. Jordan Lyles made a valiant effort, and while the peripherals looked good, he got batted around a bit. JD Martinez had a better go of it, but he’s probably a fringe-regular. The Astros Rule 5 pick, Aneury Rodriguez, also had similar peripheral/results issues. The best rookie performance was by former Yankee Mark Melancon, who cemented a spot in the back-end of the Astros bullpen. None of the performances were bad, per se, but none of them scream “future core”.
The farm system looked much worse, but some mid-season trades bolstered it, somewhat. The Astros traded Hunter Pence for Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Domingo Santana, and Josh Zeid, but while Cosart, Singleton, and Santana have star upsides, they carry an awful lot of risk for the face of the franchise. They made an even worse deal for Michael Bourn, who is a better player than Pence, by getting no star upside in Brett Oberholtzer, Paul Clemens, or Jordan Schafer. These trades, however, did give the Astros some legitimate prospects, which they were sorely lacking.
The rest of the Top 10 comes from the draft, except for Jonathan Villar (more on him later). George Springer could be a future All-Star center fielder, but the contact issues may make him worse than that. Adrian Houser has a big arm and promise, but he basically only throws a fastball and a decent curve at this point. And Jack Armstrong is an interesting piece, but he is still a project, despite being from Vanderbilt and a college junior. There’s certainly some talent, but the Astros also took more than the normal amount of risk.
The Astros organization is simply in bad shape. There is little talent at the major-league level, and there’s really not a whole lot more down on the farm. If you’re an Astros fan, I’d find a bunker somewhere, fill it with water and canned goods, and come out in about 5-6 years.
George Springer CF
Age/Level: 22/High-A or AA
Projection: 3-5 WAR
The Astros first-round pick is their best prospect at the moment. With above-average to plus speed and a plus arm, Springer’s a weapon in center field, and the speed plays well on the bases. The big question with him is the hit tool as he struck out quite a bit in college, but he improved last season and has the secondary skills to make up for the potentially low batting average, especially as a center fielder. The question remains how his talent will translate into pro baseball, but he looks like a very good center field prospect.
Jarred Cosart SP
Projection: 2/3/4, Relief Ace
While Cosart has the stuff to be an ace, his inconsistency and random bouts of control problems leave scouts scratching their heads and wondering how good he’ll be. Cosart’s fastball sizzles into the plate in the mid-90s and can hit 98 on the gun, but even though he has a curveball and change-up that flash plus, they are inconsistent and occasionally abandon him. His mechanics aren’t terrible, but they require a lot of effort from his arm, as his lower body isn’t as involved as it could be. But scouts still have faith in Cosart. That talent is obviously there, and at age 21, it’s easy to convince yourself that he just needs more innings. He has plenty of time, and he faces a big test as he repeats AA after 7 games there last season.
Jonathan Singleton 1B
Projection: 2-4 WAR
After trying out a bit of outfield, Singleton went back to first, and he looks to stay there in the future. As I’ve said before, you really have to hit if you’re going to be a first base prospect, and Singleton can do that. Singleton makes strong contact and can take his fair share of walks, but I do have some concerns. One is the strikeout rate that jumped in his move to High-A, and the other is the lack of power. The power, at this point, is more troubling as he’s pretty much maxed out physically. Singelton can certainly get stronger, but he’s not a big power threat, even as big as he is now (which is fairly strong). But even if the power doesn’t come, the on-base skills and average or better power should make him a good regular.
Jonathan Villar SS
Projection: 2-4 WAR
Playing in AA as a 20-year old usually indicates that a young player is advanced in his baseball skills, but that isn’t the case with Villar. Villar, instead, has big tools including plus speed, range, and arm strength, but while that looks to make him a plus defender, he can rush himself and try to make too many plays. At the plate, he strikes out frequently due to poor pitch recognition, but he’s improving, being more patient, and adding some power as he fills out. Villar will never have a high batting average, but the secondary skills along with what should be strong defense make him a strong shortstop prospect.
Domingo Santana LF/RF
Projection: 2-4 WAR
Santana’s ticket to the majors will be his bat, and while he certainly has the power, there are concerns about the rest of his tools. He strikes out too much, is a tad too aggressive, and won’t play a premium position. That, however, is focusing on what he can’t do. What he can do is make strong contact, and he’s already showing power while having room left to project quite a bit more. Defensively, Santana is a below-average runner, but he does have a strong arm, meaning right field is his likely destination unless he has to stay at first. Santana will need to refine his approach to keep from flaming out, but he has a chance to be a star.
Paul Clemens SP
Projection: 4/5, Relief Ace
This is perhaps a bit unkind to Mr. Clemens. Clemens has a low-to-mid 90s fastball, and two secondary pitches, a curve and a change, that flash plus. The problem is that the fastball is straight, and the secondary pitches are really inconsistent. It also doesn’t help that he has fringy control and is already 24. While there is a chance that he goes into the rotation, I don’t think that’s his ultimate home, and I think it’s more likely that the Astros bank the fastball, focus on him developing his curveball, and putting him in the bullpen. He certainly has the frame to start, but he’s still a bit of project this late in the game.
Brett Oberholtzer SP
Oberholtzer is a bit of the opposite from his ex-Brave counterpart Clemens. His fastball sits around 90, and he has three secondary pitches (slider, curve, and change) that are all around average. None of them, however, project as plus or as a swing-and-miss pitch, which prevents Oberholtzer from being anything more than a back-of-the-rotation guy. That being said, it’s more likely that he remains in the rotation than Clemens, but while Clemens could be a bit better than that, Oberholtzer will slot in as a 4 or 5.
Adrian Houser SP
Age/Level: 19/Rookie Ball or Low-A
Projection: 3/4, Middle Reliever
Drafted in the second round this past June, Houser is a project. He has plenty of arm strength with a low-90s fastball that can touch 95, and with more training and conditioning, one can imagine him hitting the mid-90s more often. Houser also throws a curveball and change-up, but as you might expect, these only flash being usable pitches, and he’ll need some innings to refine those and gain consistency. Regarding his mechanics, his delivery looks simple and athletic with a bit of an arm wrap that could put undue stress on his elbow, but his inability to repeat it causes some control issues that, again, need innings. You can certainly see why the Astros took a chance on him, but he’s much more projection than reality at the moment.
Delino DeShields, Jr. 2B
Age/Level: 19/Low-A or High-A
Projection: 1-3 WAR
I don’t want to give up on a first-round pick after one year as he becomes accustomed to professional ball, but DeShields didn’t look good when I saw him a few times in Lexington. His swing is “slappy”, though there is some pop when he makes contact, but he strikes out quite frequently, instead of the tradition of having such a swing in order to make frequent contact and use one’s speed. Defensively, he’s okay at second with plenty of speed for the position. His future will depend on the bat, but if he doesn’t make more and better contact, he may not even be a utility player.
Jack Armstrong, Jr. SP
Projection: 3/4/5, Middle Reliever
Again, we’re going to bet on athleticism. Armstrong had a bit of trouble in college, but he still has quite the arm. With a low-90s fastball and an above-average change-up, Armstrong has a nice start to an arsenal, and if the Astros can develop his curveball or get him to switch to a slider for a third pitch, they might have something in Armstrong. Armstrong’s control wavers due to his long levers, but the man who can do standing backflips might be able to harness them enough to have decent control. God only knows what Armstrong will be, but he’s certainly an interesting guy to keep an eye on.
Big Question – Rebuilding
Trading away Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn while also taking offers for Wandy Rodriguez is a pretty clear indication that the organization is rebuilding, and with a new owner and GM, following through seems much more likely. And this organization needs it. The trades were a decent but underwhelming start, and the draft was about the same. The new regime will need to focus more on quality than quantity as it looks to reload, but it will be interesting to see how it does so with the new CBA rules. Teams always find loopholes and new avenues, but we don’t always know them at the beginning.