The Houston Astros may have changed leagues and uniforms, but the chances of them changing their losing ways anytime soon is slim. When and if they do turn into contenders is going to depend heavily on a farm system that hasn't produced much in terms of top-end talent lately. However, hope may on the horizon, as there are finally more than a couple of high-ceiling prospects coming through.
My Top 10
1. Carlos Correa SS/3B
2. Jonathan Singleton 1B
3. Delino Deshields Jr. 2B
4. George Springer OF
5. Domingo Santana OF
6. Rio Ruiz 3B/1B
7. Lance McCullers RHP
8. Jarred Cosart RHP
9. Mike Foltynewicz RHP
10. Jonathan Villar SS
Age by 4/1/2013: 18
Notes: 6'4" with massive raw power at age 18. Despite size, Correa has excellent athleticism and a great arm. He also gets rave reviews for his makeup and work ethic.
With my own eyes (video): Correa has a simple swing mechanics with that keeps complications to a minimum and should allow his natural ability to sine as he gains more at-bats. His swing-path is also impressive: direct to the ball with full extension and should generate plenty of backspin and loft as his body fills out.
Upside: He becomes one of the best players in baseball with power and plate discipline while playing above average defense at a premium position.
Downside: His pitch recognition never develops and the raw tools don't quite develop enough. Still should be a major league talent even in this scenario.
Fantasy potential: Annual first rounder with AVG/OBP and power from a premium position.
Age by 4/1 2013: 21
Notes: Big and strong with plenty of power potential to still tap into, Singleton has the raw ingredients, along with very advanced pitch recognition and plate discipline, to be one of the best sluggers in the game. However, he has some issues against left-handed pitching and will never be an asset defensively due to a lack of mobility.
With my own eyes (live): Sweet left-handed swing that generates plenty of power already with room for more. Quick, strong wrists Good hip rotation, but front hip can open a bit too soon sometimes, causing his hands to drag behind. This is something he seemed to work on and improve upon in 2012.
Upside: .300/.380/.550 with 30+ HR annually
Downside: He never turns the corner against lefties: .265/.350/.490 with 20-25 HR annually
Fantasy potential: Potential for 30-plus home runs with 100-plus RBI annually with even more value in OBP leagues due to advanced discipline. A perennial second or third round pick.
Delino DeShields Jr.
Age by 4/1/2013: 20
Notes: Struggled as an 18-year-old in the Sally League in 2011, but raw skills began to become in-game production this past season. Explosive speed and advanced pitch recognition/plate discipline are headlining game-ready skills.
With my own eyes (video): Swing is short and quick to the ball. Almost no wasted movement. Surprisingly unimpressive on defense. Looks stiff with poor footwork and not a great arm, which likely limits him to 2B/LF.
Upside: .300/.380/.440 with a hand-full of home runs and 70-plus stolen bases. Average defense at 2B.
Downside: Hit tool doesn't reach full potential and he stays a below average defender, but still gets on base at a decent clip while stealing a ton of bases.
Fantasy potential: Could help you dominate the SB category, but ultimate potential will be based on how well his hit tool continues to develop.
Age by 4/1/2013: 23
Notes: One of the best athletes that I saw in the Cal League this past season, Springer has shown the ability to hit for power and steal bases, but has also shown a propensity to swing and miss a bit too often. Profiles as an above average centerfielder.
With my own eyes (live): Springer can fall into a bad habit of collapsing his shoulders when he strides, dropping his line of sight and creating a loop in his swing that can be easily exposed by good fastballs. When he gets extension, the ball jumps off of his bat. However, his swing can also get long at times, which, along with an aggressive approach, could lead to more struggles like the one he faced when promoted to Double-A in 2012.
Upside: 20/20 with a .275/.375/.500 and above average defense in center.
Downside: Strikeouts continue to be an issue, leading to .250/.350/.480
Fantasy potential: 20/20 bats are always valuable, but plenty of risk in AVG.
MLB Regular Potential
Age by 4/1/2013: 19
Notes: "Big arm" are two words that have been used to describe McCullers. As a starter, his fastball sits at 92-96 with flashed of 97-plus. Much of his future will be based on the development of his slider as a true out pitch.
With my own eyes (video): McCullers's mechanics look fairly clean, so the hope is that in the future he'll learn to consistently repeat his delivery — some reports suggest he struggles with this. There is a certain degree of max-effort at times toward the end of his delivery, which is why some see him as a future bullpen arm. Arm strength, demeanor, and a projectable slider suggest he could become a high-end reliever if things don't work out in the rotation.
Upside: 2-3 starter in the big leagues, but there is a lot of work to be done between now and then.
Downside: Middle reliever who struggles with command, but still generates a good number of strikeouts.
Fantasy potential: Best bet for fantasy owners is that McCullers turns into a closer, thus limiting the risk of his inconsistencies.
Age by 4/1/2013: 20
Notes: Over his first two minor league seasons, Santana hit 26 combined home runs, but many believed that he would break out in the power department this past season. As it turned out, Santana was indeed ready to break out and the Cal League was the perfect place for him to do it in. Not only did Santana show an increase in his in-game power, but he also showed improvements in pitch recognition as the season progressed.
With my own eyes (live): The negative for me continues to be the ferociousness in which he swings the bat. His swing isn’t necessarily long, it’s actually rather compact with surprising bat speed, but he swings way too hard for me to project that he’ll hit for average at the upper levels. Players can succeed while swinging hard as long as it doesn't affect the swing mechanics, which is does with regard to Santana (i.e. head and shoulders pulling out early). That overly aggressive swing has led to consistently high strikeout rates throughout his minor league career and the same held true this season.
Upside: Moderate in terms of average and OBP, but ifhis raw power continues to become more and more refined, he could hit between 20 and 30 home runs at his peak.
Downside: Too many swings and missed againt advanced breaking balls could lead to continued struggles at the plate, leaving his power potential to rot on the bench. He doesn't profile to be much of an asset on defense, thus limiting his value and increasing his ability to be replaced.
Fantasy potential: Above average risk, but reward of .275/.340 with 25-30 HR.
Age by 4/1/2013: 18
Notes: The first two things people tend to notice about Ruiz are his build and sweet swing from the left side of the plate. Though he is extremely athletic, he's far from a burner on the bases. Injuries have already been a problem in his amateur career.
With my own eyes (video): Very fluid lefty swing. Clears hips well and has good hands through the contact zone. I haven't seen too much on the defensive end, but reports indicate that with some work, he can be adequate or better at the big league level. Has the arms strength to build around.
Upside: Could turn into a premium third baseman that displays a good eye at the plate, hits for average and 20-plus home run power with good, not great, defense.
Downside: Injuries could derail any career and reports indicate that there is a above average risk in this department for Ruiz.
Fantasy potential: The type of bat at a premium position that is a consistent top-three round pick.
Role Player Potential
Age by 4/1/2013: 22
Notes: Cosart has always been praised for his pure stuff, but that stuff has yet to translate info big-time numbers at the higher levels. He keeps the ball in the yard and, more often than not, on the ground, which leaves some hope that he can continue to develop as a starter.
With my own eyes (live): Mechanics are a major issue for me. Cosart has the infamous "inverted W" arm action, which has been critiqued insistently. I not only dislike the arm action for the added stress it causes in the throwing arm, but for the issues that can rise with having to rush the arm through the delivery, which can lead to a lack of command if not refined. He also throws a bit across his body; another mechanic that is hard to refine.
Upside: If everything comes together and the swing-and-miss stuff actually starts to generate a ton of swings and misses, number two starter.
Downside: Middle reliever that continues to struggle with command. Injury risk is above average in my opinion.
Fantasy potential: Wide range causes risk to be extra high. Proceed with caution.
Age by 4/1/2013: 21
Notes: Foltynewciz biggest issue is his lack of projectability as anything more than a number three starter. His biggest strength in terms of career outlook is that he's viewed as nothing less than a solid future 4-5 in any big league rotation. "Innings eater" is a term often used to describe his potential.
With my own eyes (video): While watching video of Foltynewicz, it's easy to see why scouts are so certain he's a good bet to be a consistent major leaguer. His mechanics are smooth, simple and he easily repeats his motion.
Upside: Number three starter that could have some sub-four ERA seasons and win 10-plus games with some help.
Downside: He is never anything more than an innings eater.
Fantasy potential: He'll be the type of pitcher you stream off of waivers in mixed leagues.
Age by 4/1/2013: 21
Notes: While the raw tools remain in tack, four minor league seasons have come and gone without a significant improvement in his game. Villar lacks the consistency both at the plate and in the field and his mental approach to the game has come under question numerous times.
With my own eyes (video): Villar has a couple of hitches to start his swing that could stand to be quieted, particularly with his hands. Swing has always looked a bit longer from the right side of the plate. The tools are there definitively, but folks who have seen Villar more often than I have note that a lack of concentration leads to consistent high error totals.
Upside: There is potential for Villar to somehow put all the tools together and become a .300/.340 15 HR, 30-plus SB shortstop, but I wouldn't bet on it.
Downside: His athleticism gets him to the big leagues, but struggles against advanced pitching and errors on defense relegate him to a part-time role.
Fantasy potential: See upside, but note downside, which is more likely in my opinion. If he can manage to play everyday at shortstop, his stolen base numbers will give him some value.
About the author: Charlie Saponara is a former college baseball player who has coached at the high school and collegiate levels. He currently works for the Visalia Rawhide, high-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. You can find examples of his scouting reports from Project Prospect here (Mike Trout), here (Tyler Skaggs), and here (Billy Hamilton).