Andy wants minor league reports, so darn it, I'll give him one. This should be good timing because Baseball America just made a list of Top 10 Astros Prospects. I'll go over that list first, and talk about anyone that I think they missed.
FYI, the full version of the stats I'll be summarizing can be found here.
So, without further ado...
Baseball America's Top 10 Astros Prospects.
1. Chris Burke, 2B.
How does .315 / .396 / .507in a severe pitcher's park sound? That's a monster year by any stretch of the imagination. He has nothing left to prove in the minors, and at age 25 (by the time the season starts) he needs to play. A converted shortstop; reputed to be excellent defensively. I'd compare him to a slightly lesser Marcus Giles, with probably more speed but less power.
2. Ezequiel Astacio, RHP
Certainly made the biggest jump of any prospect on this list. I assumed he was basically a throw-in of the Wagner trade (along with Duckworth and Bucholz, the main prospect), but a 3.89 ERA and 56 / 185 walk-to-strikeout ration in 176 innings (in a huge hitter's park) and a dominating Winter League make him the best pitching prospect we've got. I'd like to see him get a look in the bullpen or as a spot starter in spring training. I like the Earl Weaver approach with young pitching prospects - work them in slowly in the bullpen, from one-innings stints to multiple-inning stints, and eventually give them a shot in the rotation. This approach worked well with Roy Oswalt, also, although Astacio isn't quite the prospect Oswalt was.
3. Willy Taveras, CF.
The most overrated prospect in the organization. Yes, he hit .335. Yes, he stole 55 bases. But 16 XBH and 38 BB in 409 AB?? Yuck, yuck, yuck. I'd recommend trading him to a team that covets speed (White Sox? Devil Rays?) or using him as a pinch runner / defensive replacement.
4. Mitch Einerston, OF.
I couldn't find his whole stats, but I found he had 24 HR, 63 RBI, and a .692 slugging percentage in the Appalachian League. And he's 18 years old. By comparison, Manny Ramirez had 19 HR and 63 RBI when he was in the Appalachain League. Mitch was named the #1 App. League prospect by Baseball America. The Astros have tried him at 2B, but I don't really see the need - we're going to need OF's more than 2B in the future. Look for him at A or AA this year.
5. Troy Patton, LHP.
The only guy on the list I've never heard of, Troy comes out of Tomball High School. In 2004 he had a 0.91 ERA and a 24 / 142 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 77 IP. Them's a lotta K's. However, this is against high-school competition. Still, a guy to watch.
6. Matt Albers, RHP.
Had a nice season at Single-A at the age of 21:
3.31 ERA, 57 / 140 in 111.1 IP. Only 3 HR allowed. Not really a grade-A prospect, though.
7. Taylor Bucholz, RHP.
A disappointing 2004 at AAA dropped him down a lot. He was the main prospect we got in the Billy Wagner trade, but he struggled early in 2004, and finished with a 5.23 ERA and a respectable 29 / 74 ratio in 98 IP. His 16 HR allowed really hurt him - he's gotta learn to keep the ball down, especially at The Juice Box. He's only 23, so room to improve.
8. Fernando Nieve, RHP.
22 years old, and a 2.96 ERA in 149 IP? Pretty solid, huh? However, his K rate dropped a lot, as he only struck out 117 while walking 40. Still a good prospect, but you'd like more strikeouts at Single-A.
9. Josh Anderson, OF.
Fast as hell, but you can't steal 1st base. He's only 22, and during two stints at Single-A he combined for 78 SB and only 13 CS, but he also only had 40 XBH and 46 BB in 579 AB. He might be better than Willy Taveras in a year or two, but that's damning with faint praise.
10. Hunter Pence, OF.
Our 1st round pick last year, Pence hit .296 with 27 XBH and 23 BB in only 199 AB, good rate stats. He'll be 21 soon, and should continue to improve.
Some thoughts - no relievers or corner infielders on this list. Some guys that got left out, whether due to their age or they were simply overlooked:
Mike Burns, RHP.
The good? He was finally made a full-time reliever in '04 and responded with a 1.67 ERA and a 15 / 94 ratio in 81 IP. The bad? His career minor league numbers (3.63 ERA, 468 K in 565 innings) aren't that impressive, and he's 26. Last year might have been his peak. Worth a look at spring training, though, especially with our makeshift bullpen.
Todd Self, 1B.
Very similar to Mike Burns, he had a 'peak' year last year and he's also 26, old for a prospect. He hit .315 / .420 / .460, but at a big hitter's park. Not enough power to be a corner infielder in the big leagues. Good batting eye, but probably a minor-league lifer.
Luke Scott, OF. My favorite prospect-you've-never-heard-of. He's also 26 (sensing a trend? We need younger prospects.), but had a big year when promoted to AA last year: 1055 OPS, 36 XBH in 208 AB. A bit above anything he had done in the minors before though...he could probably put up a .250 / .330 / .470 line in the majors for cheap.
Jason Alfaro, UTIL.
Well, that came out of nowhere. At age 27, he hit .325 / .363 / .477 in a pitcher's park. He doesn't walk at all, but neither does Jose Vizcaino, and Alfaro actually has some power. Moral of the story: I hate having Viz on our major league team when we have Alfaro and Conrad in the minors.
Mike Coolbaugh, 3B.
I was excited when I saw that Coolbaugh tore up AAA, with a 950 OPS and 60 XBH in 404 AB. The downside? He's 32. Whoops. Non-prospect.
Brooks Conrad, 2B. The runner-up to Luke Scott in best prospect you've never heard of. Conrad's 25 and has shown good power for a 2B his whole career. His glove isn't too great, but 63 BB and 57 XBH for a 2B is. Too bad we have the Great Viz blocking him.
Hector Gimenez, C. He needs to learn how to hit. He's only 20, so he's got some time, and everyone says he has a cannon, but a 650 OPS in a hitter's park? YECH. Come back in a few years.
So, Burke needs to play, I like Astacio as a reliever / spot starter, and everyone else on the main list isn't ready yet. On my list I wish Alfaro or Conrad could get the chance to be better than Viz for the league minimum rather than paying Viz 1.2 million. We have quite a few decent OF prospects (Einerston, Taveras, Anderson, Pence, Scott), several decent pitching prospects (Astacio, Patton, Albers, Bucholz, Nieve), but our IF prospects are pretty crappy. Only the obvious Burke is good; the rest are too old (Self, Coolbaugh) or too young (Gimenez).
What does this mean? We absolutely shouldn't trade Ensberg, since we get him for a few more years for cheap, we should get used to Everett at SS or look to trade for one, I hope Burke works out, 'cause there's no one else, Berkman will probably slide over to 1st eventually, and we're going to need a catcher in '06 and probably '07 until Gimenez is decent. I read that the Rockies are interested in trading for Robby Hammock - the Astros should get interested, and fast. He'd be a nice temporary fit.
Whew, that's it for now. Tell me if I forgot anybody or whatever.