Losing well over 100 games for three consecutive seasons and selling off every quality major league player on your roster has one positive effect – it fosters a great farm system. The Houston Astros may have the worst team in baseball, but they have the best farm system, with seven representatives on MLB.com’s top 100 list and a mixture of high upside and high floor prospects below that.
Triple-A: Oklahoma City RedHawks(Pacific Coast League)
Double-A: Corpus Christi Hooks (Texas League)
High-A: Lancaster JetHawks (California League)
Class-A: Quad Cities River Bandits (Midwestern League)
Short-Season A: Tri-City ValleyCats (New-York Penn League)
Advanced Rookie: Greeneville Astros (Appalachian League)
Complex-Rookie: GCL Astros (Gulf Coast League), DSL Astros (Dominican Summer League)
Date of Birth: January 19, 1987
Height/Weight: 6’4 315 lbs
Acquired: International Free Agent
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Analysis: Losing over 105 games for three consecutive can make a team desperate for talent, which is what brought Houston to the Mexican League and Japhet Amador. When he was signed to a minor league deal last August, the 26 year old first baseman had ranked second in the Mexican League in home runs and slugging percentage, and third in OPS. He has power to all fields, as evidenced by his MLBfarm.com hit chart and he doesn’t strikeout much (15% k rate). That being said, his numbers are artificially inflated by the hitter-friendly Mexican League, and at an unmuscular 315 pounds, he probably lacks the athleticism to play the field. Still, Amador has a shot - however remote – to be a decent DH/pinch hitter.
2014 Prognosis: Armador will contend for a DH spot out of spring training, but it’s hard to see him bringing much more to the table than incumbent Chris Carter.
Date of Birth: July 6, 1990
Height/Weight: 6’0, 217 lbs
Acquired: 7th round, 2012 draft
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Analysis: Listed by MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo as a 20 runner on the 20 – 80 scouting scale, Tucker is slow, but he can flat out rake. As he showed last year with 25 home runs and a .297 average between Lancaster and Corpus Christi, the University of Florida standout has the potential to hit for both power and average. His approach at the plate is advanced, as evidenced by his slightly above MLB average 9.3% walk rate and slightly below average 17% strikeout rate. Tucker’s instincts and arm are adequate enough to make him a passable fielder in right or left, but with his speed, he’ll never be much more than that.
2014 Prognosis: After starting 2014 in Double-A, Tucker should reach Triple-A by the summer.
Date of Birth: April 7, 1994
Height/Weight: 6’3 160 lbs
Acquired: Trade, Baltimore Orioles
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Analysis: The centerpiece of last summer’s deadline deal that sent Bud Norris to Baltimore, Hader is a projectable lefty who could be mid-rotation starter down the road. He has a solid three pitch mix, with a low-90’s fastball that should only get harder as he adds to his rather thin 6’3’ 160 lb frame, and a curveball and changeup that should soon be major league quality. Although his 4.5 BB/9 in A ball last season seems to indicate control issues, it is a predictable number for a teenager fresh out of high school, and he should have better command going forward.
2014 Prognosis: Hader will probably spend the vast majority if not the entirety of 2014 with High-A Lancaster.
Date of Birth: June 7, 1992
Height/Weight: 6’3, 203 lbs
Acquired: 2nd round, 2010 Draft
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Analysis: After missing all of 2011 and half of 2012 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Velasquez pitched well in his full-season debut last year. His 3.19 ERA was encouraging, but his peripherals – 10.1 SO/9, 2.7 BB/9 – were outstanding and warranted him his late season promotion to High-A. With three potentially above average pitches in his fastball, changeup, and curve, he’s ready for a harder challenge.
2014 Prognosis: Velasquez will start the year in High-A Lancaster, but should reach Double-A if he continues to miss bats as he has.
Date of Birth: May 22, 1994
Height/Weight: 6’3, 203 lbs
Acquired: 4th round, 2012 Draft
Analysis: The Astros had a higher spending cap in the 2012 draft than any other team, and they used part of that to give Ruiz, a fourth round draft pick, a larger signing bonus than 11 first rounders and pull him away from a commitment to USC. Ruiz works well on both sides of the ball, with enough range to be an above-average third baseman at the big league level, and enough contact and power to be a middle-of-the-order run producer. As a teenager in his first full season, he shouldn’t be judged too much by his 2013 stats, but the twelve home runs, 33 doubles, and 10.5% walk rate are all encouraging signs.
2014 Prognosis: The Astros may decide to be conservative and keep Ruiz in Class-A Quad Cities to start next season or be aggressive and move him up to High-A, either way he should in Lancaster before the season is through.