2016 Houston Astros

  • C – Jamie Ritchie – 23 yo
    • 3.76/.884 combined – PAG/APPA  (HiA Lancaster) 
    • 2016 stats:  .276/.389/.395;  .785 OPS;  20 doubles, 7 home runs;  

After spending their first 51 years of existence in the National League, Houston made the shift to the American League West back in 2013; and it seems that since the move, they’ve churned out kids like a prospect factory. At the catching position, Houston has Jake Rogers and Garrett Stubbs sitting in their current top 30. After this season, I believe 2014  draft pick Jamie Ritchie belongs in the discussion with Rogers and Stubbs. Ritchie was a 2014 draftee out of Belmont University (Nashville). In three years for the Bruins he batted a career .249, but as a pro he’s yet to bat below .276. The 6’2″ – 205 lb. righty debuted with Short Season Tri-City; and in 47 games, he ranked fourth in the New York-Penn League in batting (.331) and second in on-base percentage (.455). Ritchie began the following season with LoA Quad Cities. In only 72 games with the River Bandits, he drew an astounding 70 walks to only 54 strikeouts (registering a PAG/APPA of 3.40/.734). He received a well-deserved mid-July promotion to HiA Lancaster, staying fairly consistent with a 3.10/.738 P/A with a 25:27 BB:K rate. It’s obvious Ritchie doesn’t strike out often, as evident in a near even career 1:1 BB:K ratio (182:190). In 257 career games he carries a robust .417 on-base percentage and one thing pundits cannot say about Ritchie is how his bat has benefitted from the high-octane California League. He’s hit everywhere he’s gone. I think Ritchie has the chance to begin 2017 for Double-A Corpus Christi. If he sustains his consistency, it will be difficult for mainstream prospectors to avoid talking about him.  

  • 1B – Taylor Jones – 23 yo
    • 3.00/.714 – PAG/APPA  (Short Season Tri-City) 
    • 2016 stats:  .252/.354/.413;  .767 OPS;   17 doubles, 8 home runs

When putting together my own fantasy roster or when people come to me for advice on how to put together a fantasy baseball roster, the two primary suggestions I make are:  1.) even out your roster depth; and 2.) create as high-floor a roster as you can. One thing Jim and I see over and over again during our UTR OAS research is extreme/quality depth or very low floor at certain positions. At first base, the Astros possess both bits of that advice. They have depth and the floor is very high. At the major league level the Astros have recently signed Cuban Yulieski Gurriel pencilled in at first while 2013 – 33rd rounder Tyler White sits directly behind him on the depth chart. Houston still has A.J. Reed in the fold and they recently released former top prospect Jon Singleton. I think you get the idea.  The variance between my top first basemen numbers was very minute, but one thing was clear, Taylor Jones was a concrete OAS choice. Houston drafted the gargantuan (6’7″ – 225 lb) righty in the 19th round out of Gonzaga University this season and assigned him to Tri-City of the New York-Penn League. He led the league in games played (70) and was among the leaders in doubles, homers, walks (32) and total bases (105). Despite his size, Jones is a contact-first type hitter. His average suffered a bit due to some adjustments to his swing, some scouts say there’s plenty of power to come to match his contact ability. Jones is a true sleeper in the system and could see a big stock boost if he displays his power with a promotion to LoA Quad Cities next season. 

  •  2B – Ryne Birk  – 22 yo
    • 3.79/.832 combined – PAG/APPA  (Short Season Tri-City – 3.72/.817;  LoA Quad Cities – 4.14/.906) 
    • 2016 stats combined:  .293/.385/.455;   .840 OPS;   13 doubles, 4 home runs

Let’s do some simple baseball math.  The Houston Astros + second base = Jose Altuve. I mean, let’s be serious. Altuve is one of the game’s top players, let alone top second baseman. He’s a four-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger and has won two American League batting titles in the last three seasons. (2014 and 2016). This leaves plenty of time for the minors second base position to take shape for the next several years. Ryne Birk came to the Astros out of Texas A&M in this years draft. The 5’10” – 185 lb. lefty posted a three-year batting average of .296 for the Aggies and didn’t skip a beat upon becoming a pro. He was assigned to Short Season Tri-City posting .287/.393/.441/.834 slash line while logging a .984 fielding percentage. Birk received an early August promotion to LoA Quad Cities batting .323 with an .860 OPS in seven games. Houston drafted a bat-first player in Birk and hope that he can build upon a successful two-level pro debut. Others in consideration for OAS were DSL Orange 17-year-old Emmanuel Valdez and 2015 – 32nd rounder out of Georgia Southern, Aaron Mizell.  

  • 3B – Nick Tanielu  – 23 yo
    • 2.90/.684 combined – PAG/APPA  (HiA Lancaster – 4.00/.946;  Double A Corpus Christi – 2.49/.588) 
    • 2016 stats combined:  .285/.327/.409;   .737 OPS;   24 doubles, 11 home runs

During the recent MLB Winter Meetings, several clubs reached out to the Astros asking for Alex Bregman in trade talks. Possibly the most notable was the White Sox suggesting Bregman in a deal involving superstar Chris Sale. Houston retorted with a resounding “No chance” and rightfully so. Bregman is an absolute stud, is poised to play his first full season in the majors and should cement himself as one of the brightest young stars in the game. The Astros third base situation is similar to second base with Altuve; and will be the same with shortstop, as Carlos Correa should man the position for the next 10+ seasons. However, the minors keep rolling along and 2014 – 14th rounder Nick Tanielu‘s 2016 helped him capture this year’s OAS crown. The 5’11” – 215 lb. righty led all Astro minor leaguers with 145 hits while logging time at two levels. Now, I’ll admit, Tanielu still has some work to do and it shows in his numbers. In his 35 HiA games, he posted a PAG of a point and a half higher than that of his Double A number. Overall, he had a good season, but I predict Tanielu will spend all of 2017 in Corpus Christi in hopes to climb closer to a 3.00+ PAG number. 

  • SS – Osvaldo Duarte – 20 yo
    • 3.15/.745 combined – PAG/APPA  (LoA Quad Cities – 2.92/.698;  HiA Lancaster – 3.64/.840) 
    • 2016 stats combined:  .265/.310/.434;   .744 OPS;   25 doubles, 10 home runs, 9 triples; 19 stolen bases

Much like Ryne Birk and Jose Altuve at second, Nick Talielu and Alex Bregman at third, this year’s Astros OAS shortstop choice Osvaldo Duarte happens to be in the unfortunate position of looking up at another superstar in Carlos Correa. The 22-year-old former #1 draft choice has made a lasting impression as one of the most promising young sluggers in the game. This is the only roadblock Jim and I run into really.  Unless something out of the ordinary occurs, sifting out UTRs is almost a mute point when you’re faced with this type of circumstance. But as a fan once said to me, “UTR is like the stock market. You sell when a great kid is hot and buy when they’re not.” This brings me to the 5’9″ – 160 lb. Dominican Duarte. This is a kid that as long as he’s playing in a system behind a bona fide superstar, his stock will always be low simply based on his opportunity. All I can say is Duarte has been a steady producer since his debut in 2014 where he combined to score a 3.60/.733 PAG/APPA for the DSL Orange and GCL Astros. In 2015, he spent the entire season with Rookie Greenville, slowing down a bit to the tune of a 2.92/.718. In his first two seasons he combined to hit 4 home runs and 23 doubles. It seems the light switch came on this season. He led all prospects HiA and down in doubles and triples. I predict Duarte will spend all of 2017 in HiA Lancaster; and if so, we’ll see how much the high-octane California League helps pad his numbers, as he carries a three-year PAG/APPA average of 3.16/.735 to the table. 

  • LF – Johnny Sewald – 22 yo
    • 3.46/.776 combined – PAG/APPA  (LoA Quad Cities – 3.07/.695;  HiA Lancaster – 3.61/.805) 
    • 2016 stats combined:  .269/.379/.387;   .766 OPS;   20 doubles, 7 home runs; 39 stolen bases

When reviewing Astros outfielders for this year’s Organizational All-Stars series, it was a stark reminder of why Jim and I created the “Breakouts/Ones to Watch.” Running my numbers, there were four incredibly worthy candidates with not only close fundamental stats, but PAG/APPA and defensive similarities as well.  So, my Astros left, center and right fielders will be listed here and my fourth will certainly be my next Houston Astros “One to Watch” choice. The Baltimore Orioles drafted 5’11” – 175 lb. Johnny Sewald out of Bishop Gorman HS (Las Vegas) in the 34th round in 2012, but the lefty slugger chose to honor his commitment to Arizona State University. In 138 career games with the Sun Devils, Sewald batted .308 and a .419 on-base percentage. The Astros like what they saw and drafted him in the 14th round of the 2015 draft. Sewald debuted with Short Season Tri-City, batted .289 and led the New York-Penn League with 57 runs scored, 31 stolen bases and 46 walks. This was more than enough to earn a promotion to LoA Quad Cities to begin this season. In 29 games with the River Bandits, he saw a big dip in batting (.219), but still posted a 3.07/.695. The Astros promoted Sewald to HiA Lancaster in mid-May. And as expected, he saw inflated production, but overall, his numbers were fairly close to his career average. Despite playing only 79 games, he still finished in the Cal League top 10 in stolen bases (23) and on-base percentage (.391). 

  • CF  Bobby Boyd – 22 yo
    • 3.78/.817 combined – PAG/APPA  (HiA Lancaster – 4.14/.874;  AA Corpus Christi – 2.33/.557) 
    • 2016 stats combined:  .274/.332/.418;   .752 OPS;   16 doubles, 10 triples;  37 stolen bases

In analyzing Boyd and left field OAS choice Johnny Sewald, they could have easily been interchangeable. OTR OAS is bat-driven and when running the numbers, I had to put Sewald somewhere. He logged 30 games in left this season, but Boyd, a 2014 – 8th rounder out of West Virginia University, appears to possess more of the centerfield calling card. Boyd began 2016 with HiA Lancaster. In only 80 games, Boyd ranked in the Cal League top 5 in triples and his 33 stolen bases ranked second behind Colorado’s Wes Rogers‘ 43 swipes. The lefty swinging Boyd received an early August promotion to AA Corpus Christi and as would be expected, his numbers dipped tremendously. Anyone who knows prospects and the trek they take through the minors, it’s no secret that Double A is the litmus test of whether some can pass at the highest level. I expect Boyd to face his toughest challenge this season by playing all year for the Hooks. I think he will always be on the outside looking in, but a real good year in the Texas League could seriously boost his prospect status.

  • RF – Kyle Tucker – 19 yo
    • 3.38/.797 combined – PAG/APPA  (LoA Quad Cities – 3.17/.748; HiA Lancaster – 4.75/1.101) 
    • 2016 stats combined:  .285/.360/.438;   .798 OPS;   25 doubles, 9 home runs;  32 stolen bases

Tucker rounds out the UTR OAS list and he should. Honestly, there really isn’t much more I can can say that hasn’t already been said. There’s nothing to dislike in the 2015 – 1st rounder’s game. Tucker currently sits at #50 on MLB Pipeline’s current top 100 and is the Astros top overall position player prospect. He’s as pure a hitting prospect in the American League West and could see Minute Maid park as early as late 2018 or early 2019. 

 

Pitchers

A look back to the Houston Astro 2014 UTR Organizational All-Stars brought a smile to Astro fans with Josh Hader and Vince Velasquez heading the list. Hader was a hot commodity after the trade with Baltimore and the Astros sold high by trading him to the Milwaukee Brewers during the 2015 season. The deal also included Adrian Houser, another 2014 UTR-OAS. Velasquez was also dealt in 2015 to the Phillies for Ken Giles. This basically stripped the Astros UTR cupboard bare, but Troy Scribner and Michael Feliz begun to shine. Scribner repeated on the 2015 OAS roster and earned the “Legit UTR” tag. He then was sold to the Houston Astros and worked the 2016 season with Double-A Arkansas and Triple-A  Salt Lake and posted respectable numbers. Feliz, on the other hand, made 47 relief appearances with the Astros last season, going 8-1 with a 4.43 ERA. I predicted that Feliz would be a gem for the Stro’s, regardless if he was a starter or from the bullpen. It looks to be the latter, as the 23 year-old racked up 95 strikeouts (22 BB) over 65 innings. The “One to Watch” from 2014 was Brian Holmes, who backed up the label with a top UTR-OAS ranking in 2015. His development took a hit in 2016, with the 25 year old missing a month due to an injury. The Astros had to cringe in losing Holmes at Double-A Arkansas mid-season, as they need left-handed help in Houston. 
In the 2015 edition, top prospect Francis Martes was the top ranked UTR-OAS. His performance that season vaulted him as the Astros top pitching prospect according to Baseball America. He repeated Double-A and went 9-6 with 3.30 ERA and struck out 131 over 125.1 innings. As a 20 year-old righthander, Hector Perez just made the 2015 OAS roster and with his performance last season, could be a leading “One to Watch” candidate going into the 2017 season. Brook Dykxhoorn was just off the scope last year and it was the case again this season, in just missing the cut. The 6th round pick in 2014 didn’t light up the stat sheet, but considering he survived the riggers of the California League, continue to keep an eye on him. On the international front, another Perez could make some noise in 2017. Franklin Perez made his full season debut in 2016 with Lo-A Quad Cities as an 18 year-old. He posted a 3-3 record along with a 2.84 ERA and a 3.95 K/BB ratio over 66.2 innings. My watch list from last season included Cristian Javier, who made his U.S. debut pushing through the GCL and Appy Leagues.
 
 
 
Top 5 Starting Pitchers – Factor Score/TPS
 
1. RHP Jose Hernandez – 18 / .094
  • 21 years old – (LoA Quad Cities / HiA Lancaster)
  • International Free Agent – 2015
  • Look for Hernandez to begin his ascent up the prospect ladder this Spring. The 21 year old breezed through two levels this past season, but more impressively, excelled in the tough environs of the California League. Kid has produced since coming out of Mexico and look for him to repeat with Lancaster to start 2017.
2. RHP Elieser Hernandez – 15 / .104
  • 21 years old – (LoA Quad Cities / Hi Lancaster)
  • International Free Agent – 2014
  • Another Hernandez that will be trailing Jose up through the organization. The Astros had both at Hi-A Lancaster in 2016, but Elieser was over matched and should have seasoned at Quad Cities. Let’s see how he fares back in Lancaster in 2017.
3. LHP Matt Bower  – 14 / .078
  • 22 years old – (HiA Lancaster / LoA Quad Cities)
  • 23rd round – 2015
  • Fantasy players are always looking for that prospect that could fast-track to the Majors. Those in deeper leagues have no issue on taking fliers to stash in their roster. Bower could be that pitcher for the Astros, who desperately need left-handed depth. He’s another young arm who displayed success at Lancaster with a 10.6 K9 rate in a short stint. Overall, he allowed a 3.6 BB9 rate in 110.1 innings, but is wholly capable of missing bats (136 K’s).
4. RHP Rogelio Armenteros – 13 / .077
  • 22 years old – (LoA Quad Cities / HiA Lancaster / Double-A Corpus Christi)
  • International Free Agent – 2014
  • The Astros system has some intriguing talented under the radar kids, as my list indicates. Armenteros quickly found himself at HiA Lancaster and proved his stuff with a late season stint at AA-Corpus Christi. Only 22 years-old, the Cuban native has already displayed consistent mechanics and the ability to vary his tempo. He throws a mid 90’s fastball and an advanced slider that could be termed as a cutter. More success at Double-A in 2017 could have Armenteros in Houston toward the end of next season.
5. RHP Trent Thornton – 12 / .103
  • 22 years old – (HiA Lancaster / Double-A Corpus Christi)
  • 5th round – 2015
  • Thornton made his way to Corpus Christi in only his second season as a pro. His full season assignment began at Hi-A Lancaster, a tall order, but his peripherals were outstanding despite allowing 14 home runs over 89.2 innings. Thornton displays the attitude and pitchability to get him to Houston very quickly. He already has a 4-pitch mix of a 4-seamer, cutter with lateral movement (tough on lefties, over-the-top curveball, and a slider with good movement. He also  throws a work-in-progress changeup. Thornton rounds out my top 5 which is possibly the most solid among the American League.
Top 3 Relief Pitchers – Factor Score/TPS
 
1. RHP Ryan Deemes – 7 / .104
  • 23 years old – (LoA Quad Cities / HiA Lancaster / Double-A Corpus Christi)
  • 36th round – 2015
2. RHP Ryan Thompson – 7 / .101
  • 24 years old – (HiA Lancaster / Double-A Corpus Christi)
  • 23rd round – 2014
3. RHP Eric Peterson – 6 / .093
  • 23 years old – (HiA Lancaster / Double-A Corpus Christi)
  • 37th round – 2014
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