It's official. The crazy trading season is underway, with Houston already getting into the action with a Jeff Keppinger trade. I'm on record as saying Houston will make at least two moves total this deadline, which means they'll still make another trade before the July 31 deadline.
Since the Astros will most likely getting prospects in return, let's take a look at the Houston farm system to see what they might need to get in those trades. Whether it's blockbuster trades for Hunter Pence and Wandy Rodriguez, or smaller moves for Clint Barmes, are there weaknesses in minors that Houston can bolster?
One thing we do know is that the Astros don't really need outfield prospects. Even with the backsliding of Jay Austin this season, Houston still has quite a few guys on the depth chart in the outfield. Same goes for second base, where there's suddenly a lot of good prospects (including newly minted major leaguer Jose Altuve).
So, where are the weak spots?
Starting pitching: It sounds cliche, but the Astros really do have a dearth of high-level starting pitching prospects. They have a few guys, like Mike Foltynewicz and Dallas Keuchel, who might end up being big leaguers, but the other guys who have some profile have struggled this season. That includes Ross Seaton (who is struggling for a second straight season), VIncent Velasquez (who got injured) and Tanner Bushue (who's been injured and ineffective).
The one good thing about this particular lack is that it seems to determine how a farm system is ranked. In general, if you think about it, the teams with high level pitching prospects are considered to have a better system. Look at Atlanta or even Houston back in the early '00's, when they had guys like Roy Oswalt, Tim Redding and Carlos Hernandez.
If Houston can avoid trading with Philadelphia again, they have a good shot at restocking with at least two big-time pitching prospects at this deadline.
Third base: It's the one position on the farm that Houston is really lacking some big-time prospects (besides the pitching side). Basically, it's Jimmy Paredes and Mike Kvasnicka at the top of that list. Kvasnicka is having the best season out of the 2010 first-round picks for Houston, but he's still old for his level. Paredes also doesn't profile to have the kind of power teams like at the hot corner, so Houston could always use more depth there.
The problem with this is that many teams are in the same fix. Third base is just a tough position to fill, which is why FanGraphs recently put out an article looking at how few quality third basemen there were in the National League right now. The other problem with trading for a third base prospect is there's not much flexibility if they can't play at the hot corner. You may move them to the outfield or first base, but that's about it most times.
To really fill depth here, Houston would need to find a third base prospect who's a ways off (and would go to Lexington with Kvasnicka going to Lancaster) or one who's ready for the majors now and can leapfrog Paredes on the depth chart.
First base: Kody Hinze aside, Houston really doesn't have the prototypical mashers at this position, but it's not nearly the weakest position on the farm. For one, Houston has an interesting prospect in Telvin Nash that can play there if he develops. They also have the aforementioned Hinze and drafted another interesting guy in Chase Davidson.
Oh, and add a young guy like Brett Wallace who's in the majors and Houston's need for a first base prospect is more about depth in the system than need. To justify getting a first baseman in return, he'd have to profile as a future MVP-type hitter, which means the trading team will probably be loathe to send him to the Astros.