It's easy to neglect the neglected. I had zero interest in the Astros' farm system for a long time, primarily because the Astros themselves shared the same indifference, as they spent much of their time and money on keeping the big league club afloat. Tim Purpura's decision to trade Jason Hirsh and friends for Jason Jennings may not look as bad in hindsight, but at the time it was as if our youth and promise had been sharply deflated with a trident. Then we traded our best pitching prospect for Miguel Tejada a day before he popped up on the Mitchell Report. Progress, ladies and gents! Progress!
Luckily, the castaways of Astros' system have yet to produce much. Troy Patton, Hirsh, Taylor Bucholz... wait, who are these guys again?
Times have changed, slowly and clumsily. Youth is popular once again in Houston, though Brett Myers certainly can testify against that claim. As reflected by their modest haul, it took far too long for the Astros to deal away Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, but it happened, finally. Now we look ahead to chipper times, soon as the losing ends, which may not be for a while. But we're trying.
Most top prospects lists: A) Are longer than this one, B) Are updated at the beginning and end of every season, and C) Include prospects that have reached the majors without claiming rookie status. We'll choose to ignore these trends. Brett Wallace, Jason Castro and Chris Johnson - you not need worry about them. They're wearing their major league pants now.
Prospect lists tend to change quite rapidly. We've got hardly enough evidence to come to a verdict on many of these players, which is why they can jump from the ranks of the unknown into the top ten in a single year, or vice-versa. If Jiovanni Mier struggles for an entire season, only his upside can save him from taking a free fall. We haven't got any legitimate prior stats to tell us, "He just had a bad season. Things will go back to normal soon."
Conversely, a player like Koby Clemens can suddenly heat up out of nowhere and still have his doubters. Whatever his upside was made out to be, it didn't suggest the numbers that he has put up thus far. This, among other reasons, is why some still doubt that he will be able to translate to the majors as easily as others. But do we really have any evidence to back this claim, or are we just guessing?
That's the fun in scouting prospects. We could be right. We could be wrong. But who cares, let's do it again next year!
Alas, here is my take on the Top Five Astros prospects currently in the minor leagues:
No 5. Jiovanni Mier
Mier, who should undoubtedly be higher on this list, blasted his way through Greeneville before landing with a thud in Single-A Lexington this yera. Typical of a boom or bust prospect, I suppose, although you'd like to think that his recent struggles are only a slump and that he will figure things out. Through 98 games in Lexington, the Astros' 2009 first-round pick has hit a disgusting .223 with an OPS of .607.
On the bright side, Mier has drawn 47 walks, but that's not going to get him promoted. Still young, Mier is certainly playing the upside card. If his struggles continue, Jonathan Villar will likely become the logical long-term answer at shortstop, for now.
No 4. Tanner Bushue
Bushue got off to a great start in 2010 before hitting a rough patch. Lately, however, he looks to have picked things up again, allowing only two runs in his last two starts. Bushue's got a kindling for strikeouts, sending 89 batters back to the bench empty handed in 99 innings of work. He'll need to cut down on the walks a bit, but he looks like a nice arm from what we've seen. Double-A will be calling next season for this young righty.
3. Jay Austin
It scares me to see Jay Austin listed as the Astros' top position player, but he's earned it with his recent play. His presence here is also indicative of how the 'Stros have chosen to rebuild the farm system under Bobby Heck: speed, defense and tools. Power isn't hot anymore, though it will need to be at some point.
Austin has stolen a whopping 45 bases in 101 games at A+ Lancaster in the California League in between wielding a fine glove and getting on base at a decent rate. He's also got himself a respectable seven home runs. Austin's a fast-rising prospect who has managed to produce very nicely for his age (19). Next step for Austin: keep up the production.
No 2. Mike Foltynewicz
Hello, upside. Folty may not be a household farm name yet, but he's already turning heads in Greeneville and has the look of a potential frontline starter in the majors. His fastball hits up to 96 on the gun and has got some wicked movement to it, as seen here.
Foltynewicz originally committed to Texas, but instead chose to sign with the Astros after he was selected in the first round of this year's draft. The biggest selling point for me? His scouting report references his 'clean mechanics' and 'clean delivery.' Clean = comforting.
No 1. Jordan Lyles
Shamefully, I keep looking for reasons to doubt Lyles, but there really aren't any. His strikeout numbers have been gargantuan, his ERA has hovered around 3.00 in each of his past two seasons and he actually improved in a few categories upon getting the call up to AA. The prospect of delivering a Lyles/Foltynewicz one-two punch is real exciting, though we'll have to wait a few more years to see it. Lyles is still only nineteen, so the Astros won't rush him.
If this list is any indication, the powerful Killer B's Astros of old won't be making a repeat appearance for quite a while. The future of the Astros, as it currently stands, rests in pitching, speed, defense and the ability to simply get on base. Sounds boring, I guess, but it adds up to a winning formula. I've become fond of Heck's and Ed Wade's scouting philosophy if only because they've stuck to their plan. They've made the effort to find the players that they like rather than take players according to the national consensus.
Another encouraging tidbit for you to take along: all five of these players are only nineteen. It may be a few years, but the future is looking good.