Jun 16, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Houston Astros pitcher Rhiner Cruz (55) throws a pitch during the eighth inning of the game against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark. The Rangers beat the Astros 8-3. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

Who Should the Houston Astros Build Around?-Off the Radar


Sept 12, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie (4) dives for a ground ball against the Chicago Cubs during the fourth inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE

The Houston Astros have been the worst team in baseball for the 2nd straight season. Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors points out that replacement level is a .320 winning percentage. The Astros had a .317 winning percentage going into Wednesday night. They are not a good team. So as we did with the Rockies, I will look at the 42 players (2 on the 60 day DL) currently on the 40 man roster for the Astros and try to decide which players will be on the next competitive Houston team.

Starting Pitchers:

Bud Norris is the kind of guy who could reinvent himself as a reliever. He certainly has good stuff, but has had inconsistent command and injuries. I don’t see him as an Astro long term because of how late it has gotten for him but he could be serviceable for another team. Perhaps he is a trade candidate.

July 17, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; Houston Astros starting Jordan Lyles (41) throws during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE

Jordan Lyles is a 21 year old who was a former 1st round pick. So far, his career hasn’t gone as you would like with a 124 FIP – and 4.14 SIERA but he gets quite a bit of ground-balls and has about average fastball velocity with 3 different off-speed pitches and a lot of team control. He is a guy that you certainly expect to have in the rotation for a long time. Whether or not it works out remains to be seen, but he will be given every opportunity.

When I watched Edgar Gonzalez in AAA earlier this year, I would have never believed you if you told me he would get big league time this year. In fact, he was released from his minor league contract with the Rockies and pitched in the Mexican League. The Astros signed him to the AAA club, watch his velocity gain an uptick from what it was earlier in the year, and has been serviceable in 2 starts. It is a nice personal story, but he obviously has no future with the team.

Rudy Owens was acquired from the Pirates in the Wandy Rodriquez trade. He has pretty simple left-handed mechanics with a really easy delivery that doesn’t seem to include much effort. He sits at just 87-88 (touches 89-90 with maybe a little cut action at 86 MPH) MPH and it is pretty straight. His off-speed is a 77-78 MPH change that looks like his fastball until late when it drops. It sometimes has side to side movement, but it is best when it just drops straight down. It is a decent pitch but not special by any means and he doesn’t have great control of it. It is his feature pitch, but when it stays up it is going to be destroyed by big league hitters. His ceiling is a back of the rotation starter, but with just 2 pitches, I find this kind of unlikely.

Paul Clemens is a RHP with a 93-97 MPH fastball but poor control. He seems to like to try to keep it away from lefties. Along with seeing poor control, he was also getting hit pretty hard when I saw him. Clemens has a decent looking curveball, but I didn’t see it much (and it didn’t look like he could do anything with it other than throw it in the dirt). He started the year in AAA was demoted to AA. If he puts it all together, he can be a solid starter, but he hasn’t done that yet.

Dallas Keuchel is a left-handed starter with below average stuff that has had some problems with walks since being promoted to the big leagues. He relies on a moving fastball, and there really isn’t much of a ceiling here and despite team control, he wouldn’t be missed and would probably not be a part of a competing team’s roster. He may be asked to eat a lot of innings while the team is bad, but he is always someone you will want to replace.

Lucas Harrell was picked off of waivers last year, and is looking like a very good pickup. With good moving fastball velocity, the right-hander gets a lot of weak contact with an occasional strikeout. He has walked a few too many batters but has been perfectly fine in all, and at age 27 isn’t arbitration eligible until 2015. The Astros are certainly in a position where they can gather more data on him (he is going to get a lot more starts) and can decide if he is a mid-rotation starter worth keeping.

Kyle Weiland was acquired from the Red Sox in the Mark Melancon trade and made 3 horrible starts for the Astros before suffering a shoulder injury. Injuries have been a big problem with him, and one wonders when he will be able to come back. His fastball is average to below average (he had a clear step back in velocity before being put on the DL) and he instead relies on a mix of pitches. I am not sure how the team can count on him in the future.

Position Players:

There is no way Chris Snyder has his option exercised. He played roughly at a replacement level (despite a positive defensive rating, which I find surprising and most likely wrong) this year and the buyout is just 500,000 versus paying him 4 million to play next year. Carlos Corporan played better this year (compared to last year) when given a chance in the Majors, but he is not a good defensive catcher and has yet to show any consistency to go along with a little bit of power at the plate. He was actually DFA’d last season, wasn’t claimed and was added again later this year. Jason Castro is a former prospect and 1st round pick that is finally having some success. He was terrible when he first broke into the Majors in 2010 and then missed the entire 2011 season thanks to a knee injury. This year, he is hitting okay with a 94 OPS + and seems to be a somewhat average catcher behind the plate (I am not expert on catcher defense, but it seems to have the skills to play a very good catcher, but he doesn’t always block the pitches he should and still makes some mistakes that he shouldn’t). He isn’t a free agent until 2017, so if he can stay healthy and play at least at this level, he may still have a future with the team the next time they are competitive.

I could see J.D. Martinez getting traded to a contending team next year that needs a controllable warm body backup outfielder. Scouting reports always called him a 4th outfielder and in 159 career MLB games, he has a 92 OPS + (negative rWAR because of negative defense). Considering he has 0 career stolen bases, he is going to have to hit more to prove that he is a big league player.

Sep 14, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) celebrates a single with first base coach Dan Radison (51) against the Philadelphia Phillies in the first inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE

Jose Altuve is probably the most interesting player on the 40 man. The short 2nd baseman isn’t a very good defender, but he hits and he is 22 years old. I am not sure I would commit to him long term, but some believe that they should and that he is probably the best guy on the team going forward. I would want to commit to a guy with more power and more of a sure thing defensively, but the Astros could always just let arbitration (which doesn’t start until 2015) play out. The other options would obviously be trade or long term extension.

If Altuve is not the guy, then perhaps it is Jed Lowrie. Lowrie was traded by the Red Sox to the Astros before the start of the season and was having a nice season before of an ankle injury. Injuries have always been his problem, as he has really failed to stay healthy in his career. When he is on the field, he is good, with a 98 OPS + with solid shortstop defense. Whether or not the Astros want to commit to him or not will depend or whether or not they believe he can stay healthy.

Brett Wallace was traded for Anthony Gose by Ed Wade. I’ve never been a huge fan of Anthony Gose, but that trade looks hilariously bad now that Wallace has played in 214 games in the Majors and has a 94 OPS + as a first baseman (they have tried to play him some at third, but he is clearly a first baseman). He has looked slightly better this year, and still has power, but he is probably a platoon player long term.

Scott Moore is sort of a AAAA player, as he doesn’t have the bat for 1st (striking out way too much) and is awful defensively at 3rd. Matt Downs doesn’t really have a position (he really isn’t good any place), has been demoted twice this year, and has a 90 OPS + for his career. Like Moore, he serves his purpose now, but you don’t worry about keeping him around. Brian Boguesevic got a late start thanks to starting his professional career as a pitcher and then converting into his outfielder. Despite having some tools and some raw power, he isn’t particularly fast and now has a 80 OPS + in 599 career plate appearances. He also only plays the corner outfielder, so there really isn’t much value there despite a lot of team control left.

When the club acquired Tyler Greene from the Cardinals, I saw that a few people whose opinions I respect state that it was a move that could help the Astros. I simply didn’t see how and now seeing him in an Astro uniform, I still don’t see how. He is a terrible defensive infielder, and despite hitting for a little bit of power, he strikes out way too much and doesn’t do a good job of getting on base. Matt Dominguez was acquired in the Carlos Lee deal, while Brandon Laird was recently acquired from the Yankees. In 284 games with the Yankees AAA, Laird hit just .256/.295/.409. The Astros seem to view him more as a 3rd baseman although scouting reports say that he isn’t very good there. It is pretty apparent that his bat does not play as a first baseman and it may not play at 3rd base either. Marwin Gonzalez was acquired in the Rule 5 draft, suffered two pretty bad injuries, and hit .234/.280/.328. His defense is pretty sloppy but he is just 23 (and he has made some nice plays and one could certainly picture him being a good defensive shortstop). Who knows when he will be ready next year, but he will start in the minors anyway. He hasn’t hit at all in the minors, so I don’t really see how he fits in the picture. It seems like the Astros have like 5 utility infielders, something that isn’t very useful for a rebuilding team.

Brandon Barnes didn’t get his first big league chance until earlier this year at age 26. While making some nice plays in centerfield, he hasn’t hit at all. He was good in AA and AAA this year after being very mediocre at those two levels last year. Injuries ended Fernando Martinez‘ Mets career and diminished his defensive range and speed. It is a small sample size this year, but he is having his most success in the Majors to date (but is still below league average and playing a corner position). Time will tell if he ever gains back the skills that made him a top prospect, but right now he is just sort of interesting. J.B. Shuck was a guy that got some big league time last year and made the most of it, walking almost twice as much as he struck out. However, this year he spent the whole year in AAA. He still had a great K/BB, but slugged just .352 in the hitter friendly PCL. At this point, he is 25 and doesn’t play centerfield. It is an interesting skill set, but not one that I am sure plays at a corner outfield position. Jordan Shafer was part of the Michael Bourn trade and has become a guy that not only can’t stay healthy, but also just has some awful at-bats. He has a terrible UZR even though I think he is a decent centerfielder, but his strikeouts have just gotten absurd, especially for a guy who doesn’t hit for much power.

Jimmy Padedes made 3 errors on Tuesday at 2nd base, but the organization has been using more in the outfield. He is a good enough athlete that at age 23 you would expect him to be able to at least hold down a corner spot. His value will obviously be maximized if he can play center, and I don’t know if his bat would play in a corner (although he has hit throughout the minors). Justin Maxwell is probably the best power guy that the Astros have, and they got him off waivers from the Yankees in the off-season. I have always liked Maxwell and he has had a decent but not overwhelming season. He is going to have to walk more and hit for a better average, but he still has plenty of team control (not a free agent until 2017), so he will get his shots.

Bullpen:

 

Rhiner Cruz is interesting because he throws hard, but the reason that the Astros were able to acquire him in the Rule 5 draft was because he simply has no control of his pitches. He could possibly figure it out with that velocity. I’m guessing he will spend all of next year in the minors working on his mechanics, but unless something clicks, he isn’t a big league pitcher.

Jorge De Leon is actually a converted position player that pitched in High A Lancaster this year. He struggled, as one would expect a pitcher in Lancaster to do, but he didn’t show the strikeout rate that you want to see from a guy on your 40 man roster in High A. In watching him, it looks like he has good movement on his pitches, with a fastball that isn’t straight at 93 MPH and a pretty nasty slider. However, his control was pretty poor. He is the kind of guy that could put it all together, but probably isn’t worth being on a 40 man roster, even the Astros 40 man.

I have always liked Enerio Del Rosario‘s ground-ball rate, but he turns 27 in the off-season and has yet to have really any MLB success. He doesn’t throw very hard and the arm angle is not desirable. I don’t see how he is part of the future for the Astros and unfortunately may become a AAA lifer.

Arcenio Leon pitched in AA this year (not particularly well with a 4.30 FIP as a reliever), and has a big slider (86 MPH) that sweeps across the plate. His velocity is impressive, and he can sink it a little bit and mix in a decent change. His control looked pretty poor when I saw him (and he has always walked too many batters). At age 26, it is doubtful that he can be an impactful pitcher (you see the potential for good swing and miss stuff but the age is discouraging) in the big leagues.

Fernando Rodriquez is already 28 and has a career 113 FIP – as a reliever. He has a good fastball (93.1 MPH average but he can run it up to 95-96) and a good strikeout rate, but has really struggled with walks. He isn’t arbitration eligible until 2015, so he will get another chance over the next couple of seasons, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of reason to think he is in the Astros long term plans.

The Astros have tried using Fernando Abad as a starter, but that has been disastrous so far. His fastball isn’t overly impressive and he relies on a changeup that can be good but is inconsistent (in both command and arm speed). He has been pretty bad in 74.1 MLB career innings and doesn’t look like anyone with much potential.

Hector Ambriz has a decent fastball (roughly 93 MPH on average) with a slider and curve, but is 28 and still hasn’t had any MLB success. A former Indian and Diamondback farmhand, he put up some decent numbers in the minors but being in the bullpen plus his age just makes him a player you don’t expect anything from going forward. Xavier Cedeno has been serviceable in 25 innings this year but has never really put up decent numbers in the minors. He has a well below average fastball and relies mainly on a curveball. He doesn’t seem to have the swing and miss stuff that would lead you to believe he should be in a MLB bullpen for years to come. Chuckie Fick was somewhat of a AAA lifer for the Cardinals before being acquired by the Astros. There is nothing in his stuff that tells you that he is much more than that. Mickey Storey is a similar, well, story. After not reaching the big leagues with the A’s, he got a chance with the Astros. His fastball is also below average and he relies a lot on the curveball. I like Storey better than Fick, but I don’t think he is an impact guy.

Acquired from the Yankees, Jose Valdez has a good fastball that he can move and cut along with a slider and a curve. I find him interesting at least as he has really developed some swing and miss stuff. He is somewhat old, so his future is probably not be with the Astros, but I could see him fitting into a bullpen somewhere.

Wesley Wright has been a good LOOGY for the Astros after flaming out as a starer earlier in his career. These guys are valuable for teams that are in contention but basically worthless for rebuilding teams. I would think he is a trade candidate, as a team needing a cheap lefty should be interested. Sergio Escalona was decent for the Astros last year after coming over from the Phillies. He has missed the entire season with an elbow injury and is on the 60 day DL. With his health in question, it is hard to see if he fits in the future. Due to his lack of walks and insane ground-ball rate, Wilton Lopez is an intriguing bullpen piece. After seeing a velocity dip last season, he has a plus fastball that sinks. If they have a piece in the ‘pen that sticks with them long term, it is most likely Lopez.

Recap

The Astros are in a worse position that the Rockies. They have no superstar shortstop locked up long term that they know will be part of the future and they have less potential starting pitchers.  There is a chance that none of these players will be on the team the next time they make the playoffs, that is how bad this roster is. However, this appears to be a front office that will move the team in the right direction.

Tags: Houston Astros MLB Prospects Off The Radar Roster Analysis