Astros MiLB: Surprises and Disappointments
We are roughly 40 games into the MiLB schedule for full season levels. The Astros farm led all organization’s in winning percentage in 2015. In 2016, thanks to players either graduating to the bigs or being traded, the organization’s winning percentage has taken a hit. The good news is that our lower level teams are stocked with many prospects that are playing their first full season of professional baseball and are generally young for their respective leagues. In other words, just as it is important to scout players not player’s statistics, it is also important to look at the talent and not the records of the organization’s teams.
With that said, there have been a lot of pleasant surprises among our prospects despite the not so inspiring team records. With these surprises also come disappointments—they are “prospects” and not “sure things,” after all—and sometimes even the most highly touted prospects disappoint, just as established players at the big league level do.
So, here’s my list of surprises and disappointments at each level. Remember, in order to be a disappointment, one must have something in which to be disappointed from. In other words, good players, not bad ones, have to have the expectations in order to disappoint.
Quad Cities (A)
Surprise: Kyle Tucker, OF
That he is having an outstanding year is not a surprise. That he is having an outstanding year at a level where the pitchers he faces on a nightly basis are typically 2-3 years older than he is, well, that is a surprise. Thru Sunday’s game, the 19-year-old Tucker is slashing a robust .311/.382/.419 and has chipped in with 19 steals in 22 chances. Sure, he has only one dinger, but no worries there. He is a very lanky kid and once he matures into his 6’4″ frame the power will come. Tucker was my #1 rated player in last year’s draft based on his excellent approach at the plate, beautiful swing mechanics, and enormous upside. He’s still 2-4 years away but it appears the Astros made the right call with Preston’s little bro.
Disappointment: Daz Cameron, OF
As with Tucker, I was concerned about the aggressive placement of Cameron at Quad Cities. Right or wrong, Tucker’s and Cameron’s progression (or, regression) will always be linked together, as the two were rated closely together going into the draft and both signed for $4M signing bonuses. While Tucker has blossomed, Cameron has crashed and burned. It’s been ugly. Very ugly. Cameron was sent to extended spring training after just 21 games to work on his swing mechanics after 77 at bats resulted in a .143 AVG. and 33 strikeouts. His defense has been spectacular. But he has been completely overmatched at the plate at Lo-A. I still have confidence he will turn it around, but some time in Tri-City, whose season starts June 17, may be beneficial for the duration of the 2016 season.
Surprise: Garrett Stubbs, C
He doesn’t fit the typical body profile of a catcher. Actually, he looks like more of a second baseman or shortstop at a listed 5’10” and 175lb. (He actually appears smaller). But, the lefty hitter and right handed thrower has started to distance himself from the plethora of young catching prospects in the lower levels. Stubbs currently sports a .267 BA, .832 OPS, and an impressive 14:15/BB:K in 86 at bats. Oh, he’s also 8 for 8 in stolen base attempts. The 2015 eighth round pick is quick behind the plate which allows his current average arm to play up. Even with some defensive question marks, Stubbs was named the PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2015. While there are certainly more polished catching prospects in his way, Stubbs may soon develop into the best offensive backstop prospect in the system.
Disappointment: Jason Martin, OF
After a breakout 2015 campaign at Quad Cities, as well as breaking into the organization’s top prospects lists, Martin seemed poised to have a monster season in the spacious confines of The Hangar in Lancaster. I felt highly enough of him that I boldly predicted the type of season that launched Brett Phillips into the conversation as one of the best overall prospects in baseball. However, it has yet to materialize. His average is a respectable .238 but much lower than expected. He’s 8 for 10 in stolen base attempts and has shown some XBH prowess with six doubles, three triples, and three homers. But he’s also shown some swing and miss as he has 29 strikeouts in 126 at bats. Not terribly awful but high for the type of hitter he is. Having said that, he’s a prime candidate for a rebound.
Corpus Christi (AA)
Surprise: Teoscar Hernandez, OF
Thought about Alex Bregman and his sudden power explosion here. But, perhaps no prospect in the organization disappointed in 2015 as much as the toolshed enigma known as Teoscar Hernandez. After being penciled into many projected future Astros lineups, Hernadez put together a mostly putrid season at Corpus Christi in 2015. This year, with a much needed change in approach which included a complete change in discipline, Hernandez has returned to the good graces of Astros prospect pundits. His statistical increases over 2015 demonstrate his learning curve: his 2016 batting average is up to .269 compared to .219 last year; he had 33 walks in 470 at bats in 2015, he has 21 in 145 at bats this year; a .275 OBP last year compared to .359 this year. While his 30/30 upside seems to have all but disappeared, Hernandez still looks the part and can still turn on a pitch as well as steal bases. At 23, this is an important year for him. He still has a long way to go and much to improve on, but it sure is great to see him on the road back to relevance after many had written him off.
Disappointment: Francis Martes, SP
Let me be clear, even while struggling, Martes has shown some of the best pure stuff in all the minors and I still believe he’s the best pitching prospect in the organization. He has a TOR repertoire and the demeanor to handle it. But, he has disappointed in the fact that his control and command have periodically abandoned him. After pitching across three levels as a 19-year-old in 2015, and posting an 8-3; 2.04 season, the suddenly hot prospect has come back down to mortal status in 2016. So far, he’s 2-2 with a 5.86 ERA and has walked 17 batters in 27.2 IP. To be fair, Martes is still several years below the average league age and facing very good hitters in the Texas League, but his wildness has caused some concern. Again, he’s only 20 and features electric stuff, so he has plenty of time to figure it out. FWIW…he hit 99 on his fastball in his last start.
Surprise: James Hoyt, RP
Watching Hoyt pitch in Spring Training games, one couldn’t help but wonder if he was the piece we needed at the back end of the bullpen. Being 29, he’s not exactly a young man and hot prospect with time to hone his craft. But, it appears that’s exactly what he has done. He has been dominant in Fresno, with 9 saves and 35 strikeouts in just 21.1 innings, as well as owning a 2.11 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP. Hoyt has positioned himself to be an effective member of the Astros bullpen soon with his performance over the first six weeks of the season.
Disappointment: Matt Duffy, 3B
The 2015 PCL MVP, Duffy entered Spring Training with a chance to win an Opening Day gig. Well, he did, and promptly was sent to Fresno after only three at bats. Upon returning to AAA, Duffy then suffered through an atrocious start to the season. How bad was it? Well, over his last ten games, Duffy is hitting .275, which has only raised his season average to .202. Hopefully he will continue the turnaround and be the exceptional run producer he was in 2015. If the rebound does continue, Duffy’s name can again come up as a possible bat to add to the Astros roster later this Summer.
**Photo Credit: Richard Guill**