TOP THREE PROSPECTS
1. Alex Bregman, SS, 6'0" 186 lbs. R/R
Alex Bregman, the Astros top draft pick in the 2015 draft at number two overall, is a polished shortstop out of LSU. He provides an above average hit tool and good plate discipline with a short, sweet stroke tailor-made for spraying line drives to all fields. Power might not be the biggest part his game right now, but he could be a doubles machine with room to mature into some more pop as he develops and moves up the organizational ladder. He possesses slightly above average speed and good fielding instincts at shortstop to go with his strong arm. Scouts describe his game with the cliché scrappy and gritty, a grinder that hustles and puts in plus plus effort and work ethic. Bregman could develop into a .280/.360/.410 hitter that, with his athleticism, could play all around the field with Carlos Correa ahead of him at shortstop.
2. A.J. Reed, 1B, 6'4" 240 lbs. L/L
Standing at 6'4" 240 pounds, A.J. Reed is a big, big, man. He has some of the best pure power out of anyone in the minor leagues, bashing 12 home runs in just 68 games after the 2014 draft, then following that up with an astounding 34 dingers in his first full pro season in 2015. While he may not replicate the insane .340 batting average he posted this past season, he has a solid hit tool that won't be completely exposed by big league pitching and avoid striking out at an extreme clip. As a former pitcher who could sit 88-91 on the mound in college, Reed also possesses a good arm, although he won't get too many chances to show it off at first base. While he is an average defender at first with a strong arm, he is limited to first base due to left-handedness and lack of mobility. His bat alone will make him a fine major leaguer, and any good defensive showing at first base will just be the cherry on top. It is not unreasonable to expect Reed to put up a .260/.340/.520 line in his prime.
3. Mark Appel, RHP, 6'5" 220 lbs. R/R
Mark Appel's struggles in the minor leagues are tough to explain. While he is not the greatest athlete, his arsenal contains a 98 mph fastball and a plus slider than can put major league hitters away. He also has an above average changeup. Appel has solid control and can throw all three pitches for strikes, as evidenced by his reasonable 2.9 BB/9 throughout his minor league career. What his problem might be however, is not control, but command. There have been rumors, both by scouts and fans who witness his starts, that while he throws in the strike zone, he has trouble hitting corners and making quality pitches within. He has been inconsistent throughout his career, sometimes dominant yet often hittable, and much of this could be attributed to his inability to command the zone. His stuff however, has always been maintained, and is seemingly one simple fix away from contributing to the Astros playoff runs in Houston.
THE REST OF THE FARM
There are several other hard-throwing right handers in the farm system deserving a mention in the top 3 such as Francis Martes, Joe Musgrove, and Michael Feliz. Martes was a throw-in from the Jarred Cosart deal with Miami that emerged this season as possibly the top piece of that deal, pitching at three levels to the tune of a 2.04 ERA and an 8.7 K/9. Musgrove, the Astros minor league pitcher of the year, is another rising name, with 99 strikeouts to just 8 walks in 100 2/3 innings to go with a miniscule 1.88 ERA, also at three different levels. Feliz has been a big name for some time and making his major league debut this season. He is a power arm who can run the fastball up to 96 mph with quality slider and changeup, and you can expect him to play a big role for an MLB team very soon. One other fast riser this season is Akeem Bostick, who gets groundballs and limits the walks, and his projectable frame suggests more velocity and strikeouts to come. Keegan Yuhl, who has a similar profile to Bostick, had one of the greatest seasons in high-A Lancaster history, posting a 1.74 ERA on the season. Several power arms to keep an eye on are David Paulino and relievers Jandel Gustave and Reymin Guduan, each of whom can hit 100 mph. Some finesse right handers include changeup specialist Chris Devenski, strike-throwing Brady Rodgers, sinkerballers Mike Hauschild and Kyle Westwood, and Asher Wojciechowski. The big names for immediate relief options include power righties James Hoyt, Jordan Jankowski, Tyson Perez in AAA and Tyler Brunnemann, Travis Ballew, and Aaron West in AA. Lefty relievers in the upper levels of the farm system include Luis Cruz, Chris Cotton, and Tommy Shirley.
Aside from Bregman and Reed, the Astros system includes plenty of other intriguing bats, including two college bats drafted along side Reed, power hitting third baseman J.D. Davis and toolsy outfielder Derek Fisher, both of whom have 25 home run pop. Some other names with loud tools include Teoscar Hernandez and his plus speed and power combo, sweet-swinging outfielder Danry Vasquez, and Jason Martin, the plus defender with a potential-laden bat. On the other end of the spectrum, the system possesses some lumbering mashers who aren't the top athletes. Lefty Jon Kemmer, who hit .327/.414/.574 in AA and righty Tyler White, who slashed .325/.442/.496 in AA and AAA combined. Another prospect from the Cosart deal is third baseman Colin Moran, who has arguably the best hit tool in the system. On the other side of the diamond is former Vanderbilt first baseman Conrad Gregor, another line-drive bat with developing power. Some defense first players to note include catchers Tyler Heineman and Roberto Pena, outfielder Andrew Aplin, Korean infielder Chan Moon and former first-rounder shortstop Jio Mier. One name who could be poised for a 2016 breakout is middle infielder Nolan Fontana. Fontana has some of the best plate discipline in all of baseball, leading to extremely high OBPs with just enough power so pitchers won't challenge him right down the middle. Expect him to start next season in AAA Fresno, but a strong start could force his name into the discussion for the utility role in Houston.
In the lower levels of the minors, there are more intriguing bats to note. Chase McDonald and his gigantic frame quietly smashed 30 HRs in high-A Lancaster. OBP machine Jamie Ritchie may be the best catching prospect in the system, and Ronnie Mitchell and Ramon Laureano have some big tools that have been hidden with the depth of the system. Centerfielders James Ramsay and Bobby Boyd have had solid seasons both at the plate and defensively, and Nick Tanielu had a huge season in low-A Quad Cities, spraying doubles all around the field. Some younger Latin American kids to follow include Kristian Trompiz, who spent the entire season in Quad Cities at the age of 19, Hector Roa and his raw power potential, and former bonus babies Wander Franco, Joan Mauricio, Bryan De La Cruz, and Reiny Beltre. Some of the interesting arms include Elieser Hernandez, who dominated the competition with his 94 mph fastball, slider, and changeup, and Cuban defector Rogelio Armenteros. Further down the pipeline there are high ceiling guys such as Franklin Perez and Juan Robles, who at 17, ended the season at low-A Quad Cities against hitters 5 years older than him.
THE 2015 DRAFT
This season's draft may go down in history as one of the top draft classes by any team in history if it all pans out. Alex Bregman is an obvious top talent, but the Astros also nabbed two of the top 5 outfielders in the draft with high-ceiling high schoolers Kyle Tucker and Daz Cameron. Tucker has an unorthodox swing, yet he has great bat-to-ball skills and plus raw power to match, as well as the ability to play solid defense and even steal some bases. Cameron's calling card is his speed and plus defense, which plays well with his solid hitting ability and developing power. The Astros also nabbed Thomas Eshelman, one of the best control pitchers in college baseball history. Other picks that could move quick include third-rounder fireballer Riley Ferrell, and lefty reliever Michael Freeman. A very intriguing player in this year's class is 12th-rounder Myles Straw, a centerfielder that possesses 80-grade speed and could soon become the Astros version of Terrance Gore. The highest ceilings of this class, excluding the first rounders, are outfielder Nestor Muriel and left handed pitcher Patrick Sandoval. Some strong performers to note include pitchers Trent Thornton, Alex Winkelman, Steve Naemark, and Chris Murphy, and hitters Drew Ferguson, Aaron Mizell, Johnny Sewald, and Brooks Marlow. The strongest performer of the class however, is former Arkansas third baseman Bobby Wernes, who batted .346 en route to a NYPL batting title.
Bonus Video: Nestor Muriel showing off his defensive tools and sweet swing.
Thanks for reading, and if you have any comments feel free to let me know!