Jeff Luhnow, the new general manager of the Houston Astros, was going to bring in a whole different way of doing things to the organization. While there has been some shifting -- the Astros will be using more analytics, for one thing -- there hasn't been quite the drastic change in philosophy. "Philosophically, we found out we're not as different as we thought we were," assistant general manager of scouting Bobby Heck said. "It's still about evaluating players and profiling players. There's some new twists to it, but it's not apples and oranges by any means."
Heck, who's been in charge of the Astros' amateur scouting since October 2007 and officially became an assistant general manager in 2008, points out, for instance, that the Astros had used some forms of statistical analysis in the past, but now there will be a more advanced application. It's also worth noting, he says, where each organization is in terms of evaluating how they go after players, particularly in the Draft. The Cardinals went after more college players for a reason. So did the Astros, for that matter.
"We were building from the floor up, brick by brick," Heck said of Houston drafting high school talent up front the past few Drafts. "They were taking players because they wanted to maintain the run they were on in the big leagues."
The Cardinals had also varied their approach, both in terms of who they drafted and in being aggressive internationally. Luhnow should bring the same thinking to the Astros. So far it's been a good fit, with Heck already having a relationship with Luhnow from their travels on the amateur scouting circuit over the past eight years.
"Coming from his background of scouting and player development, and as long as I've been at ballparks with [Luhnow], the dialogue was easy to jump into," Heck said. "He has a familiarity with the players out there, so especially with us picking No. 1, Jeff will be a sounding board."
Top 20 Prospects
The Astros' system received a big influx of talent last summer, particularly from trades. Five of this year's top 10 came via the Trade Deadline deals that sent Hunter Pence to Philadelphia and Michael Bourn to Atlanta. All are preparing for their first Spring Training with their new organization and the Astros can't wait to have them in the fold for a full season, even though they didn't exactly struggle when entering new surroundings for the first time post-trade. "I think we're excited about that," Heck said. "They all came aboard and hit the ground running. They all pretty much had success. The period of adjustment was short-lived."
The Pence deal brought in the "elite-level" prospects in Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart, with further-from-the-bigs Domingo Santana and reliever Josh Zeid as well. All are in the Top 20, as well as Paul Clemens and Brett Oberholtzer, the arms that came from Atlanta in return for Bourn. They're not thought of as big-time prospects by some, but they are just about ready to contribute.
"[Former GM] Ed [Wade] did a good job of creating a good mix in what we got back," Heck said. "As much as Oberholtzer or Clemens weren't the meaty or sexy names, they're close. We'll have a chance to see them this year. If not, then next year."
Add in George Springer, the Astros' top Draft pick in 2011, and six of the top 10 this year were not on the list a year ago. That has Heck and company thrilled about the future. Where a once fairly barren system stood, there is the makings of both quality and quantity.
"Take that group and surround those players with the last four Drafts and some international signings." Heck said. "We're getting big-bodied athletic starting pitchers and toolsy athletes that have a strong offensive profile. It was nice to start lining up multiples at positions."
astros' top prospects
RJ Alaniz, RHP: Alaniz went to high school in an area in Texas that was hit hard by the H1N1 epidemic, so many of his games were cancelled his senior year and he was virtually impossible to be seen by scouts. The Astros tried to sign him out of their own backyard, and when he went to pitch in programs like East Cobb, other teams became interested. The Astros won out and feel pretty good about the non-drafted free agent's future. Coming out of high school he threw about 90 mph, and now he's up to 97 mph with a plus changeup. He throws from a lower slot and it should be an interesting challenge for him to develop his slider in Class A Advanced Lancaster in 2012.
Roberto Pena, C: Pena and Delino DeShields Jr. were among the youngest players in the South Atlantic League in 2011. A 10th-rounder in 2010 from the Puerto Rico high school ranks, Pena is an advanced defensive backstop. He has very good catch-and-throw skills, which enabled him to throw out 39 percent of would-be basestealers last year. He has good hands, is agile behind the plate and pitchers seem to like throwing to him. The Astros feel he'll eventually develop enough of a bat, at least power-wise, to be a regular. He'll be back in the South Atlantic League this year and is young enough for that not to be a real step backward.
Hitter of the Year
Singleton: All he's done is hit, particularly after the trade to Houston, and he has a .333/.405/.512 line post-deal to show for it. In 2012, he'll show that was not a byproduct of being in the California League. Expect Singleton to move up to Double-A, hit for average and show more of his developing power in game situations.
Pitcher of the Year
Cosart: There's a chance that any number of the pitchers from both of last season's deadline deals could see time in the big leagues, but with Oberholtzer and Clemens perhaps a step ahead, Cosart gets the nod as he'll figure out the Texas League, earn a promotion and land in Houston for a September callup.