With the Astros promoting highly touted prospects Jonathan Villar, a shortstop, and Jarred Cosart, a pitcher, to Houston for their Major League debuts earlier this month, it marked the beginning of what could be an impressive wave of players coming up from a strong farm system.
The Astros, beginning with former general manager Ed Wade and continuing with the current regime under Jeff Luhnow, have rebuilt their farm in the past few years and suddenly have talent oozing at several positions, including a wealth of right-handed pitching, led by Cosart.
Right-hander Mark Appel, taken with the No. 1 overall pick in last month's First-Year Player Draft, has pushed his way near the top of Astros' prospect list (No. 4), just ahead of fellow pitchers Lance McCullers (No. 5), Mike Foltynewicz (No. 6) and Cosart (No. 7). Right-handers Vincent Velasquez and Asher Wojciechowski are also on the rise.
Houston's top prospect is Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa, the No. 1 pick in the Draft a year ago. He jumped first baseman Jonathan Singleton, who sat out the first 50 games this year after a second failed drug test, in the rankings. Outfielder George Springer, who has destroyed pitching this year at Double-A and Triple-A, remains No. 3. Both Singleton and Springer could reach Houston this year.
"Our pipeline is pretty full," Luhnow said. "There's a lot of exciting news of the farm right now. Some of them are close; there are others that are further away that we might see within the next year, and then a whole bunch after that. We feel very good where our pipeline is right now."
Right-hander Kevin Comer, who was ranked No. 17 in the preseason, has performed fairly well for Class A Short-Season Tri-City this year, but was bumped from the rankings due in large part to the Astros' improved pitching depth. He has a good strikeout-to-walk ratio (22-8), but hasn't quite been able to limit the hits (24 in 25 innings). He's only 20 and figures to improve.
Righty Joe Musgrove, ranked 19th in preseason, was shut down for much of Spring Training with an injury and is just now getting back to regular competition. He hasn't had great outings, but it is to be expected after being down for much of the year.
Outfielder Robbie Grossman was a favorite of Astros manager Bo Porter during Spring Training and spent most of May as Houston's starting center fielder, but he hit only .198 (22-for-111) and was shipped back to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he hit .269 in his first 68 games.
The Astros took Appel with the first pick out of Stanford and plan to shoot him through the system quickly. He will be in Major League camp next year and could be in the rotation at some point in 2014. Appel immediately finds himself ranked as the club's top pitching prospect.
astros' top prospects
Outfielder Preston Tucker, taken in the seventh round last year, has improved his stock after a solid debut and a good start this year at Class A Lancaster, where he hit .326 with 15 homers and 74 RBIs in 75 games before being promoted to Double-A Corpus Christi. He's ranked sixth.
Right-hander Andrew Thurman, whom the Astros selected with the first pick in the second round this year, makes his debut at No. 17.
Appel made the biggest leap, but some players already on the list also climbed. Shortstop Nolan Fontana (No. 9), Velasquez (No. 12) and Wojciechowski (No. 13) each jumped two spots.
The biggest drops from the preseason list belong to right-handers Nick Tropeano and Brad Peacock. Tropeano dropped seven spots to No. 16 with a sluggish season at Double-A Corpus Christi. Peacock struggled with the Astros early in the year before getting on track on Triple-A Oklahoma City and finds himself out of the top 10 at No. 18.
Top 100 representation
No team made a bigger jump in terms of Top 100 Prospects representation than the Astros, who went from having four on the preseason list to eight, which tied with Boston for the most. Houston's 435 "prospects points," which are more than double its preseason total, are the most in baseball. Prospect points are assigned to clubs based on their representatives on the Top 100 list, with 100 points going to the team with the No. 1 prospect, 99 to the team with No. 2 and so on.
Correa (No. 9) is the only Astros prospect inside the top 10, but Houston is well-represented throughout the Top 100 with Singleton (No. 22), Springer (No. 27) and Appel (No. 29) in the upper third.
McCullers (No. 65), Foltynewicz (No. 67) and Cosart (No. 74) show Houston's pitching depth, and second baseman Delino DeShields, who stole 101 bases in 2012, is ranked as the 80th-best prospect in baseball.