HOUSTON -- The strength of the Astros' Minor League system is evident in MLB.com's 2014 Top 100 Prospect rankings, in which the team placed seven players on the list, which is tied for the second most in baseball behind the Red Sox.
Leading the way for the Astros at No. 8 in the rankings is 19-year-old shortstop Carlos Correa, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. He's followed by 2013 top pick right-handed pitcher Mark Appel (17), outfielder George Springer (21), first baseman Jonathan Singleton (50), right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. (52), right-hander Mike Foltynewicz (54) and Delino DeShields Jr. (66), who made the switch to the outfield this year from second base.
The annual ranking of baseball's biggest and brightest young talent is assembled by MLBPipeline.com Draft and prospect experts Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis, who compile input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, proximity to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. The list, which is one of several prospect rankings on MLBPipeline.com's Prospect Watch, only includes players with rookie status in 2014.
Based on points being assigned on the individual rankings (100 points for the No. 1, 99 points for No. 2, etc.), the Astros led baseball with 439 prospects points. The Red Sox, who had nine prospects in the Top 100, followed with 436 prospects points.
Correa spent the 2013 season as the second-youngest player in the Midwest League, and he still led the league in OPS (.872) while finishing second in on-base percentage (.405) and third in batting average (.320) in his first full season in professional baseball. He also had nine home runs and 86 RBIs.
Correa's likely to being 2014 at Class A Lancaster and could spend half of the season at Double-A Corpus Christi.
"To play a full season of A ball at the age of 18 and have the success he's had is very unusual," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "It suggests a bright future for him. Every decade or so, a really special player gets to the Major Leagues before he turns 21, and I think he has a chance to be that type of player."
Appel's decision to return to Stanford for his senior season after being drafted in the first round by the Pirates in 2012 paid off when the Astros took him No. 1. Born in Houston, Appel lived there until he was 12 years old, and he has plenty of family in the area.
After throwing 106 1/3 innings at Stanford, Appel was held to 10 starts in his professional debut. He went 3-1 with a 3.79 ERA between Class A Quad Cities (eight games) and short-season Tri-City (two games), and he should get a full load in his first full season in 2014.
"He pitched the game that got Quad Cities to the playoffs and had a healthy workload, but not too much," Luhnow said. "I can't wait to see what he looks like with a full season of rest. I'm really excited to watch him in Spring Training."
Springer, the Astros' Minor League Player of the Year, became the first Minor Leaguer in franchise history to hit at least 30 homers and steal 30 bases in the same season, finishing with 37 homers and 45 steals combined between Triple-A Oklahoma City and Double-A Corpus Christi.
Springer finished among the top five players in all of the Minors in runs (106), total bases (295), homers, RBIs (108), slugging percentage (.600) and OPS (1.010).
"He had a historic season," Luhnow said. "Very few people have put together the type of season ever in the Minor Leagues. We're confident he's going to be able to carry it over into this year and he has superstar potential."
Singleton, the only first baseman in the Top 100, had somewhat of a lost season in 2013, starting with a 50-game suspension to begin the season for a second failed positive drug test.
He played in 90 games between Quad Cities, Corpus Christi and Oklahoma City and hit a combined .230 with 11 homers and 44 RBIs, but he's got terrific raw power.
"The suspension was a setback, but he made the most of it," Luhnow said. "He came to Triple-A and played hard and got into a groove and carried it over to Puerto Rico [winter ball] and recovered all the at-bats he missed and really had a tremendous performance against good pitching. I expect he's going be a legitimate contender for first base, if not at the beginning of the year, then certainly during the season."
McCullers' first full season in the Majors was a success. He went 6-5 with a 3.18 ERA and ranked third in the Midwest League in strikeouts before getting shut down for the season on Aug. 15. He didn't give up a home run in his final 19 outings, which covered 74 2/3 innings.
The hard-throwing Foltynewicz went 6-3 with a 3.06 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 129 1/3 innings between Corpus Christi and Class A Lancaster. His explosive fastball, which topped 100 mph on several occasions, bought him a ticket to Major League camp this year.
"It's just a matter of getting more innings for him at the higher levels of the Minor leagues, because stuff-wise, it's dominating," Luhnow said. "He's been working hard on his secondary pitches to where they're Major League average. His fastball is well above average."
DeShields will be moved to center field this year after playing second base the last few years. He got off to a slow start in 2013 at Lancaster, hitting .250 in April, but the speedster rallied to finish with a .317 batting average, 100 runs scored, 24 doubles, 14 triples, five homers, 51 steals and a .405 on-base percentage.