Prior to the 2009 season, we identified 10 prospects to watch in the Astros farm system. Of those 10, seven remain on the 2010 list.
Jay Austin, OF: The Astros' second-round pick in 2008, Austin had a first full season that didn't blow people away. But considering he played almost all of the season at age 18, it wasn't bad at all. The speedy center fielder stole 23 bases (and was caught 13 times) in 101 games, and while he finished the year with a .267/.320/.360 line, it should be noted that his .291/.346/.418 second half was vastly improved over his first half. It will be interesting to see if he can use that improvement as a springboard in his second full season of pro ball.
Jason Castro, C: It would be hard to ask for a better first full season from the Stanford catcher as he erased any questions about being an over-draft at No. 10 overall. Castro made it to Double-A, hit .300 with a .446 slugging percentage and .380 on-base percentage, went to the Futures Game and played for the gold medal-winning U.S. Team at the World Cup. He was out of gas, understandably, by the end of the year, but there's no doubt he now fully understands the rigors of a full season. A natural leader and skilled defensive backstop, Castro has the chance to be a very good all-around big league catcher in the near future.
Collin DeLome, OF: During the 2010 season, the Astros' 2007 fifth-round pick demonstrated what makes him both an intriguing and enigmatic prospect. A Texas League All-Star, DeLome showed his usual power-speed combination (20 homers, 15 steals). He also showed his tendency to swing and miss, striking out 141 times (vs. only 37 walks). At age 24, there's still a lot to like and he'll be just a phone call away at Triple-A.
Chris Johnson, 3B: A year ago, Johnson looked poised to take over the third base job in Houston at some point soon. He had a solid, though unspectacular, season at Triple-A last year but did make his big league debut late in 2009. It seems the Astros weren't ready to hand him the job at the hot corner, though, as they signed Pedro Feliz during the offseason. Johnson has had another solid spring but looks destined to spend some more time in Round Rock at the start of the season.
Jordan Lyles, RHP: He may have been a bit of a surprise as a supplemental first-rounder, but no one is questioning it now, not after he finished his first full season with a 3.24 ERA and 167 strikeouts over 144 2/3 innings. Perhaps more impressive were the 38 walks and five home runs allowed. And he did it all at the age of 18. He'll spend all of 2010 as a 19-year-old who could very well see Double-A.
Tommy Manzella, SS: It's looking like the time has come for the 2005 third-rounder out of Tulane. Manzella has been known largely for his glove and his intangibles, though he did have a solid season at Triple-A in 2009. He's hit right around .300 most of the spring and should open the season as the Astros' starting shortstop. Don't expect big offensive numbers, but he'll be solid defensively and will do all the little things well to help his club win.
Ross Seaton, RHP: Heading to Lexington in 2009 would have been fun for devotees of young pitching, when a 1-2 punch of Lyles and Seaton could excite the imagination of Astros fans wondering what the future big league rotation might look like. Seaton might be a half-step behind Lyles now, but there's still much to like. He'll need to continue working on his delivery and refining his secondary pitches, but with his makeup there's plenty of confidence he'll put in the work to get there. Keep in mind the Astros' Class A Advanced affiliate is in the launching pad that is Lancaster. If Seaton can pitch there, he might be able to pitch anywhere.
These three players were on our 2009 list but are not on the 2010 list, due to the loss of rookie status, poor performance, injury, the addition of other prospects to the list, etc.
Brian Bogusevic, OF: Perhaps it's a bit unfair to knock Bogusevic off the list, considering 2009 was the first full season during which he was an outfielder. The two-way standout out of Tulane had pitched until July 2008, then made the switch to hitting. Considering that, his .271/.342/.365 and 22 steals at Triple-A isn't bad. As a guy who has the skills to play an outfield corner well (that pitching arm works from the outfield too), he will need to show he can hit for more power than he did last year.
Prospects to watch
|Jay Austin, OF||Jay Austin, OF|
|Brian Bogusevic, OF||Jason Castro, C|
|Jason Castro, C||Collin DeLome, OF|
|Collin DeLome, OF||Jonathan Gaston, OF|
|Chris Johnson, 3B||Chris Johnson, 3B|
|Jordan Lyles, RHP||Chia-Jen Lo, RHP|
|Tommy Manzella, SS||Jordan Lyles, RHP|
|Bud Norris, RHP||Tommy Manzella, SS|
|Felipe Paulino, RHP||Jiovanni Mier, SS|
|Ross Seaton, RHP||Ross Seaton, RHP|
Bud Norris, RHP: Officially off the "10 to watch" list because he lost rookie status in 2009, Norris made 10 starts for the Astros a year ago. There were those, after his strong performance as a reliever in the Arizona Fall League in 2008, who felt the bullpen was the best spot for him, but Houston has stuck with him as a starter and he's penciled in as its No. 4 guy in 2010.
Felipe Paulino, RHP: Health had always been the main issue with Paulino, and in 2009 he stayed healthy enough to throw 97 2/3 big league innings. They weren't necessarily good ones, as he finished with a 6.27 ERA and .317 batting average-against. He's still throwing plenty hard enough, as evidenced by his 8.57 K/9 with Houston. He'll need to improve his command and not let his fastball straighten out if he wants to stick in the Astros rotation for all of 2010.
The following three players are new additions to the Astros Prospects to Watch list.
Jonathan Gaston, OF: Gaston had a huge breakout season in 2009, smashing 35 homers and driving in 100 runs in his first full campaign. He also drew 71 walks for a .367 OBP and stole 14 bases to boot. While he showed some extra-base pop in the Arizona Fall League, there are some "do it again" sentiments with Gaston. That's because he struck out 164 times in 2009 and his gaudy numbers were definitely helped by the friendly ballpark in Lancaster. If he continues to mash at Double-A this year, he'll help answer any questions about his long-term future.
Chia-Jen Lo, RHP: The Taiwanese import made his pro debut in 2009 and it was a good one. Lo split the year between Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi and has some people thinking future closer, thanks to a 2.10 ERA .179 BAA and a K/9 ratio of nearly 10.5. He'll have to improve his walk rate (4.62 BB/9) if he wants to live up to that "future closer" label, but Lo could be ready to at least help out in Houston at some point in 2010 at the ripe old age of 24.
Jiovanni Mier, SS: As Houston's first-round pick (21st overall) in 2009, Mier undoubtedly has had high expectations placed on him. If his summer debut was any indication, he's going to more than meet them. Mier performed very well in the Appalachian League after quickly signing with the organization. He showed a good approach at the plate and a terrific feel for the game. A pure shortstop, he'll be able to stick there because of his overall defensive package. He'll play almost all of the 2010 season as a teenager and should make a nice transition to full-season ball with Lexington.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.