I looked through all of the current Astros minor league players and identified some of those who either showed early promise before getting bitten by the injury bug or who have not been able to make a decisive step to the next level. I looked at those who have played in at least parts of three seasons and I capped it at age 22. I looked at pitchers last week. This week, let's look at the position player candidates I identified:
SS Jio Mier (21)
A first round pick in 2009, Mier has never quite been able to recapture the .276/.380/.484/.864 batting line from his first season at Greeneville that excited so many, but there were glimpses at the end of last season that he was starting to get in a groove after coming back from an earlier injury. When I interviewed Jio during the off-season, he felt good about his results at the plate after simplifying his approach. At 21 (he'll be 22 in August), it's a little early to give up on the first round pick. Could this be the year that he takes that next step in his development?
LF Jay Austin (21)
Up until a couple weeks ago, I would have picked Austin as a good favorite for the breakout player for 2012, but that was before it was reported that he broke his hand. A second round pick in 2008, Austin had his best batting average (.267) and OBP (.320) in 2009 at Lexington and, unsurprisingly, had his best slugging percentage (.414) at Lancaster in 2010. In 2011, he only hit .242/.313/.336/.649 between Lexington and Lancaster, but he did get his walk rate up. But it was his Arizona Fall League results that really stood out as he batted .311/.385/.444/.829. It may have only been 11 games, but it was against the best of the best. I hope that the hand injury doesn't derail his progress and that he can build on that AFL experience.
C Rene Garcia (just turned 22 on 3/21)
Garcia's best season was his first. After being drafted in the 35th round out of high school in Puerto Rico in 2008, he hit .295/.340/.386/.727 in a brief 18 games at Greeneville. He has put up some fairly respectable numbers since, but nothing really showy until this winter. In the Puerto Rican League, he hit .333/.409/.487/.896 in 21 games. Can he build on that success in the coming season?
LF Enrique Hernandez (20)
A sixth round draft pick in 2009, Hernandez put up very good numbers in both his first season in 2009 with the GCL Astros (.295/.336/.396) and in 2010 at Tri-City (.280/.322/.398) before a rather dramatic fall-off in 2011 at Lexington (.247.341/.326). The good news is that his OBP ticked up and he increased his walks from 14 walks in 246 AB in 2010 to 31 walks in 215 AB in 2011. The bad news is that he had a very, very bad winter in the Puerto Rican League. Hernandez doesn't turn 21 until August so a rebound is a definite possibility.