I first started writing about the Astros minor league system out of frustration and, dare I say, desperation back in August of 2011. The big league club was falling apart on its way to the first 100+ loss season in Astros history. I kept hearing how absolutely bereft the farm system was. I decided to look for myself and share my findings. Frankly, I'm very glad that I didn't look sooner. The farm system at the time was not without talent, but the lack of depth was startling, to say the least.
When Jonathan Mayo published what was then a Top 50 prospect list before the 2011 season, there was only one Astro on the list - Jordan Lyles at #31. Prior to the 2012 season, there were three Astros on what evolved to become the MLB Top 100 Prospect list: Jonathan Singleton (44), Jarred Cosart (61) and George Springer (84). On Tuesday the 2013 pre-season Top 100 list came out. Singleton went from #44 in 2012 to #27 in 2013. Carlos Correa debuted on the list at #30. Springer went from #84 to #57. Only Cosart actually dropped somewhat on the list from #61 in 2012 to #89 in 2013.
That makes four elite prospects on the list. Only nine teams had more top prospects on the list than the Astros did. The former head of scouting and development for one of those nine teams is currently the Astros General Manager. Things are looking up. We're not just looking at the beginnings of depth in the organization, we're looking at quality depth.
But I have seen some angst in the twitterverse over what was seen as a snub against Delino DeShields. The Astros Minor League Player of the Year had a terrific season and ended the year on Mayo's post-season 2012 Top 100 at #77 yet didn't make the 2013 pre-season Top 100. Let me explain why that is not necessarily a snub.
First of all, Mayo's list is not static. It evolves throughout the season as prospects make it to the big leagues, are no longer considered prospects and come off the list. DeShields did not start 2012 on the list at all. Mayo added him at some point during the season and DeShields moved up as others came off the list. After the season, Mayo did get some input from scouts, scouting directors, etc. to establish the post-season list, but the input he gets at the end of the season is not nearly as extensive as that he gets when he prepares the pre-season list. Comparing the post-season list to the next year's pre-season list is a bit of an apples and oranges comparison.
Secondly, the Top 100 list that came out Tuesday is absolutely loaded with close to MLB-ready talent. A total of 71 of the 100 players are projected to reach the majors in 2013 or 2014. DeShields is not projected to get to the bigs until 2015; presumably, that was a factor for some of those polled as they want to see DeShields succeed at the higher levels. If he can do that, he will undoubtedly start moving up the ranks as others fall off.
DeShields wasn't the only Astros player "snubbed," by the way. The Astros Minor League Pitcher of the Year Mike Foltynewicz wasn't on the list. Lance McCullers and Rio Ruiz were missing as well. Several players are awaiting their debut on the list. Two years ago, we couldn't say that we had many players poised to become elite prospects. But now we can. And that's a good thing.
The only "bad" news from the 2013 Top 100 list is that there are still doubts about whether or not Jarred Cosart will make it as a top of the rotation starter. He may only make it as an elite closer. Cosart will undoubtedly make his major league debut in 2013. If he spends enough time in the majors to graduate from this list, he won't be on the 2014 pre-season Top 100 list, but a very good case could be made that the Astros will have seven players or more on that 2014 list, and that doesn't even include anyone from the 2013 draft. Again, that's a good thing.
If you're still feeling a little disconsulate, I will leave you with this comment from Jonathan Mayo, "Why not focus on the fact that the Astros have four guys in the top 100, a much, much deeper farm system than they’ve had in years and a guy as GM who deserves a lot of credit for building the Cardinals’ system into what it is today."
Why not, indeed?