Monday, February 24, 2014

Astros Minor League Depth - Center Field

In my ongoing series covering the Astros minor league depth, this week we're going to look at outfielders. I will be dividing them into center, left and right based on where they played the most games in 2013, but most of the players spent time at more than one position. An obvious exception is Delino DeShields who played second base in 2013, but is being moved to the outfield this season. I will be sorting their 2013 stats according to on-base percentage with those who finished the season at Advanced A or higher shown first and Low A or short season players below that. Today, we cover center fielders.



George Springer (2011 first round draft pick) and Delino DeShields (2010 first round draft pick) top the list. They led the Astros farm system in stolen bases and were first and third in runs scored. Springer was tied for second (behind Nolan Fontana) in walks and led the system in runs scored, RBI and home runs, but he also led the system in strikeouts. DeShields showed a bit more patience at the plate than Springer, striking out in 17% of his plate appearances. Springer struck out in 27.2% of all plate appearances for the season. He actually did better in that regard in his final 62 games at Oklahoma City, striking out in 24.3% of his plate appearances. Defensively, Springer is definitely above average and I have no reason to believe that DeShields won't be able to quickly master the position as well since he played the outfield in high school.

George Springer - May 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

It is worth pointing out that besides having immense natural talent, Springer is also a team sparkplug. He is all business during games, but during work outs and before games, he is equal parts cheerleader and class clown. He keeps things loose and is as animated on the field as he is quiet and reserved off of it.

I would also like to point out that, despite several things that have been written questioning DeShields' focus and commitment, in the numerous times I have seen him both on and off the field, I have personally never seen anything indicating that he is not 100% committed to his profession. Keep in mind that DeShields was drafted out of high school and is three years younger than Springer. I sincerely hope that everyone will give him the benefit of a doubt and a chance to mature into the player that he will need to be in order to succeed. There is certainly no questioning his talent.

I was extremely happy to see Andrew Aplin moving from #25 last year up to #19 this year in Baseball America's list of top Astros prospects in their recent Prospect Handbook. He is not only a superb defender, he was in the top five in the Astros farm system in several categories - runs scored, doubles, triples, RBI, stolen bases and walks. He is definitely a well-rounded athletic player and gives the Astros a quality left-handed bat to add to the mix. Aplin was the fifth round pick in 2012 and will be 23 next month.

Andrew Aplin - September 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Drew Muren, the 22nd round draft pick in 2011, is known more for his defense than for his offense as the 6'6" long-legged lefty can cover a lot of real estate. He had 12 outfield assists in 2013.

Tanner Mathis was drafted by Houston in the 27th round in 2012, but did not sign. He instead went back to Ole Miss for his senior year and signed with Houston as a non-drafted free agent in 2013. An extremely patient hitter, Mathis only struck out 14 times in 60 games and had one of the highest on-base percentages in the Astros system, even leading on-base machine Nolan Fontana in that regard. [Note: Mathis technically ended the season at Lancaster as a back-up, but didn't get an at-bat there.] Mathis' Greeneville teammate Brett Phillips, sixth round pick in 2012, missed most of August due to a hand injury. His bat is a work in progress, but he was able to get a few more at-bats under his belt playing winter ball in Venezuela in the Liga Paralela and was poised to join a Venezuelan major league team when he had to return to the U.S. for a family emergency. Baseball America named Phillips as having the best outfield arm in the Astros sytem.

Two 2013 draft picks, Jason Martin (eighth round) and James Ramsay (seventh round) played their first professional seasons in 2013 with Ramsay playing at the more advanced Tri-City and Martin, then 17 years old, playing with the Gulf Coast League Astros. Ramsay was named in Baseball America's Prospect Handbook as the best defensive outfielder in the system out of the 2013 draft. Both had solid freshman seasons.

Teoscar Hernandez debuted in the Prospect Handbook at #16 after playing at Quad Cities in his third professional season. The young Dominican (he just turned 21 in October) is definitely still raw in many ways, but if he can put all of the pieces together, he can be a legitimate five-tool player. One thing that Hernandez will have to improve on is his pitch recognition; reportedly, a good number of his strikeouts have come on called strikes. Hernandez leads this list in outfield assists with 14.

Teoscar Hernandez - April 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

The final name on this list is Dominican player Luis Payano. Payano won't turn 18 until May and looks to be an interesting name to watch as he exhibited a nice amount of pop and a nice amount of speed. One player who does not appear on this list is Ravel Santana who was picked up by the Astros in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft in December. Santana was listed as the #7 prospect in the Yankees system in the 2012 Prospect Handbook, but he has had lingering injury issues, some of which are related to what has been characterized as a "gruesome" ankle injury in 2011, and he did not play in 2013. He was once considered a five-tool prospect. He will be 22 in May.

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