Every year there are prospects who finally “click” – those who finally begin to realize their potential in terms of statistical results and go from afterthought to top prospect. Some guys have already performed well but get lost in the shuffle because there are more heralded prospects casting a shadow over their accomplishments. In light of Tyler White’s rise from obscurity to starting first baseman, it can be fun to predict which names may become more prominent going into the 2017 season. Here are some names to watch over the 2016 season.
Danry Vasquez - May 2015
Photo by Jayne Hansen
Danry Vazquez, OF – This 22 year old Venezuela native was once listed among the Tigers’ and Astros’ top prospects (as high as #6 in the Tigers system, #29 in the much deeper Astros organization, per Baseball America), but a lackluster 2015 season dropped him out of BA’s top 30. The good news is he did not have a bad season, and he is still young. The Tigers had him on the fast track to the majors by bringing him to the U.S. at 17 rather than 18, and his new club has not really slowed this progression. Perhaps repeating AA will yield breakout results. His power output would benefit from bulking up his 6’ 3” frame. He finished with a .990 OPS in his final 38 plate appearances at AA Corpus Christi last year so hopefully this is a precursor to a huge year.
James Ramsay, OF – The University of South Florida has not been known for producing major league studs (my apologies to the Tim Hulett fan club), but perhaps Ramsay could change this. Jeff Luhnow nabbed him in the 7th round of the 2013 draft then shipped him to A- Tri-City where he did fair (.258 average, .346 OBP in 69 games). He spent most of the 2014 season at A Quad Cities where he posted rather pedestrian numbers other than the 33 bags he swiped in 40 attempts (83%). With quiet hands and a sweet left-handed stroke, last year at A+ Lancaster he rebounded from a slow April to post an impressive .322/.384/.847 line and an organizational Player of the Month honor in August. However, his base stealing dropped dramatically with only 16 stolen bases in 28 attempts (57%). He is expected to repeat Lancaster at the onset of the season, although not currently listed on the roster. Perhaps this will provide him with the opportunity to regain his base stealing efficiency and continue to grow as a contact hitter to accompany his already strong defensive abilities. [Note from Jayne: I expect Ramsay to start in Corpus Christi if healthy, particularly since the Astros are moving players more aggressively these days.]
Garrett Stubbs, C – The glaring weakness in the Houston organization from top to bottom is at catcher so opportunity knocks for this 22 year old product of USC. After winning the Johnny Bench Award for top collegiate catcher, he was taken in the 8th round of the 2015 draft and produced a .274/.369/.674 slash line across low and mid-A. While his diminutive frame will likely never result in significant power numbers, he has maintained an OBP above .420 at each of his first three minor league stops while keeping the strikeouts at a respectable number (107 in 534 professional at bats). With such a strong ability to reach base, coupled with above-average receiving, throwing, and game calling skills, he has the tools necessary to don the tools of ignorance in Houston sometime in the not too distant future.
Jamie Ritchie, C – Another catcher with the opportunity to make a name for himself, Ritchie led all Astros minor leaguers in 2015 with 95 walks and has been a mid-season All-Star in both of his seasons on the farm. While he has offered little in the power department thus far, there is hope he can increase his slugging output. According to the 2016 Houston Farm System Handbook, “Ritchie’s power is developing slowly (he hit only five home runs for the season and only one of those was with Lancaster), but there should be more coming as he has the strength to go opposite field with much of his power, and he has added muscle since he signed.” Even if he does not, if he continues to maintain a batting average around .300, accumulate walks, and play sound defense, he has a shot at becoming the backstop of the future.
Brady Rodgers, RHSP– This Rosenberg native has appeared in spring games for the Astros the past two years and the results have been nothing short of atrocious. It would be easy to discount him as nothing more than a minor league roster filler but one must consider all the variables, first of all being a very small sample size. One could argue Rodgers has been rushed through the minor league system in his first two seasons. After a solid initial half season at A- Tri-City in 2012 (2.89 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 7.1 K/9 in 62 1/3 IP), he skipped Class A entirely and went directly to the launching pad known as high-A Lancaster where he was roughed up to the tune of a 5.38 ERA and 1.41 WHIP (despite a sound 1.8 BB/9 and 8.4 K/9). These statistics did not prevent the Astros brass from allowing him to pitch one 5 inning stint each at AA Corpus and AAA Oklahoma City where he allowed only 1 earned run on 10 hits with no walks. He returned to Corpus Christi in 2014 where a poor May and June inflated his otherwise strong performance, including a 1.02 WHIP and 9.0 K/9 in his final 28 1/3 IP (which included one scoreless 6 inning start at AAA). His 2015 campaign was his first full season at AAA and if you remove his first two starts and a brutal 2 inning performance in late July, he had a respectable 3.11 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. He has shown flashes of brilliance and is a former third round pick so this could be the year he puts it all together.
Tommy Shirley, LHSP– In contrast to Brady Rodgers, Tommy Shirley has graduated slowly but steadily through the minor league ranks. The 2010 draft pick was outstanding at AA Corpus in 2014 (1.88 ERA, 0.93 WHIP in 86 IP), but a mediocre showing at AAA Oklahoma City later that year (4.35 ERA, 1.58 WHIP in 31 IP), a solid but limited-by-injury 2015 performance at AAA Fresno (3.29 ERA, 1.05 WHIP in only 41 IP), and a 27 year old arm has cast him into obscurity. However, it is hard to overlook his overall quality numbers thus far (2.68 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 8.7 K/9 in 305 2/3 minor league IP) and considering he is a southpaw, he always has the role of left-handed specialist to fall back on. However, I fully expect him to be considered among the Astros’ top starter prospects if healthy.
Kyle Smith, RHSP – Since many Astros fans may have repressed their memories of the 2012-13 era, they may not remember a certain outfielder named Justin Maxwell, nor the 20 year old pitching prospect who Luhnow received in exchange for him from the Kansas City Royals. Since the said prospect was blasted at Lancaster in 23 plus innings after the trade, and did not throw a pitch in 2015, he may not have ever entered your radar. However, between the rocky initial stint in the Houston organization and last year’s injury, Mr. Smith posted outstanding numbers at Lancaster (2.60 ERA, 1.084 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, albeit in 27 2/3 IP) which earned a promotion to Corpus Christi where he had a decent 1.23 WHIP and 9.1 K/9 in 95 IP. While he is currently working his way back from Tommy John surgery, a fully recovered Smith should open some eyes.
Chris Cotton – Left-handed relievers always have an edge since managers love to play strategy in the late innings. However, Cotton has the potential to be more than merely a LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY). Despite a strong junior season at LSU in which he logged the second most appearances in the SEC and a 1.59 ERA in 45 1/3 innings, he went undrafted. He improved as a senior with a 1.16 ERA and recorded 16 saves in 46 2/3 innings, with a 47:3 strikeout ratio as the Tigers’ closer, including 13 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason. His senior status resulted in a 14th round pick. While he has not been as dominant in MiLB, he still has a respectable 2.95 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP over 158 2/3 IP. With his pedigree and stuff, expect Cotton to leapfrog Kevin Chapman and Edwar Cabrera as the top candidate to be a lefty in A.J. Hinch’s bullpen, and perhaps even contribute to the 2016 World Champions! [Note from Jayne: Those are lofty aspirations for Cotton! He was recently spotted on Team Rehab. We hope to see him back with the Grizzlies soon so that he can fulfill Raymond's predictions for him.]
April 7, 2016