HOUSTON - MAY 23: Ben Zobrist #18 of the Tampa Bay Rays hits a solo home run in the third inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on May 23, 2010 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Some people yesterday were mentioning that the Angels' lineup appeared to be pretty weak. It certainly wasn't a good lineup, but clearly people had never sat down and considered the lineup I'm tossing out there today. The Angels have had some nasty luck with top prospects, but Houston practically threw away multiple drafts during the past decade and that's pretty clearly reflected in what you'll see below. The Astros have really turned things around lately since the hiring of Bobby Heck as scouting director, but the present weakness of their farm system should remind you of how little minor league talent the organization had before he came aboard.
1) 3B Drew Sutton - 2004 15th Round Pick
He's probably never going to be a regular anywhere, but the 27-year-old may be able to fill a bench role for someone. Currently he's playing third base and second base for Triple-A Pawtucket in Boston's system, and he's got a .378 OBP in 1855 PA's in the upper minors.
2) 2B Ben Zobrist - 2004 6th Round Pick
Arguably the lineup's best player even though his monster 2009 isn't close to the player that he actually is. What he is, though, is a plus defensive second baseman and right fielder with some pop and good on-base skills. That's still a very, very good player.
3) RF Hunter Pence - 2004 2nd Round Pick
Zobrist's competition for best player in the lineup, he's currently tied for the NL lead in doubles. The right fielder has established himself as a solid 3-4 WAR player, with his WAR marks falling in that range in each of his first four seasons.
4) 1B Chris Johnson - 2006 4th Round Pick
Last year's performance was an absolute mirage, but Houston's current third baseman does have some power even if his OBP will always be sub-par. Notice that the lineup starts to get really ugly here.
5) DH Koby Clemens - 2005 8th Round Pick
Roger's 24-year-old son probably doesn't project to stick in the majors, but Houston doesn't have much else. His Double-A numbers have been respectable (.241/.349/.467), and he's off to a scorching start for Triple-A Oklahoma City this year.
6) LF Brian Bogusevic - 2005 1st Round Pick (25th overall)
The 27-year-old was originally drafted as a top pitching prospect, but he's currently in his third year as a Triple-A outfielder after leaving the mound during the 2008 season- it seemed like an immediate success as he posted a .969 OPS in 173 Double-A PA's that year. He's off to a hot start for Oklahoma City like Clemens, but his overall numbers at the level are pedestrian (.275/.357/.393).
7) CF Jack Shuck - 2008 6th Round Pick
He's not a major prospect, but the sixth-round pick from Heck's first draft in Houston has flashed some very strong on-base skills and spends most of his time in center field. His glove isn't great in center and he doesn't have much power, but he's got a .305/.381/.392 career line in the minors and he's another Oklahoma City hitter with great numbers so far this season.
8) C Jason Castro - 2008 1st Round Pick (10th overall)
Houston's first pick with Heck as scouting director, he was expected to be Houston's everyday catcher this year before season-ending surgery for a torn ACL. He provides most of his value through quality defense behind the plate and struggled in his initial stint with the Astros last year, but strong minor league numbers indicate that his offensive production could be respectable.
9) SS Tommy Manzella - 2005 3rd Round Pick
He showed last season that he'll probably never be a regular in the majors, but he's hit .295/.344/.429 in 669 Triple-A PA's since the beginning of the 2009 season and his glove is decent at shortstop.
1) RHP Bud Norris - 2006 6th Round Pick
People don't talk about the 26-year-old much, but he's been a strikeout machine since joining Houston's rotation last year. He's got 178 K's in 170 innings since the beginning of last year, and he's picked up his groundball rate from 43% last season to 51% in three starts this year. Walks will probably always limit him, but he's a great pitcher when his command is on.
2) RHP Mitch Talbot - 2002 2nd Round Pick
Two of the best players on this roster (Zobrist, Talbot) were once the package that landed Aubrey Huff in an Astros jersey (fail), but Talbot has blossomed into a quality mid-rotation starter since getting a legitimate shot in Cleveland.
3) RHP Jordan Lyles - 2008 1st Round Pick (38th overall)
Another good pick from Heck's first draft, Lyles is currently in Triple-A. He's regarded as Houston's best prospect, though, and should be starting games as an Astro before this season ends.
4) RHP Jason Hirsh - 2003 2nd Round Pick
Hirsh will never live up to the promise that landed him 42nd on BA's Top 100 list in 2007, but the 29-year-old had a decent year at Triple-A last season. It doesn't appear that he's signed with an MLB organization for 2011, though.
5) LHP Troy Patton - 2004 9th Round Pick
One of the major cogs of the package that brought Miguel Tejada to Houston, the 25-year-old lefty is now starting for Norfolk in Triple-A. His K/BB has gotten worse at every stop, but he has a chance to stick as a back-of-the-rotation guy.
Set Up: Matt Albers - 2001 23rd Round Pick
Another piece of the Tejada trade that's currently on the disabled list with Boston, Albers made 18 starts for the Astros in 2007 but has spent most of the past three years in relief. The results have been mixed, with a pretty mediocre 4.68 FIP for his career, but he sits around 92-94 with his fastball and gets lots of grounders, so the potential is there.
Closer: Chad Qualls - 2000 2nd Round Pick
An elite reliever in 2008 and 2009 thanks to good strikeout numbers, great command and an exceptional groundball rate, his numbers tanked across the board last season and it remains to be seen exactly how much he'll bounce back. He's still a good reliever, though, and if he's going to put up strong numbers anywhere it might as well be San Diego.
DISTRIBUTION OF PICKS
2000: 1; 2001: 1; 2002: 1; 2003: 1; 2004: 4; 2005: 3; 2006: 2; 2007: 0; 2008: 3; 2009: 0
6th or later: 7