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December
11th
2005
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Post-2005 Prospect Review: Houston
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

Prospects with Double-Digit Upside
Likely 2006 September Call-ups
Potential Reserve Help
Minor League Draft Picks
Organization Rankings
Houston's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects


Prospects with Double-Digit Upside

Brooks Conrad, 25, 2B-S
110/418 for .263/.347/.481 with 21 HR, 57 RBI, 84 R, 12/15 SB%,
and a 52:104 BB:K for AAA Round Rock(PCL).
18/77 for .234/.372/.416 with 2 HR, 11 RBI, 13 R, 8/8 SB%,
and a 16:15 BB:K for AA Corpus Christi(TL).

Hopefully the Astros will realize that Conrad offers much more upside on the bench than Eric Bruntlett, especially after this solid AAA campaign. Conrad possesses plenty of plate discipline and sufficient power potential to develop into a starting infielder. A team with less offensive depth than Houston even could consider him a strong contender for regular job now, so if he breaks camp in the majors, definitely consider targeting Conrad during Dollar Days.


Jason Hirsh, 23, RH Starter
13-8 on a 165:42 K:BB in 172.1 IP over 29 GS
with 137 H, 12 HR, a .99 G-F, and a 2.87 ERA for AA Corpus Christi(TL).

Hirsh jumped from deep on the Astros' pitching depth chart to near the top of the club's best prospects with a superb follow-up to his full-season debut in 2004. After only managing a 4.01 ERA on a 96:57 K:BB in 130 IP with 128 H and 8 HR for A+ Salem(Car), effectively dominating the Texas League this summer suggests me could begin succeeding in the majors as soon as next spring. Spending at least some time at AAA Round Rock remains the preferable course of action, but with Roger Clemens gone until no sooner than May and no clear choices for the end of the rotation, Hirsh owns the skills necessary to break camp in the majors. Echoing these numbers during spring training will warrant bids approaching double-digit value as long as you don't mind risking qualitative problems during possible growing pains for the youngster.


Luke Scott, 27, OF-L
15/80 for .188/.270/.288 with 0 HR, 4 RBI, 6 R, 1/2 SB%,
and a 9:23 BB:K for Houston.
114/398 for .286/.363/.603 with 31 HR, 87 RBI, 69 R, 2/4 SB%,
and a 43:96 BB:K for AAA Round Rock(PCL).

While the Astros clearly rushed Scott to the majors last spring, his effective dominance of the Pacific Coast League and solid skill set in the majors both depict a player deserving of a starting job in 2006. He registered a 4.24 #P/PA and .82 G-F in Houston, suggesting plenty of promise if provided regular at-bats over the rest of this decade. Unfortunately, plenty of reports regarding a new outfield acquisition for the Astros indicate they don't view him as a viable starting option, and even if the club adds no one, Chris Burke and Mike Lamb rank ahead of Scott on Phil Garner's depth chart. I still believe that Scott absolutely warrants late-round consideration if he breaks camp in the majors, but his age and uncertain future render him effectively worthless as more than a fantasy lottery ticket unless his circumstances change in a favorable direction.


Likely 2006 September Call-ups

Josh Anderson, 23, OF-L
148/524 for .282/.329/.355 with 1 HR, 26 RBI, 67 R, 50/69 SB%,
and a 29:80 BB:K for AA Corpus Christi(TL).

A superb half-season in the Sally League last year heralded Anderson as Houston's future leadoff man, but with Willy Taveras firmly established in the majors and Chris Burke remaining an excellent alternative at the top of the lineup, Anderson barely looks like a good reserve for the Astros. I certainly expect one of the many franchises searching for speedy centerfielders soon will liberate Anderson from the outfield glut in Houston, but unless his patience improves very quickly, he now seems set to peak as a fifth outfielder, albeit one capable of echoing Tom Goodwin by registering $20 roto seasons in a very limited role.


Taylor Buchholz, 24, RH Starter
6-0 on a 45:27 K:BB in 76.2 IP over 14 GS(20G)
with 79 H, 14 HR, a 1.49 G-F, and a 4.81 ERA for AAA Round Rock(PCL).

Additional injury problems further diminished Buchholz's prospect status, though given the relative paucity of established arms on the Astros, he just might break camp in the majors with a good camp. I unfortunately don't expect him to succeed in the majors in 2006 due to continued erosion of his skill set, so although Buchholz remains a capable long-term option, he needs a rebound next summer to avoid a permanent shift to the bullpen in an attempt to replicate Brad Lidge's success.


Hector Gimenez, 23, C-S
124/454 for .273/.322/.399 with 12 HR, 58 RBI, 47 R, 2/5 SB%,
and a 32:88 BB:K for AA Corpus Christi(TL).

Repeating the Texas League resulted in pleasant improvement in Gimenez's OBP and SLG, suggesting he easily will develop into a capable reserve and possibly even a starting catcher. Strong defense should result in a cup-of-coffee next fall prior to competing against Raul Chavez to caddy for Brad Ausmus the following spring. Don't draft him in 2006, but if he emerges as a late-season free agent option, Gimenez just might merit a pickup prior to Dollar Days in 2007.


Charlton Jimerson, 26, OF-R
0/0 for .000/.000/.000 with 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 0:0 BB:K for Houston.
7/23 for .304/.292/.348 with 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 3/3 SB%,
and a 0:7 BB:K for AAA Round Rock(PCL).
110/425 for .259/.317/.442 with 16 HR, 44 RBI, 67 R, 27/37 SB%,
and a 29:145 BB:K for AA Corpus Christi(TL).

Thankfully the universe did not end when Kevin Youkilis met Jimerson in the minors despite prevailing theories that a meeting between two such diametrically opposed players would collapse reality. Jimerson owns more tools than Home Depot while possessing less usable baseball skills than an average little leaguer. Of course, he still offers some upside as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement, but a career .65 contact rate demonstrates no more than meager hitting ability deserving of few at-bats in the majors.


Fernando Nieve, 23, RH Starter
4-4 on a 75:33 K:BB in 82 IP over 13 GS
with 92 H, 10 HR, a .70 G-F, and a 4.83 ERA for AAA Round Rock(PCL).
4-3 on a 96:29 K:BB in 85 IP over 14 GS
with 62 H, 7 HR, a .72 G-F, and a 2.65 ERA for AA Corpus Christi(TL).

Inconsistent control and a weak groundball rate create a probable obstacle to Nieve's success in the majors. Many pitchers with his skill set blossom into very effective relievers, and given the Astros' rather unimpressive bullpen depth, a spring move might benefit both the club and Nieve. Of course, he still deserves a shot to remain effective in the majors, so if he can hold a lower WHIP over a couple more months at Round Rock, consider him a strong FAAB candidate whenever Houston needs another started during the season.


Hunter Pence, 22, OF-R
42/151 for .305/.374/.490 with 6 HR, 30 RBI, 24 R, 1/3 SB%,
and an 18:37 BB:K for A+ Salem(Car).
102/302 for .338/.413/.652 with 25 HR, 60 RBI, 59 R, 8/11 SB%,
and a 38:53 BB:K for A Lexington(SAL).

Taking a realistic look at Pence's performance given his age and league unfortunately dilutes our enthusiasm over his fantasy prospects. He doesn't own great plate discipline, experienced a relative power outage after a logical move to Carolina, and faces plenty of competition for an outfield slot in Houston. The good news is that he remains a patient hitter with plenty of power potential, and if given the opportunity, certainly could blossom in the hitter-friendly environment of Minute Maid. Feel free to select him relatively high in almost any minor league draft.


Ben Zobrist, 24, SS-S
47/141 for .333/.475/.496 with 3 HR, 13 RBI, 25 R, 2/3 SB%,
and a 37:17 BB:K for A+ Salem(Car).
75/247 for .304/.415/.413 with 2 HR, 32 RBI, 45 R, 16/21 SB%,
and a 47:35 BB:K for A Lexington(SAL).

Zobrist suffered a torn meniscus near the end of the season, which likely kept his name from entering plenty of trade talk this winter. He simply owns some of the best plate discipline of any middle infielder in the game, and with good speed and defensive flexibility, he looks like no worse than a superb reserve infielder. Of course, I also see no reason he shouldn't challenge Adam Everett for the starting job by 2007, so although his injury keeps me from a full endorsement at this time, Zobrist belongs on the prospect radar of all NL owners as he heads to the upper levels of Houston's system.


Potential Reserve Help

Phillip Barzilla, 26, LH Swingman
0-0 on a 0:0 K:BB in 0 IP over 1 G
with 0 H, 0 HR, an infinite G-F, and a 0.00 ERA for AAA Round Rock(PCL).
7-7 on an 87:30 K:BB in 113 IP over 14 GS(41G)
with 126 H, 6 HR, a 2.18 ERA for AA Corpus Christi(TL).

Returning to Corpus Christi helped Barzilla regain his lost command despite spending half the season in the rotation. After posting these career-best stats this year, he should shift back to Round Rock, remaining in line for one last potential promotion if he stays effective, though I don't see him helping roto teams as more than roster filler in the near future.


Roberto Giron, 29, RH Swingman
4-3 and 1 Save on a 56:25 K:BB in 66 IP over 10 GS(22G)
with 66 H, 5 HR, a .73 G-F, and a 3.95 ERA for AAA Round Rock(PCL).
2-3 on a 28:6 K:BB in 29.1 IP over 21 G
with 27 H, 3 HR, a 1.23 G-F, and a 3.07 ERA for AA Corpus Christi(TL).

Giron echoed his superb 2004 campaign with the Brewers by posting another solid set of stats this year. Of course, the continued reluctance to promote the journeyman to the majors suggests he may never receive the chance he certainly deserves given his skills, leaving the minor league free agent as no more than an interesting name to remember for now.


Jared Gothreaux, 25, RH Starter
3-8 on a 47:29 K:BB in 86 IP over 15 GS
with 76 H, 8 HR, a 1.52 G-F, and a 4.29 ERA for AAA Round Rock(PCL).

Should stiffness curtailed Gothreaux's development and cost him a 40-man slot this winter. He still owns sufficient skills to reach Houston in the near future, but given his limited dominance, Gothreaux appears destined for the bullpen upon his return, effectively rendering him useless to most fantasy teams.


Royce Huffman, 28, 1B-R
111/391 for .284/.374/.430 with 7 HR, 45 RBI, 57 R, 8/11 SB%,
and a 55:54 BB:K for AAA Round Rock(PCL).

The long-time Astros' minor leaguer finally appeared headed elsewhere after more than five seasons in the franchise's upper minors. Huffman owns impressive plate discipline and sufficient defensive flexibility to cover most infielder positions, however due to his limited power, he won't see many days in the majors and therefore will not help the vast majority of fantasy teams.


Mark McLemore, 25, LH Starter
5-6 on a 65:34 K:BB in 73.2 IP over 15 GS
with 59 H, 5 HR, a .76 G-F, and a 2.81 ERA for AA Corpus Christi(TL).

Shoulder surgery ended McLemore's season in July, and I expect this injury, occurring less than a year after he moved completely into the rotation, will push him back to the bullpen. Perhaps McLemore might succeed as a starter, but with unimpressive control and the potential for homer problems, he instead seems likely to settle into relief, perhaps even challenging for an Opening Day roster spot with a little luck.


Jalien Peguero, 24, RH Reliever
2-2 and 12 Saves on a 63:25 K:BB in 64.1 IP over 50 G
with 52 H, 3 HR, a 1.03 G-F, and a 2.94 ERA for AA Corpus Christi(TL).

Progressing beyond A-ball didn't prove any obstacle in Peguero's match towards the majors. His consistent ascension of the team's minor league ladder places him in line for a bullpen slot at AAA Round Rock in 2006, leaving him merely one big league injury from joining the Astros. Of course, he still lacks great control and could suffer additional homer problems, but Peguero certainly could earn consideration as roster filler by next fall.


Eric Riggs, 29, 2B-S
118/452 for .261/.337/.381 with 7 HR, 57 RBI, 40 R, 5/12 SB%,
and a 52:77 BB:K for AA Corpus Christi(TL).

Riggs appeared on the cusp of the majors merely two years ago after registering a .280/.362/.444 performance in 410 AB for AAA Las Vegas(PCL). Instead he now looks like no more than a marginal AAAA option at best. The concurrent diminishment of his peed and power render Riggs effectively useless for both big league and fantasy teams.


Mike Rodriguez, 25, OF-L
110/392 for .281/.359/.406 with 5 HR, 50 RBI, 51 R, 25/32 SB%,
and a 47:50 BB:K for AA Corpus Christi(TL).

The Astros' second round pick in 2001, Rodriguez repeated the Texas League, improving from a .267/.331/.380 line to a far more respectable performance, a fortunate scenario given his advancing age and the cadre of outfielders behind him in the system. Unfortunately, the return of Orlando Palmeiro eliminate the most logical bench spot for Rodriguez, so he no longer looks likely to reach the majors until switching organizations.


Chris Sampson, 27, RH Swingman
4-12 and 4 Saves on a 92:19 K:BB in 150 IP over 19 GS(32G)
with 147 H, 11 HR, 1.84 G-F, and a 3.12 ERA for AA Corpus Christi(TL).

Originally an eighth round pick in 1999 as a shortstop, Sampson retired the following spring, then returned as a pitcher in 2003, compiling a couple of effective AA campaigns before reaching Corpus Christi this year. Another summer of solid work merits a trip to AAA Round Rock, and while I don't Sampson succeeding as a starter, his outstanding command provides the necessary foundation for a regular job in the majors.


Tommy Whiteman, 26, SS-R
48/237 for .203/.284/.287 with 5 HR, 27 RBI, 23 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 27:69 BB:K for AAA Round Rock(PCL).
38/152 for .250/.333/.329 with 1 HR, 15 RBI, 13 R, 3/7 SB%,
and an 18:40 BB:K for AA Corpus Christi(TL).

The flailing infield prospect retreated to the Texas League over the summer, so despite decent patience, Whiteman appears to lack the BA necessary to contribute in the majors. I simply don't expect him ever to emerge as more than desperation roster filler.


Minor League Draft Picks

Troy Patton, 20, LH Starter
1-4 on a 38:8 K:BB in 41 IP over 9 GS(10G)
with 34 H, 2 HR, a .95 G-F, and a 2.63 ERA for A+ Salem(Car).
5-2 on a 94:20 K:BB in 78.2 IP over 15 GS
with 59 H, 3 HR, a 1.61 G-F, and a 1.94 ERA for A Lexington(SAL).

Gambling on any young pitcher remains risky, especially on a prospective Astro who still needs to overcome Corpus Christi and Round Rock on his way to Houston. However, Patton demolished both A-ball affiliates, and only a slight drop in his dominance in the Carolina League keeps me from endorsing him at this time. I simply need to see if he can echo these numbers in the upper levels of the system, so if Patton posts a similar performance in the first half, he'll merit significant attention in any league where you can add prospects during the season.


Aside from players listed above, no other Houston prospect deserves consideration in 2006 fantasy drafts. Mike Burns no longer qualifies as a rookie due to exceeding the service time maximum.


Organization Rankings

Houston joins the Cubs and Reds as NL Central teams with relatively few viable fantasy rookies for 2006. Obviously the 2005 promotions of Willy Taveras, Chris Burke, Ezeuqiel Astacio, Eric Bruntlett, and Chad Qualls effectively stripped the top layer of talent from the system, but I also place little faith in these pitchers even after surviving the tough pitching environments in Corpus Christ and Round Rock. Scott and Conrad could contribute yet won't receive the opportunity, and the best long-term position players remain at least a full year from reaching Houston. Jason Hirsh and Fernando Nieve look like the only reasonable candidates to gain more than minimal fantasy value next year, a somewhat unhappy if logical situation given the need to remain extremely competitive until Bagwell, Biggio, and Clemens all retire.

Current ranking of potentially helpful fantasy depth for teams discussed thus far in 2005, based on both the quality and quantity of players ready to contribute in the majors, as well as consideration of the trade value of minor league draft picks from the lower levels of each system:

1. Florida Marlins(Hermida, Jacobs, E.Reed, Willingham, J.Wilson, Petit, Olsen)
2. Arizona Diamondbacks(Co.Jackson, C.Quentin, S.Drew)
3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim(J.Mathis, B.Wood)
4. Colorado Rockies(Shealy, J.Salazar, Quintanilla, Stewart)
5. Texas Rangers(I.Kinsler, J.Botts)
6. Seattle Mariners(S.Choo, J.Strong)
7. Minnesota Twins(F.Liriano, Kubel)
8. Boston Red Sox(Pedroia, C.Hansen, Papelbon)
9. Chicago White Sox(Br.Anderson, Ch.Young)
10. Atlanta Braves(Marte, Chuck James)
11. Tampa Bay Devil Rays(Del.Young)
12. Baltimore Orioles(Markakis, Maine, W.Young)
13. Oakland Athletics(D.Barton)
14. Cleveland Indians(Fr.Gutierrez, F.Carmona)
15. Cincinnati Reds(Denorfia)
16. Kansas City Royals(Huber)
17. Chicago Cubs(F.Pie)
18. Houston Astros(Hirsh)
19. Toronto Blue Jays(D.McGowan)
20. Detroit Tigers(Verlander)
21. New York Yankees(K.Thompson)


Today's Fantasy Rx: With no Astros' rookie likely to break camp in a significant role, mine the young veterans on the club's bench for the most fantasy upside. Chris Burke in particularly qualifies as a monster sleeper, only needing a regular job to emerge as a double-digit value. Luke Scott similar could take advantage of any excess at-bats, though any further off-season acquisitions could bury the older prospect indefinitely.


Houston's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects for 2006
1. Luke Scott, OF
2. Brooks Conrad, 2B
3. Jason Hirsh, SP
4. Hunter Pence, OF
5. Fernando Nieve, SP
6. Ben Zobrist, SS
7. Josh Anderson, OF
8. Hector Gimenez, C
9. Mike Rodriguez, OF
10. Charlton Jimerson, OF
11. Chris Sampson, SP
12. Mark McLemore, SP
13. Taylor Buchholz, SP
14. Troy Patton, SP
15. Jalien Peguero, RP


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Please e-mail your comments to tim@rotohelp.com.
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