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Wednesday, January 8
Updated: March 13, 5:44 PM ET
Astros minor-league report

By John Sickels
Special to

System overview
While the Astros made waves with their signing of veteran free agent Jeff Kent this winter, Houston has long been dependent on products of the farm system (as well as astute trades) for their success. The club in recent years has done a fine job bringing talent up through the system. Lance Berkman is a superstar, and pitchers Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller aren't far behind. Ace closer Billy Wagner is home-grown. Pitchers like Tim Redding, Carlos Hernandez, and Kirk Saarloos aren't fully developed yet, but clearly have strong potential.

All the guys brought to the majors in the past few years have left the system relatively depleted at the upper levels, though there are still guys available who can help. The Astros have a proven track record of quickly recharging. They tend to be rather conservative in the draft, though unlike most teams they aren't afraid to take a risk on short pitchers with live arms. Houston has the most extensive scouting operation in Venezuela of any team, though we'll have to see if political unrest in that troubled nation impacts player acquisition. One oddity of recent seasons, having two low-level A-ball teams but no advanced Class A club, has been rectified for 2003. This will make it easier to evaluate guys at the lower level of the system.

2002 amateur draft
Labor uncertainty last summer put Astros brass in a difficult position, as owner Drayton McLane refused to authorize the signing of major draft picks until the labor situation cleared up. Everything turned out OK in the end, but many Houston picks won't make their pro debuts until 2003. On paper, this draft looks decent, focused heavily on college pitching.

First-round pick Derick Grigsby, a fireballing right-hander from Northeast Texas Community College, could develop into a dominating closer. His slider is evil. Mitch Talbot, a high school right-hander from Utah, also throws very hard, but is a bit behind Grigsby on the development curve. Third-round pick Rory Shortell, a right-hander from San Diego State, also throws hard (see a pattern here?). College lefties Mark McLemore (4th round, Oregon State) and Pat Misch (5th round, Western Michigan) are finesse guys who balance out the hard-throwers. Sixth-rounder J.P. Duran, a right-hander from a small college in Texas, has a great breaking ball.

Few interesting position players were added. But if you like velocity, this draft is for you. The Astros have had good luck drafting and developing pitchers in recent years, and this class should continue that trend.

Top prospects
Players in the "Will Help Soon" section could see significant major league action in 2003. Players in the "Will Help Someday" section shouldn't reach the majors until '04 or later, though of course that can change. Players are listed alphabetically. No 2002 draftees are listed.

Jason Lane, OF: A gamer, in scout parlance, someone who plays above his tools. Can do a lot of things; hit for some power, steal a base, have bouts of hitting for average. Not a star, but a good solid player.

Brad Lidge, RHP: In a system loaded with fastballs, Lidge may have the best. But he's never been able to stay healthy for any length of time. He pitched well in Triple-A, and should see lots of action for Houston in '03. He will pitch very well if kept within his workload limits.

John Buck, C: Hit .263 with 12 homers in Double-A. Still projects as a regular catcher, due to strong defensive skills as well as pop in his bat, but will need some Triple-A time. Look for him in '04.

Henri Stanley, OF: Like Lane, Stanley isn't a super tools guy, but he knows how to play and has forced his way into respectability. Hit .314 with 36 doubles, 10 triples, 16 homers, 72 walks, and 14 steals in Double-A last year.

Rodrigo Rosario, RHP: Went 11-6, 3.11 in Double-A. Another very live arm, Rosario hits 94 and has a wicked breaking ball.

Tom Whiteman, SS: Hit .303 with 10 homers in the Sally League. Toolsy, has good defensive skills and hit well last year, though he's had strike zone problems in the past.

Jimmy Barrett, RHP: Went 9-5, 2.81 with 131/44 K/BB ratio in 134 innings in the Sally League. Works anywhere between 89 and 94 mph, and made major strides with his command last year.

Other names to know
Jesus Alfaro, 3B; Chris Burke, 2B; Royce Huffman, 1B; James Lira, RHP; Chad Qualls, RHP; Nick Roberts, RHP; Brooks Conrad, 2B; Anthony Pluta, RHP; Jeriome Robertson, LHP.

John Sickels is the author of the 2002 Minor League Scouting Notebook, and is now working on the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book. His biography of Bob Feller will be published next spring. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at, or you can visit his homepage at

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