Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. MLBPipeline.com will be visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the Houston Astros.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- There's definitely a different vibe in Astros camp this year and it's easy to figure out why. A year ago, the big league club was coming off another losing season and three straight years of picking No. 1 overall in the Draft. In 2015, the club arrived in the postseason ahead of most people's schedules. There is, understandably, a different feeling of expectation in Kissimmee these days.
With winning came the use of some prospect resources to improve the big league team, first in the Carlos Gomez deal last July and then this offseason in the Ken Giles trade. Amazingly, that didn't completely strip the organization of talent, with the Astros still having the No. 10 farm system according to MLBPipeline.com.
"The cupboard is not barren, to say the least," director of player personnel Quinton McCracken said. "That's a testament to our scouting department, pro and amateur. [General manager] Jeff Luhnow, his goal was to replenish the farm system coming in and build a sustainable winner. Not just for one year, but for years to come. With smart drafting and good evaluation of talent, we've been able to reach that goal. Hopefully we have better days ahead."
Those evaluations have allowed the system to continue to be a pipeline of quality talent to Houston, even with Top 100 type talent like Brett Phillips and Mark Appel, among others, getting sent elsewhere. Drafting early obviously helped, but the Astros have done as good a job as anyone in using the bonus pool system well. Case in point: being able to draft and sign Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker and Daz Cameron all in the top 37 picks of the 2015 Draft.
"We're getting quality talent," said McCracken, who has enjoyed watching those three new draftees in their first Spring Training. "They're good makeup kids who are very skilled. When you're working with guys like the Bregmans, the Tuckers, the Camerons, it makes our job a little easier. Watching [scouting director] Mike Elias and his staff pull those names out of the Draft, it's nice to be a Houston Astro."
In many ways, the "unknown" prospect in the July 2014 Jarred Cosart trade, Francis Martes, has become the marquee name from that deal. But that doesn't mean people should forget about Colin Moran.
The 2013 No. 6 pick of the Marlins has flown a bit under the radar since the trade, though he still comes in as the Astros' No. 6 prospect. He's coming off a .306/.381/.459 during his first full season with the organization, albeit in an injury-shortened season that saw him play just 96 games. He's been the talk of big league camp so far, going 7-for-20 (.350) in Grapefruit League action.
"He's looking very comfortable," McCracken said. "He's put in the work during the offseason. He's probably put on five-to-seven pounds of good muscle and he looks phenomenal. He's taken some great at-bats and he's showing why he was the best collegiate hitter in his Draft class."
Bregman, the Astros' top Draft choice from 2015, was also in big league camp for a brief time, picking up 15 at-bats in big league games. Now on the Minor League side getting ready for his first full season, it's not that the LSU standout put up huge numbers, but impressed more with how he carried himself during his first camp.
"He got a little taste in his first camp," McCracken said. "That can be somewhat overwhelming, but he is a grinder. His makeup is unbelievable. He might come quick. He'll dictate where he ends up this year."
As quickly as he could move, there is obviously a logjam in Houston at both shortstop and second base, the two most obvious spots for Bregman to play. McCracken sees it as a good problem to have and the Astros know Bregman's win-first attitude will have him prepared for any positional move in the future, even though there is no doubt he can stay up the middle.
"He's going to be a shortstop and I think we're going to have a tough decision here in the near future," McCracken said. "You have to be strong up the middle. He's going to make us better there. He's athletic enough where you can stick him anywhere and the makeup is uncanny."
Teoscar Hernandez has always teased with his raw tools. That's why he's still on the Top 30, coming in at No. 26. But the outfielder struggled in his first full season in Double-A in 2015. While he showed off some raw power and speed, finishing with 17 homers and 33 steals, he hit just .219 with a .637 OPS because of terrible plate discipline. McCracken thinks 2016 could be the season where the light goes off for the 23-year-old, when fewer strikeouts and more walks will go a long way towards him finding consistency at the plate.
"I think he will have a good year and right some things he's been working on," McCracken said. "He's a phenomenal athlete. He's been over to the big league side often and that's for a reason, so he can grow and learn, see how they go about their business."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow @JonathanMayo on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.