Astros Minor League System Shows Dramatic Improvement

HOUSTON, TX — Class A Lancaster’s win to capture the California League championship on Saturday night put an exclamation point on what was a highly successful season for the Astros minor league system in 2012.

The Astros saw dramatic improvement in the performance of their minor league clubs this season, posting the fourth-best combined record in baseball at 439-394 (.527). Domestically, the Astros 417-347 (.546) record was tops in baseball. Six of the Astros eight minor league clubs finished at .500 or above with three advancing to postseason play. In 2011, the Astros minor league clubs ranked last (30th) with a 337-488 (.408) combined record with no clubs finishing at .500 or above. The improvement from 2011 to 2012 was one of the most dramatic of any organization in recent years.

Since taking control of the organization in November of 2011, Astros Owner and Chairman Jim Crane has emphasized the importance of building a strong farm system that will result in sustained success at the Major League level.

The 2012 success of the minor league system culminated with Lancaster winning the first league championship in the club’s 17-year history. The JetHawks went 8-2 in the playoffs, winning their last five games en route to the title. Tri-City (A), who won a club-record 51 games during the regular season in 2012, fell one win shy of winning the NY-Penn League championship.

THE PLAYERS

Several players in the Astros system had outstanding seasons in 2012 and are viewed as among the top prospects at their positions in all of minor league baseball. Corpus Christi (AA) first baseman Jonathan Singleton and Lancaster (A) second baseman Delino DeShields were recently named to the Baseball America 2012 Minor League All-Star team. They were two of just eight position players named to the squad out of every club. Additionally, MLB.com’s Prospect Watch lists Singleton at No. 1 among first basemen, DeShields at No. 2 among second basemen and Astros 2012 first-round draft pick Carlos Correa at No. 10 among shortstops. Correa, who will turn 18 on Saturday, was the first overall pick in the draft.

OF George Springer, the Astros No. 1 draft pick in 2011, had an outstanding first full season in professional baseball, hitting .318 with 10 triples, 22 HR, 82 RBI and 28 SB with a .955 OPS in just 106 games at Lancaster before being promoted to Corpus Christi.  19-year-old OF Domingo Santana (6-5, 228 lbs) also had a fine season in Lancaster, hitting .302 with 23 HR, 26 doubles, six triples, 97 RBI and a .921 OPS. Lexington (A) RHP Mike Foltynewicz, another first-round pick from the 2010 Draft, was named the South Atlantic League’s Most Outstanding Pitcher after posting a 14-4 record with a 3.14 ERA in 27 starts. Lexington IF Zach Johnson led the SAL in RBI with a club-record 108.

Tri-City C Tyler Heineman (8th pick, 2012 Draft) won the NY-Penn League batting title with a .358 avg. while ranking 2nd in on-base-pct. (.452). Tri-City starters RHP Aaron West (6-2, 2.04 ERA), LHP Brian Holmes (7-2, 2.57 ERA), RHP Brady Rogers (7-2, 2.89) and RHP Lance Day (6-1, 2.73), all drafted or signed in 2012, played a major role in the ValleyCats playoff run.

RESTOCKING THE SYSTEM

Several prospects were added to the Astros minor league system this season as a result of the MLB First-Year Player Draft and trades made during the season. Several industry experts rated the Astros draft as one of the best in baseball, highlighted by the selection of Correa and RHP Lance McCullers, Jr.,   whom they selected in the supplemental first round. Correa hit .371 in 11 games at Rookie Level Greeneville after being promoted from the Gulf Coast League Astros after 39 games. McCullers, 18,  tallied 29 strikeouts in 26.0 innings at two levels while allowing just 20 hits in 26.0 innings of work.

As part of the organization’s plan to infuse young talent into the system, General Manager Jeff Luhnow acquired 17 players in five trades this season, several of whom are former first-round draft picks. Several had an immediate and positive impact on the organization after arriving. 21-year-old RHP Chris Devenski, acquired in a four-player deal with the White Sox, hurled a no-hitter for Lexington on September 1 vs. Rome ,striking out 16 batters in the game. 23-year-old 3B Matt Dominguez, acquired from Miami, is already contributing at the big-league level, hitting .292 in 20 games for the Astros with four home runs (three, 3-run HR) while  starting virtually every day at third base since August 30.

Keith Law, ESPN.com’s lead baseball analyst on the minor leagues and draft, earlier this season wrote: “The Astros, long one of the worst farm systems in baseball, started to improve with some significant trades last season, but took a huge leap forward with their draft class this year, landing four of the top 51 talents in the class, including shortstop Carlos Correa and hard-throwing right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. They’ve also seen a solid step forward this season from Jonathan Singleton; a good debut from George Springer; bounce-back years from 2010 first-rounders Delino DeShields, Jr. and Mike Foltyniewicz; and a major velocity uptick from 2011 fifth-rounder Nick Tropeano, who was promoted to the more age-appropriate Cal League...they probably have had the biggest six-month improvement of any farm system in the game.”

Below is a recap of each affiliate’s 2012 season

TRIPLE A OKLAHOMA CITY: (78-65, 2nd place)

Oklahoma City finished the 2012 season with a 78-65 record and a 2nd-place finish in the Pacific Coast League American Southern Division...the RedHawks finished the year with the best record for a non-playoff team in club history...Oklahoma City fell just 1.5 games short of a playoff berth...on 9/11, the Astros announced that the player development contract between the RedHawks and Astros would be extended through the 2014 season.

Red-Hot RedHawk: IF Jimmy Paredes hit .318 (161x507) with 28 doubles, 13 homers, 59 RBI and 37 stolen bases in 124 games in 2012 before a promotion to the Major Leagues...Paredes ranked T-1st in the PCL in steals, 2nd in hits and total bases (242) and 3rd in runs scored (92) at the time of his callup...was a PCL Mid-Season All-Star and was named the PCL Player of the Week on July 23.

Lefty Masher: IF Brett Wallace posted a .300 (93x310) batting average with 16 doubles, 16 homers and an .885 OPS in 86 games with OKC this year...Wallace hit at a .354 (35x99) clip against left-handed pitching this season...the 2012 season marked his 3rd consecutive year with a .300+ batting average at the Triple A level, as he hit .356 (37x104) in 2011 and .301 (116x385) in 2010.

Solid Stretch Run: LHP Brett Oberholtzer put up a 2.02 ERA (8ER/35.2IP) with 31 strikeouts over his last five starts of the season...LHP Rudy Owens went 2-3 with a 2.93 ERA (10ER/30.2IP) over his final five starts...Owens was acquired by the Astros in the Wandy Rodriguez trade.

Top Prospect: In six appearances (five starts) with OKC, RHP Jarred Cosart went 1-2 with a 2.60 ERA (8ER/27.2IP) and 24 strikeouts...over his final 18.0 innings, Cosart ranked 3rd in the PCL with a 2.27 groundball/flyball ratio...ranked by MLB.com as the organization’s top pitching prospect, Cosart posted a 3.52 ERA (34ER/87.0IP) in 15 starts with Double A Corpus Christi before his promotion to OKC.

Homer King: In his first season in the Astros organization, IF Mike Hessman led the PCL and the entire Astros system with 35 homers.

DOUBLE A CORPUS CHRISTI: (81-59, 1st place) - Texas League South Division Regular Season Winner

Corpus Christi went 81-59 in the regular season, which was the best record in the Texas League and the club’s best record in franchise history...the Hooks made the playoffs for the first time since the 2006 season (76-63), when they won the Texas League Championship...Over the final 97 games of the 2012 season, Texas League Manager of the Year Keith Bodie led the Hooks to a 63-34 (.649) record.

On the Rise: In his first full season at the Double A level, IF Jonathan Singleton hit .284 (131x461) with 94 runs, 27 doubles, 4 triples, 21 homers, 79 RBI and 88 walks...Singleton ranked T-1st in the Texas League in runs and ranked 4th with an .893 OPS (.396 OBP/.497 SLG)...was recognized as one of the top prospects in baseball when he was chosen to participate in the 2012 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, where he went 3x4 with two runs scored, one walk and one RBI...the 20-year old entered the season as the 3rd-youngest player in the league...was named to Baseball America’s 2012 All-Star Team for all of minor league baseball.

K-Collector:

RHP Jose Cisnero led the Texas League with 116 strikeouts before a promotion to Triple A Oklahoma City...in 20 starts with the Hooks, he posted a 9-6 record with a 3.40 ERA (41ER/108.2IP) and a .227 (93x410) opponents batting average...Cisnero finished the season with 148 total punchouts between the Double A and Triple A levels...2012 marked the 3rd consecutive season that the right-hander recorded over 100 strikeouts.

Hit Machines: OF Austin Wates and OF Jake Goebbert finished the season T-4th in the Texas League with a .304 batting average...Wates, a 3rd-round draft pick in 2010, hit .300 (158x526) last year for Class A Advanced Lancaster before posting a .304 (109x359) average for the Hooks in 2012...Goebbert hit .305 (83x272) for Corpus Christi in 2011 before hitting .304 (112x368) for the club this season...the 2009 13th-round pick added 23 doubles, six triples and nine homers for the Hooks in 2012.

New Arms: Three of the Astros newly acquired pitching prospects made successful debuts in Corpus Christi...RHP Asher Wojciechowski went 2-2 with a 2.06 ERA (10ER/43.2IP) and 34 strikeouts in eight starts with the Hooks...ranked 2nd in the Texas League in ERA after joining the club...in his final six starts with Corpus Christi, LHP Rob Rasmussen posted a 3-2 record with a 3.31 ERA (13ER/35.1IP) and 32 strikeouts...RHP Matt Heidenreich tallied three wins with a 3.67 ERA (14ER/34.1IP) in seven starts with the Hooks.

Top Thief: Although he was on the DL for the final 54 games of the season, IF Jonathan Villar still led the Texas League with 39 stolen bases...Villar hit .261 (85x326) and added 11 homers and 50 RBI.

Reliable Relief: RHP Jason Stoffel led the Texas League with 27 saves...went 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA (15ER/58.0IP) and 57 strikeouts...closed out the regular season with 9 straight scoreless appearances (9.1IP)...LHP Kevin Chapman posted a 6-3 record along with a 2.64 ERA (17ER/58.0IP) and 59 strikeouts in 49 relief appearances this season...Chapman was acquired by the Astros in the Jason Bourgeois/Humberto Quintero trade.

CLASS A ADVANCED LANCASTER: (74-66, 2nd place) - California League Champions

The Lancaster JetHawks won the California League Championship after sweeping the Modesto Nuts, 3-0, in the Championship Series...marked the first championship title in the club’s 17-year history...Lancaster went 8-2 in the playoffs, including a 5-0 run to close out the postseason...the JetHawks finished in 2nd place in the California League South Division during the regular season.

Spring in California: OF George Springer tore through the California League in his first full-season of pro-baseball to the tune of a  .955 OPS (.398 OBP/.557 SLG)...the 2011 1st-round draft pick out of UConn hit .318 (137x433) with 101 runs, 18 doubles, 10 triples, 22 homers, 82 RBI and 28 stolen bases in 106 games before a promotion to Double A...at the time of his callup, Springer ranked in the league’s top 10 in average (8th), runs (1st), hits (2nd), extra-base hits (2nd), total bases (1st), triples (2nd), homers (T-3rd), RBI (5th), walks (5th), stolen bases (6th), OBP (T-6th), SLG (2nd) and OPS (2nd)...received mid-season and post-season All-Star honors.

Young-Hawk: At 19 years old, OF Domingo Santana entered the 2012 season as the youngest player in the California League...the Dominican-native hit .302 (138x457) with 87 runs, 26 doubles, six triples, 23 homers, 97 RBI and a .921 OPS (.385 OBP/.536 SLG).

Towering Texan: RHP Bobby Doran was Lancaster’s most consistent starter before a promotion to Double A...the 6-foot-6, 235 pound right-hander from Flower Mound, TX posted an 8-4 record with a 3.57 ERA (41ER/103.1IP) and 70 strikeouts in the hitter-friendly California League...Doran was named a California League Mid-Season All-Star.

Power Surge: The JetHawks boasted two of the premier home run hitters in the California League in Telvin Nash and Erik Castro...Nash ranked 2nd in the league with 29 homers, while Castro finished T-3rd in the league with 27 blasts...as a team, Lancaster ranked 3rd in the league in home runs.

Quality Control: RHP David Martinez was one of the league’s top pitchers in the 2nd half of the season...Martinez went 7-2 with a 3.08 ERA (30ER/87.2IP) and just 14 walks in 14 appearances (13 starts)...led the league in inning pitched over the 2nd half and ranked 3rd in ERA...also led the club with nine wins.

Ni-Tro Part II: After dominating the South Atlantic League with the Lexington Legends, RHP Nick Tropeano continued his stellar play in his 12 starts with Lancaster...the 2011 5th-round pick went 6-3 with a 3.31 ERA (26ER/70.2IP) and 69 strikeouts...after his promotion to Lancaster on 7/1, ranked T-1st in the California League in strikeouts, 4th in innings pitched, 6th in ERA, and T-6th in wins.

CLASS A LEXINGTON: (69-69, 4th place)

At 69-69 overall, Lexington finished 4th overall in the South Atlantic League Southern Division...the club recorded a 39-30 record in the first half.

League’s Top Pitcher: RHP Mike Foltynewicz was voted by the SAL’s field managers, general managers, writers and broadcasters as the league’s Most Outstanding PItcher for the 2012 season...Foltynewicz went 14-4 with a 3.14 ERA (53ER/152.0IP) and 125 strikeouts in 27 starts for Lexington...he ranked T-1st in the league in wins, 2nd in innings pitched, 4th in ERA and 6th in strikeouts...his 19 career wins at Lexington are a club record (previously held by Mike Nannini who had 15 wins).

Delino-mite: IF Delino DeShields set an Astros minor league record with 101 steals this season (83 with Lexington, 18 with Lancaster)...his 83 stolen bases with Lexington broke the previous franchise-record of 48 stolen bases by Josh Anderson set in 2004...DeShields hit .298 (131x440) with 96 runs, 22 doubles, 5 triples, 10 homers, 52 RBI and a .401 on-base percentage with Lexington...hit .344 (62x180) with a .990 OPS in 45 2nd half games...the 2010 1st-round pick was named to Baseball America’s 2012 All-Star Team for all of minor league baseball.

Historic Legend: After coming to the Astros organization as the player to be named later in the Brett Myers trade, RHP Chris Devenski threw the first individual no-hitter in Legends club history on 9/1...Devenski struck out 16 batters and issued just one walk in his performance that garnered him SAL Pitcher of the Week honors...In five starts with Lexington, he went 2-2 with a 3.07 ERA (10ER/29.1IP) and 38 strikeouts.

100 Club: IF Zach Johnson led the SAL and set a club record with 108 RBI...the record was previously held by Jake Goebbert, who drove in 98 runs in 2009...Johnson hit 15 homers and ranked T-3rd in the SAL with 38 doubles.

Ni-Tro Part I: RHP Nick Tropeano was superb in 15 appearances (14 starts) with Lexington before a promotion to Lancaster, going 6-4 with a 2.78 ERA (27ER/87.1IP) and 97 strikeouts...was leading the SAL in innings pitched and strikeouts at the time of his callup.

Take Your Base: From his arrival in Lexington until the end of the season, 2012 2nd-round draft selection IF Nolan Fontana led the SAL with a .464 on-base percentage...drew 65 walks as opposed to 44 strikeouts...from his debut on 7/5 until 8/17, Fontana reached base in 34 consecutive games.

 

CLASS A SHORT SEASON TRI-CITY: (51-25, 1st place) - Stedler Division Regular Season Champions

Tri-City advanced to the New York-Penn League Championship for the 2nd time in the last three years, and the 4th time in franchise history...the Stedler Division regular season champs recorded the most wins in franchise history (51) and set a francise record in attendance by drawing 159,966 total fans...the club also set a franchise record with 17 sellouts...on 9/6, Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow announced that the Astros and ValleyCats had extended their player development contract through the 2014 season.

Batting Champ: 2012 8th-round draft selection C Tyler Heineman won the NYPL batting title after hitting .358 (69x193) in 55 games...also ranked 2nd in the league with a .452 on-base percentage.

Stocked Stable: The ValleyCats had a loaded starting rotation this season...RHP Aaron West (6-2, 2.04 ERA) led the way with 59 strikeouts and the 7th lowest ERA in the league...LHP Brian Holmes (7-2, 2.57 ERA) finished 6th in the league in strikeouts with 65...RHP Brady Rodgers (7-2, 2.89 ERA) gave up just 11 walks in his 62.1IP...2012 undrafted free agent RHP Lance Day (6-1, 2.73 ERA) gave up just 8 walks, posting a 1.14 WHIP in 11 appearances (8 starts)...RHP Vincent Velasquez (4-1, 3.35 ERA) fanned 51 batters in 45.2 innings pitched...RHP Juri Perez went 2-2 with a 1.81 ERA (10ER/49.2IP) in 9 apperances (8 starts).

Outfield Threats: OF Andrew Aplin and OF Preston Tucker were both 2012 draft selections that made successful debuts in Tri-City...Aplin (.348, 4HR), the Astros 5th-round pick, was leading the NYPL in steals (20) and ranked 2nd in OPS (.978) in his 44 games with the club before a promotion to Class A Advanced Lancaster...Preston Tucker hit .321 (53x165) with eight homers and a .899 OPS (.390 OBP/.509 SLG), winning NYPL player of the week honors twice...the 8th-round draft selection posted a 15-game hitting streak from 8/10-26.

Lights Out ‘Pen: LHP Kenny Long gave up just three runs in 17 appearances, leading the league in holds with eight...Closer RHP Blake Ford ranked T-1st in the league with 14 saves, posting a 2.28 ERA (7ER/27.2IP) in 27 appearances.

ROOKIE LEVEL GREENEVILLE: (36-32, 3rd place)

At 36-32, Greeneville finished the season with the club’s best record since its inaugural season in 2004 (41-26)...the Astros led the Appalachian League in attendance for the 9th straight season.

Blazing the Trail: IF Brian Blasik, who was signed as an undrafted free agent this season, hit .318 (69x217) and led the club with 43 RBI...Blasik ranked 5th in the league in RBI and was named an Appalachian League All-Star...was also named his team’s MVP.

Rising Star: IF Carlos Correa, the first overall selection in the 2012 draft, hit .371 (13x35) with three doubles, one triple and one homer in 11 games with Greeneville...Correa was promoted to Greeneville after 39 games in the Gulf Coast League...the 17-year old hit 11 doubles, one triple and two homers during his time in the GCL.

ERA Leader: RHP Daniel Minor led the league with a 2.75 ERA (18ER/59.0IP) in 11 starts...Minor threw 19.0 consecutive scoreless innings over three starts from 8/4-17 that earned him pitcher of the week honors.

1st-Rounder Update: RHP Lance McCullers, the Astros 2012 supplemental 1st-round pick, posted a combined 3.46 ERA (10ER/26.0IP) with 29 strikeouts in eight starts between Greeneville and the Gulf Coast League.

GULF COAST LEAGUE ASTROS: (28-31, 3rd place)

All-Star Astro: IF Darwin Rivera ranked T-6th in the GCL in average (.310), T-2nd in hits (62), and 3rd in doubles (14)...Rivera was elected to the GCL All-Star Team.

DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE ASTROS: (22-47, 8th place)

Pitching Leaders: LHP Edwin Villarroel led the team with 68.0 innings pitched and posted a 2.25 ERA (17ER/68.0IP)...RHP Samil De Los Santos went 2-3, recording a 2.50 ERA (16ER/57.2IP) and 63 strikeouts...both pitchers were named DSL All-Stars.