Prospects in queue to answer next call
Correa, Santana and Foltynewicz expected to be among Astros' next wave
HOUSTON -- Something different has consumed the Astros for the last month: winning.
Yet, that something has not taken the pressure off of Houston's prominent Minor League system. It's only brightened a spotlight that Astros fans have been clinging to for the past three seasons.
The beginnings of that Minor League talent have reached the Majors, and the results are better than Astros fans could've hoped for. George Springer has the power, speed and energy that can ignite a ballclub. Jon Singleton has the bat speed to be a deep-ball danger every at-bat. And yet, everyone still wants to know, "Who's next?"
"These players we've taken the last couple of years, not only with the first pick in the Draft, but throughout the Draft, have really bolstered our farm system," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "They're in large part a big reason why our farm system is the best in baseball right now."
One June 3, the day of Singleton's debut, Luhnow was asked the question, "Who's next?" Luhnow talked around the question, saying it's somewhat disrespectful to constantly talk about the next player to make a Major League debut. He cited the Astros' plus-.500 May as a reason to not have to talk about specifics about Houston's next prospect to be called up.
"We do have a lot of highly touted, exciting young players," Luhnow said. "I recognize the fact that fans are always going to want players to get here before we think they're ready. That's the nature of the beast."
The first name that often comes up when discussing Houston's young talent is Carlos Correa, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. Correa is ranked by MLB.com as the No. 7 prospect in baseball, and the No. 1 prospect in the Astros organization. It's highly unlikely, however, that the 19-year-old Correa will make an appearance in the Major Leagues this season.
Correa is a 6-foot-4, 205-pound shortstop with above-average power and a steady swing. He's got a big arm and will be Houston's next shortstop in a year or two. For Class A Lancaster, Correa is hitting .329 with 54 RBIs, 446 runs, 156 doubles, five triples and five home runs.
While Correa is one of the more talked about prospects, it's likely that Domingo Santana will be one of the next Minor Leaguers to make a Major League appearance. Santana is a 6-foot-5, 225-pound outfielder whom the Astros acquired from the Phillies as a part of the Hunter Pence trade in 2011.
Santana is ranked by MLB.com as Houston's No. 7 prospect, and the No. 96 prospect in Minor League baseball. He's a power hitter who has a tendency to swing big. Santana has been hit-or-miss for Triple-A Oklahoma City this season, batting .287 with 11 homers, 41 RBIs, 32 walks and 83 strikeouts.
Another Astros prospect who could make his debut sooner rather than later is right-handed pitcher Mike Foltynewicz. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Foltynewicz is a 22-year-old power pitcher with a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s.
The Astros drafted Foltynewicz with their first-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. He's ranked by MLB.com as Houston's No. 5 prospect and as the No. 46 prospect in the Minors. Foltynewicz is 5-4 this season for Oklahoma City, with 68 strikeouts, 30 walks and an ERA of 3.90.
While Foltynewicz and Santana appear to be first on the waiting list to make their Minute Maid Park debuts, Mark Appel has not been able to propel himself through the Minor League system just yet. Appel was drafted No. 1 overall by the Astros in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, and has experienced a slow start his Minor League career.
Appel, the club's No. 2 prospect, is 0-2 pitching for Class A Lancaster, with an ERA of 11.94 in his 17 1/3 innings and six starts. Spring appendicitis issues slowed Appel's progress, and he has remained in that pattern ever since. Still, the Astros insist Appel's work is fine, and that the current slump is just a minor setback in what they're hoping will be a long career.
"What's important for Mark is how he finishes this season as opposed to where he is now," Luhnow said. "It hasn't been scripted how he or us would've wanted so far. That's why we develop these players in the Minor Leagues. He will ultimately be a big leaguer and a good one for the Astros."
Beyond those names, the Minor League system has earned praise for its depth. There are plenty of other players who could make their way into the big league lineup and rotation. Players like Preston Tucker, who was recently promoted to Triple-A after hitting a Texas League-high 17 homers, along with Delino DeShields and Max Stassi have all grabbed headlines at some point in their Minor League careers.
"I look at it a lot," Luhnow said. "The group that's here did a terrific job with the Draft last year and a terrific job in the year before that."
Regardless, the system is full of young prospects and Luhnow's patience since arriving in Houston is showing signs of paying off. The winning the Astros are doing now may just be a premonition of what's to come.
Mike Vernon is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.