Keith Law: Houston Astros

Astros make a nice pickup; Royals don't 

December, 16, 2014
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Jed LowrieJoe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsHe might not be able to stick at SS, but Jed Lowrie is a good short-term upgrade there for the Astros.
Jed Lowrie has agreed to terms with the Houston Astros and will be paid about what I expected, getting three years and $23 million with a fourth-year option for another $5 million. It's a deal that underpays him based on expected performance but prices in his injury risk and the probability that he's not able to stay at shortstop for the entire deal.

The Astros did need a better shortstop solution in the short term, with Jonathan Villar, who still has the potential to be at least a quality backup infielder, showing no progress at the plate over two partial years in the majors.

Midseason top five farm systems 

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
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Theo EpsteinGetty ImagesTheo Epstein has stocked the Cubs' farm system with elite prospects such as Addison Russell.
Ranking all 30 organizations based on their minor league talent is a major undertaking each winter, which is why I always decline to do a re-ranking during the season. There's simply no way I could do it justice given the amount of work it requires.

We've had a couple of major news events that affected two of the teams near the top of last offseason's rankings, however, and a slew of questions from readers about which system is now at the top of the heap. So here's a revised look at the top five, considering only what's in the systems right now and excluding anyone on major league rosters.

1. Chicago Cubs

I know Cubs fans have heard this before, but just wait 'til next year, because this club is going to get good in a hurry, at least on the run-scoring side of the ledger.

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video
In the story of the Houston Astros' failure to sign two of their top draft picks on Friday, there are neither villains nor victors, only victims left holding empty bags. The first overall pick in the draft, Brady Aiken, declined to sign with the Astros, marking just the third time in the June draft's history that the top player did not sign and the first since 1984.

The greatest victim of all in this fiasco is Jacob Nix, the Astros' fifth-round pick, a high school pitcher from Southern California who agreed to a $1.5 million bonus and passed his physical but was not allowed to sign his contract because of a medical issue involving Aiken. While, practically speaking, everyone involved knew that Nix's deal was contingent on Aiken's, that's not permissible under MLB rules and couldn't be made explicit or put in writing, which will likely be the basis of any grievance filed by Nix against the Astros -- or potential litigation seeking to enforce the verbal contract between the parties.

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Jorge AlfaroMark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsRangers prospect Jorge Alfaro was the best player in the California-Carolina leagues All-Star game.
The Wilmington Blue Rocks played host to this year's California-Carolina League All-Star Game on Tuesday. The game, which the visiting California League squad won 4-2, featured players from 18 different organizations.

Here are my notes on a handful of players who stood out or on whom I’ve received questions over the past 24 hours:

" Texas Rangers prospect Jorge Alfaro put on the day’s most impressive display. The Class A catcher tripled, ran well and threw out a runner at second. Even though the triple was aided by a misplay by outfielder Hunter Renfroe, Alfaro demonstrated noticeable hand and wrist strength driving a lefty’s changeup to the opposite field. He also nailed Cincinnati Reds outfield prospect Kyle Waldrop with a laser throw to second base.

" Waldrop hit the game’s only home run and was selected as game MVP. He’s got some legitimate pull power but probably needs a trip to Double-A so the organization can see how much of his improvement this year is the result of repeating Class A. I still think Jesse Winker -- his teammate with the Bakersfield Blaze and in the All-Star Game -- is a better prospect.

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Five teams with new No. 1 prospects 

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
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RodonAP Photo/Mark CrammerHard-throwing lefty Carlos Rodon leaps to the top of the White Sox's system.
Law's 2014 draft archive: Winners and questions Insider | AL analysis Insider | NL analysis Insider

The 2014 Rule 4 Draft is over, which means every club just got an influx of top talent into its farm system. Assuming all these top picks sign, here are five teams who just acquired a new No. 1 prospect as well as notes on two other teams' first overall picks and where they might slot into the prospect rankings of each organization.

Chicago White Sox: Carlos Rodon, LHP

The White Sox's top two prospects coming into 2014, Erik Johnson and Matt Davidson, have disappointed thus far.

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Best places to watch elite prospects 

April, 3, 2014
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Thursday is Opening Day for the minor leagues, and final rosters have been appearing online over the last 24 hours. Christopher Crawford has compiled lists showing where the top 10 prospects in each organization have been assigned, and here I'll highlight six rosters in particular that are loaded with top prospects or other guys I'd gladly travel to go watch.

Wilmington Blue Rocks (Kansas City Royals, high Class A)

Top 100 prospects: SS Raul Mondesi Jr., RHP Miguel Almonte
Former top 100 guys: OF Bubba Starling
First-round picks: IF Hunter Dozier (2013), LHP Sean Manaea (2013), Starling (2011)
Other prospects of note: RHP Aroni Nina, C Zane Evans, C Cam Gallagher, RHP Christian Binford

I may be biased, but the team in my own backyard might just be the most loaded roster in all of minor league baseball.

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Assignments for Law's top prospects 

April, 3, 2014
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With the help of Christopher Crawford of MLB Draft Insider, we have compiled the minor league assignments for all prospects in Keith Law's organizational top 10 rankings.

Due to injuries and late assignments, some minor league rosters are not yet official. In those instances, we took our best guess as to where those prospects will be assigned to begin the year.

Note: Players with an asterisk have been traded since the top-10 lists came out, and they are listed with their assignment for their new club.


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Picking division and award winners 

March, 29, 2014
Mar 29
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Yu DarvishAP Photo/Darron CummingsThe AL leader in strikeout rate last year, Yu Darvish is an AL Cy Young frontrunner.
Keith Law offers up his win-loss predictions for all 30 teams and winners for the six major postseason awards. Furthermore, explanations for each team are included, along with notes on key players or possible impact call-ups. Award predictions follow the division picks.

AL East

It's hard to pick against a Boston Red Sox team that returns so many of the players who helped them win the World Series last year, losing Stephen Drew but replacing him with one of the majors' best rookies in Xander Bogaerts.

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Astros-Tigers a prospect bonanza 

March, 5, 2014
Mar 5
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FoltynewiczAP Photo/Alex BrandonMike Foltynewicz has elite stuff, but his delivery needs refinement.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- A few scouting notes from Wednesday's Detroit Tigers-Houston Astros Grapefruit League matchup, which featured a number of my top 100 prospects.

• The standout prospect for Houston was Mike Foltynewicz -- my No. 70 prospect -- who hit 99 mph several times in his first inning of work and was 94-99 over the two innings, pairing his fastball with a 78-83 mph curveball that ranged from just below average to plus.

Foltynewicz has the two pitches and size to start, clearly, but he was altering his arm slot pitch by pitch, dropping down for most of his fastballs, resulting in something akin to a flat two-seamer, lifting his slot to three-quarters so he can get on top of the breaking ball.

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Now that the 2014 preseason top prospect package is complete, here are links to all of the rankings, videos, podcasts and chat wraps.

Top 100 prospects Insider
Index | Prospects No. 1-50 | Prospects 51-00
10 who just missed
Top 20 impact prospects for 2014

Top 10 prospects by team Insider
AL East | AL Central | AL West
NL East | NL Central | NL West
Astros No. 1 in farm system rankings

Videos Video
Why Buxton is the No. 1 prospect
AL breakout prospects | NL breakout prospects
Twins, Pirates just behind Astros in farm rankings

Podcast Listen
Discussing the top 100 rankings
Xander Bogaerts and Mets GM Sandy Alderson

Chat wraps
Keith Law
Astros GM Jeff Luhnow
Byron Buxton
Addison Russell

Top 20 impact prospects for 2014 

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
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Nick CastellanosBrian D. Kersey/Getty ImagesThe path is clear for Nick Castellanos to get at-bats and improve Detroit's defense.
My top 100 prospects ranking from late January focused on long-term career value, which meant the list included many teenaged prospects who easily could be five years from producing any positive value for a major league team. If we're looking just at this upcoming season, however, the rankings are very different, and I've produced my ranking of the top 20 impact prospects for 2014.

After those 20, I've listed a number of other players who could come up this season and be above replacement-level if they get the chance.

I do not rank players with experience in a foreign major league as prospects, though those players are still officially considered rookies in MLB when they debut here.

If I included them on my rankings, Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu would be 1-2 on this list;

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Feldman provides innings Astros need 

December, 6, 2013
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Scott Feldman is probably a fourth starter in a good rotation, a third in some others. But for the Houston Astros, who return just two of the five members of their 2013 Opening Day rotation, neither of whom -- Brad Peacock and Lucas Harrell -- is a lock to remain a starter all year in 2014, he's their de facto No. 1 after agreeing to a three-year deal reportedly worth $30 million.

Feldman offers the team the capacity to soak up some innings that their young, developing starters won't be able to handle, with nobody else as much as even money to get to 200 innings.

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Astros-Rockies trade a real surprise 

December, 3, 2013
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The Houston Astros-Colorado Rockies trade might be the one move of the crazy past 48 hours that truly came out of nowhere for me. I knew Dexter Fowler was available, but didn't think Houston was a suitor and thought the Rockies would get more for him.

Those preconceived notions didn't quite match the market reality, though. Instead, the Astros get something of an upside play for the short term, while the Rockies save money and get a back-end starter candidate who'll have to make a big adjustment to handle Coors Field.

For the Astros, trading for Fowler is a gamble on a player with star-caliber tools who has never taken that last developmental step to get to that level, instead settling in as merely a good everyday player who might be closer to average had he spent the past few years at sea level.

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Details of the trade

Baltimore Orioles get: RHP Bud Norris

Houston Astros get: OF L.J. Hoes, LHP Josh Hader, competitive balance draft pick

The Orioles' acquisition of Bud Norris gives them needed starting pitching depth, especially with Jason Hammel going on the DL on Wednesday, but also could help bolster their right-handed relief corps, if everyone comes back healthy and available. The Astros get a 4A position player, who gets on base, and a lottery-ticket lefty with arm strength but a long ways to go.

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Breaking down the Jose Veras trade 

July, 29, 2013
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In a trade that nets them reliever Jose Veras, the Tigers gained bullpen depth -- and perhaps a replacement closer -- while giving up two long-range prospects who weren't among their most valuable assets. The Astros, meanwhile, converted a one-year free agent signing into some more lottery tickets for their increasingly tumescent farm system.

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