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11/25/09 11:00 AM EST

Lyles, Clemens stand out in Minors

Astros affiliates struggle, but duo have fine individual seasons

The 2009 Houston Astros organization preview had an extremely honest assessment in it, tinged with a hint of optimism: "We're not where we want to be, but we're getting there."

It was refreshing in that most player development folks, by the very nature of what they do, are eternal optimists. In this case, there was definite hope for the future, but mixed with an understanding that there was a long way to go with a system that had long had a reputation for being fairly bereft of talent.

"That's always an ongoing process," Astros assistant general manager Ricky Bennett said. "You're never where you want to be and you're never as bad as people think you are."

Winning is by no means the only, or even best, way to measure success in the Minors, but Houston's clubs did combine for the lowest winning percentage in baseball at .426. None of its clubs in the United States finished over. 500 (the Dominican Summer League team went an even 32-32).

NL East

AL East

NL Central

AL Central

NL West

AL West

That's not to say there weren't some fine individual performances that give Houston some hope for the future. Young pitchers like Bud Norris and Felipe Paulino made it up to the big leagues for extended periods to contribute, albeit inconsistently, to the Major League team. Astros 2008 first-rounder Jason Castro showed he was more than capable of living up to the spotlight of being a surprise No. 10 overall pick and the automatic top prospect in the system by playing at two levels and for Team USA in the World Cup gold medal run. The California League affiliate in Lancaster is a hitting haven, but it's hard not to at least be intrigued by the run-producing of Jonathan Gaston and even Koby Clemens.

The past two First-Year Player Drafts under scouting director Bobby Heck has brought in some more interesting talent, with Castro the headliner. Jordan Lyles is the top arm in the system, also from that Class of 2008 and '09 first-rounder Jiovanni Mier brings an exciting prospect at a premium position -- shortstop.

"From a prospect standpoint, guys are starting to go through the system," Bennett said. "At every level, we feel we're making progress."

Bennett, to his credit, will only go so far in spreading the sunshine about the system. There are more names worth talking about than there once was, but he knows there's still a long way to go.

"If you look throughout, the depth, it's going to take time to improve the depth," Bennett said. "We feel happy with the prospects, though, how they're progressing and where they are in the development process."


MLB.com's Preseason Picks

Jason Castro, C: The prediction was that the 10th overall pick in the 2008 Draft would excel in his first full season, proving he was worth the high selection while playing across two levels. That was pretty much spot on as Castro split the season between Lancaster and Corpus Christi before heading to play for Team USA's gold medal-winning team in the IBAF World Cup. Castro hit a combined .300 with a .380 OBP and .446 SLG over 119 games.

Jordan Lyles, RHP: It seemed like a tossup between young guns Lyles and Ross Seaton, but while Seaton was solid, Lyles was even better. Pay no attention to the win-loss record -- Lexington hit just .237 as a team. Instead, look at his 3.24 ERA, his 167 strikeouts (fourth overall in the Minors), his 10.39 K/9 rate and his extremely low walk rate (38 in 144 2/3 IP).

MLB.com's Postseason Selections

Koby Clemens, C: Critics will say Clemens isn't a prospect, that prior to this season, he'd done nothing of note offensively, that his 2009 season was a product of one of the most extreme hitter's parks in Minor League baseball. That might be true, but it's impossible to look past what Clemens did, still at age 22, in the California League. Friendly confines or not, Clemens hit .341 overall with 22 homers and 121 RBIs. His .620 slugging percentage was second best in all of the Minors. He was fourth in batting average, tied for third in doubles and led all of the Minors in RBIs. And he hit pretty well on the road, too. He'll need to prove himself at the next level, but he's definitely worth watching in '10.

Jordan Lyles, RHP: The numbers mentioned above made him an obvious choice for this honor. His season didn't start out all that well, with a 5.00 ERA after his first four starts. From there, though, he was pretty consistent, with monthly ERAs of 2.48, 3.18, 3.86 and 2.89 before finishing off with a one-run start in September. That he did that in his first full season at the age of 18 makes it even more exciting to see what he does for an encore.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.