06/08/11 8:39 PM ET
Young Astros driving express lane to Majors
By Rowan Kavner / MLB.com
Right-hander Jordan Lyles, a supplemental first-round pick in the 2008 Draft, zipped quickly to the Major Leagues, making his first start this past May 31 at Wrigley Field, allowing five hits and two runs in seven innings in a 7-3 victory.
Lyles, who is with the big league club while Wandy Rodriguez recovers from discomfort in his left elbow, was the Astros' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2010. The 20-year-old is the youngest player in the Major Leagues.
Jason Castro, who was selected in the first round in 2008, played in the Majors last season and was slated to be this year's starting catcher before he injured his knee in Spring Training.
"We've created what we call this express lane in our system, where we're willing to skip levels and accelerate a guy's process," said general manager Ed Wade before this year's Draft.
Though it is unlikely that any of the Astros' other top prospects will jump to the Majors by season's end, outfielder J.D. Martinez, a 20th-round pick in 2009, is slotted to make his big league debut next year. He is hitting .320 with 13 doubles at Double-A Corpus Christi.
"The message that we consistently send to our scouts is that every Draft is critical, every pick is critical," Wade said. "Even when you get down to the end, where you're to some extent filling rosters."
Delino DeShields Jr. was selected with the eighth overall pick in 2010, and he and shortstop Jiovanni Mier, the 21st overall pick in 2009, currently patrol the middle infield at Class A Lexington.
DeShields was the Legends' Defensive Player of the Month in May, and Mier received the honor the following month.
DeShields, a second baseman and leadoff hitter, is batting .219 with 10 steals; he has been caught stealing eight times. Mier is hitting .249, and his 32 walks are 12 more than any other player at Lexington.
Ahead of Mier in the Minor League system is fellow shortstop Jonathan Villar, whom the Astros acquired from the Phillies in the Roy Oswalt deal. Villar was promoted from Class A Advanced Lancaster to Double-A Corpus Christi on June 1, along with second baseman Jose Altuve.
"The challenge I put to [director of player development] Fred Nelson and everybody in our development system is if we're going to move a kid, is he ready to move?" Wade said. "It's not [a matter of him] moving because something's happening at the level above or the level below. It's got to be about what's in the best interest of the player. The feedback was Altuve was ready to go and Villar was ready to go."
Villar, the Astros' No. 3 prospect, is touted mostly for his defensive prowess, and he hit .259 in 47 games at Lancaster, stealing 20 bases and getting caught only six times. But his transition to Corpus Christi has been rough. He is hitting .190 through five games, striking out nine times in his first 21 at-bats, whereas Altuve is 10-for-24 with six RBIs since arriving at Corpus Christi.
Alongside Villar and Altuve with the Hooks is Jimmy Paredes, who was acquired from the Yankees in the Lance Berkman trade and recently transitioned to third base from second base. Paredes is hitting .277 with 14 doubles and 21 steals in 45 games. He's been on a bit of a tear as of late, hitting .333 with six doubles in his last 10 games.
"We have no reason to believe [Paredes is] not going to have a chance to be a pretty good third baseman," Wade said. "All of a sudden, you've got Altuve, Villar and Paredes on that club. I know some of my special assistants to the GM who have already been to Corpus Christi are already booking planes to go back there and see that club again."
Following is a look at how some of the top prospects from the last two Drafts are faring:
From the 2009 DraftTanner Bushue, RHP: Bushue, a second-round selection, is lighting up Lexington with a 6-1 record and 3.22 ERA. He has walked just 12 batters in 50 1/3 innings. Telvin Nash, 1B: The third-round pick, who is out with a hand injury, was hitting .310 with five home runs in 58 at-bats through his first 15 games. From the 2010 Draft Michael Foltynewicz, RHP: The second first-round selection (alongside DeShields) served as Lexington's Opening Day starter. It hasn't been smooth sailing for the righty, who has a 2-6 record and 5.09 ERA. Michael Kvasnicka, 3B: A supplemental first-round pick, Kvasnicka is hitting .294 with a team-leading 15 doubles in 204 at-bats at Lexington.
The 2010 Draft may result in more stars down the road. Rounding out the list of top 10 Astros prospects is outfielder Austin Wates, who was taken in the third round and is hitting .297 with three home runs and 12 stolen bases for Lancaster.
Rowan Kavner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.