By now, most of the "experts" have released their top 10, 11, 15, 20, however many lists and we've linked to as many of them as we could find and thought relevant. So I'm not going to add my own top (insert random number) list to the noise. Instead, we'll look position by position and identify the experts' consensus top prospect, an intriguing under the radar player, and those facing a potential make or break season.
Consensus: Chris Wallace - Chris has impressed both offensively and defensively so far, hitting .280/.355/.495 in two seasons while throwing out 34% of would-be base stealers, though that number dropped to just 10% in 30 AA games at the end of 2011. If his bat holds true and his defensive struggles at Corpus prove to be a sample size blip, Chris has a good shot at success.
Under the Radar: Ernesto Genoves - Genoves had a mini-breakout in 2011 at Greeneville where he hit .280/.375/.464 and had a 31% caught stealing rate. Offensively this is the first time we've seen much pop from him, but his strikeout rate is decent and he's shown some ability to get on base. He does have an issue with passed balls as a catcher, which could hamper his progress.
Make or Break: Rene Garcia - Garcia is another of the many defense-first catchers we've seen lately in the organization. His 37% career CS% looks good, but another season of swinging a wet noodle on offense (.242/.288/.303 at Lancaster in 2011) will certainly relegate him to organizational fodder.
Consensus: Jonathan Singleton - Singleton, acquired from Philadelphia in the Hunter Pence trade, is regarded by some as the Astros top prospect. In three minor league seasons he sports a line of .294/.393/.456. This guy hits for average, is starting to realize his power potential, and is willing to take a walk. Barring any setbacks don't be surprised to see him in Houston as early as 2013.
Under the Radar: Mario Gonzalez - Not much is known about Mario, as he's spent his three year career so far in the Dominican Summer League. He has enormous plate discipline, especially for a younger player. Last season he hit .273/.443/.398 with 50 walks in just 238 plate appearances. I don't know if he has much power potential, but I'm hoping he makes the move to the states in 2012 so we can get a better look at him. He also threw three scoreless innings last season.
Make or Break: Kody Hinze - Kody burst onto the scene in 2010 with a good increase in power and continued his improved hitting in 2011 as he hit .306/.420/.541 between Lancaster and Corpus, though his power dropped off in Corpus. He was eligible for the Rule 5 draft last season, and time is ticking away for Kody.
Consensus: Delino DeShields - DDJ struggled in his first full season as the organization challenged him by placing him in Lexington, where he hit .220/.305/.322, and switching him from center field to second base. The tools are there, though, and players who are children of former major leaguers often have the makeup to fight through the struggles and come out on the other side in good shape.
Under the Radar: Brandon Wikoff - Brandon is the kind of player that gets described using the words "gritty", "hustle", and "scrappy." He's undersized with almost no power but he hits for good average, doesn't strikeout much, and plays multiple positions without embarrassing himself at any of them. Last year, mostly at Corpus, he hit .302/.391/.346 and logged innings at second base, shortstop, and third base. Think Jeff Keppinger but with better defense and none of the power.
Make or Break: Andrew Simunic - Simunic and Wikoff are very similar on paper. Andrew has the ability to at least hit a few doubles, but with a few more strikeouts. His career line is .272/.367/.346. He's played a little outfield; he's actually appeared at every position except catcher, but is best at second base. However, Simunic is already 26 and only has 37 games above high A ball.
Consensus: Jonathan Villar - Villar, acquired in the Oswalt deal, has enormous potential, profiling as a future 20/20 shortstop. He's very young and raw, though. Villar has hit .255/.331/.370 in his minor league career with a scary 26.1% strikeout rate and an equally scary .923 fielding percentage. But, he's been two to three years younger than his competition the last couple seasons as he's been aggressively pushed through the Houston system since the trade.
Under the Radar: Juan Santana - Juan played last season as a 16 year old in the Dominican Summer League. Like Mario Gonzalez, Juan doesn't have many reports out there for me to pull from and I'm unfortunately not able to travel to the D.R. to watch them. What we can tell is that he shows above age level plate discipline as he hit .274/.350/.363 with 28 walks and 22 strikeouts in 283 plate appearances. I suspect he'll spend another season or two in the DSL before coming stateside to play, but I'll be watching the box scores for his name in the meantime.
Make or Break: Jiovanni Mier - Before we get too far into Jio, let me say he's still very young and has time to figure it out. However, he's already been passed by Villar because his bat hasn't developed the way the Astros were hoping. He's shown good patience at the plate and may yet develop a little pop, but his career slash line is just .244/.341/.355 through three seasons. He needs to take a good step forward this season to get back on the top prospect track.
Consensus: Mike Kvasnicka - That Mike is seen as our top 3B prospect probably says more about the Astros system than it does about Kvasnicka. He was drafted as a catcher but the Astros quickly moved him out from behind the plate and he's struggled defensively with the switch so far. He's described as having power potential, but at his age I don't see much more room to develop that power. He's hit .251/.320/.357 as a professional. Had the Astros system not been so thin at third base, I would have listed him as the make or break candidate. I've spoken with a few teammates of his, though, and almost to a man they gave me Mike's name as a player they think could move through the system quickly, so there may be more there that I'm not seeing.
Under the Radar: Jonathan Meyer - Jonathan had a mini-breakout last season at Lancaster but still needs to improve before really making a case for prospect status. He hit .264/.343/.399 with 14 home runs while improving his defense and walk rate. He'll be just 21 in 2012 and may be coming into his own.
Make or Break: David Flores - David may turn out to be another of the organizations many Lancaster flukes. After hitting .311/.371/.585 in 205 plate appearances in his third stint with the JetHawks he seemingly forgot how to hit in Corpus. In 251 trips to the plate for the Hooks, Flores hit just .203/.264/.313. He doesn't strike out much, though, so if he can make more solid contact there's hope. At 25 years old he needs to figure it out soon.
Consensus: Ariel Ovando - Ovando became Houston's first big money international free agent when he signed for $2.6M in 2010. He has big power potential, should hit for average as he develops, and has a strong arm in right field. He played for the G-Stros as a 17 year old and hit .235/.283/.365, which wasn't bad for his age.
George Springer - George was the 2011 1st round pick but only appeared in 8 games and hit .179/.303/.393. He's athletic, hits for power, and runs well. He's a little raw for a college pick, but has potential to be a star center fielder in a few years.
Domingo Santana - A lot of the baseball community was surprised when Santana was named as the player to be named later in the Pence trade. He has a big, powerful frame, big power potential, and a strong arm in right field. In many ways, his profile is similar to Ovando, just bigger and advanced a couple years. He took a good step forward last season as he hit .287/.362/.471 between the Philadelphia and Houston A level teams. He does strikeout a lot and that will need to be watched as he moves up.
Under the Radar: Brandon Meredith - Brandon signed quickly after getting drafted in 2011 and appeared in 35 games for Tri-City, hitting .244/.371/.395. He has good patience at the plate and a good glove, and he may well be the hardest working guy in the organization.
Teoscar Hernandez - Hernandez is another of a group of young Dominican Summer League Astros players that shows an unusual patience at the plate. Teoscar hit .274/.360/.487 last year and showed good base stealing ability as well, succeeding in 16 of 20 attempts.
Adam Bailey - Adam's strong showing in 2011 seemed to come out of nowhere. He hit .291/.327/.478 with 24 home runs as he quickly moved from Lexington to Lancaster to Corpus by season's end. He doesn't walk much, but his strikeouts are manageable and he plays a fairly solid right field.
Make or Break: Grant Hogue - Grant has been a solid but unspectacular player who can steal a few bases for his three professional seasons. His career line of .279/.352/.342 indicates that he has some patience, but doesn't hit for average or power. He's also been older than his competition all three seasons. He's likely just organizational depth but a breakout season from Hogue could still shake things up.
T.J. Steele - Steele turned a lot of heads when he hit .345/.385/.562 at Lancaster in 2009. Unfortunately, he has struggled mightily through two seasons in Corpus since then and now sports a career line of just .254/.289/.392. At 25, T.J. needs to regain the spark he found with the JetHawks quickly.
Jon Gaston - Yet another Lancaster phenom, Gaston got noticed when he hit 35 home runs there in 2009. However, his numbers have plummeted since then as he's struggled against AA pitching. His career line is now just .247/.324/.438. Like Steele, Jon is 25 and likely facing his last chance to make a name for himself as a prospect.
Consensus: Jarred Cosart - Cosart has the stuff to be a staff ace, featuring a fastball in the upper 90's with a good curve and developing changeup. In 240 minor league innings he has a 3.82 ERA, 7.6 K/9, and 3.0 K/9. A September call up in 2012 is not out of the question for Jarred, but 2013 is probably more realistic, as he only has 36.1 innings above A ball so far.
Brett Oberholtzer - Brett may be the best piece of the Bourn trade. He held his own as a 21 year old at AA in 2011 and has career stats of a 3.49 ERA, 7.6 K/9, and 2.1 K/9. He doesn't have the potential that Cosart has, but he's projected to be a solid 3rd starter. Brett is a likely 2012 call up.
Paul Clemens - Clemens also came over in the Bourn trade. He has the potential to be a mid rotation starter, but may end up in the bullpen if his changeup doesn't continue to develop. He holds a 4.09 ERA with 7.6 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 but those numbers are skewed by a rough 2009 season. His last two years have been much better.
Mike Foltynewicz - Folty has the stuff to be a front line starter, but struggles with consistency. So far he has a 4.74 ERA with 6.4 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. He's young, the potential is there, and he has at time flashed dominance, but he still has some maturing to do.
Kyle Weiland - Weiland was acquired from Boston in the Melancon trade and is considered by some to be major league ready. He had 7 rough outings with Boston last September as the Red Sox struggled through injuries down the stretch. In roughly 450 minor league inning Kyle has a 3.51 ERA with 8.5 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9.
Under the Radar: Luis Ordosgoitti - Ordosgoitti is a 19 year old who was signed out of Venezuela. In 76.1 innings, Luis has a 4.13 ERA but his 7.9 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 indicate he could really blossom over the next couple seasons.
Nick Tropeano - Tropeano was the 5th round draft pick in 2011, so he's not exactly a sleeper. As a 20 year old at Tri-City, Nick dominated with a 2.36 ERA, 10.6 K/9, and 3.5 BB/9. He already has a good changeup and if he can keep up this level of performance he won't be under the radar for long.
Carlos Quevedo - Quevedo is a control pitcher who can at times get hit a little hard. In over 400 minor league innings he has a 3.66 ERA with 6.5 K/9 and a minuscule 1.3 BB/9. If he can start missing a few more bats he could turn the corner.
Kyle Hallock - Kyle is another 2011 draftee that may quickly make a name for himself. In 61.2 innings at Tri-City, he had a 2.63 ERA, 8.9 K/9, and 2.5 BB/9. He's a finesse lefty with good command and secondary pitches, so it's possible he may overpower the lower level hitters but could struggle as he faces more advanced opponents.
Jake Buchanan - Buchanan is a rare pitcher in that he was able to survive Lancaster without suffering a big drop off in performance. He pitched to a 3.91 ERA with 5.8 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 in 158.2 innings. He's been able to survive his low strikeout rate with a ground ball percentage of over 60% so far.
Make or Break: Jonnathan Aristil - Aristil came over in the Matt Lindstrom trade. In 473.2 innings he has a 4.88 ERA, 8.0 K/9, and 4.2 BB/9. It's those strikeouts that have gotten him to where he is so far, but his walk and hit rates have risen along with his strikeout rate. At 25 years old and already traded once, if he can't increase his effectiveness in 2012 it may be about time to give up on him. A transition to the bullpen may still be possible, though.
Robert Donovan - After a decent debut at Tri-City, and an good showing in Lexington for the first part of 2010, Donovan has been torn apart by the meat grinder known as Lancaster. In 137.1 innings in 2011 he had a 6.29 ERA with 6.2 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9. Assuming he gets a shot at Corpus this year, it will be interesting to see if he can repeat some of his earlier success.
Sergio Perez - Sergio has struggled through three straight mediocre seasons at AA and AAA. For his professional career he's pitched to a 4.18 ERA with 5.5 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9. He'll be 27 this season and is about to be passed by the higher potential prospects in the organization.
Consensus: Jack Armstrong - Jack's stuff has potential to start, but injuries and inconsistency in college lead him to be profiled as a likely relief pitcher. If he can pull it all together he'll be a star. There's a lot of high risk; high reward going on with Jack. He didn't sign in time to pitch professionally in 2011.
Adrian Houser - Houser has a plus fastball and curveball. He started in Rookie ball after signing, but if he can't develop a third pitch he'll end up in the bullpen. In 48 innings in 2011 he posted a 4.31 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 4.7 BB/9.
Under the Radar: Alex Sogard - Sogard was used as a swingman at Lexington in 2011. He's a hard throwing lefty with a 3.96 ERA, 9.2 K/9, and 2.3 BB/9 in 145.1 professional innings.
Mitchell Lambson - Lambson may have been a bit unlucky in his first minor league season. His 4.33 ERA doesn't quite match his 9.9 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 and his hit and home run rates were decent as well.
Ryan Cole - Ryan doesn't have the strikeout stuff as some of the other young relief pitchers in the system, but he's been effective nonetheless. In 62 minor league innings he has a 2.61 ERA with 7.7 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9. His success can be attributed to a groundball rate of over 50% which helps contribute to his outstanding 0.3 HR/9.
Evan Grills - After struggling in his first season in the Gulf Coast League as a starter, Evan had more success in 2011 as a reliever. In 33 innings last season, he had a 3.00 ERA, 7.9 K/9, and 1.9 BB/9. Like his stablemate Ryan Cole, Evan has a groundball rate over 50% and a low 0.2 HR/9.
Matison Smith - Matison built on his strong 2010 debut with an outstanding 2011 season. He has a 2.12 ERA through 68 innings with 8.7 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9. His 2011 K/9 was a phenomenal 11.9.
Make or Break: Pat Urckfitz - Pat has struggled the last two seasons, and struggling minor league relievers often don't hang around very long. In a 2012 split between Lancaster, Corpus, and Oklahoma City his ERA was 5.59 with 7.4 K/9 and 5.4 BB/9. He did have a strong start to the season with Lancaster, though, and his troubles didn't really start until his promotion to Corpus. He'll be 23 to start the season so there's still a little time to get back on track.
The system is still fairly thin between the top prospects and the interesting short season players that played Rookie ball last season. Once the Astros are able to fill the entire pipeline with decent depth the franchise will be back to the circumstances that allowed them to reel off so many winning seasons in the 90's and 00's.