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Volume 71, Issue 80, Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Sports

Astros should get nice prospects from minors

Super Fan

Seth Mintz

I have some bad news: This column is not about Vince Young or Reggie Bush. 

Don't worry -- I have some good news, too: The Astros are going to be good this year. 

Actually, they are going to be very good this year and for years to come. So stop worrying about the NFL draft and the status of Roger Clemens because spring training is just around the corner, and the Astros are going to be very talented because of an unlikely source: prospects.

Yes, you read correctly. The saving grace for the Astros is going to be a few players you have never heard of. I understand that might sound insane, but it's the truth. With the end nearing for Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, get ready for the next generation of players to root for. 

Over the years, the Astros have continually had some of the best youngsters in baseball. Names such as Lance Berkman, Brad Lidge, Roy Oswalt, Morgan Ensberg, Freddy Garcia, Billy Wagner and Bobby Abreu headline the talent that has come through the Astros' organization. The Astros could soon call up some players who have the potential to build great careers like Berkman and Oswalt. 

The Astros have many talented players in their farm system. Outfielder Hunter Pence, third baseman Koby Clemens and pitchers Jason Hirsch, Fernando Nieve, Troy Patton and Taylor Bucholtz have all the talent in the world and could contribute in big ways for the Astros as early as this season (whether with the Astros or by trading them).

The Astros' cream of the crop coming up from the farm system will be Pence, Patton, Nieve and Hirsch. They are all top-flight prospects and could be big contributors soon. 

Hunter Pence is a very talented hitter who led the minors in homeruns before an injury. Troy Patton, a Texas native, is a power lefthander. Patton has risen very quickly through the minors because he's been dominant since day one. Pence and Patton are the two best prospects and, barring trades or injuries, will hopefully be called up very soon. 

Hirsch and Nieve will be the names to remember this season. At 6 feet 8 inches, Jason Hirsch had a dominant year at AAA last year, leading the Texas League with 165 strikeouts. The same goes for Fernando Nieve, whose poise and fastball has him just inches from the majors. Both are highly regarded and will challenge for spots in the pitching rotation this year.

The importance of top-level prospects can sometimes be forgotten. While some are busts, like in all sports, young players can come up and make a difference. (Think of Albert Pujols and Kerry Wood.) Prospects are also attractive in trades because they work cheap. Remember when the Astros traded for Randy Johnson? The Astros only dealt prospects for the future Hall of Famer. 

The Astros will be helped greatly by these youngsters, who will start to come up this year. Some of the best and most exciting players in baseball are some of the youngest: Miguel Cabrera, Huston Street and Dontrelle Willis, among others. Young players make teams better. If the Astros are smart, they will cut some of the old veterans soon and enable their youth to come help the big club. 

Don't be discouraged by an off-season that seems uneventful. The Astros have lots of talent, and should once again have a serious playoff and be World Series contenders. The Astros will be good and will get better through their farm system. 

Reggie who? Vince what? The United States' pastime is almost back, and with all of the talent the Astros have, there will be plenty to cheer about.

Send comments to dcsports@mail.uh.edu

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