Top 5 Prospects for 2015: Houston Astros by Marc Hulet March 6, 2015 This 30-part series will look at the projected Top 5 freshman contributors for each big league club for the year ahead. The rankings take into consideration a mixture of ceiling, readiness and potential playing time allocation, which is to say some players with lower ceilings may be ranked ahead of others with higher ceilings because they project to have a greater impact in the coming season. In a Nutshell: The Astros don’t have many near-MLB-ready, high-ceiling arms but there are definitely some intriguing hitters on the cusp of reaching the Majors. The Top 5 Freshman for 2015 1. Mark Appel, RHP: With the trade of Mike Foltynewicz to Atlanta, Appel becomes the pitching prospect in the system with the highest ceiling who is closest to the Majors. He’ll no doubt look to leave the injury concerns and drama from 2014 behind him… and also the dangerous confines of the California League, which led to a 9.74 ERA in 12 starts. Now established in Double-A, he should spend at least a half season there before challenging for a call-up to The Show. If he continues to show his top stuff and stays healthy, Appel has the ceiling of a No. 2/3 starter. 2. Colin Moran, 3B: Obtained from The Fish last season, Moran has vaulted into the ‘third baseman of the future’ tag in Houston. Last year’s third baseman, Matt Dominguez, has likely been unseated by Luis Valbuena — who was obtained from the Cubs — and offers solid defence and perhaps more consistent offence. That buys Moran a little time to find his hitting stroke in the minors. He’s hit for a decent average in his two professional seasons but the power output has been lacking and he doesn’t get on base consistently, due in part to his modest walk rate. 3. Tony Kemp, 2B: Second base incumbent Jose Altuve was one of the few bright spots on the Astros last season so it won’t be easy for a rookie second baseman to break into the Majors in Houston. However, Kemp was a revelation last season while splitting the year between High-A and Double-A. He hit a combined .316/.411/.449 with more walks than strikeouts and 41 steals. He’ll likely open the year back in Double-A while awaiting a possible injury to Altuve, although he could also spend some more time in the outfield (He’s made nine career appearances there in two pro seasons) in an effort to expand his versatility. 4. Teoscar Hernandez, OF: The Astros certainly boast some outfield depth, especially with the additions of Evan Gattis and Colby Rasmus at the big league level. Domingo Santana, who made his big league debut in 2014, might receive the first call up to the Majors in 2015 but Hernandez has a more intriguing profile. He started to break out in 2013 in Low-A before really coming on strong in 2014 in the California League. The 2015 season will go a long way to showing if his offensive explosion was a result of the favorable hitting environment or further development of his raw abilities. Hernandez, 22, has shown the potential to develop into a 20-20 player at the big league level, especially if he can learn to make more consistent contact. 5. Preston Tucker, OF: This young hitter doesn’t have the raw power that Domingo Santana possesses but his ability to play a little first base gives him a little added versatility. Tucker, 24, has left-handed power and slugged 49 home runs over the past two seasons while also getting on base at a solid clip. Another positive is his ability handle both right- and left-handed pitching, which means the club doesn’t have to worry about platooning him or shielding him against the tougher southpaws. Tucker may never develop into a regular but he could be a solid bat off the bench.