Bregman steals the show for Astros

22-year-old makes MLB debut; fellow 2015 pick Tucker not far behind

Alex Bregman posted a .986 OPS in 80 games between Double-A and Triple-A in 2016. (Jamie Harms)

By Michael Leboff / | November 9, 2016 11:20 AM

This offseason, will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organizations. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball.

The Houston Astros have received plenty of attention for the way they've cultivated young talent over the past few years. Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and George Springer have emerged as three of baseball's best all-around players and soon we may have to add Alex Bregman to the list.

It could be argued that no player at any level of baseball had a more impressive first half of 2016 than the 22-year-old infielder. After splitting 2015 between Class A Quad Cities and Class A Advanced Lancaster, Bregman started the season with Double-A Corpus Christi and made it clear from the start that he was on his way to a special season.

"I think everybody knows how we feel about Bregman as an organization," Corpus Christi manager Rodney Linares said. "I was a little bit skeptical about him at Spring Training, because it was his first one and I didn't see him that much. But when he got there he was better than advertised. He's a hard-working kid who takes a lot of pride in preparation and that paid off for him. He's going to contribute in the big leagues for a long time."

As Bregman ascended the organizational ladder, plenty of other highly touted Astros Minor Leaguers emerged under the radar. Ramon Laureano has the makings of an on-base machine and Kyle Tucker had an impressive first full season after being drafted fifth overall in 2015.

With Bregman nearly a lock for Houston's Opening Day Roster in 2017, the Astros system is now without its brightest star, but that doesn't mean it will be that way for long.

Astros Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Garrett Stubbs, Lancaster (55 games), Corpus Christi (31 games): After spending the first portion of the season with Class A Advanced Lancaster, Stubbs flourished when he was promoted to Double-A Corpus Christi on July 4.

With Lancaster, the 23-year-old batted .291/.385/.442 with six homers and 38 RBIs. Despite leaving the hitter-friendly California League, Stubbs saw those numbers improve with the Hooks. In 31 games with Corpus Christi, the 2015 eighth-round pick hit .325/.401/.517 with four homers and 16 RBIs.

First baseman -- Dexture McCall, Quad Cities (108 games): In his first full professional season, McCall showed impressive consistency and durability at first base for Class A Quad Cities. In 108 games for the River Bandits, the 22-year-old hit .286/.352/.421. The 22-year-old was Quad Cities' most productive hitter -- his 58 RBIs were tops on the River Bandits and his nine homers were tied with Pat Porter for the team lead.

Second baseman -- Nick Tanielu, Lancaster (35 games), Corpus Christi (95 games): In the first game of the season, Tanielu went 0-for-4 for Lancaster. After that, his average didn't drop below the .300 mark until he was called up to Corpus Christi on May 19. At the time of his promotion, the 24-year-old was hitting .372/.405/.555 with four homers and 29 RBIs in 35 games.

As expected, Tanielu's numbers dipped when at Double-A, but he still managed to produce for the Hooks, belting seven homers and 47 RBIs in 95 games in the Texas League.

Third baseman -- J.D. Davis, Corpus Christi (126 games): Coming out of college, plenty of teams thought that Davis had the makings of a power arm coming out of the bullpen. Instead, Davis is developing as a power hitter.

"The thing that people don't realize about J.D. is that he hasn't been playing third base for a long time," Linares said. "He went through a lot of things and still did a solid job defensively, but he's still learning the position. He really developed right before my eyes. And despite all of that, if you look at his numbers, that's a pretty solid year, especially with his power numbers. The Texas League is not an easy league to hit in."

The 23-year-old finished second in the Texas League with a .485 slugging percentage and finished third in the circuit with 23 homers and 81 RBIs. It's fair to say that, with a little luck here and there, Davis, who hit .268 on the year, could have eclipsed the 30-homer mark, but he instead had to settle for a league-leading 34 doubles in 126 games for the Hooks.

Shortstop -- Alex Bregman, Corpus Christi (62 games), Fresno (18 games): Bregman came out of the gate flying in 2016. The LSU product hit .340 with five homers and 14 RBIs in April before going down with a hamstring injury.

The time off didn't have an adverse effect on the New Mexico native who continued to produce in May and June before getting promoted to Triple-A on June 30. He didn't stay there very long.

Even though this was Bregman's first go-round at Triple-A, it was quite clear that he wasn't long for Fresno. In 18 games with the Grizzlies, Bregman posted a 1.015 OPS and hit six homers. The only thing keeping him from Minute Maid Park was the Astros' infield logjam.

After a few days of debating where to play Bregman, he was called up to the big club July 25. He batted .264/.313/.478 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in 49 games with Houston before another hamstring injury ended his season two weeks early.


Kyle Tucker, Quad Cities (101 games), Lancaster (16 games): The Astros 2015 first-round pick was impressive in his first full professional season. After hitting .263 in April, Tucker began to heat up with the weather as he adjusted to playing every day. The 19-year-old hit .316/.359/.432 with a home run and 30 RBIs in May and June, combined.

Tucker saw his numbers dip in July, but the Florida native thrived in August and posted a .936 OPS in 14 games with the River Bandits before getting promoted to Class A Advanced Lancaster on Aug. 17.

The jump to Class A Advanced didn't phase Tucker, who continued to swing a hot bat with the JetHawks. In 16 games with Lancaster, the 6-foot-4 outfielder hit .339/.435/.661 with three homers and 13 RBIs.

In addition to a solid year at the plate, Tucker also showed versatility in the field. Houston's No. 2 prospect saw time at all three outfield positions with both Quad Cities and Lancaster.

Teoscar Hernandez, Corpus Christi (69 games), Fresno (38 games), Houston (41 games): In 107 games between Corpus Christi and Fresno, Hernandez hit .307 with 10 homers and 53 RBIs.

Things didn't start well for the 24-year-old, who recorded more strike outs than hits in April. From that point on, Hernandez produced at an impressive clip, earning himself his first promotion to Triple-A on June 30.

The Dominican Republic native transitioned seamlessly to the Pacific Coast League and batted .313/.365/.500 in 38 games with the Grizzlies before he was promoted to Houston on Aug. 12.

Even though his numbers dipped with the Astros, Hernandez did enough to stick with the big club for the rest of the season, featuring in 41 games in Houston.

Myles Straw, Quad Cities (68 games), Lancaster (19 games): No player in the Astros organization boasted a better batting average in 2016 than Straw's .358 mark.

Used primarily as a lead-off hitter, the 22-year-old played the role with aplomb, sporting a .423 on-base percentage between Quad Cities and Lancaster. Although Straw isn't known for his power, the California native still amassed 25 extra-base hits in 2016.

Utility Player -- Ramon Laureano, Lancaster (80 games), Corpus Christi (36 games): After having some modest success in his first two seasons as a professional, Laureano broke out in 2016. The 22-year-old outfielder's .428 on-base percentage was the best in the Minor Leagues among full-season qualifiers.

The Dominican Republic native started the year with Lancaster where he hit .317/.426/.519 in 80 contests. He was promoted to Double-A on July 21 and improved his slash line to .323/.432/.548 in 36 games with Corpus Christi.

"I heard a lot of good things about him before he got to Corpus Christi," Linares said. "He's a tough out. I used to mess with him and say he was a cheaper version of Teoscar Hernandez, but he's a way more advanced hitter than Teoscar was at this point in their career. He's got a simple, solid approach and he's a hard-worker and I love him for that. The sky is the limit for the kid and I'm happy for the kid."

Despite his size, Laureano showed some developing power in 2016 and slugged 50 extra-base hits, including 15 homers, between Lancaster and Corpus Christi.

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Evan Grills, Lancaster (five appearances), Corpus Christi (16 appearances), Fresno (three appearances): In his first action since July, 2015 Grills put together a decent April for Lancaster and earned himself his first trip to Double-A in May.

July didn't treat the 24-year-old quite as kindly, but Grills rebounded from a few rough starts and worked at least six innings in each of his last four starts with Corpus Christi before being summoned to Triple-A Fresno.

Grills handled himself just fine in his first stint at Triple-A, posting a 2.55 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in three starts for the Grizzlies.

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Francis Martes, Corpus Christi (25 appearances): Things didn't get off to a great start but the highest-regarded pitcher in Houston's system took a big step forward this season.

Martes endured a rough first two months of the season but ultimately rebounded to become perhaps the most reliable arm in Corpus Christi's rotation in the second half.

"This kid is only 20 years old," Linares said. "I think sometimes the baseball world, because of all of Francis' ability, forgets that he's just learning. He continues to absorb as much as he can and continues to develop every start."

Martes posted a 3.30 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 25 appearances (22 starts) for Corpus Christi in 2016.

In addition to his consistency and durability, Martes showed the ability to miss bats and averaged better than a strikeout an inning in 125 1/3 innings for the Hooks.

"Francis has the opportunity to be a front-line starter and I saw a lot of growth in him this season," Linares added. "He was in better shape this year, and that's something we asked of him the year before. For me, you don't base his year on the numbers; you base it on the fact that he's a 20-year-old with a good three-pitch mix and has already shown to be durable."

More Organization All-Stars

Relief pitcher -- James Hoyt, Fresno (49 appearances): A banner year for Hoyt was made even sweeter on Aug. 3 when the Boise, Idaho, native made his Major League debut.

The promotion to Houston was well earned for the 31-year-old right-hander. In 49 appearances for Fresno, Hoyt had a 1.64 ERA and 0.87 WHIP while holding batters to a .154 average.

Michael Leboff is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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