This offseason, MiLB.com is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball.
The 2015 season has been deemed the Year of the Prospect at the Major League level for the way young talent took over baseball's biggest stage. But if we dig into the Minor Leagues, we could call 2015 the Year of the Astros Prospect.
Consider MiLB.com's 2015 MiLBY award winners. A.J. Reed was named Offensive Player of the Year, while Tyler White won the fan vote in the same category. Triple-A Fresno swept its way to Team of the Year, and Derek Fisher won Best Individual Performance for his three-homer, 12-RBI California League debut. With all that in mind -- not to mention Houston affiliates' collective .553 winning percentage (best among all 30 organizations), seven playoff teams and two championships -- it's no surprise the Astros also took home the MiLBY for Best Farm System.
These are the individuals who stood out at each position in an outstanding system this season:
Astros Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Jacob Nottingham, Quad Cities (59 games), Lancaster (17 games), Stockton (43 games): We don't normally like to feature traded players as Organization All-Stars, but Nottingham's contributions before being dealt in the Scott Kazmir trade on July 23 are too great to go overlooked. The 20-year-old, who hadn't hit higher than .247 in his first two pro seasons, produced a .326/.383/.558 line with 14 homers, two triples and 24 doubles in 76 games between Class A Quad Cities and Class A Advanced Lancaster before the deal. Fans voted him as MiLBY Breakout Prospect of the Year.
First baseman -- A.J. Reed, Lancaster (82 games), Corpus Christi (53 games): If you haven't heard about A.J. Reed's season yet, may we suggest some other links? First, his player page, where you can awe at his full-season Minors-best 34 homers, 127 RBIs, 320 total bases, .612 slugging percentage and 1.044 OPS. Then, Josh Jackson's story on how Reed won the MiLBY as Offensive Player of the Year.
Taken all together, it's no surprise the Astros already are willing to say that Reed, the 2014 Golden Spikes Award winner as a pitcher and slugger at Kentucky, will be competing for the Major League starting first base gig next season.
"If you look at two-way players in general, they've got to use all their energy on both sides," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said in discussing Reed for the MiLBY Farm System piece. "Since A.J. became a pro, his focus has been solely on offense, and the results have certainly been there. He knows he has to improve some on defense, but he's got a great work ethic and really busted his hump in Spring Training to get in the best shape he could. Every player has his weaker areas; A.J. doesn't have very many left. That's put him in the Major League mix, certainly."
Second baseman -- Tony Kemp, Corpus Christi (50 games), Fresno (71 games): If there's someone who embodied the 2015 season for the Astros system as a player, it might be Kemp. The 24-year-old thrived in the Texas League (.358/.457/.420, 35 walks vs. 28 strikeouts, 15 steals) and, although his numbers weren't as good in the Pacific Coast League (.273/.334/.362), he figured it out just in time for the playoffs, during which he hit .381 with nine RBIs in 10 games.
Kemp, who ranked second in the system with 35 steals, is blocked at the position by three-time All-Star Jose Altuve. But the Astros have given their No. 11 prospect time in center and left field, where they believe his speed helps.
"He's got great bat-to-ball skills and his athleticism plays up so well," Astros director of Minor League operations Allen Rowin said. "It's a combination of those two attributes that makes him such a good offensive player. He also runs the bases well, and that makes him such a spark plug at the top of a lineup. He's a lot of fun to watch and has a really high ceiling in our organization."
Third baseman -- Matt Duffy, Fresno (127 games), Houston (eight games): Duffy's numbers before the All-Star break were solid (.285/.349/.439, 10 homers, 65 RBIs in 80 games) but not spectacular. That changed after the break, when he slashed .309/.395/.562 with 10 homers and 39 RBIs in 47 games. The 26-year-old corner infielder, who also saw plenty of time at first base with the Grizzlies, saw his strikeout rate drop from 16.4 percent to 15.6 percent in the second half while his walk rate ticked up from 7.3 to 10.7 percent. That ability to control the strike zone ended up being his best asset, according to the organization.
"He's hit his whole career, really, but in the second half, he really focused on pitch selection and not swinging at balls out of the zone," Rowin said of the 2011 20th-rounder. "It was that simple task that really drove his offensive performance at Fresno. His bat has good pop and there's good life in there. But once he eliminated all the bad chases, that's when he put up monster numbers."
Duffy was named PCL MVP, thanks to his 104 RBIs, and made his Major League debut on Sept. 16 before being added to the Astros roster for the ALDS.
Honorable mentions: Colin Moran, J.D. Davis
Shortstop -- Jonathan Villar, Fresno (70 games), Houston (53 games): Villar rotated between spot starts at short and third in Houston to start the year before Carlos Correa's arrival in early June moved him down to Triple-A until rosters expanded in September. He made the most of his time with Fresno, hitting .271 with a .749 OPS and 35 steals in 70 games. With the middle infield in Houston seemingly set for years to come, the 24-year-old switch-hitter likely will fill a utility role to start 2016. But given his bat and speed, there are worse bench options.
Derek Fisher, Quad Cities (39 games), Lancaster (84 games): As the 37th overall pick, Fisher was the Astros' highest 2014 Draft selection to sign, and the University of Virginia product did not disapppoint in his first full season. The 22-year-old produced a .275/.364/.483 line with 22 homers, eight triples, 21 doubles, 87 RBIs and 31 steals between his two stops. The tools he exhibited in both his bat and legs have Houston excited for what could be next.
"It's hard to find that rare combo of speed and pop," Rowin said. "It's a great tool set. I just got back from seeing him in the Fall League, and I know his numbers aren't great [.167 average through 11 games], but it's a small sample and you can see he's progressing just fine. When you compare him against anything else, his great combination of skills just pop out at you."
Jon Kemmer, Corpus Christi (104 games): For the MiLBY Farm System piece, Rowin independently brought up Kemmer's development from an off-the-beaten-trail player taken in the 21st round out of an NAIA school to a polished prospect as "fun for us." After batting .221 in 2013 and .291 last year, the left-handed hitter led the Texas League with a .327 average. In fact, he fell just short of the slash line Triple Crown as he also led in slugging percentage (.574) and finished second in OBP (.414). His 18 homers also ranked second in the league.
"It's all hard work, man," Rowin said. "This guy was a low-round Draft pick, but he's shown he's got the strength, he's got the ability to perform at a high level. He might be the hardest-working guy in our system. I mean, he just has top-shelf makeup. ... He really took to our hitting philosophy, and you saw what happened."
Brett Phillips, Lancaster (66 games), Corpus Christi (31 games), Biloxi (23 games): Similarly to Nottingham, Phillips was traded near the deadline, going to the Brewers as part of the deal that landed Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers. And like Nottingham, he was too good with the Astros to be left off here. Phillips hit .320/.377/.548 with 16 homers, 11 triples, 27 doubles, 71 RBIs and 15 steals in 97 games between Lancaster and Corpus Christi. Throw in an impressive defensive package in center field and he's climbed up to No. 32 in MLB.com's prospect rankings after starting the year outside the top 100.
Honorable mentions: Bobby Boyd, Domingo Santana, James Ramsay
Utility/DH -- Tyler White, Corpus Christi (59 games), Fresno (57 games): Not that you'd want to, but White can't be ignored any longer. The 997th overall pick in the 2013 Draft, he had his biggest year yet with the Astros, hitting .325/.442/.496 with 14 homers and 99 RBIs at two stops. He walked more times (84) than he struck out (73) and was actually better at the higher level (.362/.467/.559), where he was named PCL Offensive Player of the Postseason by MiLB.com. The 25-year-old saw time at both first and third this season but is not incredibly adept at either spot. His bat did plenty of talking though.
Right-handed pitcher -- Joe Musgrove, Quad Cities (five games), Lancaster (six games), Corpus Christi (eight games): When looking at Musgrove's season, a few numbers jump out -- his 12-1 record,1.88 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 99 strikeouts in 100 2/3 innings. And he walked only eight batters all season. That's not completely out of the ordinary for the 22-year-old right-hander, who's averaged 1.1 BB/9 since being taken 46th overall by the Blue Jays in 2011, but that type of control should be his meal ticket up the Astros chain.
"Joe's a workhorse," Rowin said of the 6-foot-5, 255-pounder. "He's got a big frame, likes to pitch and works hard. I mean, he knows nothing but strikes. That strikeout-to-walk ratio was just fantastic everywhere he went. He was a high Draft pick coming out of high school, but we feel like he finally got into his groove this year."
Honorable mentions: Chris Devenski, Francis Martes
Left-handed pitcher: Bryan Radziewski, Quad Cities (five games), Lancaster (18 games): It was a solid first full season in the system for the 2014 ninth-rounder out of the University of Miami. Radziewski quickly proved too good for the Midwest League, where he had a 2.05 ERA with 25 strikeouts over 22 innings, and handled himself fairly well in the hitter-friendly California League with a 3.86 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 84 frames there.
Reliever -- Jandel Gustave, Corpus Christi (46 games): This summer was always going to be a pivotal one for Gustave, who turned 23 on Oct. 12. He was taken by the Red Sox in last year's Rule 5 Draft, was dealt to the Royals and claimed off waivers by the Padres, all before being returned to the Astros before Opening Day. Houston moved the hard-throwing right-hander to the bullpen and bumped him to Double-A, where he thrived. He led the system with 20 saves and posted a 2.15 ERA with 49 strikeouts over 58 2/3 innings. His 3.8 BB/9 rate was well below his career average of 6.0 in the Minors. Although he's not yet on the 40-man roster -- exposing him to another go-round in the Rule 5 Draft -- he's a much better candidate to be protected this year.
"I think he's got two-plus pitches that really help him in that bullpen role," Rowin said. "Everyone loves his fastball velocity and the way he can hit the upper 90s, and then there's his wipeout slider too that helped him. Early in his career, we wanted to explore starting because we wanted him to use all of his pitches. So while some people might view that as a failure, we see it as a success because we could trim down what wasn't working for him."