If not for Reds top prospect Billy Hamilton’s assault on the record books with 110 stolen bases through 89 games, which is on pace to destroy Vince Coleman’s mark of 145 set in 1983, all eyes would be on the son of a former 13-year major league veteran who had a knack for swiping bases himself. Delino DeShields, Jr. plays a lot like his dad, albeit in a much bigger body.
At 5’-9” and 210-pounds, the 19-year-old looks more running back than second baseman. And like his dad, who finished 46th all-time with 463 career steals, junior can flat out fly. Through 90 games this season at class-A Lexington, he has 66 stolen bases, including 34 over his last 39 games. And unlike his dad, the kid has some power to his game. Over his 90 games, he has 18 doubles, three triples and eight home runs. He has been flexing his muscles a lot more in July, too, hitting .426 through 14 games with four doubles, three home runs and a .667 slugging percentage.
Selected eighth overall by the Astros in 2010 out of Woodward Academy in College Park, Georgia, DeShields struggled at the plate in 2011. Over 119 games at Lexington, he hit just .220, drawing 52 walks for a .305 OBP. For a player who projects as a leadoff hitter at the next level, those numbers needed improvement. He has already drawn 58 walks on the season, good for a .399 OBP, and has also upped his average to .293. To improve that drastically over one season at such a young age shows the kind of player he is, and wants to become. He has also shown the ability to be a clutch hitter, as he is hitting .384 (33-for-86) with runners in scoring position.
Hamilton has been the most electric player in the minors this season and is going to end up with 150+ steals. DeShields will likely reach triple digits, as well. He is also two years younger than Hamilton and has more than just speed at his disposal.
Another first-round pick, this one from the 2011 draft, George Springer has been flashing his five-tool talents all season long for class-A advanced Lancaster. The 21-year-old was the 11th overall selection out of Connecticut where he hit .343 over 66 games as a senior with 12 home runs, 77 RBI and 31 stolen bases. The 6’-3, 200-pound right-hander has adjusted to the pros with ease in his first full season. Over 87 games, he is hitting .329 with 86 runs, 17 doubles, seven triples, 18 home runs, 69 RBI and 21 stolen bases. He has a great shot at a 30 HR/30 SB season, something that doesn’t happen often in the minors. Like DeShields, he has been scorching in July, hitting .441 (26-for-59) with 17 runs, six doubles, three home runs and 14 RBI. His speed, glove and arm should allow him to stick at center field, and the way he is hitting, should finish the season at double-A with a legitimate shot at starting the season in Houston next year.
More good news for Astros fans is the early success of their top draft picks. While first-overall pick Carlos Correa is struggling a bit at the Gulf Coast League, hitting just .171 (13-for-76) over his first 19 games with four walks and 19 strikeouts, he has flashed a glove that could have him contending for Gold Glove Awards in the future. He also has hit nine doubles, showing gap power that will turn into home runs soon. The talent is scary with Correa, he just needs to get into a streak to get things going. Also, he is still just 17 years old, one of the youngest players in the draft.
Lance McCullers, the 41st-overall selection, made his pro debut on July 13 in the GCL, tossing three shutout innings, allowing just one hit while striking out two. The 6’-1”, right-hander was the Gatorade National Player of the Year after going 13-0 for Jesuit HS in Florida. He posted a 0.18 ERA, 0.75 WHIP with 140 K/30 BB over 77.1 innings and held opponents to a .106 batting average. McCullers is a power pitcher who can dial his fastball up to triple-digits and also has a plus, hammer curveball.
The team’s second-round pick, Nolan Fontana, has displayed his exceptional batting eye playing for class-A Lexington this season. Drafted out of powerhouse Florida, the shortstop had 153 walks to just 86 strikeouts over 200 games as a Gator. Through his 11 games this year, he is hitting .368 and has drawn an incredible 16 walks for a .556 OBP. He has also added two doubles, a home run, eight RBI and four stolen bases.
Brady Rodgers, the team’s third-round pick out of Arizona State, has been dominating opposing hitters at class-A short-season Tri-City. Over five starts, he is 3-1 with a 1.37 ERA and 28 K/6 BB over 26.1 innings. The 6’-2”, 200-pound right-hander went 10-3 as a junior for the Sun Devils this season and was one of the best pitchers in college. He posted a 2.25 ERA, 0.96 WHIP with 79 K/16 BB over 115 innings. He is a superb command pitcher who can get his fastball up to the mid-90s with movement.