by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
The Houston Astros have long been considered to have one of the elite farm systems in the game, and right now they desperately need it. Whether they simply promote from within or use them as trading chips, with Lance McCullers undergoing Tommy John surgery and Dallas Keuhel & Charlie Morton potentially leaving via free agency the team is in desperate need of rotation help. Luckily a lot of their top prospects are pitchers, but who can make an impact? Let’s take a look at how things currently shake out:
1) Kyle Tucker – Outfielder
Grade – A
ETA – Already Arrived
No one is going to question the potential of Tucker, who continued to thrive at Triple-A though he stumbled in his first taste of the Majors:
- Triple-A – .332 (135-407) with 24 HR and 20 SB
- Majors – .141 (9-64) with 0 HR and 1 SB
It wasn’t a poor approach that plagued him in the Majors (10.8% SwStr%, 25.3% O-Swing%) and he wasn’t swinging for the fences (35.3% fly ball rate). That’s all promising and with a little bit better luck (.176 BABIP) he’s going to show his talent at the highest level. Don’t let those struggles in his first exposure to the Majors change your opinion. He wouldn’t be the first top prospect to struggle initially, only to figure it out and thrive.
2) Forrest Whitley – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – A-
ETA – 2019
No one is going to question the upside of Whitley, though 2018 was virtually a lost season for the potential ace. Not only did he serve a 50-game suspension, but he had two separate stints on the DL that limited him to 26.1 innings at Double-A. When on the mound there’s no questioning his ability to miss bats (60 K over 41.0 IP at Double-A) and at 6’7” he’s shown surprisingly solid control. Groundballs could be an “issue”, with a minor league career 0.81 GO/AO over 137.1 IP, but opponents need to be able to make contact for that to become a problem. As long as he can stay healthy he should make his MLB debut in 2019 and he has all of the makings of an ace.
3) Yordan Alvarez – First Baseman/Outfielder
Grade – B+
ETA – 2019
It was another solid season for Alvarez, who split time between Double and Triple-A hitting .293 with 20 HR and 74 RBI over 335 AB. An 8.9% SwStr% shows his strong approach, as he showed he can draw a walk at both levels he played:
- Double-A – 10.0%
- Triple-A – 12.2%
Couple that with an ability to consistently hit the ball hard (27.0% line drive rate) and use the entire field (34.4% Oppo%) and there’s a lot to like in his approach. His power also took a step forward, showing that he’s maturing and developing. At 21-years old he could be transforming into a .280+ hitter with 25+ HR ability.
4) Corbin Martin – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – B
ETA – 2019
After Forrest Whitley the Astros have a plethora of pitching prospects, any one of which could step up and emerge as the next best arm. For now Martin is going to get the nod, spending time at High-A (19.0 IP) and Double-A (103.0 IP) and showing the upside and ability across the board:
- Strikeouts – 9.00 K/9 (courtesy of a 13.3% SwStr%)
- Control – 2.58 BB/9
- Groundballs – 48.7%
The control has been the best among the candidates and the SwStr% shows more upside than “just” a strikeout per inning. There is the potential that he pitches in a relief role, but with the ability he’s shown he should continue to get an opportunity to develop as a starter.
5) Freudis Nova – Shortstop
Grade – B
ETA – 2021
He’s 18-years old, so we have to take some of the numbers with a grain of salt (specifically his 22.1% SwStr% and 62.2% Pull%). That said he already stands at 6’1” while showing signs of some power (6 HR in 146 AB) and the ability to run (9 SB). It will be interesting to see how he progresses in 2019, but as he develops and matures he should be able to take the next step in his development. Don’t be surprised if he’s a B+ prospect or better at this time next year, though we’ll have to be patient as he’s a few years away from arriving.
The Next Five:
6) Josh James – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – B)
He thrived in his MLB debut, pitching to a 2.35 ERA with an 11.35 K/9 and 2.74 BB/9. Of course that was only in 23.0 IP, as he showed some control issues (3.79 BB/9) and an inability to get groundballs (39.1%) over 92.2 IP at Triple-A. There’s talk that his future could lie in the bullpen, though having already shown some success in the Majors makes it impossible to ignore him. He should get an opportunity to start this season and that will be telling towards his future.
7) Seth Beer – First Baseman/Outfielder (Grade – B-)
Houston’s 2018 first round selection (28th overall), the 21-year old played across three levels and hit 12 HR over 260 AB while showing a strong approach (8.8% SwStr% helped him to a 16.5% strikeout rate and 8.4% walk rate). There’s questions about his defensive ability and he completely lacks speed, but he has the upside of an OBP monster with plenty of power.
8) Miles Straw – Outfielder (Grade – B-)
Speed… Speed… Speed… That’s the name of the game for Straw, who stole 70 bases in 516 AB between Double and Triple-A last season. Couple that with a 12.2% walk rate and 17.1% strikeout rate (courtesy of a 3.3% SwStr%) and he has the potential to be a true difference maker at the top of the order. Sure he’s not going to hit for power, but with the potential to be an AVG/OBP (54.9% groundball rate, 46.9% Oppo%), SB and R machine he could be a true impact player.
9) J.B. Bukauskas – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – B-)
He showed the ability pitching 59.0 IP across numerous levels, but the biggest issue hanging over the 2017 first round selection is whether he’s ultimately ticketed for the bullpen. Standing 6’0” and with a violent delivery, that seems to ultimately be where his future lives. Things could change, but for now he’s going to have to prove it. That said, with a 17.5% SwStr% and 52.2% groundball rate he could be an elite reliever down the road.
10) Cionel Perez – Left-Handed Pitcher (Grade – B-)
The question for Perez is his 28.2% line drive rate, because he clearly can miss bats (10.87 K/9) and the control was more than enough (3.42 BB/9). That said he made his MLB debut as a reliever in ’18 and it’s possible that the Astros keep him in that role moving forward. Time will tell, but unless he moves in as a closer the value is going to be capped.
Sources – Fangraphs, MLB.com, MILB.com, Baseball Reference
Make sure to check out all of our 2019 Top 10 Prospect Lists:
|AL East||AL Central||AL West|
|Baltimore Orioles||Chicago White Sox||Houston Astros|
|Boston Red Sox||Cleveland Indians||Los Angeles Angels|
|New York Yankees||Detroit Tigers||Oakland A's|
|Tampa Bay Rays||Kansas City Royals||Seattle Mariners|
|Toronto Blue Jays||Minnesota Twins||Texas Rangers|
|NL East||NL Central||NL West|
|Atlanta Braves||Chicago Cubs||Arizona Diamondbacks|
|Miami Marlins||Cincinnati Reds||Colorado Rockies|
|New York Mets||Milwaukee Brewers||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Philadelphia Phillies||Pittsburgh Pirates||San Diego Padres|
|Washington Nationals||St. Louis Cardinals||San Francisco Giants|