The Astros have long been considered one of the better franchises at developing talent, though aggressively pushing for championships (and we’re not talking about the scandal) has helped to deplete the system. There are still some intriguing options, some of which could make significant leaps in the near future (especially on the pitching side). Who are the names to monitor? Who could make an impact in short order? Let’s break it down:
1) Forrest Whitley – Right-Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2020
Grade – B+
The expectations were high entering 2019, with many believing Whitley would make an impact at the highest level. Instead he battled shoulder and control issues, leading to what became a virtually lost season as he threw 59.2 IP with a 7.99 ERA and 1.73 WHIP. You can argue poor luck (57.9% strand rate, .361 BABIP), and while he maintained his swing and miss stuff the other skills weren’t there:
- Strikeouts – 12.97 K/9
- Control – 6.64 BB/9
- Groundballs – 38.5%
His size (he’s listed at 6’7”) and missed time likely contributed to the control, though it’s not like he had been elite prior to 2019 (3.34 BB/9 over 137.1 IP). Obviously it was an extremely poor year, but not one that we’re willing to push the panic button over (especially after 25.0 strong innings in the Arizona Fall League, with 32 K vs. 9 BB).
The stuff is there and post-season reports have him trying to make adjustments in his delivery to improve the command. While the home run issues aren’t going to disappear, if he can show the same control he had early in his career and stay healthy the upside is tremendous.
2) Abraham Toro – Third Baseman
ETA – Already Arrived
Grade – B
Splitting time between Double and Triple-A, as well as ultimately making his MLB debut, Toro was impressive hitting .324 with 17 HR over 442 AB in the minor leagues. Overall he showed a good approach, with a 16.0% strikeout rate and 11.3% walk rate, and he improved after being promoted:
- Double-A (435 PA) – 17.7% strikeout rate, 11.0% walk rate
- Triple-A (79 PA) – 6.3% strikeout rate, 12.7% walk rate
- Majors (89 PA) – 21.3% strikeout rate, 10.1% walk rate
Even in the Majors, despite the spike in strikeouts, he posted an impressive 7.6% SwStr% and 28.7% O-Swing%. Clearly he wasn’t overmatched, and there also is a little bit more pop in his bat to tap into as he gets more aggressive (he had 17 HR in the minors, though added 31 doubles and 4 triples). He’s 22-years old so there’s still time, and while he may ultimately be used as trade bait the upside is there.
3) Jose Urquidy – Right-Handed Pitcher
ETA – Already Arrived
Grade – B
He’s expected to open 2020 as the Astros’ fifth starter, and while the numbers were impressive in the minors last season we have to keep things in perspective:
- Strikeouts – 11.71 K/9 (16.4% SwStr%)
- Control – 1.83 BB/9
- Groundballs – 35.5%
His control is obviously his strongest skill, which allows everything to play up. However we saw both at Triple-A (1.93 HR/9) and the Majors (1.32 HR/9) that the long ball is going to be an issue. He wasn’t getting as many swings and misses in the Majors (though a 12.0% SwStr% isn’t to be ignored), so you’ll have to wonder what will happen when he isn’t on his game. Can he continue to thrive, or will he take a pounding? It’s going to be a fine line to walk, so keep that in mind.
4) Freudis Nova – Second Baseman/Third Baseman
ETA – 2022
Grade – B
Outside of Whitley it’s easy to label Nova as the highest upside prospect in the Houston system, though he needs to start showing it on the field instead of just in scouting reports. He turned 20-years old in January so there is time, but in 282 AB at Single-A he hit just .259 with 3 HR and 10 SB while his aggressive approach made it difficult to produce:
- Strikeouts – 22.7%
- SwStr% – 15.0%
- Walks – 5.0%
By all reports he has significant raw power, though it hasn’t translated to live game action and you have to wonder how much it will with the strikeout issues in the lower levels. More advanced pitching could further expose him, sending his prospect stock crashing. This could prove to be a key year in his development.
5) Jairo Solis – Right-Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2020
Grade – C+
Solis underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018, and you have to wonder if the injury contributed to the control issues that he showed prior to undergoing the procedure (5.68 BB/9 over 50.2 IP). He does have time on his side, having just turned 20-years old, and reports have him reaching 97 mph on his fastball as he works his way back to the mound. The control is going to be key, and if he can return to the pitcher he was prior to the injury he’ll have the upside to make an impact at the highest level.
The Next Five:
6) Cristian Javier – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C+) – He doesn’t throw particularly hard, but his delivery helps his pitches play up a little bit better and avoid hard contact. He needs to improve his control (4.67 BB/9 over 113.2 IP in ’19) and it will be interesting to see if more advanced hitters can barrel up the baseball a bit better (he’s only thrown 11.0 innings at Triple-A). The stuff isn’t premium, which suppresses his grade, but the upside is there to be a solid mid-rotation starter.
7) Korey Lee – Catcher (Grade – C) – A surprising first round selection in 2019 (32nd overall), Lee hit .268 with 3 HR (13 total extra base hits) over 224 AB at Low-A. He showed a solid approach (9.9% SwStr%, 10.8% walk rate) and his bat is expected to play even if he’s forced to move out from behind the plate (he’s played both spots on the corner infielder and could operate as an outfielder). The thought is that Houston will be able to help him unlock a little bit more power, though time will tell.
8) Dauri Lorenzo – Shortstop (Grade – C) – Lorenzo was one of the better international prospects in 2019, getting $1.8 million from the Astros. He turned 17 in October, but the switch hitter is expected to be a 15/15 type performer (though he could lose speed as he physically matures). Obviously it’s hard to know exactly what he’ll develop into at this stage, especially since he’s yet to appear in a professional game, but the potential is there.
9) Bryan Abreu – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C) – The question with Abreu is whether or not his arsenal fits better coming out of the bullpen, as he’s primarily a fastball-curveball pitcher. If he can develop his changeup he’d have the potential to stick in the rotation, but as is he profiles as a lights out reliever (with closer of the future potential) thanks to a mid-90s fastball and a wipeout curveball (14.1% SwStr% at Double-A last season).
10) Shawn Dubin – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C) – Dubin is one of many pitchers who could’ve earned this spot on the rankings, as the Houston system is flush with upside arms. Dubin got the nod, however, due to his ability to induce groundballs (53.5%) and miss bats (14.1% SwStr%) over 110.2 IP split between Single-A and High-A. Listed at 6’1” and 154 lbs., the obvious question is going to be whether or not he can physically hold up or if a shift to the bullpen will be needed.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, MILB.com
Make sure to check out all of our 2020 prospect rankings: