Astros Midseason Top 34 (And More) Prospects Update

Astros Midseason Top 34 (And More) Prospects Update

Apollo’s resident prospect writer checking in again. I’ve been fortunate to be able to keep up with the minor league system even more than usual this year, and there are a lot of developments that need to be talked about. I’ll be creating my own top 30+ list and providing rationale for my decisions, based on a combination of industry opinions and my own observations. This has been a really fun year to watch the young crop, and while the system still lacks true top-end talent that comes with early first round draft picks, all it takes is a few hits for sustained success. There are plenty of potential difference makers still around. Let’s talk about them. Chart above, analysis below.

NAMEPOSLEVELETA
TIER 2
1. Hunter BrownRHSPAAA2022
2. Pedro LeonOF/SSAAA2022
3. Korey LeeC/3BAA2022
4. Jeremy Pena
(end of Top 100 consideration)
SSAAA2022
5. Forrest WhitleyRHPAAA2023
6. Tyler WhitakerOFROK2026
7. Colin BarberOFA+2024
8. Peter SolomonRHSPAAA2021
9. Alex SantosRHPA2025
TIER 3
10. Freudis NovaIFA+2022
11. Jake MeyersOFAAA2021
12. Chayce McDermottRHPUnassigned2023
13. Joe Perez3BAA2023
14. Jairo SolisRHPAAA2023
15. Shawn DubinRHPAAA2021
16. Tyler IveyRHPAAA2021
17. Dauri LorenzoSSROK2026
18. Misael TamarezRHSPA2024
19. Jojanse TorresRHPAAA2022
20. Jonathan BermudezLHPAA2022
TIER 4
21. Zach DanielsOFA+2024
22. Austin HansenRHPAAA2021
23. Jordan BrewerOFA2023
24. Jaime MelendezRHPA+2024
25. Matthew BarefootOFA+2023
26. Shay Whitcomb2B/3B/SSA+2023
27. Quincy HamiltonOFUnassigned2023
28. Brett ConineRHPAAA2021
29. Jose Alberto RiveraRHPA+2022
30. Jairo LopezRHPROK2024
31. Kenedy CoronaOFA2024
32. Tyler BrownRHPA+2023
33. Yanier DiazCA2024
34. Grae KessingerSS/3B/2BAA2023

TIER 1: Expectation of multi-year all-star, franchise cornerstone.

NONE

TIER 2: Expectation of major league contribution with potential for above average production.

#1. Hunter Brown (RHSP, 22, AA, ETA: 2022)

Fastball: 60/60, Curveball: 65/70, Slider 55/55, Changeup 40/50, Command 35/45. Sits 93-96, T98.

*Tools expressed on 20/80 scale, present/potential grading.*

Hunter Brown was number 8 on my preseason watch list, and a combination of things have vaulted him into my number one position within the Astros system. For one, the graduations of Luis Garcia and Bryan Abreu have led everybody remaining to slide up, as well as the unfortunate season-ending injury to Forrest Whitley. More importantly than that, though, Brown has assuaged most of the concerns I wrote about earlier. I had not seen his new curveball at the time, which is nothing short of outstanding, earning Astros Assistant GM Pete Putila’s billing of “Glasnow-esque”.

Brown is also holding his velocity deeper into ballgames, presumably a testament to professional strength and conditioning programs as opposed to Division 2 Wayne State, where he was selected from. I’ve seen 97 MPH at pitch 60 and 95 MPH at pitch 90, where it used to taper off much faster. While I was originally skeptical of his outlook as a Major League starter, the combination of a double plus curveball and repeatable plus fastball leads me to believe Brown will stick in a major league rotation.

His 4-seam comes in heavy from a high release, generating ground balls at the bottom of the zone and whiffs at the top. There is also a heavy 2-seam fastball with more armside run in the low 90s. The slider is more vertical than most with sharp slurve-y bite from 85-88, and is a putaway pitch, especially to RHB, that helps him remain unpredictable due to its clear differentiation from the aforementioned 12-6 curve. Brown’s changeup flashes average potential, kept in the back pocket to lefties. Big, strong, and imposing, he has the potential to be a good number 2 starter at the highest level. With 14 K/9, a 50% GB rate, and a 3.3 xFIP, he should infiltrate a top 100 list sometime soon. Control + Command is the only question mark but Brown’s delivery is projectable, so strike throwing at least should improve with time. After struggling to find the zone to begin the year, Brown has walked 2 or fewer in 8 of his last 10 outings, and was just pulled up to AAA.

#2. Pedro Leon (SS/CF, 23, AAA, ETA: 2022)

Hit: 40/55, Power 60/60, Run 65/65, Field (SS) 35/45, Field (OF) 55/60, Arm 65.

Leon was the talk of the offseason, and I would say the experiment is going well so far. The Astros surprised everybody by deploying him at shortstop instead of the outfield, where his superior athleticism is allowing him to learn a brand new position as he goes. The fielding actions there are fluid and advanced for somebody who just picked up an infield glove, and the range is even above average, but he has a long way to go before he is a major league caliber shortstop. His footwork can be described nicely as a work in progress, particularly turning double plays. In the outfield, he looks natural and should be a good center fielder with enough reps. The double-plus arm helps with both positions, and from shortstop he can make some pretty fun off-balance throws without too much air under them. I think his foot speed has been undersold – Leon steals bases without it even being particularly close, and there’s a unique explosive athleticism to his jumps.

We knew Leon has big power, and that’s translated fine stateside. It’s mostly to the pull side, which is not overly concerning given his bat speed and quick hinge attack mode, and he’s sent some over the right-center power alley as well. Leon is remarkably patient, letting at-bats develop and taking everything on the edges. This inevitably leads to a high strikeout rate since he looks to do damage in all counts, but the K’s aren’t because he is overmatched. They’re just a part of the approach. In a perfect world he would get some more professional seasoning before a debut in 2022, as Leon got off to an extremely slow start after a year without baseball in 2020. The calendar mercifully flipped over to June, though, and after struggling through his first 80 affiliated at-bats Leon figured some things out. He posted a 119 wRC+ at pitcher-friendly AA despite the slow start. Everything Leon offers represents a toolsy major leaguer at premium defensive positions. He’s already made notable improvements to what used to be a messy toe tap timing mechanism, and adaptability is the name of the game for someone with so much natural talent. Called up to AAA on July 19th, Leon should compete for a starting spot in spring training next season, at whichever position he’s needed. Pedro unfortunately fractured his pinky stealing second, and may miss the rest of the AAA season.

#3. Korey Lee (C/3B, 22, AA, ETA: 2022)

Hit: 45/50, Power: 55/60, Run 50/45, Field 45/55, Arm 70.

It’s been a while since we had a catching prospect to get excited over in Houston, but Korey Lee is living up to his first round draft selection as of late. The 22 year old started the season in High-A Asheville, but after posting advanced ABs and nearly a .900 OPS through the first month of the season, he earned his promotion to AA Corpus Christi, where he’s been even better.

Lee made some fantastic offensive mechanical changes since the last time I was able to get good eyes on him, two spring trainings ago. His hands used to be busy in the load, with a pre-pitch rocking mechanism that led him to become overly long, especially to the outside fastball. His leg kick has been trimmed back as well, now a soft and controlled toe touch without as much head movement. It hasn’t effected his plus power, as Lee’s athleticism allows for a short and rotational path to the baseball, producing excellent pull side leverage and wicked bat speed. Sometimes the barrel still gets out ahead of him; the depth of bat path does not allow for as much room for error as, say, Adley Rutschman’s right-handed stroke. But when he’s able to keep it connected it becomes clear why the Astros thought he was a first round talent. A good athlete, Lee is a surprisingly quick runner for his position, which is about the last thing you look for in a catcher but a positive nonetheless. He pulls everything (50% pull rate in 2021), so he’s going to see a heavy dose of shift as his career advances, and might have to change some things as a result. It reminds me of Xander Bogaerts’ early career bat path, so Lee can either follow the Bogaerts plan and try to lift the ball more over the shift (likely), or become more balanced to all fields (probably not).

His plate discipline is nothing short of outstanding. He recognizes offspeeds very well. The contact skills are probably closer to average, but he rarely makes a true mistake at the plate. Lee could be the exceedingly rare MLB caliber backstop who walks at a 10% or better clip, strikes out less than 20%, and provides plus power.

Defensively, Lee employs the one-leg-down setup behind the plate, which he can afford to do because of the absolute cannon arm, and he maintains the diligence to hop out and throw at full strength when he’s not gunning runners out from his knees (at better than a 40% clip for his career). He looks supremely comfortable behind the plate; I have almost nothing negative to say about either his receiving motions or attitude defensively. The one-leg-down setup leaves him a little susceptible to waving and missing on a spiked slider and restricts his ability to shift his weight for a frame when the pitcher misses by a foot, but that is what it is. Catching is hard, so there is always work to do blocking and managing a staff, both of which he is not an exception for.

Lee has about as good of a shot as any to be a very good all-around major league catcher. In college, he played infield spots as an underclassman and occasionally shows up there as a pro, so there’s some versatility there that the Astros are always so happy to have.

#4. Jeremy Pena (SS/2B, 23, AAA, ETA: 2022)

Hit: 45/55, Power: 40/50, Run 55/55, Field 60/60, Arm 55.

There isn’t much to say about Pena that hasn’t already been said, due to a wrist surgery that will keep him sidelined for what would have been a very telling AAA season one way or another. A plus defender at shortstop with an advanced plate approach, his power had been improving steadily until his injury. He has the highest floor in the system & could play an MLB shortstop defensively and get on base at a respectable clip by opening day next year if he had to. The big question mark is the offensive profile as a whole. Pena slashed well in the lower minors and the Dominican Winter League while his new swing mechanics and exit velocities indicate a solid chance for 15 dingers, especially with the help of the Crawford Boxes. Unfortunately, the wrist fracture means all we can do is wait and see, as he will have the opportunity to prove himself again beginning in the Arizona Fall League. With the AAA season being extended by 10 games, I’ve been informed there’s a small chance the Astros shoot for an accelerated timeline to give Pena some live game action before season’s end.

The top 4 are nearly interchangeable, with valid arguments for all at the number 1 spot in the system.

#5. Forrest Whitley (RHP, 23, AAA, ETA: 2023)

Fastball: 65/65, Curve: 60/60, Cutter: 55/55, Changeup: 60/60, Slider 55/55., Command: 35/40. Sits 93-96, T98.

This one is upsetting to write. After what was essentially two lost seasons due to shoulder injuries and elbow pain, Forrest Whitley finally underwent UCL reconstructive surgery in spring of 2021. As my friend and fellow prospect writer Spencer Morris said it, this feels like death by a thousand cuts. All of the tools and individual pitch grades still hold true, and there is always a chance Whitley bounces back from Tommy John stronger for it like so many pitchers before him. It could provide him the opportunity to fine-tune his physical conditioning without worrying about the other aspects of pitching, and finally establish a foundation to stay healthy in the future. He will probably be on the Kopech track, which means full strength around 18 months post-surgery would be the goal, and late summer of 2022 is an aggressive but possible bullpen timeline.

It could also be the final indicator that the raw stuff, volatile weight fluctuations, and general fragility need to be managed by way of sliding into a bullpen role permanently (I sort of doubt it, but it has to be said), which would cut down on his value dramatically. I’ve always rooted for Whitley, and I will continue to do so in his rehab progress. He was approaching MLB ready just before his surgery, and should contribute when healthy. He will be 24 or 25 when he finally makes his MLB debut, which is not young but also not horribly behind the curve. Tommy John is close to an exact science at this point, but the explosive arsenal needs to come back in full for him to be successful again, with still more work to do for the frontline starter outlook he’s been billed. It’s not the surgery alone that’s so concerning, and I’m higher on Whitley than most, but injuries are piling up.

#6. Tyler Whitaker (OF, 18, ROK, ETA: 2026)

Hit: 25/50, Power: 40/60, Run: 60/55, Field: 35/55, Arm: 60

At 6’4, Whitaker has three plus tools as an outfielder in his foot speed, raw power, and cannon arm. The Astros first selection from the third round of the 2021 draft was MLB.com’s number 37 overall prospect, and they jumped on him at pick 87, expectedly offering over-slot money to pry him from his Arizona commitment. He also fits the position player philosophy the Astros have employed for years now; loud tools on up-the-middle defenders who can move off of those premium positions if needed. If you want another example of one, he’s right after Whitaker on this list. The Astros went for ceiling, of which Whitaker has plenty.

I’ll be able to get a better idea on Whitaker when he hits affiliated ball in order to evaluate the hit tool, but from what is available he shows premium barrel speed and a surprisingly quiet weight transfer that should allow him to focus on other aspects of improving his contact rate from day one. It looks like a future of monster pop in the right handed stroke, especially as he gets stronger (104 MPH EV at present). I have seen reports that he struggles with breaking stuff, but there will be no shortage of things to work on.

Center field might be a stretch long term if much more mass is added, but there is nothing in Tyler’s makeup that suggests he can’t hack it out there, especially through the minor leagues. It may just all make more sense in right field as his size, power, and arm talent are reminiscent of Hunter Renfroe. Keith Law compared him to a right handed Nolan Gorman (STL’s No. 3 prospect and MLB.com’s 38th overall) before the draft. One could argue that Whitaker has a chance to be a more polished hitter, retaining more general athleticism + foot speed than my own comparison, but Renfroe-adjacent as a CF/RF tweener would be a solid outcome.

#7. Colin Barber (OF, 20, A+, ETA: 2024)

Hit: 30/50, Power: 35/55, Run 60/55, Field 45/55, Arm 45.

Barber has one of the more advanced hitting approaches and on-base profiles I’ve ever seen from a high school selection outside of the first round. The Astros went over-slot to sign him and it’s easy to see why. He may actually take too many pitches. He also uses the whole field, but displays mostly pull-side power. The barrel-to-ball skills are not elite, but he has a nearly perfect understanding of the strike zone, and did at the age of 19. In High-A Asheville, he posted a .365 OBP and an .818 OPS as one of the younger players around, in an extremely small sample. The year before; a .387 OBP in rookie ball fresh out of high school. Young players get punished for knowing the strike zone well, as lower minors umpires tend to call line-to-line every now and then. Barber and fellow Tourist outfielder Matthew Barefoot (No. 26) both fit that description.

Barber has been compared to Alex Bregman for his competitiveness and work ethic by multiple Astros employees. He has a smooth, beautiful lefty swing that is compact to the ball, and as he gets stronger and more physically mature he could develop into someone with 20 home run pop and the ability to play center field. His skillset reminds me very much of Cavan Biggio when he was a farmhand, although some of the utility value is swapped out for athleticism. He underwent shoulder surgery in early July and will be shelved for a while, but is still ahead of the development curve and would be my favorite in this range to crack a top 100 list within the next few years.

#8. Peter Solomon (RHSP, 24, AAA, ETA: 2021)

Fastball: 55/55, Slider 50/50, Curveball: 55/60, Cutter: 55/55, Changeup: 50/50, Command: 35/45. Sits 92-94, T96

I am very high on Peter Solomon, and higher on his curveball specifically than most of the other writers I’ve talked to or read. Solomon was a 4th round selection out of 2017, lost a season due to Tommy John surgery, and spent his 2020 at the alternate site. He is one of the most often asked about Astros prospects in trades, and they also selected him to the 40-man roster to protect him in Rule 5 this past offseason. He even made his debut in 2021, three scoreless relief outings. Brent Strom is a firm believer in cutter-catch (making his pitchers throw each other cutters while warming up or as a standalone drill) and Solomon suddenly started throwing that cutter as a real offering after a year at the alternate site under Strom’s guidance. That development gives Solomon a really intriguing 5-pitch arsenal. Currently, he is starting games in AAA and needs his control to show up more consistently, but raw stuff is playing up and the righty looks the part of an MLB backend starter as early as next year, with some mid-rotation ceiling.

Solomon’s fastball is an offering with some late running life, coming in around 93 MPH with work to do on location, but gets whiffs at every level. He is not a high spin guy but the delivery is clean, low effort, and there may even be a tiny bit more room for velocity the further removed we get from TJ surgery. His slider is an average big league look, and plays well at the AAA level. The new cutter comes in around 89-90 MPH with just enough cut to slide underneath a barrel or induce rollovers from a RHB. What I believe will make Solomon an MLB career is his curveball, a 12-6 hammer in the low 80s that he is still learning to tunnel off his fastball. The curveball is already a true weapon to lefties, occasionally tying them up in fits, but there’s a lot of opportunity to tunnel off his fastball to same-handedness hitters. He has never thrown 100 innings in a season of his professional career, so a full-ish season of attacking hitters in AAA should provide him with plenty of takeaways into major league spring training next season. Even after his injury and the lost 2020 season, there is still a lot of upside left in the 24 year old.

In the AAA West league, Solomon ranks 3rd overall in ERA, third in strikeouts and WHIP, and 2nd in opponent batting average of qualified pitchers. I already liked his outlook to begin the year, but Solomon’s stock has soared after such a strong showing with a two level jump.

#9. Alex Santos (RHP, 19, A, ETA: 2025)

Fastball: 55/65, Slider: 35/55, Curve: 40/60, Command: 30/45. Sits 92-95, T98.

Santos was a consensus top 60 prospect in the 2020 draft, but fell slightly to the Astros with their first pick, at 72nd overall. As a prep pitcher, he was sitting in the low 90s with a projectable plus slider. Santos had repeatable, fairly low-effort mechanics that indicated a starter future, and some of the highest aggregate spin rates in the draft – 2600 RPM on a fastball with 94% efficiency. He was a very Astros selection.

His development has also been quite Astros. Santos is young to be in A-ball already, but in mid-June he was thrown into the Astros tandem starter program, where he is expected to provide 3-4 innings an outing.

As noted in the video above, Santos has experienced a real velo spike from his high school days. He topped at 95 as a high schooler, and is up to 98 a year later, sitting around 94. The slider comes in way harder than it used to. The fastball also has more armside run than I remember seeing a year ago, boring into right-handed hitters. His curve has developed into a big sweeper with late break, almost always breaking more than you think it will. I am inclined to put it ahead of his slider long term.

Santos looks a little disturbingly reliever-ish in his tandem starts given his relatively early draft selection, reaching back, throwing with more violence and effort than he used to, and seemingly with less of an idea where the ball is going. I did not expect for the command to be this shaky. In fact, Santos arm action looks more than a little bit like the old Josh James. His fastball shape also doesn’t line up particularly well with a modern-day left handed bat path. He looks more filled out, less athletic, and therefore perhaps less projectable as a rotation piece, but he is only 19 with a world of development in front of him. If this is the “throw the shit out of the ball” phase, then refinement can still come any time.

TIER 3: Players who should make the Majors, possible starters/solid contributors.

#10. Freudis Nova (IF, 21, A+, ETA: 2022)

Hit: 30/50, Power 50/55, Run 55/50, Field 40/45, Arm 70.

Nova’s development is going the wrong direction. Tabbed as a former top 3 organization prospect by MLB.com, Nova is an extremely toolsy, young international signing from 2016. Originally, he was thought to be a projectable, athletic shortstop with excellent raw bat-to-ball skills and a Carlos Correa type cannon from the left side of the infield. The Astros put him on the 40-man roster in order to protect him in the Rule 5 Draft this past year, so despite being 21 he will be looked at to contribute sooner rather than later. Nowadays, he looks a little bit different than in 2016.

With similarities drawn everywhere from Hanley Ramirez to Domingo Leyba to Gilbert Lara, Nova got huge over the last two seasons. I was unable to watch him for much of 2020 for obvious reasons, but the reports that he had physically matured were not exaggerated. He is listed 35 pounds heavier than he was the last time I saw him, and while it’s mostly good weight that provides more power, there are notable downsides. His lateral range has suffered defensively, and he appears to profile more like a corner infield piece than a true shortstop – something in the late stage Jonathan Villar archetype. The modern day second baseman is often your worst defensive infielder with the best bat, so he could one day fill that role as well, but Nova’s cannon arm seems like a waste there.

Far more worrisome than the positional fit are his struggles at the plate in High-A Asheville. Nova is slashing .192/.259/.295 in 170 ABs at time of writing, with a 36% K rate. That…sucks. He has always been hyper-aggressive at the plate to a fault, not accepting walks and swinging at pitchers’ pitches. His contact skills carried him throughout every level he’s played, so here’s hoping he hasn’t run into a wall. Notably, he is walking at a better clip than he ever has before, so maybe the lack of production is a result of an adjustment period. He could be temporarily uncomfortable with letting at-bats develop but committed to changing his hitting philosophy, which he needs. The back half of the season will be crucial for determining Nova’s standing in the organization, and his 40-man roster spot. The former top prospect is beginning to pull himself out of the extended slump, hitting .273 with a .785 OPS in July.

#11. Jake Meyers (OF, 25, AAA, ETA: 2021)

Hit: 50/50, Power: 50/50, Run: 60/60, Field 60/60, Arm 55.

Jake Meyers is up here for his floor, and he’s MLB ready right now. Jake Marisnick was a top prospect for years, and Jake Meyers can do all of the things Marisnick did while carrying what I believe to be a better hit tool. Already the best outfield defender left in the system and capable of playing all three spots, Meyers figured some things out at the plate. After two fine but unspectacular offensive seasons Jake broke out this year, slashing .339/.401/.608 with 16 bombs and a 143 wRC+(!) over 275 plate appearances in Sugar Land. He’s finding power and tapping into it, which wildly changes his stock as a prospect. I don’t think it’s a fluke either.

Meyers has a solid up-the-middle plate approach and uses all fields with power going everywhere. His exit velos are high, and the ball carries even to the right center gap, where he’s hit some deeeep oppo shots. He attacks the fastball well, demolishes breaking balls when they’re left up and has a simple, upward barrel path behind a rotational approach. He tends to struggle against 95+, but there’s less of those to get used to in AAA. In the field, his long strides and above average speed turn him into a ball hawk, able to track down balls in the gaps – he’s made some fine diving plays in all directions. The former pitcher’s arm is above average and accurate with true carry.

It’s easy to tab Meyers as a really good fourth outfielder, especially because of his ability to play all three defensive positions and play them well. There’s a shot to be a solid starter as well. Unfortunately for him, both Myles Straw and Chas McCormick have been playing well, otherwise he would be cashing major league checks by now. Meyers serves as good outfield depth currently, sitting fourth overall in the AAA West League in wRC+. He is clearly the best position player on a good AAA team.

Edit: Myles Straw was traded, and Meyers has been called up. Well deserved.

#12. Chayce McDermott (RHSP, 23, ETA: 2023)

Fastball: 55/60, Slider: 45/55, Curve: 40/50, Changeup: 35/40, Command: 45/55. Sits 92-95, T96.

I really liked the McDermott pick. Seems to me like a potential late blooming starter. The righty was selected with George Springer’s compensation pick at the end of the fourth round, out of Ball State. McDermott is fairly old as far as draft picks go, about to turn 23, but there is plenty of ceiling yet to realize. He experienced both a velocity bump and some refinement in fastball command over his final year at Ball State, jumping from 89-92 into the mid 90s fairly consistently, and for innings at a time. He’s 6’3 and has a big mound presence with an athletic frame (Memphis Grizzlies Sean McDermott’s younger brother) that can still add a bit more. His arm is loose and the mechanics are easy, leading me to believe he can achieve above average starter’s control despite the mid-90s heat he has come along with – that’s the key point for my fairly high ranking, that McDermott can take advantage of professional strength programs to hold velocity and advance as a long-levered strike thrower.

McDermott’s major league outlook is going to hinge almost entirely on his breaking stuff. He has decent feel for spin on both a slider and a curveball, the former having sharp downward bite and the latter being an old school 12-6er that he can leave up in the zone at times. I think the slider profiles best as a strikeout pitch, with the curveball as-is looking more like something to keep hitters off balance, but they both need to get much better. He profiles rather similarly to Hunter Brown as a draftee (large, hard throwing RHP with decent sliders and not much else, I would argue McDermott’s command looks to be more polished but he’s also older), before Brown developed his curveball, so I look forward to seeing whether or not the Astros can add to their list of recent success stories teaching breaking balls (H. Brown, Garcia, Urquidy, Tamarez, LMJ, Abreu, etc). McDermott should lock in as a starter long term, but could advance extremely quickly as a reliever if needed.

#13. Joe Perez (3B, 21, AA, ETA: 2023)

Hit: 35/45, Power: 50/60, Run 40/40, Field 40/45, Arm 65.

Perez has had a really tough start to his professional career. A two-way prospect out of high school, he was reaching the upper 90s as a pitcher, but the Astros liked him even more as a hitter and took him in the second round of the 2017 draft. Since then, he’s had shoulder issues and elbow surgeries and has barely seen the diamond at all. 2021 is providing the first full season of baseball for Perez in his career so far. And I mean, maybe the Astros were onto something four years ago. Perez slashed .354/.413/.707 with a 193 wRC+ in High-A over 110 plate appearances, after a 152 wRC+ over 60 more in Fayetteville.

Perez has massive pop, some of the best power left in the system to the pull side, evident in his 15 PA/HR ratio across A and A+ ball this season. After tearing the cover off the ball at those levels to begin the year, he was pulled up to AA to join a then-stacked Hooks roster as one of the youngest players there. He’s hitting second in that lineup, which I think is indicative of how the Astros feel about the bat. But power is what he always had, and what’s vaulted him up my list is the shown ability to stick the barrel on the ball consistently for the first time. Watching his time in Fayetteville and Asheville, his at-bats stood out as professional and damaging. His swing is controlled and his contact rate is totally fine, not the pull-happy spinout I’d been hearing about from years past. This is my first real exposure to Perez, like many others, and there hasn’t been much to doubt. Not to overreact to 150 plate appearances, but this is a second round pick who is still only 21 and basically just now starting his career. I’m good with writing off his poor 2019 after TJ if you are. He can use a lot more time seeing quality breaking balls, but that’s what he’s in AA for.

There are some hustle questions. Defensively, Perez’s range at third base is probably below average and I’ve seen smoked grounders eat him up, but the great arm can help mask some of that. I would be interested to see if the Astros want to experiment with some right field work in the future. Bregman will be around for a while, even if Perez’s bat does end up being the real thing. The glove doesn’t add defensive value at third base, and while Perez isn’t particularly quick his decent underway speed and cannon arm could play well – and be entertaining – from corner outfield spots, especially right field.

#14. Jairo Solis (RHSP, 21, AAA, ETA: 2024)

Fastball: 60/60, Slider: 50/50, Curveball: 60/60, Changeup: 40/45, Command: 30/45. Sits 92-95, T97.

Solis just went under the knife for his second Tommy John surgery since 2018. It’s a tough development for one of three pitchers in the system with the raw stuff to emerge as a frontline starter, and means that he will essentially have to start over at 23 after his rehab. He has never pitched above 50 innings in A ball, when he was 18. The raw stuff is as good as anybody else (big Jaden Hill comparisons) and normally he would be inside the top 10, but Solis needs to be moved down after a second UCL operation. When healthy, he is an exciting prospect with a mid-level rotation outlook due to his raw stuff, long levers, and what I thought to be an easy delivery on the eye test. Two UCL surgeries puts a little doubt on that last part. Here’s hoping he gets there.

#15. Shawn Dubin (RHP, 25, AAA, ETA: 2021)

Fastball: 60/60, Slider: 70/70, Curveball: 50/55, Command 40/50. Sits 94-96, T98.

Dubin is in the tandem starter program as well, and the former NAIA product is a unique pitcher to say the least. Last year, he was listed at 6’1 and 150 pounds, and looked like it. Since then, he’s put on around 20 pounds and is generally regarded as more sustainable in terms of durability, although has still missed large chunks of this year to injury. He also more consistently stays around the mid-90s now, even relatively deep into a pitch count. What makes him really fun is a slider out of hell. I wanted to put a 70 grade on it, but don’t want to oversell it. He throws it in the upper 80’s from his slightly funky delivery, with the release coming from behind his ear, and it bites sharply with crazy horizontal movement, to the point where he needs some extra work controlling its break.

Dubin has a future in middle relief and there’s a chance he could advance into high leverage opportunities. His pitch mix is one that does much better against right handed batters than lefties, so multi-inning relief may be a stretch but is possible.

#16. Tyler Ivey (RHP, 25, AAA, ETA: 2021)

Fastball: 55/55, Curveball: 60/60, Slider 45/45, Changeup 40/45, Cutter 45/50, Command 40/40. Sits 90-92, T95.

Ivey made his first major league start this year and threw well against the Rangers, although his velocity was down a tick. That turned out to be meaningful: Ivey was quickly shut down after some UCL damage was revealed from all the way back in 2019. While there is not evidence of new damage and he is attempting to avoid surgery, he is shelved for the remainder of this season in all likelihood, although in an interview with Apollo Ivey noted that returning before season’s end is the rehab goal if all goes well.

When healthy, Ivey is a curveball-first starter with a deceptive old school delivery, using his spinny fastball at the top of the zone despite its relative lack of velocity. He has been popped before for using foreign substances in 2019, and frankly you’ve gotta be pretty egregious to get suspended for it in the minors before the whole crackdown, so there’s an added uncertainty on top of the health stuff. I don’t think it’s silly to wonder what he looks like in today’s MLB with the new rule. Regardless, Ivey as we know him seems destined for a bullpen role, as a change-of-pace guy who can keep hitters off balance, and I don’t want to undersell how effective the profile projects for that. He’s shown he can start games as well, but does not project as a starter on a contender.

#17. Dauri Lorenzo (SS/2B, 18, ROK, ETA: 2026)

Hit: 25/55, Power: 25/45, Run: 60/55, Field: 45/55, Throw: 50.

Projecting teenage international signings is incredibly tough, and not something I am as confident in as others. Lorenzo is regarded by industry experts as a projectable middle infielder. He’s already put on 20 pounds since signing at 16 and second base appears to be in the cards going forward. The swing is short and compact from both sides while maintaining lift. He barrels up baseballs impressively for his age, which leads to the generous hit and power projections as well as the signing bonus. A switch hitting middle infielder is enticing for many reasons, and if Lorenzo can stick at shortstop with a fringy arm long-term that would be even better.

#18. Misael Tamarez (RHSP, 21, A, ETA: 2024)

Fastball: 50/55, Changeup: 55/60, Slider: 35/50, Command 40/55, Sits 92-94 T95.

Signed internationally in 2018, Tamarez has yet to appear on anybody’s Top 30 list aside from Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs. I think he should. He continues to take important steps forward in his development, and started from a solid base. At 6’1 and over 200 pounds, he has a strong and durable starter’s frame. His fastball is cautiously approaching the mid-90s with a repeatable, heavy delivery and what appears to be some cut. The changeup killed hitters early in his career and can be a carrying pitch, as Tamarez has a very similar look when compared to fellow farmhand Luis Garcia at the same age. He should stick as a starter going forward.

He’s started throwing a slider this year, which he did not have last year – in the past, it was the fastball and changeup only. It looks fine as-is, and in my video above you can even see a very good example of it via the first pitch. As should be expected from a 21 year old developing a brand new pitch, he has lots of time to hone it, but there’s nothing in Tamarez’s delivery that says that slider can’t be a real offering at higher levels, given time. He needed a third pitch to project as a starter and found one. Like Garcia, he looks the part of a moldable 93-95 workhorse with a plus changeup and a competitive nature on the mound.

#19. Jojanse Torres (RHP, 25, AAA, ETA: 2022)

Fastball: 60/60, Slider: 55/55, Changeup: 45/45, Command: 30/35. Sits 94-97 T100.

The Astros love signing older international pitchers that other teams overlook, and Torres is one of the latest to fit that trend, signing at the age of 22 after transitioning from shortstop. Unfortunately, he recently underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone chip from his elbow. He went on the 60-day IL in late June and figures to miss at least two months. He will compete for a bullpen position next year, and will likely serve as AAA depth.

Torres is an absolute flamethrower with strikeout stuff – up to 100 with the fastball and high 80s with the slider. He has also been a tandem starter in AAA, occasionally going 4+ innings. I feel confident in asserting that his future is an MLB bullpen, as Torres just does not have the command or feel to be a major league starter. His fastball command is nearly nonexistent, and often times he has to resort to the slider as a get-me-over pitch, which he seems to have a better feel for putting in the zone. Still,100 plays at any level, and if Torres shows up healthy to a fall league + 2022 spring training he should serve as bullpen insurance. He’s fun to watch, and pitches with fire and swagger – so would you, if you threw that hard.

#20. Jonathan Bermudez (LHSP, 25, AA, ETA: 2022)

Fastball: 50/55, Slider: 50/55, Changeup: 55/55, Command: 60/60, Sits 90-92 T93.

Drafted in the 23rd round of the 2018 draft, Jon Bermudez has a starter’s profile and may be yet another Astros arm to come out of nowhere. Big and repeatable, he’s a little old to still be in AA, which contributes to his low ranking compared to production. That’s how things are when an entire season got cancelled, though. With the best K/BB ratio in the system, he’s tied with Brett Conine for my best command grades, both present and future. The only way for him to improve on his command would be to locate the slider better, which he can accomplish. He’s striking out batters at a surprising clip in AA so far given his arsenal (nearly 15 K/9), and should advance quickly.

Throwing from a deceptive arm slot, Bermudez has 3 pitches. An armside-running fastball sets the table, with horizontal movement brought on by low, whippy arm action. He uses a changeup often to righties and a slider to lefties, as you would expect. The changeup comes in around 82 MPH with a lot of downward tumble and righties tend to bite on it below the zone. He locates his horizontally-focused slider well, only having the occasional trouble putting it in that perfect chase spot. Filling up the zone is not a problem with his ridiculous 65% strike rate, and he uses his fastball, perhaps average on its own, very well off his better offerings. Being a lefty always helps, and if this production is legit Bermudez has the outlook of an innings-eating backend starter, anywhere from Eric Lauer to J.A Happ. He currently leads the Hooks in strikeouts, and should be tested in AAA before year’s end.

TIER 4: Potential to make the Major Leagues with positive development, or future role player in the MLB.

#21. Zach Daniels (OF, 22, A+, ETA: 2024)

Hit: 30/40, Power: 70/70, Run: 60/60, Field: 40/50, Throw: 45

Daniels has the best raw power left in the system, and truly murders baseballs when he makes contact. He posted a 33 K% in Fayetteville to go along with a 105 wRC+ before being called up to High-A in late July. Maybe the best combination of raw tools left in the system, Daniels will go as far as his ability to make consistent contact does.

That ball was 116 MPH off the bat.

Daniels’ swing is much different than it was a year ago. He drew early comparisons to Giancarlo Stanton, not because that is the expected production, but because he employed a similar closed off stride with the tucked-in hands. While the hands remain closely tucked to turn and burn, his timing mechanism is very different, a short stride and soft toe tap that no longer dives towards the plate. He stands more upright than he did at Tennessee, with the hands no longer so far down. I have Daniels ranked higher than I would have a year ago, because the ability to alter his swing mechanics and still put up above-average production in his first professional season bodes well for his ability to adapt in the coming years. The strikeout rate is concerning but expected.

Defensively, he is currently being used primarily as a center fielder, but the average arm strength and general defensive instincts make me believe he will be more suited for left field duties at higher levels. He could be a good left fielder, and maybe an average defensive outfielder at all three spots.

#22. Austin Hansen (RHP, 24, AAA, ETA: 2021)

Fastball: 55/55, Slurve: 60/60, Changeup: 50/50, Command: 35/40. Sits 93-95, T96.

Hansen is an MLB ready reliever despite never really pitching above High-A ball, but went on the IL in late May for 6 weeks. I’d bet he’s ahead of Ralph Garza Jr in the pecking order, but was shelved when need arose. The slurve is a money pitch, and best offering. Delivery, movement, and arm angle were Carson Fulmer-ish in college, but now Hansen’s plan of attack with the offspeed especially is reminiscent of Charlie Morton’s curveball. It plays off a fastball that is above average, mostly due to his high-effort delivery and arm slot causing an unusual attack angle.

Hansen profiles as a solid middle relief option as soon as yesterday, although I don’t think anybody would oppose some more seasoning in AAA either, given his lack of upper minors innings logged. He is currently a starter with the Skeeters, where he sits 92 and brushes 94. It’s more like mid-90s in single inning relief. The control can get better, but Hansen’s violent delivery and fiery mound presence make it hard to believe it will ever be good.

#23. Jordan Brewer (OF, 23, A, ETA: 2023)

Hit: 30/40, Power: 55/55, Run: 70/70, Field: 45/60, Throw: 65

Brewer joined Zach Daniels in Fayetteville as toolsy, athletic outfielders with approach concerns and necessary hitting adjustments to make. Speed is his carrying tool, while raw power goes Daniels’ way. Selected as a collegiate Junior out of Michigan, Brewer lost one season of affiliated ball to the pandemic and another to a knee surgery, so he’s temporarily behind where he should be. Like Daniels, he strikes out way too much and Brewer seems to lack the same feel for the zone. Still, the Michigan product has a high floor as a defensive outfielder with power, and double-plus straight line speed. He displays a willingness to hit any ball where it’s pitched, but I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that there is something disjointed in his weight transfer when he makes the decision to swing. Regardless of my own opinions, Brewer’s 91 MPH average exit velocity is effectively elite. All of Brewer’s tools should move him through the system quickly, with a fourth outfielder outlook.

#24. Jaime Melendez (RHP, 19, A+, ETA: 2024)

Fastball: 55/60, Slider 50/60, Curveball 40/50, Changeup 35/50, Command 30/40. Sits 93-95 T95.

Melendez is a young, undersized starter with four distinct pitches. He’s listed at 5’8, and throws the hell out of the ball from a high 3/4ths arm angle. Short pitchers have succeeded before, but they’re usually at a disadvantage when it comes to projectability, especially when they are as high-effort as Melendez is. If you’ve seen Gage Jump’s projection for the 2021 draft, you have a fairly good idea on Melendez. Being a short pitcher is weird, but both of them have a unique combination of height and a fairly low release point with some vertical ride that gives hitters fits at the top of the zone – as if the fastball is rising. His fastball/slider combination both look to be major league offerings, and he mixes in a loopy 12-6 curve as well as a fall-off-the-table changeup to lefties.

Melendez is roughly the same age as No. 9 Alex Santos and was recently bumped up to High-A Asheville, where he’s experienced some control issues in a small sample. He relies mostly on his 95 MPH heater to blow right by people and uses it at the top of the zone often, while the solid mix of four pitches bodes well for his future at higher levels. There is no windup, as Jaime pitches from the stretch only. His mechanics are not worrisome, and while he throws with enough effort that a starter’s future is not certain, he isn’t hurting himself either. Marcus Stroman comparisons are inevitable because of his height, but Melendez looks like a strikeout arm through and through. He’ll stick in the tandem starter program for now with a middle relief profile, and backend rotation potential if command improves.

#25. Matthew Barefoot (OF, 23, A+, ETA: 2023)

Hit: 35/45, Power: 50/55, Run: 60/60, Field: 45/60, Throw: 60

A collegiate pitcher-turned-OF, Barefoot is destroying the ball this year across A and A+ ball, putting up a wRC+ of 159 and a .280 ISO over almost 300 PA. That’s insane. He overhauled his swing over the 2020 “break” and it appears to be paying off big time. He had speed (17 steals already) and defense as calling cards already, so if the bat really comes around he has among the higher upsides in the system. His plate discipline impressed me early on, as he seemed to have one of the better ideas of the zone in the system, along with Barber. As he advances, I would look for his BB% to increase by virtue of his patience, but as Matthew began crushing the baseball he also started swinging more freely. Barefoot’s big test will be the jump from A+ to AA ball, and if he passes he will fly up my rankings.

#26. Shay Whitcomb (IF, 22, A+, ETA: 2023)

Hit: 40/55, Power: 35/50, Run: 50/50, Field: 40/40, Throw: 45

When drafted with the Astros last (5th round) pick in 2020, I wrote that Whitcomb would move through the system quickly because he was a safe pick and a polished hitter. After posting a 125 wRC+ over his first 40 games of pro ball, he was promoted to High-A Asheville. Whitcomb continues to produce there. There are shades of DJ Lemahieu in his playstyle and mannerisms (he’s sort of built like him too, at 6’3/200), not that he is expected to reach that sort of peak. But the dude can hit and looks like a high-floor, stick-first infielder who can play a couple positions. He played shortstop every season at UC San Diego, but lacks the glove to stick as a major league shortstop. He can be an offensively inclined 2B/3B, much like Lemahieu was when he was coming up. He’s swiped 19 bags in 60 games and shown more pop as a pro than I would have expected originally, with 12 home runs.

#27. Quincy Hamilton (OF, 23, A+, 2023)

Hit: 45/55, Power: 35/40, Run, 55/55, Field: 40/50, Throw: 45

Wright State is a factory for producing professional hitters, and fifth year senior Quincy Hamilton (along with Tyler Black) headlined their crop for the 2021 draft. Hamilton put up video game numbers against the collegiate competition; .374/.573/.771 with 65 RBI and 15 HR in 48 games. He also walked nearly twice as much as he struck out (56/32).

So, how did such a prolific college hitter become available to the Astros in the 5th round? Well, there are some real questions about the translation of his power production to the professional level. His swing plane is remarkably flat, and most of his 15 home runs last year came in Wright State’s home (small) ballpark. Hamilton played center field almost exclusively in college but looks like the ideal left fielder for today’s MLB, with work to do at both positions. Like most left fielders who can run a little bit, he would be fine in center field, just isn’t made for it. Hamilton has an incredibly high floor by virtue of his outstanding plate discipline and what looks like plus contact ability.

I would be interested to see if the Astros push him aggressively and take his offensive profile as it is, or if they view him as a swing change candidate, leveraging his pitch recognition/plate discipline in order to try and create a slugger by retraining the bat path. Either way, Hamilton should be a productive hitter at all levels of the minors, with his ceiling determined by power potential.

#28. Brett Conine (RHSP, 24, AAA, ETA: 2021)

Fastball: 40/40, Slider: 45/45, Changeup: 60/60, Command 60/60, Sits 88-91 T93.

If Conine hadn’t pitched the day before, I think he would have made his MLB debut in Ryan Hartman’s place during the Astros 20 game in 20 day streak. The pitchability-inclined RHP is about as good as he’s ever going to get, and has always been a part of these lists for his floor. He can eat innings everywhere, and currently does so in AAA with a 66% strike rate. He just goes out and attacks hitters. A college closer at Cal State Fullerton, the Astros made Conine a starter and he briefly experienced a velo uptick that made me think he could follow the Jose Urquidy major league track. This season, I haven’t seen him come anywhere close to the 96 MPH he’d been advertised to top out at in years past, and in fact he seems to live more in the upper-80s. If the velo uptick is possible through gas camp, that’s the path for him. I’ve never seen spin data other than FanGraphs 2550 RPM billing, and the fastball’s vertical movement does seem to miss bats more than you would expect given its low velocity.

Still, his command is excellent, as is the changeup, and he locates his below average slider extremely well to keep hitters off balance. While my hopes for the velo uptick advancing Conine to a good strike-throwing backend starter are on the backburner for now, he still looks like a long guy that will make the MLB and compete. The primary worry is that the fastball will get jumped on at the next level, something the similarly-styled Jose Urquidy overcame by finding 95 out of nowhere.

#29 Jose Alberto Rivera (RHP, 24, A+, ETA: 2022)

Fastball: 65/65, Curveball: 50/55, Split: 50/50, Command: 30/35. Sits 93-96, T100.

I said that 100 plays everywhere when I wrote about Jojanse Torres, so it would be hypocritical of me to not at least discuss Rivera. The issue is that he hasn’t actually hit triple digits or particularly close to it in some time now. Selected by the Angels in the Rule 5 draft this past offseason, Rivera experienced difficulties obtaining his visa among Coronavirus complications. As a result, he showed up to Angels spring training late and out of shape, unable to throw strikes and topping out closer to 93. The Angels were not in a position like the 2019 Mariners were with Yohan Ramirez, so they returned Rivera when it became clear he would not be able to help them by opening day.

In Asheville, he’s in the mid to high 90s once again and the fastball’s explosive life is more or less back. Notably, I haven’t seen him hit 98 or better, which is a necessity for his MLB bullpen outlook. He will never be a strike thrower but has three average or better pitches and maybe the best fastball in the system if he can get back to 2019 form. Asheville is a really tough place to pitch in, and advanced metrics are not readily available, so I would mostly ignore the ERA north of 7 in a small sample.

#30. Jairo Lopez (RHP, 20, ROK, ETA: 2024)

Fastball: 50/50, Slider: 55/55, Curve: 50/60, Changeup: 35/35, Command: 35/40. Sits 91-94, T95.

Lopez is fairly undersized at 5’11, and I am lower on his ability to stick in a rotation than others because of his overly long arm action as a tandem starter. But he’s been up to 95 before and both of his breaking balls spin close to 3k RPM, so he’s gotta be talked about. Lopez is also only 20, so he has plenty of time to clean things up if a starter future is the plan.

Both breaking balls show plus potential, with the slider looking like it takes the cake for now. I don’t think the changeup will ever get to the point where it would be a better idea than his breaking balls, even to lefties. With a little more consistent velocity near the top of his range, Lopez has a spinny offspeed-first relief profile as a backup plan, and could be very valuable in that role.

#31. Kenedy Corona (OF, 21, A, ETA: 2024)

Hit: 35/50, Power: 35/40, Run: 60/60, Field: 40/45, Throw: 45

And now for a different Mets trade return, the Jake Marisnick one. Corona is fun as hell to watch. He isn’t playing as well as you would like to see in Fayetteville right now, striking out too much relative to his 6 BB%. But hidden in there is a plus contact tool and a twitchy tweener OF with an intriguing line drive approach. And anecdotally, he’s getting pretty unlucky every time I’ve been able to tune in, lining out or smoking grounders right to people. He recognizes inside-outside well and adjusts the bat path accordingly, using all fields but looking to pull the ball primarily. Corona also runs well, and looks to be able to stick the bat on the ball as he advances through the system. He’s here ahead of Luis Santana (who has a similar offensive profile, arguably a better hit tool) for the chance that Corona sticks in center field or becomes a valuable defensive corner outfielder, while Santana is stuck as a projectionless second baseman who could maybe play third sometimes.

#32. Tyler Brown (RHP, 22, A+, ETA: 2023)

Fastball: 50/55, Curve: 50/60, Command: 35/40. Sits 92/94, T96

I may have had some unrealistic expectations on Brown when he was selected in the fourth round of 2020, and he looks like a reliever going forward. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. When the Astros indicated they’d try him as a starter, I expected some third pitch to emerge, but have not been able to see it. His numbers also don’t look great as a tandem starter in Asheville, but it’s a really tough pitcher’s environment. Both the fastball and the curve look to be above average offerings at any level, so he has a high floor as a reliever that can move quickly. Brown is finding the zone well over multiple innings, which is encouraging from the collegiate closer.

#33. Yanier Diaz (C, 22, A, ETA: 2024)

Hit: 40/50, Power: 35/45, Run: 30/30, Field: 30/45, Throw: 55.

Yanier Diaz was the extra piece in the Myles Straw for Phil Maton deadline deal, and began the year just outside of Cleveland’s top 50 prospects. A bat-first catcher, Diaz impressed during 2020 alternate site work and 2021 instructs and is a high riser within prospect circles. Then he went out and hit .317 in full-season A-ball while handling himself behind the plate respectably. Diaz produces loud contact to all fields with enough natural loft to tap into some leverage, and should approach average power numbers at his peak. He recognizes spin and has a good understanding of the strike zone as well.

Diaz has some work to do defensively, but shows off an average to above average arm that should allow him to control the running game. He employs the one-leg-down setup with nobody on base, but unlike Korey lee stays in the traditional catcher’s crouch when there is traffic on the bases. He lacks Lee’s athleticism to bounce up and make that throw, or the cannon arm to do it from his knees, so it makes sense. Diaz’s receiving motions are not as fluid and the framing is not there yet. The catcher position is hard to learn, but Diaz’s bat gives him a fighting chance to break the major leagues with some marginal defensive improvement. I feel fairly confident slapping a Carlos Ruiz type ceiling on Diaz.

#34. Grae Kessinger (IF, 23, AA, ETA: 2022)

Hit: 35/40, Power: 35/45, Run: 45/45, Field: 50/50, Throw: 55

Kessinger has yet to produce as a professional, but is a patient hitter with solid defense at any infield spot and excellent baseball instincts as well. These SEC Golden Spike candidates are so rarely complete whiffs that it’s hard to attribute that label to Grae at this point, especially given the way he’s been pushed up the system so aggressively. But he does have a woeful 67 wRC+ and a pull-happy, fairly unprojectable approach from what’s been shown thus far, and so has fallen at least 15 spots down my list from where he would have been last season. I’ll call it a AAAA infield outlook for now, but it won’t take much to convince me he could take over some utility infield role eventually.

-Just Missed, But Should Be Talked About-

Jose Siri (OF, 26, AAA, ETA: 2021)

Hit: 40/45, Power: 55/55, Run: 60/60, Field: 45/50, Throw: 50

I know, I know. He’s hitting .317 with a 120 wRC+ and was a big talking point while Myles Straw was struggling to begin the year, how does he not make the list in a bad farm? Jose Siri has been playing pretty well by the box scores in AAA this year, and is a formerly highly regarded prospect with a power/speed blend that should make that production mean something. Unfortunately, he’s 26 and still bad at all the things that were a problem when he was 21. Siri swings at everything, leading to a miniscule 6% walk rate to go along with a 30+% strikeout rate. When players like that take the leap from AAA to the Majors, they represent the most likely bust candidates. Add on his insane .426 BABIP, a figure that has never been sustainable even for someone like Tim Anderson, and it starts to look a lot more like some batted ball luck, and not meaningful offensive progression. Still, he has all the tools every team knew about when he was a free agent flier, which is a lot of them, and it’s possible he played his way onto someone’s radar.

Cristian Gonzalez (SS, 19, ROK, ETA: 2026)

Hit: 30/50, Power: 25/40, Run: 50/40, Field: 30/45, Throw: 50.

Cristian Gonzalez was a fairly under-the-radar international signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2018, but has a sweet controlled swing and premium barrel feel. It’s just a tad long, or at least was when he was 16 the last time I was able to see him, but easily adjustable. His frame has a ton of room to add on at 6’3 and 180 pounds. The ball comes off a whippy barrel with solid backspin. Cristian lacks premium athleticism and doesn’t play the shortstop position all that excitingly but does have great footwork and a cannon arm, up to 96 across the diamond. It remains to be seen how his range fares as he matures. A simple stroke makes it easy to project a hit tool and a little tougher to call power potential, but Gonzalez should stick somewhere on the left side of the infield long term. Gonzalez has an .833 OPS and 138 wRC+ in rookie ball at time of writing, and is splitting time between the complex league and A-ball Fayetteville.

Scott Manea (C, 26, AA, ETA: 2022)

Hit: 40/40, Power: 55/55, Run: 25/25, Field: 50/55, Throw: 55.

As the years have gone by, everybody seems more and more inclined to believe in Manea’s defense behind the plate. The third piece acquired from the Mets in the J.D Davis trade, he was originally billed as somebody too thick and not athletic enough to represent a plus defensive catcher, although folks seems to be coming around on that. He has always earned positive framing metrics, and his plus arm was whiffed on by the industry, which happens. This year he’s nabbed 39% of would-be base stealers for the Hooks and I can confirm the ball gets to second real quick, although he’s surrendered daily catching duties to Korey Lee for obvious reasons.

Manea is already 26, and has now posted significantly positive offensive production in each of his last four seasons by wRC+. He has plus pull side pop and looks to use it amidst a patient plate approach that should generate a 10% walk rate going forward. He makes this list for his 20 home run outlook in a full time role and solid defensive work behind the plate. The Astros have a small group of possible backup catchers to watch in the minors between Manea, Nate Perry, Nerio, the Stubbs brothers, and others, but despite his age Manea has the best combination of past production and defensive ability for the next level.

Alex McKenna (OF, 23, AA, ETA: 2022)

Hit: 30/45, Power: 45/50, Run 50/50, Field: 45/50, Throw: 50

Alex McKenna posted a 168 wRC+ in A+ with a .311 ISO(!) and 14 homers before getting pulled up to AA after 41 games. He has plus power from a wiry frame and a quick bat, but misses a numerical designation because he doesn’t have Barefoot’s combination of tools to accompany the hot streak. He also struck out at a 33% clip even while being so productive and appears to have some holes in his swing (that can be improved), so keeping them in check as he advances will prove a lot going forward. Still on the radar because of the bat’s track record and ability to play all three outfield positions.

Zack Matthews (RHP, 23, A, ETA: 2023)

Fastball: 60/60, Slider: 55/60, Command: 35/40. Sits 95-96, T98

Matthews was an undrafted free agent signing following the shortened 2020 draft. A two-pitch reliever at Oklahoma, up to 98 MPH with a solid slider to boot. Noted as high up as a second round talent, Matthews had TJ surgery in May just before the draft. In a draft with so little selections, he fell out entirely and the Astros were able to sign him, undrafted, for the maximum $25,000 bonus.

Matthews is built much like former Astros first-rounder J.B Bukauskas at 5’11 and just north of 200 pounds, but lacks JBB’s third pitch, a changeup. I would argue the fastball and slider combination set him up for a very similar MLB outlook (the JBB starter experiment seems like it’s faded) as a setup bullpen arm. The Oklahoma product has an athletic delivery with plenty of effort but not disconcerting violence. He’s on this list because he is now a year and 2 months removed from his Tommy John surgery, and should be gearing up to begin throwing off a mound once again. If Matthews comes back at full strength he could make the MLB pen sooner than later, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he developed a third pitch while rehabbing, as many players take the opportunity to do.

J.P France (RHP, 26, AAA, ETA: 2021)

Fastball: 45/45, Cutter: 55/55, Curve: 60/60, Slider: 55/55, Changeup: 45/50, Command: 40/40. Sits 90-92, T94.

Another late round 2018 pick, this time out of Mississippi State by way of Tulane. J.P France is a 5-pitch finesse pitcher who has posted tremendous strikeout rates over the advanced levels of the minors; 13.5 K/9 over 50 innings in AA and AAA.. He’s 26, so he won’t make top prospect status regardless, but his 5 pitch mix profiles well for a spot starter role or middle reliever if he can keep this up. He keeps hitters off balance by attacking with the cutter and fastball early, and then showing multiple offspeeds. The curveball is a real plus offering, and it reminds me eerily of Roy Oswalt’s career-defining bender – spinny, massive, and slow, sometimes clocking in under 70 mph. If France had 95-96 to play off of that curve, he would be a completely different pitcher.

Jimmy Endersby (RHP, 23, AA, ETA: 2022)

Fastball: 55/65, Slider: 40/55, Curve: 35/50, Command: 35/40. Sits 92-93, T96.

The Astros had a serious debate on whether to select Shay Whitcomb or Jimmy Endersby in the last round of the shortened 2020 draft, both small-school California collegiate standouts. They managed to grab Endersby as an UDFA regardless. Selected as a flier on spin rate with a fastball sitting in the elite 2500-2600 RPM range, repeatable mechanics, and a pair of breaking balls that show promise. The fastball is straight as an arrow with some vertical rise, blowing hitters up at the top of the zone but very hittable the closer it gets to hitters’ knees. Not that it means anything, but his pitching motion especially regarding his upper body’s rotation and hip flip are pretty similar to Justin Verlander, which is fun if nothing else. Spin gives him a high ceiling as a blank canvas, and he has work to do learning to tunnel. Endersby is in the tandem starter program with a fairly low-effort delivery. Issues with his release point lead to control problems, so his overall profile may fit best as a relief piece against right handed batters if the release point problems are not corrected.

J.C Correa (IF, 22, A+, ETA: 2023)

Hit: 40/50, Power: 30/40, Run: 40/40, Field: 40/50, Throw: 50

He’s not on here because he’s Carlos’s brother. Despite the last name, J.C is not very heralded at all considering his status as a 38th round pick in 2019 and then eventually an undrafted free agent signee in 2020, after leading Lamar University in practically every offensive category. Still, J.C has done nothing but murder the baseball since stepping foot in professional baseball. He lacks his brother’s impact tools – truthfully, he lacks any one of them, although looks to be able to put the bat on the ball roughly as consistently. Important to remember that Carlos had already won a rookie of the year award and was on his way to winning a World Series at this age, just to appreciate how advanced he was.

Already fairly old for the new version of A ball, the true test will be whether J.C can keep this going across other levels, with AA as the goal in order to really open eyes. All the signs of a mature hitter are there, though; he uses all fields, walks as much as he strikes out, and has a 140 wRC+ over 225 PAs. J.C grades out as an average defender who can play all three infield positions serviceably, and maintains a contact-first MLB utility infield ceiling. He was moved up to High-A in late July.

Quick-hitter notes on other org guys below, grouped by skillset and listed in order of ranking.

SLUGGERS:

Norel Gonzalez (1B/OF, 27, AA)

International signing along with Leon, and is maybe the most complete hitter at AA. Higher on Gonzalez than Matijevic despite being 27 years old and with no real defensive home, although he can play the corner outfield spots in the same way that, say, Yasmany Tomas could – and isn’t actually horrible at 1B either. Has great plate discipline and hits to all fields, but needs to lift the ball more to tap into his plus power, in order to achieve his MORP DH outlook.

JJ Matijevic (1B/OF, 25, AAA)

Whiffs entirely too much on hitter’s pitches but does have 60 or better grade power in the left handed bat and a track record of hitting at levels he is more advanced than in the minors. Athletic enough to be an above average defensive first baseman if glovework improves, and a below average corner outfielder.

Richi Gonzalez (OF, 18, ROK)

Needs to dial back a truly ridiculous leg kick in order to catch up to anything but has close to double-plus raw pull side pop, so there’s always a chance. Runs well enough and has a good arm, so should be able to actually play the outfield going forward as well.

Rainier Rivas (OF, 20, ROK)

Part of the Max Stassi return, Rivas has hit well across rookie ball. Averaged over 92 mph exit velocity in 2019 but does not lift the ball. Needs to be challenged in a full season after some swing tweaks and is completely positionless.

ARM STRENGTH FLIERS

Alfredi Jiminez (RHP, 21, A)

Up to 95 from a fairly low arm slot and can hold it for multiple innings. Has yet to record more than 3 BB/9 while chunking a heavy, overpowering fastball.

Bryant Salgado (RHP, 21, Unassigned)

Selected in the 14th round of this past draft, Salgado is up to 97 with a disgusting curveball. It’s absolutely a reliever outlook, but one that I am a fan of.

Ronel Blanco (RHP, 27, AAA)

Blanco touched 97 twice the last outing I saw him, and has served as Sugar Land’s closer all year. Most of the time he sits near 95 and pairs a decent slider. As he advances the home runs keep creeping up. Age is not as much of a concern as it would be for others, since Blanco had his professional start at 22. Control issues are there with roughly 4 BB/9 career, but upper 90s gives some leeway.

Diomersky Taveras (RHP, 21, A)

Up to 98 as a 20 year old. Absolutely massive and filled out build, much like Blanco, but with less of a feel for spin and a below average slider that may never get there. Averages almost a walk per inning.

OTHER CARRYING TOOLS

Aaron Brown (RHP, 22, Unassigned)

2021’s 9th round selection, Brown has a good chance to match Conine’s spot in the top 30 as soon as I get to see him in affiliated ball – this brand of pitcher often learns a breaking ball or cutter in the Astros system. 15 walks in 115 collegiate innings will give him an excellent base command grade, and he’s been clocked as high as 95 with a plus changeup. Not much feel for spin and needs to learn a breaking ball for a starter’s outlook.

Luis Santana (2B/3B, 22, A+)

Billed with a 60-grade hit tool and was supposed to be the centerpiece in the JD Davis trade. Has struggled above A ball and is a controversial prospect now, since he needs to light up pitchers and never strike out for any value at all, as a 5’8 and too-thick infielder without other plus tools. Santana is not doing that.

Luke Berryhill (C, 23, A+)

Acquired for Cionel Perez, Berryhill was on an 11 PA/HR pace as an older Fayetteville Woodpecker. He struggles against good offspeeds, which you really don’t see much of at A-ball, but has plus arm strength and raw power.

Ross Adolph (OF, 24, AA)

Adolph has a nice blend of speed and power that would set him up for a Derek Fisher outlook if he could put the bat on the ball just a little more regularly. Makes up for the lack of contact with great plate discipline and is another versatile lefty OF with pop. Tremendous raw bat speed for a center field profile.

The death of the farm system has been staved off by some really incredible leaps in development from the new top 4, as well as players like Perez, Solomon, Meyers, Barefoot, and others. You could make a very convincing argument for all of the top 4 as top 100 prospects – I am cautious of saying that as an Astros fan, because if they all got the nod the Astros system would be much closer to middle of the road than 25-27 where they’re currently ranked by various outlets, and that might not happen. It is hard to ignore the development taking place, though. Having four fringe-or-better top 100s is far better than anybody could have predicted given the Astros recent draft penalties, win-now trades, and injury to the lone former blue chip.

Thank you for reading.

P.S.

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