Apollo’s resident prospect writer checking in again. In the baseball-starved period of the lockout, I’ve been revisiting minor league action. Like my Top 34 list published at midseason 2021 this will be a top-down, thorough detailing of Houston’s farm system. Included will be an analysis of major-league hopefuls, with what I hope are some illuminating comparisons and video clips compiled by yours truly. I appreciate Kiley McDaniel’s inclusion of a “reminds me of” comparison in his articles for ESPN and will be doing something similar here, so you can look for that as a form of TL; DR. There is a Just Missed section after the ranked guys, and then some names grouped by skillset.
Thank you for reading. Chart above, player breakdowns below.
|#1. Jeremy Pena||24||SS||AAA||2022|
|#2. Korey Lee||23||C||AAA||2022|
|#3. Hunter Brown||23||RHSP||AAA||2022|
|#4. Pedro Leon||23||CF/SS||AAA||2023|
|#5. Forrest Whitley||24||RHP||AAA||2022|
|#6. Colin Barber||21||OF||A+||2024|
|#7. Peter Solomon||25||RHSP||AAA||2022|
|#8. Alex Santos II||20||RHP||A+||2025|
|#9. Tyler Whitaker||20||OF||ROK||2026|
|#10. Misael Tamarez||22||RHSP||A+||2024|
|#11. Joe Perez||22||3B/1B||AA||2023|
|#12. Shawn Dubin||26||RHP||AAA||2022|
|#13. Yainer Diaz||23||C||A+||2023|
|#14. Chayce McDermott||23||RHP||A||2024|
|#15. Jonathan Bermudez||26||LHP||AAA||2022|
|#16. Cristian Gonzalez||20||SS||A||2026|
|#17. Jaime Melendez||20||RHP||AA||2024|
|#18. Shay Whitcomb||23||2B/3B||A+||2024|
|#19. Spencer Arrighetti||22||RHSP||A||2025|
|#20. Luke Berryhill||23||C||AA||2024|
|#21. Julio Robaina||20||LHSP||A+||2025|
|#22. Dauri Lorenzo||19||MIF||ROK||2027|
|#23. Tyler Ivey||25||RHP||AAA||2021|
|#24. Jimmy Endersby||24||RHP||AA||2023|
|#25. Jordan Brewer||24||OF||A||2024|
|#26. Zach Daniels||23||OF||A+||2025|
|#27. J.C Correa||23||IF/C||A+||2024|
|#28. J.P France||26||RHP||AAA||2022|
|#29. Tyler Brown||23||RHP||AA||2023|
|#30. Scott Manea||26||C||AA||2022|
|#31. Aaron Brown||22||RHSP||A||2024|
|#32. Ronel Blanco||28||RHP||AAA||2022|
|#33. Matthew Barefoot||24||OF||AA||2023|
|#34. Grae Kessinger||23||IF||AA||2023|
|#35. Michael Sandle||23||OF||A||2025|
#1 – Jeremy Pena (SS, 24, AAA, ETA: 2022)
Hit: 45/55, Power: 40/50, Run: 65/65, Field: 60/60, Arm 55.
I wrote in August that the top 4 prospects were nearly interchangeable within Houston’s system. I still think that’s true, and Pena now stands out as most deserving of the top spot. The slick-fielding shortstop did everything right in 2021, a testament to his often-praised makeup and work ethic. He attacked rehab, returning ahead of schedule from the wrist injury that kept him sidelined for four months. Pena was also a little lucky, with the AAA season extended for another 10 games due to virus complications. Consequentially, he got a little bit more work in than was expected when the wrist injury occurred in April. After a week or so to get his legs under him, Pena was clearly the best player on a very good AAA Sugar Land team, ending with a slash line of .287/.346/.598 – a 126 wRC+ over 133 PA while playing great defense at the keystone. His smooth actions and excellent instincts out there are really fun to watch. Jeremy can afford to be more selective at the plate, and in fact swung at basically everything, but that is really the only knock you can try to put on a season in which Pena jumped two levels and shrugged off the rust.
The new swing mechanics were on full display. He skipped AA entirely and showed developing power approaching major league average, even within the dead-ball confines of Constellation Field. Nobody ever gets one out to center field in Sugar Land’s home ballpark. Jeremy launched one into the batter’s eye out there for his third home run in a game, and a walk-off.
I undersold his wheels in my last write-up, as well. You can time that home-to-home time on the inside the parker yourself if you’d like, but I always get around 14 seconds from time of contact back to home plate. That is moving, and I’d be willing to bet his sprint speed on Savant will look more impressive than my initial run grade would have indicated.
Pena showed all that he could in a year where an entire developmental season could have easily been taken from him. After another strong showing in this offseason’s LIDOM play, Pena represents a second-division MLB starting shortstop, with the potential for something much more.
Reminds me of: Translating his (relatively) newfound all-fields rotational power to the highest level gives Pena’s long-term outlook a lot more possibilities, anything from Jose Iglesias to Trea Turner.
#2 – Korey Lee (C/3B, 23, AAA, ETA: 2022)
Hit: 35/45, Power: 55/60, Run 50/50, Field 50/55, Arm 70.
There isn’t a ton to report on Korey Lee outside of what I wrote in August because he spent much of September with minor injuries. The former Cal catcher had a torrid start to his 2021 season, earning aggressive promotions from A+ all the way to AAA to end the year. As can be reasonably expected in the face of such aggressive promoting, his production tapered off towards the end of the year, but Lee is poised to take advantage of a full season at AAA for 2022, unless he is called up in the event of injury to Maldonado and/or Castro.
The cannon arm is still there, as is the raw athleticism and plus pull-side pop that made Lee a top 100 prospect as soon as it appeared the bat was coming around, evidenced by his 134 wRC+ in High-A. 2022 will be huge for Lee, an opportunity to show that he can handle a more mature pitching staff. If he can produce just enough offensively, the starting catcher job could be his for 2023, or perhaps split with another veteran catcher.
Lee retains all of the things I wrote about in August. I love the new stride and swing mechanics, and think they tick his hit tool up towards average because of their simplicity. He is disciplined at the plate, with Major-League caliber bat-to-ball skills embedded within a pull heavy approach. His plus-plus power ranging from line drive doubles to towering moonshots can play well in Minute Maid. A fantastic athlete for a catcher with a Howitzer that neutralizes the running game, Lee represents a very high floor even if the hit tool does not get better, and could be an MLB regular for a long time behind the dish.
Reminds me of: Russell Martin
#3 Hunter Brown (RHSP, 23, AAA, ETA: 2022)
Fastball: 60/60, Curveball: 65/70, Slider: 55/55, Changeup: 40/50, Command: 35/45. Sits 93-96, T98.
Hunter Brown is the first of a long line of MLB-ready pitchers that are waiting in the wings in AAA, and probably the one with the highest ceiling. Of course, the Astros already have a deep rotation, requiring Cristian Javier to shift into the bullpen. But somebody will always get hurt, and too much starting pitching is a quality problem to have. Brown would thrive in a bullpen role as well, but checked a lot of boxes as a starter in 2021.
Brown has a solid chance to make his debut soon with four offerings suitable at the highest level, including a double-plus heater, massive 12-6 curve in the low 80’s, and hard biting slider that brushes 90. Long term, he will go as far as his command improvements take him. His strikeouts ticked down on the jump from AA to AAA, but so did his walk rate, coming all the way down to a respectable 3.7 BB/9. That isn’t perfect, but with such an explosive arsenal anything sub-4 is an encouraging development for Brown’s effectiveness as either a starter or reliever. Looking ahead, Brown should be a starting pitcher and has frontline rotation upside. Improving on pitch efficiency is his ticket to get there. That outlook doesn’t exactly fit into the Astros current team needs, so he may be utilized as a leverage stopper early in his major league days, where he can just let it rip for 30 pitches at a time and will likely be very effective.
Our fearless leader Dez likes to compare Brown to a young Justin Verlander. They do have the same offerings by arsenal, although Brown’s fastball has different heavy life to induce ground balls, as opposed to JV’s extreme flyball tendencies. I see a little more of Walker Buehler, but both comparisons are obviously on the very high range of outcomes.
Reminds me of: Walker Buehler.
#4 Pedro Leon (CF/SS, 23, AAA, ETA: 2023)
Hit: 35/40, Power: 55/55, Run: 60/60, Field (SS) 30/45, Field (OF) 55/60, Arm 70.
Leon is finding himself outside the top 100 on most outlets, but I’ve also seen him inside the top 50 from a select few. There are two major points of contention; how impressive evaluators consider his above average but not outstanding AA production after two years without organized baseball, and projection of a hit tool to the highest level. The general consensus seems to be that Leon’s outlook represents that of any great defensive center fielder with pop – high variance on the upside, but 5 tool outfielders can find many ways to stay at or above replacement level.
Leon is remarkably patient, letting at-bats develop and taking everything on the edges. He swings out of his shoes. 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. Questions about his hit tool stemming from the high K rate (30% stateside) are understandable, but the underlying in-zone contact and chase rates trend closer to average. All told, he doesn’t actually swing and miss that much. What Pedro does tend to do is watch strike 3 when it’s a pitch he can’t drive. That can be fixed much easier than a hit tool could improve, if it even needs to be fixed at all (Carlos Gomez was a positive offensive player for years, and Tyler O’Neill was the best LF in baseball this season with that same “problem”). I still wouldn’t put Leon in a Top 100 list, but a 120 wRC+ or so in Sugar Land would change that by midseason ’22. I’d also like to see him play the large CF more at Constellation Field to confirm his excellent defensive reputation as an outfielder, because I’ve mostly only seen him at SS and 3B so far. I expect Leon to play the outfield as a Major Leaguer despite the Astros shortstop vacancy, if he gets there.
Reminds me of: Carlos Gomez
#5 Forrest Whitley (RHP, 24, AAA, ETA: 2022)
Fastball: 65/65, Curve: 60/60, Cutter: 55/60, Changeup: 60/60, Slider 55/55., Command: 35/45. Sits 93-96, T98.
Before his injury, Whitley sort of ditched his elite 3k RPM curveball as a strikeout offering. He was using a Fastball-Cutter-Changeup combination to tunnel at the bottom of the zone, and sounded confident in that strategy. I’ll be interested to see how that impacts his arm health long-term. He is reportedly approaching the mid-90s once again, 12 months into his rehab.
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. All of the tools and individual pitch grades he received coming through the system 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. I would expect to see Forrest in the big league bullpen in the summer of 2022, assuming health on his part, with the opportunity to earn a rotation spot down the road.
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. If my proposed timeline holds true, he will be 24 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 command 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. He’s no longer a blue chip. It’s show-me time.
Reminds me of: With the newly emphasized pitch mix, Stephen Strasburg.
#6. Colin Barber (OF, 21, A+, ETA: 2024)
Hit: 30/50, Power: 35/55, Run 60/55, Field 45/55, Arm 45.
There are no new developments for Barber, shelved due to a shoulder surgery in July. He could crack the AA roster as a 21-year-old in 2022. A strong showing there would put Barber in fringe T100 prospect territory in combination with his All-Star type ceiling. The following is my (edited) analysis from an August 2021 update:
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 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. From what I’ve seen, Colin is usually the most correct strike-caller in the stadium. I expect Barber’s discipline (16.4 BB%) to remain at all levels.
Barber has been compared to Alex Bregman for his competitiveness and work ethic by multiple Astros employees. He has a smooth, beautiful, pull-side powered lefty stroke that is compact to the ball with adequate lift (50 Flyball%) and as he gets stronger, he could develop into someone with 20 home run pop, an excellent on-base profile, and the ability to play center field. More likely is that he becomes a tweener or moves to a corner if that power does come around, but there’s always some variance in outcomes.
Reminds me of: His offensive approach reminds me very much of Cavan Biggio when he was a farmhand, although the infield utility value is swapped out for more athleticism in the OF.
#7. Peter Solomon (RHSP, 25, AAA, ETA: 2021)
Fastball: 50/50, Slider 50/55, Curveball: 55/60, Cutter: 55/55, Changeup: 50/50, Command: 40/45. Sits 92-94, T96.
Peter Solomon is Major League rotation ready. Steamer projects him to be a replacement-level player, after he was the Triple-A West Pitcher of the Year and Astros Minor League Pitcher of the Year. His 14 innings of big-league work went well, and I contend that because he still has more ceiling to achieve, he should slot in ahead of Brandon Bielak as the Astros’ eighth starting option. On average, there is a 32% likelihood that 3+ starting pitchers will be hurt at the same time for any MLB club. 6th, 7th, and 8th starters are important to a team’s depth over 162 games. Solomon’s ability to pitch at replacement level or better and provide quality innings will likely be useful at present, but there is still a mid-rotation ceiling yet to realize, especially with the development of a new cutter in his age 24 AAA season. Now, Solomon has an extremely starter-y 5 pitch mix and can hold his velocity up to the century mark of pitches.
Solomon is, and perhaps always will be, a 40-to-45 command arm despite simple and repeatable mechanics that could leave room for optimism. Fine-tuned command (durability too, but can’t hold a single TJ surgery against him) and pitch sequencing are the only things holding him back from being a rotation stalwart, because he has 5 average or better offerings at the highest level. I wrote last summer that 100 innings of attacking hitters in AAA would raise Solomon’s stock and provide takeaways for how to tunnel his curveball more effectively, attacking MLB hitters. He threw 111 innings in 2021 and is poised for solid MLB contribution, if not emergence as the next Astros breakout arm.
Reminds me of: Chris Flexen
#8. Alex Santos II (RHP, 20, A, ETA: 2025)
Fastball: 60/65, Slider: 50/55, Curveball: 45/60, Changeup: 40/50, Command: 30/45. Sits 91-95, T97.
Alex Santos II saw a velocity uptick early in the year on his spinny (2600 RPM, 94% efficiency in 2020) four-seamer and flashed development of a sweeping curveball that, in my opinion, has even more upside than the slider, which earned nearly unanimously above average grades as a prep prospect.
His arm action also got longer, and his delivery is not yet repeatable to the point where I feel comfortable broadcasting “STARTING PITCHER” in neon lights yet. The four pitch mix is very solid for a starter’s outlook, however. The velocity also faded as the year went on. The whole delivery looks more than a little bit like Josh James before he shortened his arm action up this last offseason. All that said, Santos II is extremely young and was certainly drafted with a starter’s outlook, giving an organization that has gotten the most out of their arms lately a solid base. Quieting down the violence at release is not out of the question, and he’s way ahead of the curve. 3 above average offerings and two distinct nasty breakers set Santos II up with a high floor as a reliever, and his draft pedigree at least indicates some likelihood that his organization believes he can emerge as a strikeout arm, good for 4 or 5 innings at a time.
Reminds me of: Josh James but spinnier.
#9. Tyler Whitaker (OF, 19, ROK, ETA: 2026)
Hit: 25/45, 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 later if needed. Whitaker has the glove skills to play basically anywhere. The Astros went for ceiling, of which he has plenty.
The third rounder struggled in his FCL debut, although did end his season with a pull-side bomb. We should put no stock in the rookie ball numbers either way. His swing will likely look completely different by the time he hits full-season ball, perhaps as soon as 2022.
Reminds me of: Hunter Renfroe
#10. Misael Tamarez (RHP, 21, A+, ETA: 2024)
Fastball: 50/55, Changeup: 55/60, Slider: 35/50, Command: 35/50. Sits 93-95, T97.
In my August write-up, I said that Tamarez looks the part of a moldable mid-90s workhorse with more future feel for breaking stuff than he was initially given credit for, not unlike fellow organization-mate Luis Garcia. He had good showings as a 19-year-old in rookie ball, the fastball a heavy 93 with a devastating changeup for an intriguing two-pitch mix. In 2021, he developed a slider and profiles better against right handed bats for it, especially twice or thrice through an order. In fact, he was much better against same-handed hitters this past season, which is new. The fastball also ticked up, brushing 97 on his best days.
Tamarez posted nearly 12 K/9 over 75 innings across A and A+ ball, and might be a 22 year old in AA early in his 2022 campaign. He showed improvement in control as the season went on, cutting his walks in half by the time he made the jump to Asheville. He has a fiery, competitive mound presence and a durable starter’s build with plenty of upside. Adding another pitch (cutter, curveball especially) would give him a very similar mid-rotation upside as my earlier Luis Garcia comparison. As is, Tamarez is an intriguing mid-rotation or leverage relief lottery ticket.
Reminds me of: Luis Garcia
#11. Joe Perez (CIF, 22, AA, ETA: 2023)
Hit: 35/45, Power: 50/60, Run: 40/40, Field: 35/40, Arm: 65.
All Joe Perez did in 2021 was murder baseballs, earning him an addition to the 40-man roster. He posted a 147 wRC+ in a short stint in Fayetteville, then a 190 wRC+ in the jump to hitter-friendly Asheville, and was then around league average as the youngest position player, 21, hitting in the 2-hole at AA Corpus Christi. He smacked 18 dingers in about 100 games and gives the impression that his barrel is made of cement. Rarely overmatched, Perez kept the K rate reasonably below 30%, and still patient enough to draw walks even with the aggressive promotion. I’m raising the stock on his hit tool, and he did all of this in his first full professional season after multiple surgeries.
Perez can afford to lift the ball more. I was able to watch him mostly in Fayetteville, where he was clearly so much more advanced than his competition at only 21, and then I caught back up with him in Corpus. At the AA level, Perez is merely holding his own, as opposed to dominating. Quality breaking balls occasionally can catch him off-balance, but Perez’s reputation as a high-variance, power-dominant slugger does not match the refined hitter that I’ve seen. There is no pull-happy spinout, only occasionally vicious hacks that come up empty. Consequently, I’m not sure it would be accurate to confine him to, say, a .240 average with pop as his billing from other outlets would indicate. There is some real Nick Castellanos-esque potential to reach here.
Speaking of my Castellanos comparison, I am going to be a little more harsh than I was in my last write-up, and assert that their defensive situations are similar. I think that Perez will either need to move to right field long term, perhaps first base (which he has played significantly), or occupy a DH role if it’s available, although the latter two feel like wastes of a double-plus arm. At the hot corner, Perez’s glovework is just not there, and he lacks tremendous instincts or athleticism to make me believe it will get better. With fine underway speed and the absolute cannon of an arm, it feels like Perez could play an average right field and be a 2 WAR player sooner rather than later, especially if he keeps maturing as a hitter at this rate. Plus, there is a certain Alex Bregman at 3B right now, and hopefully long into the future.
Reminds me of: Nick Castellanos
#12. Shawn Dubin (RHP, 26, AAA, ETA: 2021)
Fastball: 60/60, Slider: 70/70, Curveball: 60/60, Command: 40/45, Sits 94-96 T98.
I’ve been high on Shawn Dubin for a while, and 2022 will see his bullpen debut assuming health at any time. He’s been blowing hitters up for as long as he has been able to stay on the field, with 12 K/9 or better and a sub-4 BB/9 over his last 150 innings. Dubin has a fastball with late explosive life that sits in the high-90s whenever he is allowed a one inning stint, a double-plus slider out of hell, and a plus curveball that all come out of a funky release, like a magician pulling a quarter out of his ear. FaBIO (Fielding and Ballpark Independent Outcomes) is enamored with Dubin. He’s in the 100th overall percentage of qualified SP or RP by their observations, with a 96th percentile batted ball profile.
The NAIA product has put on a good amount of necessary weight, now 6’1 and 170 pounds, and hopefully can be a little more durable. His injuries are rarely season-ending level major, but they do seem to happen with scary regularity, making me rule out a starter’s outlook long-term. While he has been used as a tandem starter in the minors, I like Dubin’s outlook most as a leverage reliever, perhaps a Devenski type albeit without the reverse splits. There is a good shot for high-leverage back end or setup work within his window of team control.
Reminds me of: Dillon Maples
#13. Yainer Diaz (C, 23, A+, ETA: 2023)
Hit: 45/55, Power: 45/50, Run: 20/20, Field: 35/40, Arm: 55.
Acquired in the Myles Straw deadline deal, Yainer Diaz started his 2021 on the outside edge of Cleveland top prospects lists as a bat-first catcher with questions about his defensive abilities. His 2021 season saw explosive offensive production across A and A+ ball, capping it all off with a 203(!) wRC+ across 25 games in Asheville to end his campaign. His hit tool was on full display, posting north of a .300 average and minimizing strikeouts. He also showed development of over-the-fence power and doubled his career home runs by hammering 17 in around 400 plate appearances.
Defensively, Diaz has work to do in the receiving department and lacks raw athleticism behind the plate to ever be carried by his defense. However, he is not a butcher back there. The blocking is fine if not spectacular, he handles a pitching staff effectively enough, and his arm grades out as average at least. Diaz employs the one-leg-down setup that most of Houston’s catchers have adopted at this point, although stays on his feet with runners on base because he does not have Korey Lee’s athleticism or cannon arm to throw them out from that position. I won’t say that Diaz will be a good defensive catcher, but he could be serviceable enough to let the bat carry him into being a second-division starter. The Astros have been playing him at first base nearly as often as catcher, mostly due to a logjam between he and the rest of an intriguing core of young catchers, including #20 Luke Berryhill.
Reminds me of: Carlos Ruiz
#14. Chayce McDermott (RHP, 23, A, ETA: 2024)
Fastball: 55/60, Slider: 40/45, Curve: 45/55, Changeup: 35/40, Command: 30/40. Sits 92-95 T97.
McDermott completely blew up the poor hitters in A ball with 33 strikeouts in 18 innings. His fastball is far too overpowering for that level, and AA is probably much closer to his true talent level. Which is good, since he was old when he was drafted. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ball State product started the year with the Hooks this upcoming season, or at least joined them in short order. Control issues were there, nearly 5 BB/9, but that was to be expected.
It’s a high effort release, and McDermott is long-levered as a crane. His arm lags behind his body until he creates a whippy finish from a loooong arm circle. Incredibly heavy release, and the fastball comes out heavy as well. For arsenal, he has above average spin on his fastball (2400 RPM), nearing 2800 RPM on the curve. As a prep prospect, I liked the slider over the curveball but in seeing him attack professional hitters I have now seen the light. He leaves the 12-6er up too much, but when he snaps it down it is downright disgusting. His changeup also has good Rapsodo metrics and tunneling potential but he really hasn’t thrown it. When he does its velocity is very inconsistent, from 84 -89.
I still like his long levers and heavy release, and McDermott could go any number of directions. As a reliever he would advance rapidly, but I have belief the combination of build and body control can make McDermott a strike-throwing starter with mid-rotation upside once professional strength programs make the mid-90s velocity come easier. Might be a late bloomer, but there’s plenty of time for the 2021 comp pick.
Reminds me of: Some cross between Hunter Brown and Chris Bassitt.
#15. Jonathan Bermudez (LHP, 26, AAA, ETA: 2022)
Fastball: 45/45, Slider: 55/55, Changeup: 60/60, Command: 60/60. Sits 90-92, T93.
Jon Bermudez posted the system-best K-BB ratio in 2021 (4.3 strikeouts for every walk), and a sub-4 FIP at both AA and AAA. He also earns my highest command grade in the system, tied with Aaron Brown and the same I gave Jose Urquidy a few years ago.
Bermudez will not blow away hitters with his fringe average fastball, but it has a fair amount of sinking armside movement to stay off a barrel, playing more effectively than a radar gun would suggest in a vacuum. His delivery is also deceptive with a low arm slot, which helps the middling velocity play up. I’ve listed his changeup as his best pitch, a tumbling, late breaking offspeed that darts below the bottom of the zone and tunnels well off the fastball. It’s the go-to pitch against righties. Against same-handed batters, he places his slider extremely well, giving its average movement profile more effectiveness.
Bermudez was added to the 40-man roster this offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. His outlook ranges from a strike-throwing deceptive backend starter to lefty specialist with a high floor. He’ll fill the Kent Emanuel role now, with more upside.
Reminds me of: Clayton Richard
#16. Cristian Gonzalez (SS, 20, A, ETA: 2026)
Hit: 25/50, Power: 25/40, Run: 55/50, Field: 35/55, Arm: 60.
Gonzalez is more of a projection play than anything else, more toolsy than fellow young international signing Dauri Lorenzo. He broke into full-season baseball at age 19 this past season after a strong stint in rookie ball. At the next level, he posted a 77 wRC+ and his defense took a step back. Regardless, Gonzalez has a projectible build for the left side of the infield, and showed an improving blend of all-fields line drive pop with developing pull-side power. It’s a Mookie Betts-esque hip hinge with deep barrel feel, but improvement of the hit tool needs to come along this upcoming season. He hit leadoff until #35 Michael Sandle made his own pro debut, and then slid into the 2 hole for Fayetteville.
Gonzalez is a tall shortstop, with solid footwork and a cannon arm up to 96 across the diamond that both make it possible to stick at the premium position long-term. Worst case, a shift over to third base could be in the cards. Gonzalez should add strength and tap into more lift than his line drive approach at present at both positions. He is a very good overall athlete.
Reminds me of: Erik Gonzalez
#17. Jaime Melendez (RHP, 20, AA, ETA: 2024)
Fastball: 55/55, Slider: 45/50, Curveball: 40/45, Changeup: 50/55, Command: 35/40, Sits 94-95, T96.
Jaime Melendez jumped two levels in 2021, and at one point was the youngest player in AA, at 19. The 5’8 righty with a high 3/4ths arm angle has a starter’s four pitch mix highlighted by an explosive top-of-zone fastball in the mid 90s. His changeup also profiles extremely well, darting armside and a pitch that he’s thankfully not afraid to throw to right handed batters. Both breakers will be usable at all levels, with the sharp biting slider ahead of the 12-6 curveball at present and future. He uses a relatively low release height to emphasize 95 up in the zone, and tunnels his offspeeds in all counts.
Melendez does not really have a starter’s command, but he is still 20 years old in AA and has an 86th percentile batted ball profile by FaBIO’s observations. The raw stuff is more than good enough to start but concerns about how likely command polishing can be from a 5’8 frame are valid. For what it’s worth, the delivery is mostly quiet until release, and he only recently developed a sort of hybrid full windup, having previously pitched exclusively out of the stretch. If he wasn’t listed at 5’8, I wouldn’t have noticed the height. Rotation work is a fringe-y proposition, but possible with some command improvements. Multi-inning relief as a big leaguer is fully realistic.
Reminds me of: Deivi Garcia
#18. Shay Whitcomb (IF, 23, A+, ETA: 2024)
Hit: 35/45, Power: 45/55, Run: 50/50, Field: 35/45, Throw: 50.
All Whitcomb has done both in college and since he hit affiliated ball is mash. After a 120 wRC+ in Fayetteville, along with 14 steals and some nice plate discipline, he posted a 149 wRC+ in hitter-friendly Asheville, accompanied by 16 nukes and 16 more steals. The power production has probably been buoyed slightly by the short fences of Asheville; a 27% HR/FB rate is often not sustainable unless you have Judge/Tatis/Ohtani power, which he does not, but he’s still barreling baseballs and doing damage. He comes out of his shoes on the swing and needs to clean up a K rate north of 30% to project as a contributor against more advanced pitching, especially upper-level velocity, in upcoming campaigns. Notably, Whitcomb does have some of the system’s best exit velocities, so I’m ready to eat my words on the raw power.
He has a do-damage approach that could turn into 25 home runs annually with a more deft barrel to create loft. Defense has long been his weak point as a shortstop, and I don’t think he is a true shortstop for lack of glove dexterity. Whitcomb could be an average defender at any other infield spot. Excellent baseball instincts help both defensively and on the basepaths, where he swipes plenty of bags despite an average run tool.
Reminds me of: Patrick Wisdom
#19. Spencer Arrighetti (RHP, 22, A, ETA: 2025)
Fastball: 45/55, Slider: 55/55, Curveball: 40/50, Changeup: 40/40, Command: 45/55, Sits 90-94 T96.
There isn’t much in the way of professional results to discuss with Arrighetti because he has thrown 13 professional innings. The 2021 draftee and U of Louisiana product has four pitches that often go where they are supposed to, with pitchability setting up a solid backend starter outlook. He was an absolute horse for the Ragin Cajuns, often shouldering 100+ pitch outings, but had been relegated to bullpens elsewhere for his collegiate career.
This is remarkably eye-testy, but Arrighetti looks like a VAA (Vertical Approach Angle) guy with his fastball. It would explain the relatively high draft stock for a guy with reports of some 89s on his fastball at draft time. That fastball comes in from a horizontally tilted 3/4ths arm slot, and its movement profile looks like that of high active spin, which at once creates vertical ride and armside run near the top of the zone. His slider is already above average, with late and sharp break. The curveball has flashed well enough that I feel confident it will be a solid offering by the time he breaks into the upper levels of the minors, and the changeup can best be described as “existent”. I only saw a few over his short time in Fayetteville, although he did use it a little more in college.
Reminds me of: Paul Sewald. Funky.
#20. Luke Berryhill (C, 23, AA, ETA: 2024)
Hit: 35/35, Power: 55/60, Run: 35/35, Field: 45/50, Throw: 55.
Acquired from the Cincinnati Reds for Cionel Perez as one of James Click’s first moves as GM, Berryhill was the Astros Minor League Player of the Year in 2021. The big backstop posted a 178 wRC+ in Fayetteville, a 142 wRC+ in Asheville, and then performed adequately in a short AA stint. His strikeout rate ticked up too much (35%) at the higher two levels because of problems dealing with quality offspeeds, but Berryhill has massive pop and can demolish a fastball. He’s also rather patient at the plate, and should stay around 10 BB% at any level.
Nabbing just shy of 25% of base-stealers, Berryhill has work to do still on controlling the running game despite an arm that grades out very well in a vacuum. He and Yainer are going to split time at C and 1B as they advance through the system together. Berryhill’s receiving is more advanced, and I think it’s appropriate to call the Cionel trade a win at this point. A non-prospect before this year, Berryhill played his way into some trade value and a real possibility to cash big league checks as a backup catcher.
Reminds me of: Joey Bart, less adept at nabbing baserunners.
#21. Julio Robaina (LHP, 20, A+, ETA: 2024)
Fastball: 45/50, Curveball: 55/55, Changeup: 45/50, Command: 50/60, Sits 91-92, T94.
An undersized lefty starter from Cuba with three offerings, Julio Robaina had an excellent 2021, young for his levels. He’s a crafty command type with some mound athleticism and a simple drop-and-drive delivery. His fastball got out of the 80s, and now sits in the low 90s. It has a good amount of cut, boring in gloveside. The curveball is beautiful, an MLB-ready offering in the high 70s that he can place wherever he wants, whenever he wants. Robaina mixes in a changeup at 86 mph with just enough late armside fade to avoid a right-handed barrel when he places it low and out, which he does well.
Robaina fills up the zone and induces a lot of ground balls, hovering around a 50% rate in 2021. His delivery is not particularly deceptive, but he does attack downhill and will need to continue to use the corners well to get his average fastball past more experienced hitters. Even the inexperienced hitters in Fayetteville and Asheville always seemed right on it, despite the positive results. There’s nothing wrong with a pitchability-inclined left hander with a backend starter’s profile, and that’s exactly what Robaina provides. FaBIO loves him, with a 91st percentile batted ball profile, 95th percentile control, and he completely dominated opposing LHB.
Reminds me of: Ranger Suarez
#22. Dauri Lorenzo (MIF, 19, ROK, ETA: 2027)
Hit: 25/50, Power: 25/45, Run: 60/55, Field: 45/55, Throw: 50.
Not much has changed for Dauri, so the following is an edited excerpt from my August write-up:
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 future hit and power projections as well as the large 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. He does seem more like a second baseman long term. Once the power comes around, Lorenzo should begin posting some nice offensive production in full season minor league work. He can hit pro velocity, and sees the ball pretty well.
Reminds me of: Ozzie Albies (not a prediction).
#23. Tyler Ivey (RHP, 25, AAA, ETA: 2021)
Fastball: 50/50, Curveball: 60/60, Slider: 45/45, Cutter: 45/50, Changeup: 40/45, Command: 40/40. Sits 90-92, T94.
Ivey threw a grand total of 17 professional innings in 2021 before getting shelved with a semi-undisclosed UCL issue after his debut in May, the extent to which is still not completely clear. In an interview with the Beyond the Diamond boys here at Apollo Media, he sounded confident and even expressed optimism that he’d be able to return before AAA season’s end, but that never happened. He’d usually be closer to the top 15 of this list, but I’m baking the injury problems into the ranking as a reflection of trade value.
Ivey has 5th starter upside with his funky off-balance delivery, double plus spinny breaker, and four-pitch mix. I think he profiles better as a change-of-pace reliever and could be extremely effective in that role. He needs to be healthy for either one.
Reminds me of: Tyler Duffey, if he had a delivery out of 1952.
#24. Jimmy Endersby (RHP, 24, AA, ETA: 2023)
Fastball: 55/60, Slider: 45/55, Curve: 45/55, Command: 35/40. Sits 92-94, T96.
Endersby and Whitcomb were neck and neck on the Astros’ board in the 5th round of the shortened 2020 draft, both small school California standouts. They managed to sign Endersby as an UDFA after selecting Whitcomb. He has an explosive, athletic delivery with an easy arm path and a jumpy fastball. That fastball can approach the mid-90s and carries spin north of 2600 RPM, blowing hitters up at the top of the zone. It’s one of those pitches with a unique movement profile, and looks special on the eye test. That said, the fastball does not play particularly well low in the zone, and Endersby is an extreme flyball pitcher. Both breaking balls flash above average potential, occasionally coming out of his hand downright nasty. The arsenal does not profile very well against the modern day left-handed bat path.
Endersby is a power strikeout arm, with 10.2 K/9 in his first professional season. He also needs some improvements in strike-throwing, evidenced by nearly 5 BB/9. There are a lot of RHP that fit his mold in the Houston system, and many of them go on to do well. Spin is there, the breaking stuff is there, and the delivery is smooth and powerful. He has the outlook of a middle reliever, something like a right-handed specialist, with the ceiling of a two-inning stopper out of the bullpen. An uptick in stuff would mean more leverage work, and late-blooming control + command improvements would put a starter’s outlook back on the table.
Reminds me of: His delivery is eerily Justin Verlander-like, from his separation at glove to late hip flip on the stride. To keep it in the Houston system though, his fastball-breaker combo and shaky control play a lot more like Cristian Javier with the invisiball. Hitters just always seem to swing under the fastball.
#25. Jordan Brewer (OF, 24, A, ETA: 2024)
Hit: 30/35, Power: 35/55, Run: 70/70, Field: 50/55, Throw: 60.
Jordan Brewer, off leg surgery, posted a positive offensive season in Fayetteville with a 118 wRC+, stole 21 bags in 65 games, and showed off his cannon arm by nabbing many unsuspecting teenage baserunners. He’s got the best wheels in the system as well as probably the most impressive overall athleticism, which makes him an upside guy. The power can get much better than it is at present with maturity and lift. His exit velocities are solid across the board.
All that positive production can be taken with a grain of salt, because he was three to four years older than his competition in Fayetteville. Regardless, he’s about as tooled up as they come, with a fourth outfielder outlook that can stick as a three-spot outfielder in the Majors. Offensively, his approach is mature with a healthy mix of walks and strikeouts. The hit tool may never get him to the highest level, but if it does Brewer can be a very fun to watch defensive-minded outfielder with some pop.
Reminds me of: A more handsome Harrison Bader without the first-step instinct in CF.
#26. Zach Daniels (OF, 23, A+, ETA: 2025)
Hit: 30/35, Power: 40/70, Run: 60/60, Field: 40/55, Throw: 50.
It would have been easy to believe that Daniels would be overmatched in pro ball, given his total 17 games of collegiate production at Tennessee. He is absolutely holding his own, having earned a promotion in his first pro season. With raw power to match anybody in any system, Daniels flashes a high ceiling as a plus athlete who can play center field combined with far-off potential as a premium slugger.
The power and strength are still represented by raw tools much more than anything he’s produced as a hitter – that is to say, his exit velocities are tops in the system but he does not generate prodigious over-the-fence lift. It’s a lot of piss missile line drive singles mixed in with 450 foot blasts when he does get all of one. Some welcome mechanical changes have been enacted in his offensive approach already, but there is work to do still. Daniels is more upright than he was at Tennessee, and catches the barrel on fastballs relatively well, covering the entire zone. Oppo contact results in slap hits, while pull-side and up-the-middle results in more damage. He does not display excellent pitch recognition out of the hand and can be caught off-balance, evidenced by his high strikeout rate.
Reminds me of: DJ Peters
#27. J.C Correa (IF, C(?), 23, A+, ETA: 2024)
Hit: 45/55, Power: 35/35, Run: 45/45, Field: 40/50, Throw: 50.
The younger Correa is an ability-over-tools type, which we did not say much about Carlos. 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, he has done nothing but produce since stepping foot in professional baseball, with a 134 wRC+ in his full season debut, and 110 wRC+ in Asheville after a call-up. If J.C does have an above average tool, it’s the hit tool. He puts the bat on the ball with ease through a mature line drive all-fields (maybe even opposite field dominant) approach, and remains impressively balanced when faced with anything.
He is not nearly as athletic as Carlos, nor displays a cannon arm. He’s probably not a shortstop, and profiles a lot more like an MLB bench UTIL, a stick-first second baseman who can play third. Although none of the defensive fit might matter at all, because there’s apparently been a new development.
Could be nothing. Could also be something!
Reminds me of: C.J Hinojosa
#28. J.P France (RHP, 26, AAA, ETA: 2022)
Fastball: 40/40, Cutter: 50/50, Curve: 60/60, Slider: 55/55, Changeup: 45/45, Command: 45/45, Sits 89-91, T93.
Had the Rule 5 draft taken place, I would not have been surprised to see J.P France on another roster. He’s about as good as he will ever be, has a 5-pitch finesse mix that has racked up lots of strikeouts at the higher levels of minor-league ball (12.4 K/9 over 114 innings), and possesses so many ways of attacking hitters that a good support system could get something special out of him as either a right-on-right specialist reliever or backend starter.
France has a flyball profile that won’t fit perfectly in MMP; allowing a lot of pull-side lift, counteracted by providing elite strikeouts and infield fly inducement. I thought a team like the Padres would have benefitted from using him in their pitcher’s park. His fastball is below average, but there is still some wiggle room to approach 94 or 95 left in the tank. He uses a firm cutter often to get ahead in the count and then spins his slow curveball and hoppy slider as plus putaway pitches. Despite the lack of velocity, France led a loaded AAA rotation in strikeouts, and also led the entire Astros system with 157 for the season. 32 K% is not nothing.
Reminds me of: Roy Oswalt without the velocity. The slow curve has such a similar movement profile.
#29. Tyler Brown (RHP, 23, AA, 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 control numbers also didn’t look great as a tandem starter in Asheville or Corpus. Both the fastball and the curve look to be above average offerings at any level, so he has a high floor as a two-pitch reliever that can move quickly.
Reminds me of: Archie Bradley
#30. Scott Manea (C, 26, AA, ETA: 2022)
Hit: 40/40, Power: 50/50, Run: 25/25, Field: 55/55, Throw: 55.
The third piece acquired from the Mets in the J.D Davis trade, Manea 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, which happens. This past season he nabbed 39% of would-be base stealers for the Hooks and I can confirm the ball gets to second real quick, although he surrendered daily catching duties to Korey Lee for obvious reasons.
Manea is already 26, but has now posted significantly positive offensive production in each of his last four seasons by wRC+. He has good pull side power and looks to use it amidst a simple, patient plate approach that should generate a 10% walk rate going forward. He makes this list for his 20 home run upside 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 Rodriguez, and #20 Luke Berryhill. Despite his age, Manea may have the best combination of past production and defensive ability to lock down that role at the next level. He should start the season in AAA for 2022, with some departures in the catching corps like Garrett Stubbs presumably making room for he and #2 Korey Lee.
Reminds me of: Max Stassi but whiffs more.
#31. Aaron Brown (RHP, 22, A, ETA: 2024)
Fastball: 45/50, Changeup: 55/55, Slurve: 30/45, Command: 60/65, Sits 90-94 T95.
A transfer from Vanderbilt to Middle Tennessee to be a bonafide Friday starter, the Astros made Aaron Brown their 2021 9th round selection. In August, I wrote that Aaron Brown has a good chance to match Brett Conine’s spot (who was #28 and has now dropped off after his fastball basically never touched 90 all year) in this list as soon as I got to see him in affiliated ball. This brand of pitcher often learns or improves on a breaking ball or cutter in the Astros system. He showed a slurve-y offering that’s flashed better than his pre-draft billing, making me stick a starter’s outlook on him, so here he is.
15 walks in 115 collegiate innings (and 4 walks in 20 professional ones) combined with repeatable corner-painting mechanics will give him an excellent base command grade. He’s been clocked as high as 95 with a plus changeup. I love this brand of pitcher, strike-throwers with average or better fastballs that are absolutely starting pitchers because nobody wants home runs out of their bullpen. A. Brown needs to improve on his breaker’s shape and consistency. He also has a bad batted ball profile and the fastball is prone to leaving the yard. Still, there’s a nice floor as a backend starter that teams must hit against to hurt. Plenty of room to grow.
Reminds me of: Jose Urquidy
#32. Ronel Blanco (RHP, 28, AAA, ETA: 2022)
Fastball: 60/60, Slider: 50/50, Command: 35/35, Sits 95-96, T97.
Blanco also survived the Rule 5 draft, and figures likely to debut as an injury replacement this year. He served as Sugar Land’s closer for the entirety of 2021 and had something of a breakout, posting a 3.4 ERA with 11.4 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 while converting 22 of 27 save opportunities. Large, totally filled out build, pitches with intensity and violence. He relies mostly on a lively, overpowering mid-90s heater that I saw the stadium gun tag 97 on a couple times towards the end of the year. Home run concerns exist, especially at the next level. Blanco is so far down the list because he is 28, and because his two-pitch mix is definitively that of a middle reliever. However, he got his professional start at 22 as a late international sign, so this is a fairly normal development track for Blanco despite the age. It’s a MORP reliever profile with a plus fastball and an average movement, high 80’s slider/cutter thing that he finds the zone with just enough.
Reminds me of: J.B Wendelken
#33. Matthew Barefoot (OF, 24, A+, ETA: 2023)
Hit: 30/35, Power: 50/55, Run: 60/60, Field: 45/60, Throw: 60.
A collegiate pitcher-turned-OF, Barefoot destroyed the ball last year across A and A+ ball, putting up a wRC+ of 159 and a .280 ISO over almost 300 PA. He overhauled his swing over the 2020 “break” and it appears to be paying off big time. He had speed and defense as calling cards already, so if the bat really comes around he has among the higher upsides in the system. The hit tool will probably never get there, but if it did Barefoot would be a 5-tool CF/RF tweener. His plate discipline impressed me early on, as he seemed to have one of the better ideas of the zone in the system. Overmatched in his time in AA, he turned into a free swinger. Barefoot essentially failed the big test of the jump from A+ to AA ball with a 38 wRC+ in a small sample. He’s on track for a big league debut next season dependent on a successful 2022 campaign, and remains a potential impact outfielder.
Reminds me of: Adam Duvall
#34. Grae Kessinger (IF, 23, AA, ETA: 2023)
Hit: 35/40, Power: 35/45, Run: 45/45, Field: 50/50, Throw: 55.
Kessinger has yet to really 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 did post a woeful 67 wRC+ amidst a pull-side flyball approach, and so keeps on falling down the lists. The power looks to be improving at the expense of contact rates. 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 given his pedigree.
Reminds me of: Jake Elmore
#35. Michael Sandle (OF, 23, A, ETA: 2025)
Hit: 30/45, Power: 30/45, Run: 60/60, Field: 40/55, Arm: 45.
Sandle had the best pro debut of the draft class by the numbers. A makeup pick out of South Alabama with above average running ability and raw bat speed, he managed to put barrel on ball and consistently find gaps. For what appears initially to be a flat swing plane, he maneuvers the barrel just deftly enough to lift the ball with surprising efficiency. Sandle looked to use pull side pop primarily, but showed respectable ability in spraying the ball all over with authority. He logged innings in center and left nearly equally, and profiles as a tweener type going forward as well. The strikeout rate will need to be watched closely as he advances – at 23, he can’t be too overmatched at higher levels next year in order to maintain a future major league outlook. I certainly wouldn’t call him a big league lock yet, but he put together a very nice professional start for someone who Assistant GM Pete Putila billed as a raw hitter, lacking refinement.
Reminds me of: Billy Burns
Will Wagner (IF, 23, A, ETA: 2025)
Hit: 30/50, Power: 30/40, Run: 50/50, Field: 40/50, Arm: 50.
Wagner also had a fantastic professional debut. The 18th round selection out of Liberty looks extremely hitterish, with a line drive oriented uncoil and the ability to catch up to premium velocity. He takes the ball the other way more than anything else, maintaining solid gap-to-gap power and the present ability for some pull side home runs. His defensive home will probably be second base long-term, but he can play third and (sort of) shortstop at a respectable level.
Reminds me of: Nate Lowe’s plate approach with Joe Panik’s skillset.
Alex McKenna (OF, 24, AA, ETA: 2023)
Hit: 30/40, Power: 45/55, 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. He failed the AA test, like Barefoot did but is still a young, potential impact OF. Still on the radar because of the bat’s track record and ability to play all three outfield positions.
Jairo Lopez (RHP, 21, A, ETA: 2025)
Fastball: 45/50, Slider: 50/55, Curve: 45/60, Changeup: 35/35, Command: 30/40. 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.
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, and could be very valuable in that role.
MLB On-Base Profiles
Marty Costes (OF, 26, AAA).
Costes has a 60-grade hit tool and combines it with some surprisingly elite exit velocities from a thick 5’9 frame. He has never been able to lift the ball to put up power numbers despite a really intriguing blend of raw power, barrel skill, and plate discipline. He walks nearly as much as he strikes out. This might be Costes’s last year to figure out how to translate the raw power into game power, and if he does he’s a major league corner outfield piece.
Quincy Hamilton (OF, 23, A).
Hamilton’s debut really managed to showcase his strengths and weaknesses, pretty spot-on as written in his pre-draft profile. The flat swing plane and line drive approach make it difficult for his collegiate power to translate into pro ball, but Hamilton’s plate discipline and contact rates are above average for any level. He had only a .093 ISO, but also a nice blend of 13 BB%/20 K%. It seems likely that Quincy will have some bat path tweaks in this offseason in order to unlock any sort of wood bat power. He might also have a better time in High-A Asheville by the box scores, with their 300 foot fence in right field.
Kobe Kato (2B, 23, A).
Watching Kobe Kato hit is relaxing. He goes double digit at-bats in a row without making a single incorrect decision at the plate. If the ball is not in the zone, he simply does not swing. When he swings, he rarely whiffs. 20 BB% is elite. It would be just like watching Michael Brantley, if Kato had Brantley’s modest power or pulled less grounders. Still, there is a truly elite on-base/plate discipline foundation here, with the chance for some mechanical tweaks to become a spray hitter, or to tap into anything approaching respectable power. He is sure-handed at second base and has plenty of both range and baseball instincts, but Kato’s noodle arm will trap him at 2B long term.
Justin Dirden (OF, 24, A+).
Dirden, an UDFA from 2020, has mashed as a pro amidst a patient plate approach and maximizes his plus power through an efficient bat path generating optimal launch angle. He would be a below average corner outfielder, but can actually play out there.
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.
Norel Gonzalez (1B/OF, 27, AA).
International signing along with Leon, and was the most complete hitter at AA in 2021. Definitely can’t play the OF. Has good 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.
Luis Baez (1B/OF, 18, ROK).
Luis Baez signed this past international period for $1.25m. Plus raw pull-side power and generates great bat speed with a good arm, but definite danger of becoming positionless as a right-handed 1B/DH/OF that has not yet shown tremendous instincts. He’ll crack the top 30 lists as soon as he flashes a hit tool in game action for his deep barrel depth and raw power outlook.
Alfredi Jiminez (RHP, 22, 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.
Rhett Kouba (RHP, 22, A).
Kouba could leapfrog Aaron Brown on my list easily. He had an excellent batted ball profile as a starter for Dallas Baptist and enters the system with a 55 grade fastball, solid command, and improvements to make spinning breakers. That’s a great mold for the Houston system. I’ll need to see more of him in 2022 to give a numerical designation.
Bryant Salgado (RHP, 22, ROK).
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.
Jojanse Torres (RHP, 26, AAA).
Jojanse barely pitched in 2021 because of a surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, but he sits in the upper 90s and chunks 100. 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. Can go for 4+ innings at a time.
As Spring Training begins to ramp up, I hope this gives some idea for who to watch out for in the exhibition games. The Houston system has a good amount of impact talent ready for the immediate future, while lacking in far-off impact waiting in the lower minors. Part of what I love so much about baseball is that there is always a future to be excited for. Thank you for reading.
- Benjamin Zeidman (@midzee4)