Hello again, everyone. Apollo’s resident prospect writer checking in, with an Astros Top Prospects list numbered out to 36 in this installment. Complex League has wrapped up, and full-season minors are winding down as well. It’s been a while since my last publication came out just before Spring Training, and there have been plenty of breakouts and slides to talk our way through.
A quick note on the nature of these lists: MLB clubs typically have ~30 players within their organization, give or take, who will at least debut in the big leagues at some point in their careers. The nature of a Top 30 prospects list is generally to capture and discuss each of these players, and mine are no different. That’s why the amount of numerical designations flexes around 25 and 40 from prospect writers. Even the worst-graded MLB farm systems (such as where the Astros find themselves now) contain a fair amount of future big leaguers.
So, yes, overall the system is relatively thin and contains less top-end talent than many others around the league. Especially after trading away two players who would have ranked as my #1 and #2 respectively in this update, Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford, to the Mets in a deadline re-acquisition of Justin Verlander. But there are still plenty of guys to get excited about, so let’s get into it. Here are the Astros Top Prospects as of September. As always, table up top with grades and analysis below.
Astros Top Prospects (as of September 2023)
|31.||Nehomar Ochoa Jr.||OF||18||CPX||2028|
*Grading scale is based on 20-80 MLB scale, with present/future grades assigned to each tool, the latter of which subscribe to a 70th percentile outcome. Not a true ceiling projection, but one that assumes some positive development.
#1. Brice Matthews (MIF/CF, 21, A, ETA: 2027)
Hit: 30/50, Power: 50/60, Run: 60/60, Field: 35/55, Throw: 55.
Brice Matthews, the Astros’ first round selection from the 2023 draft at number 28 overall, is exactly the player I was hoping would still be available at the selection. His college data was absolutely outstanding during his breakout junior season at Nebraska. Matthews slashed .359/.481/.723 for a 1.204 OPS while walking nearly as much as he struck out. He killed premium velocity fastballs (>94 MPH) thanks to his visually incredible bat speed, showed real plate discipline gains without a hole in the strike zone, and turned in Nebraska’s first 20-20 season in program history. A 113 max EV in college relays plus raw power, and Matthews still has some projection left in his twitchy 6’0 frame. He punishes baseballs in the air to all fields, and posted double-plus production against power-five breaking balls. Not just a data darling, Matthews was also Atascosita’s starting quarterback in high school, a tooled up bundle of dynamite.
As a pro, Matthews’ lone offensive flaw is not very difficult to spot. He swings out of his shoes, and with that damage-doing approach comes a significant amount of swing-and-miss on competitive pitches. To note, in his small-sample Fayetteville debut Matthews ran a 78 z-Con% overall at time of writing, which is below average (but not catastrophic) and projects unfavorably up the organizational ladder. He’s also hitting .198 as I write, in far too small a sample to grant it any weight. Matthews’ above average plate discipline helps mask this deficiency, as he rarely expands outside of the zone. Simple bat-to-ball skill progression is the name of the developmental game with Matthews, a skill often easier to improve than spin recognition or other common offensive flaws which are notably absent from his profile. Given Houston’s developmental track record with either fostering fringe average contact rates from these profiles or maximizing their contact quality, Matthews could emerge as an impact player in short order.
Defensively, Matthews has all the physical tools to stick at shortstop except for the requisite smooth glovework at present. By range, athleticism, and arm grades alone he should be able to handle the position at the highest level but is still somewhat unpolished in the infield, and inconsistent in securing sharp ground balls. Only 21 and with multiple years of defensive reps ahead of him, Matthews has the physical foundation to transform himself into an asset at the 6. If not, he has reasonable fallback options in moving to CF, where he projects well, or perhaps could take a stumble down the defensive spectrum to settle in as an offensively-inclined 2B.
Reminds me of: Chris Taylor
#2. Luis Baez (COF, 19, A, ETA: 2027)
Hit: 35/55, Power: 55/70, Run: 45/40, Field: 40/50, Arm: 60
Coming in second on the list of Astros Top Prospects is Luis Baez. Baez destroyed both levels of complex ball and posted some really intriguing batted ball data before earning the call to full-season Fayetteville in early June. Immediately, Baez showed that he can dominate in this advanced assignment, lacing extra-base hits into the power alleys with ease. A definite corner outfielder, Baez is solidly built throughout, and already close to his physical max at his listed 6’1, 205. He has a high leg kick which incorporates a rhythmic toe tap before stretching the rubber band. The high-hand setup drops during his loading mechanism, allowing his exceptionally deep barrel path to keep the lumber in the zone for ages. While Baez shows a distinct preference for getting the head out front and showing off his light-tower power, there are already ABs where he flashes a mature understanding of how to put together ABs. This teenager often lets a well-placed offering travel deep on the outside corner and smashes it out to the RCF gap.
Circling back to his power, Baez put seven balls in play >110 MPH within his first 50 batted ball events in Fayetteville, driving an easy plus and potentially double-plus power designation. What impressed me perhaps most of all, though, is how Baez’s general athleticism has improved as he’s grown. I hadn’t been able to get any real looks since he was a gangly 17 year old running a 6.8 60 yard dash like a newborn deer, but he’s assuaged concerns of becoming a completely positionless hitter. In fact, Baez shows just good enough instincts and fluid movement in the corners that he may end up as a fringe average right fielder, helped out by his above-average arm.
While Baez flashes the potential for above average hit and power production at the highest level, he does have a propensity to chase outside of the zone, with an O-Swing% north of 35, and has shown some issues in handling sliders both inside and outside the strike zone in his first taste of full-season ball. Neither of these nitpicks are really red flags at the moment considering Baez’s age-to-level production and playable thump, but struggles against sliders can portend a tough translation into the upper levels, where breakers only get sharper and nastier. We can all probably give the guy a pass until he’s old enough to buy his own beer, though.
Reminds me of: Eloy Jimenez.
#3. Jacob Melton (OF, 23, A+, ETA: 2025)
Hit: 35/45, Power: 55/60, Run: 60/60, Field: 50/55, Arm: 50.
Melton presents a toolsy center field profile with lots of 55s and 60s across the board and an unorthodox swing that scared off some evaluators, but has succeeded thus far in pro ball. He starts in an extremely open stance, before closing himself off via a lengthy loading mechanism that produces body sway, but with present strength throughout his lower half Melton seems to keep everything in sync. In college, he hardly ever saw 94+ MPH and his swing decisions were somewhat polarizing, so more than most collegiate performers it was a bit of a wait-and-see game to see how his style of hitting would translate into pro ball. Additionally, Melton’s bat could get flat in the lower parts of the zone, but sometime over the summer of 2023 the former Oregon State Beaver adjusted his stance, resulting in a more modern lift-centric path that no longer profiles to get eaten alive by steep sinkers. He looks to stay up the middle, flips base hits to all fields, and launches his best contact over the center field wall.
So far, Melton’s performance has exceeded expectations. In High-A, Melton has displayed fringe average bat-to-ball ability and plus power, coupled with a patient but not overly passive approach. The full package of Melton’s offensive game gives him the potential to emerge as a regular three-spot outfielder, with 20-30 upside and large platoon risk considering his dramatic increase in whiffs against LHP. I don’t mean to undersell the thump, because his lateral-dominant kinetic chain in the box is capable of 108+ MPH shots out of the ballpark, with a 112 recorded max EV with wood. Swiping 40 bags this year helps too, as Melton’s acceleration over top speed movements fit well with the new rules. Overall, Melton is showing evidence of some hit tool progression atop his enticing power-speed blend by keeping his whiff rates on all pitch types in check more effectively than he was supposed to. Most importantly, he’s started to close up what was previously a hole in the lower third of the zone.
Reminds me of: Garrett Mitchell, after his swing change to start lifting the ball.
#4. Zach Dezenzo (IF, 23, AA, ETA: 2025)
Hit: 40/50, Power: 60/70, Field: 40/45, Run: 40/40, Arm: 55.
I should have ranked Dezenzo more aggressively on last publication, closer to my true opinion of him. As a 12th round senior-sign selection in the 2022 draft inked for only the $125,000 allotted to players past round 10, it was clear that my love for Dezenzo’s impressive body control in the batters’ box and resultant batted ball data was not shared by many organizations. I doubted my evaluative process and slotted him 28th – still higher than most outlets who had him nowhere, but lower than it should have been in hindsight. His placement as a day 3 pick in 2022’s draft was understandable. Dezenzo had perhaps the second-best raw power in his entire draft class while alternating between shortstop and first base for Ohio State, but did not project as a defensive asset anywhere on the field and showed plenty of concerning hit tool indicators, including below average overall contact rates thanks to a propensity to chase offspeeds out of the zone. If everyone had a do-over, Dezenzo would be a day 1 pick. Look at his freaking loading mechanism fresh out of college.
Upon his introduction to pro ball, Dezenzo showed much of his same game in college. A comically massive leg kick and bat wrap as the big infielder’s hands lowered into his firing slot brought about whiff issues, but he consistently smoked opposite field power alley lasers when making contact. A strong, thoroughly-built 6’4 frame and thunderous bat speed produced EVs north of 115, but Dezenzo also ran a 31.6% K rate in Fayetteville. Then, Dezenzo broke all the way out. He showed up in 2023 with a more subdued setup which you can see below, and casually slashed .407/.474/.628 before earning the bump to AA. The in-zone contact rates still read out as fringe average, but Dezenzo rapidly internalized a professional hitters’ discipline and plate approach, and simply fixed his most obvious flaw in chase rate. His 24 O-Swing% to date is down significantly from his college numbers. Now armed with an immaculate plate approach and double-plus power, Dezenzo’s elite quality of contact should sustain a high BABIP, and his on-base skills can supplement what likely still ends up as below average bat-to-ball ability. Dezenzo mishits the ball fairly regularly, but has such outstanding raw power that his mishits carry along some success regardless.
Reminds me of: Josh Donaldson.
#5. Spencer Arrighetti (RHSP, 23, AAA, ETA: 2024)
Fastball: 45/50, Slider: 70/70, Cutter: 55/55, Curveball: 60/60, Changeup: 50/50, Command: 45/50, AVG 92.6 MPH, T96.
On last publication, I tabbed Arrighetti as the system’s second-best pitching prospect behind Hunter Brown. With Brown graduated, Spencer is now my best arm in the system and with 45 innings at the AAA level could see his call-up any day, as needed by the big league squad. A young-for-his-grade 6th round pick out of UL-Lafayette in 2021, Arrighetti has become significantly more polished over the last few years. What began as an intriguing fastball-slider combination is now a well-developed 5 pitch starter’s arsenal thanks to the addition of a cutter and some positive steps on ability to land breakers. He’s assuaged severe workload concerns by tossing 100+ innings in back to back years (which, to my understanding, he had never done in college) and continues to hold his own in the tremendously hitter-friendly PCL. Spencer is a fluid, wiry but not too-skinny mound athlete with some horizontal inconsistency in his release point that restricts the ceiling on command, optimistically settling as MLB average. His drop-and-drive delivery offers deception via a unique approach angle, and there’s still room to project another tick of velocity.
Arrighetti leverages a low release of 5.2 ft to help his fastball with otherwise middling characteristics play up, thanks to a flat VAA reading around -4.4 degrees (Vertical Approach Angle describes the vertical angle of the ball as it crosses the plate, of which the league average four-seam fastball is -5.2 degrees). His four-seamer is still a fringy offering, good for a 97 Stuff+ and a 19% whiff rate, but Arrighetti’s profile requires only a useable fastball to be effective. What makes Arrighetti most exciting are two swing-and-miss breakers in the slider and curveball, both running whiff rates north of 40% in AAA. I’ve tabbed the slider as double-plus for years now, thanks to its sharp sweep in the low 80s and mirrored axis that tunnels perfectly off the fastball. Arrighetti’s two-plane curveball comes out against lefties and has a 41 whiff% against them, much in the same way Lance McCullers Jr. varied his two distinct breakers depending on hitter handedness. And Arrighetti’s new bridge pitch developed in 2023, the cutter averaging 87 MPH, helps meld his spinny offerings into one cohesive bandolier, by giving Arrighetti another in-zone wrinkle to set up those chase pitches. Add in a below average but useable changeup with an 8 MPH differential off the fastball, and Arrighetti shines as a high-floored 5-pitch starter capable of flipping over a lineup, with the potential for mid-rotation upside.
Reminds me of: Joe Ryan
#6. Joey Loperfido (OF/2B/1B, 24, AAA, ETA: 2024)
Hit: 45/50, Power: 45/50, Run: 55/55, Field (OF) 50/50, (2B) 40/45, (1B) 55/60, Arm: 50.
Mario “Joey” Loperfido (*Gesticulates wildly in Italian*) is a meteoric riser up the Astros’ developmental ladder. As a senior sign out of Duke, I got my first extended looks at Loperfido during his unimpressive pro debut in 2021. Therein, Loperfido ran an unfeasible whiff rate brought forth from a violent lefty uppercut. When he returned in 2022, Loperfido was noticeably more grounded in his stance, ditching his desynchronized leg kick for a less offensive toe tap, leading to dexterous barrel feel now connected through his back hip. His lean, athletic 6’4 frame generates plenty of leverage on its own, and Loperfido’s quieter hands at the plate after his first professional offseason allowed him to barrel up balls more consistently to all fields. He cut his strikeout rate from 35% to 22%, slashed .307/.408/.499 across two levels, and never looked back.
In 2023, Loperfido continued right where he left off, posting a 137 wRC+ and advancing two levels up to AAA. He’s retained steepness in his bat path, which maximizes his fringe-y current power. Always armed with a discerning eye for spin, Loperfido runs excellent swing decisions which supplement fringe-average contact rates as he advances. He also shows no difficulty against same-handed pitching, posting a 1.044 OPS against southpaws in 2023. On visual evaluation, Loperfido displays a precocious ability to adjust his body to both fastballs and breakers, often contorting his torso at the pitcher’s release to get his hands in a proper firing position, creating flush contact across different quadrants of the zone. His outstanding Sweetspot rate of 44% is no surprise, nor is his 12% barrel rate thanks to that barrel dexterity. Much of Loperfido’s power rests in projection and maximized launch angles, as my non-comprehensive minors dataset shows a max EV of 106 MPH. There is a statistically significant shelf of 108 MPH which generally informs home runs at the Major League level that I apply strictly in my own evaluations. There are exceptions to that rule (Mookie Betts, etc.) but they are few and far between. I dinged Justin Dirden and Enmanuel Valdez harshly in their power projections despite 20+ HR minor league campaigns for failing to post a max above the shelf. I won’t discount my visual power evaluation for Loperfido based on an incomplete dataset in his case, but I’ll be looking for Joey to smack a ball over the shelf sooner rather than later.
A right-handed thrower, Loperfido can handle both the grass and the dirt. An MLB caliber CF thanks to his long strides and instincts, Loperfido also stands at the keystone acceptably. I’m most intrigued by his actions and footwork at first base, where he keeps improving and projects as potentially double-plus. A left-handed hitting CF/1B with excellent defense at both positions is exactly what the 2024 Astros would have asked for if Jose Abreu’s struggles continue – they might have an heir apparent in-house.
Reminds me of: Jake Cronenworth if he could play center field.
#7. Michael Knorr (RHSP, 23, A+, ETA: 2025)
Fastball: 50/55, Slider: 55/60, Curve: 40/50, Changeup: 45/50, Command: 45/55, Sits 93-96 MPH, T98.
One of the more under-the-radar arms across minor league baseball, Michael Knorr slots in at number 7 thanks to his professional performance thus far, projectable big league pitch mix, and feasible command gains resulting from a smooth delivery. Knorr has run a 21.5 K-BB% across his first 60 professional innings, and the underlying whiff rates, especially on his fastball and slider indicate real dominance over his low-minors competition. This type of profile is my preferred pitcher archetype for Houston’s system, a big-bodied 4-pitch arm without 30 command risk, a projectable fastball, and a sharp slider. Newly 23 years old, I’d like to see Knorr finish the year in AA, an assignment he is more than capable of handling.
Knorr’s fastball has plenty of velocity to play, but does have something of a dead zone shape, with 16 IVB and an average amount of ride – it is not too dissimilar from the metrics on Hunter Brown’s. The shape leads me to bill it closer to average, even though Knorr hold his mid-90s velocity well up to the century mark of pitches, can flirt with the upper 90s, and is getting whiffs on the pitch currently. He mixes in his distinct breakers pursuant to Astros pitch mix philosophy, using the sharp gyro slider to righties and a loopier two-plane curve to lefties as respective putaway offerings. The slider is running a whiff rate north of 40%, and I think it’s Knorr’s best pitch at present and future. He has added the velocity necessary to lift it out of the low 80s without compromising shape. MLB is a slider league, and the former Chanticleer shows the requisite feel for his to become a carrying offering. Finally, Knorr’s changeup flashes significant armside run, and every once in a while he will fire off 4 innings at a time with some real corner-painting ability overall. The whole profile drives a mid-rotation ceiling, where I think Knorr ends up working an otherwise average starter’s arsenal off an exceptional breaking ball in his slider, which you can see below.
Reminds me of: Joe Musgrove
#8. Will Wagner (3B/2B, 25, AA, ETA: 2024)
Hit: 45/60, Power: 35/45, Field: 40/50, Run: 45/45, Arm: 55.
A superb visual hit tool evaluation out of Liberty, the Astros nabbed Billy Wagner’s son in the 18th round of 2021’s draft. A stocky 6’0 infielder, Wagner adjusted well to pro ball immediately thanks to his well-balanced line drive oriented uncoil and excellent understanding of the strike zone. Wagner was slowed by a wrist injury for the first half of his 2023 season, but returned to action in late July and has continued his ascent through the system by slashing .295/.382/.476 in AA. Wagner won the Astros August Minor League Player of the Month award. Having just turned 25, he could see Sugar Land by the end of the minor league season, might do well to see the Arizona Fall League again given his missed time, and can compete for a bench spot in Spring Training 2024.
Will Wagner’s profile is driven primarily by his pristine swing decisions, managing to run a sub-20% O-Swing without being overly passive at the plate. He covers all quadrants of the strike zone well, and has a high floor as a strong side platoon on-base pest. Throughout 2022 and 2023, Wagner has run plus zone contact rates nearing the 90% mark, refrained from chasing outside of the zone, and posted a combined 102.5 MPH 90th percentile EV. Perhaps the most intriguing development has been a seeming uptick in raw power beginning with his breakout Arizona Fall League performance last year. Continuing this trend, Wagner started muscling home runs to the opposite field with some regularity in 2023, where just this spring I had noted that all of Wagner’s HR power is restricted to the pull side. His below average power designation here is more a result of his suboptimal ground ball rates and line drive approach than a physical inability to punish a baseball. Wagner does display solid feel for manipulating his barrel such that I believe his power outcomes could still see an increase into a voting age home run total at peak, if he can make the requisite adjustments.
Defensively, Wagner could end up as a fringy bat-first regular at third base thanks to a solid arm that can supplement his minor range deficiencies. Second base is in the cards as well, although with the shift restrictions he likely does not fit there as well as he would have previously. While not a butcher defensively, Wagner does not figure to provide surplus value in the field, so he will have to hit to stick.
Reminds me of: Nathaniel Lowe Freaky Friday’d into Joe Panik’s body.
#9. Jake Bloss (RHP, 22, A, ETA: 2027)
Fastball: 55/60, Slider: 55/60, Curveball: 35/55, Changeup: 35/50, Command: 35/50, Sits 93-96, T97.
Jake Bloss, the Astros’ third round 2023 selection, is yet another 4-pitch right handed data darling starter profile in the Michael Knorr/Chayce McDermott/Hunter Brown mold that Houston’s draft modeling seems especially fond of. A fourth year grad transfer at Georgetown whose stuff took a leap, Bloss is the highest MLB draft selection the Hoya program has ever produced.
Bloss’s fastball and slider grade out as plus offerings in MLB today by most stuff models. His flat-VAA fastball shows good rise in the mid-90s and can brush up against 97. The slurvey mid-80s slider is perfect for modern day pitch design and sequencing, especially when Bloss tightens it up. He will also show off a 12-6 curveball with excellent movement characteristics that he did not locate consistently, and a changeup of which you could say the same. Bloss is a good mound mover for someone with such a large frame, with some violence on release but repeatable mechanics that beget a starter projection nonetheless. He tends to bleed velocity and shape past the 40 pitch mark in his outings, a phenomenon that was present with Hunter Brown in his early pro days as well. I find it appropriate to project some velocity-holding gains from small-school standouts going into their first professional offseason and therefore first exposure to professional strength & conditioning. Bloss’s mid-rotation starter ceiling is dependent on his ability to hold velo, but also refinement of a third pitch. I’d bet on his curveball location making that jump, but the fastball-slider combination in short bursts would certainly fit well in high-leverage relief. Health notwithstanding, he’s going to strike out an awful lot of hitters on his way up the system.
Reminds me of: Am I allowed to say Spencer Strider?
#10. Alonzo Tredwell (RHP, 21, A, ETA: 2027)
Fastball: 55/60, Slider: 40/50, Curveball: 50/55, Changeup: 35/50, Command: 55/60, Sits 91-94, T95.
Rounding out the top 10 of the Astros Top Prospects list is Alonzo Tredwell. A draft eligible sophomore in 2023, Alonzo Tredwell is a 6’8, oft-injured collegiate starter profile with invisiball four seam characteristics and plus command. He releases his bevy of offerings through an over-the-top delivery that hides the ball exceptionally well until his laggy arm comes forward. Tredwell’s fastball ran a tantalizing 38 whiff% in the impressive PAC-12 conference as-is, so any velocity gains that Astros development can coax out of his massive frame could turn it into a fantastic big league pitch. Behind the fastball, Tredwell primarily worked in a high-70s hammer curveball that he can consistently land, which profiles well into professional baseball. He also occasionally flashed a sweepy slider shape at 83-84 that the Astros will try to work their magic with, and a mid-80s changeup.
The big right-handed frame oozes projectability as a young 6’8 arm with strike-throwing ability already, and much of what keeps him this low on the list is injury concern. He didn’t throw 50 innings in either of his collegiate seasons, making only 9 starts at the NCAA level. Tredwell’s ceiling is remarkably high based on his pitch data and overall athleticism, and he finds himself in a premier pitching development system for 4-pitch right-handed arms with rising fastballs. Unassigned to an affiliate in 2023, it looks like we will have to wait until 2024 to see what level of workload he is capable of handling.
Reminds me of: Justin Campbell
#11. Colton Gordon (LHSP, 24, AAA, ETA: 2024)
Fastball: 40/40, Slider: 55/55, Curve: 55/60, Changeup: 60/60, Command: 60/60, AVG 90.9 MPH, T93.5 MPH
The middle rounds of the 2021 draft are well represented on this list. Houston popped Arrighetti, Loperfido, and Gordon back-to-back-to-back, beginning in the 6th round that year. They all look like imminent big leaguers. Colton Gordon represents a command-first backend starter profile who makes up for his below-average fastball with two plus breaking balls, a changeup that falls out of the zone against RHB, and some funky deception in his delivery.
Gordon works quickly, attacks with strikes, and low minors hitters simply cannot hit well-located changeups, where Gordon’s posted obscene whiff rates. His 2023 assignment in AA was much more of a true test than 2022’s brief low minors dominance. Despite a firmly below average low-90s tailing fastball, Gordon ran impressive whiff rates on all three offspeeds en route to a 30.7 K% while limiting walks acceptably across 93 innings. He gets swings and misses both in the zone and out of it, so there is some evidence of a finesse strikeout arm in Gordon’s profile that may settle just shy of a strikeout per inning. As I see it, Gordon does not have a true outlier pitch characteristic – his release point is not as unicorn as the Sean Manaea’s of the world, and he has neither the velocity nor wipeout breaker of a Chris Sale. Instead, Gordon’s polished command and unique cross-body mound mechanics afford him just enough deception to create uncomfortable at-bats. Translation to the highest level, where MLB hitters just do not miss on 90 MPH fastballs in the zone, is murky at best.
By performance alone, Gordon could sustain a reasonable argument as the system’s best pitcher. In reality MLB starters generally require at least an average fastball to succeed year over year, so Gordon’s floor as an up-and-down innings eater or junkballing long reliever is reasonably close to his ceiling as backend starter.
Reminds me of: Joey Lucchesi
#12. Andrew Taylor (RHP, 22, A, ETA: 2026)
Fastball: 50/60, Slider: 40/50, Curveball: 40/40, Changeup: 60/60, Command: 45/60, Sits 90-93, T95.
Andrew Taylor set the single-season strikeout record at Central Michigan twice in a row and slotted right into the Astros’ 2022 draft class. That year, Houston selected 7 pitchers, each 4-pitch arms with 16+ IVB fastballs topping out around the mid-90s and two distinct breaking balls. Taylor stands out, even amongst that rather homogenous group, for his strike-throwing ability and outlier fastball shape. His fastball has some modern shape characteristics, flashing 20+ IVB from a low slot relative to his 6’5 height but Taylor has not yet experienced the elusive velocity bump that would make it a carrying pitch. He’s likely lower on my list than others, primarily because I am not the biggest fan of his breaking ball shapes. Taylor can throw a low-80s slider with new added sweep that projects well, but historically relies more heavily on a slow curveball that he displays more feel for placing in the chase zones. Slow curveballs as a whole perform well in the low minors, but usually do not translate well. Ditto with Taylor’s changeup, running north of a 50 whiff% in low-A right now. The changeup is definitely plus, but likely will not dominate the same way up the organizational ladder, without much room for additional development.
On the other hand, Taylor’s command is significantly more advanced than his 12 BB% would reflect. Taylor’s elevated walk total more often results from his below average breaking balls failing to induce a chase in an action count, rather than a lack of strike-throwing ability. Having just turned 22 and with the breakers moving in the right direction, Taylor is still an intriguing strike-throwing projection arm. Even the slightest bit of added velocity on his unicorn fastball can unlock a big league starting pitcher.
Reminds me of: Bailey Ober
#13. Kenedy Corona (OF, 23, AA, ETA: 2024)
Hit: 35/40, Power: 45/55, Run: 60/60, Field: 50/50, Arm: 45
The second player in Jake Marisnick’s trade return, Kenedy Corona reworked his swing in 2022, turning what I previously noted as a line-drive gap to gap outlook into more of a slugger’s approach by tapping into pullside power. He spanked 19 homers last season across two levels, and now 22 already in 2023. On balance, Corona has also seen his contact rates slip, down to a below average 74% overall. Given Corona’s new approach, he profiles as a potential 3-spot outfielder with plus playable power, speed, and some contact concerns leading to a high variance of outcomes. A twitchy athlete, Kenedy is a fun watch who plays with his hair on fire, showing gamer characteristics on the basepaths and in the field.
At the plate, Corona has an aesthetically pleasing rhythmic trigger mechanism that culminates in a high leg kick, allowing him to stay athletic in the box (first video). With two strikes, he ditches the leg kick entirely and goes with a no-stride approach, selling out for K avoidance (second video). This likely explains his palatable low-20s K% throughout all levels of the minors despite below average contact rates overall. Corona may end up settling in as a tweener-type fourth outfielder given that he may not be able to handle professional center field as a regular, but represents one of the higher ceilings in the system via his power-speed combination, even in a corner, thanks to his swing change.
Reminds me of: Tommy Pham
#14. Colin Barber (OF, 22, AA, ETA: 2025)
Hit: 45/60, Power: 35/40, Run: 55/50, Field: 50/50, Arm: 50
I was really high on Colin Barber as a draftee due to his mature plate approach for a high schooler and picturesque lefty swing, but it may be time to admit that the power output is uncomfortably low. Barber’s strengths lie in his bat-to-ball tool and plate discipline. He’s run above average zone contact rates and swing decisions ever since he was a 18 in rookie ball, but has not shown the jump in batted ball quality that evaluators hoped would come as his body matured. Additionally, his swing decisions remain merely good instead of infallible, stagnating somewhat as he advances. Barber has a handful of batted balls >110 MPH over his career, indicating there may be just enough raw power, but he’s totally filled out his 5’11 frame and his overall impact metrics remain thoroughly unimpressive, even as he gets further away from his shoulder surgery. Barber’s legs don’t get as involved as you might like in his swing, often resulting in opposite field slash contact instead of punishing a mistake pitch.
With excellent bat-to-ball skills and good discipline, Barber still projects to make a big league club as a strong side on-base platoon solution, and perhaps even an everyday corner outfielder. He’s tremendously balanced at the plate and could still maximize his power by tapping into more pullside lift, which he occasionally shows tantalizing flashes of. Until he either posts better damage metrics or maximizes his contact accordingly, Barber is a floor-over-ceiling look.
Reminds me of: Will Brennan
#15. Chase Jaworsky (19, SS/CF, CPX, ETA: 2028)
Hit: 30/50, Power: 20/45, Run: 60/60, Field: 30/55, Arm: 55
I’m grateful for the opportunity to get my hands on some non-public film and plate skill data for Chase Jaworsky, because I was unfamiliar with the player pre-draft and came away impressed. Mostly shielded from the high school showcase circuit and therefore nowhere to be found on national lists, the Utah Valley commit was GM Dana Brown’s first real Braves-type draft selection, flexing a bit of the subterranean scouting muscle he is known to value. A premium-position defender with twitchy, athletic actions and soft hands on the infield, Jaworsky will be given every chance to stick at shortstop, but can move out to CF as needed. Between Jaworsky’s junior and senior seasons, he transformed both his body physically and his mannerisms as a hitter.
Across his 18U performances, Jaworsky lowered his hands below his shoulders and incorporated a slower leg lift, turning a flat and stabby swing plane into a steep, smooth, rotational bat path behind a small armbar that might one day lead to some problems on the inside edge but certainly hasn’t yet. He flashes excellent bat speed and the ability to catch a fastball out in front, while beginning the process of filling out his quick-twitch 6’1 frame. In the small sample of his travel ball circuit, my data shows Jaworsky with a 0% whiff rate on 90+ MPH velocity. In his similarly brief professional debut, Jaworsky continued to flash his hit tool potential by posting a healthy 15.7 K% in the complex, further evidence that his somewhat unorthodox new swing won’t get blown up by professional velocity. I’m tabbing Jaworsky as a defense-first shortstop with a blazing first step and projectable contact ability who should be able to tap into just enough playable power as he adds muscle, not entirely unlike the Astros current shortstop.
Reminds me of: J.P Crawford
#16. Miguel Ullola (RHP, 21, A+, ETA: 2025)
Fastball: 70/70, Slider: 55/60, Curveball: 35/55, Changeup: 30/35, Command: 30/40, Sits 93-96 MPH, T98.
A young, flamethrowing relief outlook with an outside chance to start, Ullola runs plus-plus whiff rates on his ride-heavy fastball and mid-80s slider in between fits of poor command. When I wrote up Miguel Ullola in my midseason 2022 update, I observed that “Miguel’s delivery and wrist positioning looks like one that can incorporate a hammer curveball as he advances into the upper levels, which Houston is not shy about encouraging.” I’m not sure when exactly he first unveiled the curveball, but he is throwing one now. Its movement profile is that of a workable big league shape, giving Ullola three potentially plus offerings.
With a sturdy frame and wide shoulders, Ullola manages a straight line torso dominant delivery with his glove arm guiding, and a surprisingly smooth release more indicative of workable command than the results relay so far. Still just 21, projecting some modest command improvement as Ullola moves up is far from a pipe dream. He’s most likely headed for a big league bullpen given his 14.9% walk rate, but if Ullola shores up his locations a tick above expected he could emerge as another international pipeline Astros starter.
Reminds me of: Julian Merryweather
#17. Pedro Leon (OF/2B, 25, AAA, ETA: 2023)
Hit: 30/35, Power: 60/60, Run: 60/60, Field (OF): 50/55, (2B): 35/40, Arm: 80
Still a physically impressive miniature toolshed, Pedro Leon’s hit tool has not progressed almost at all within Houston’s system, casting doubt on his big league projection. Under the hood, Leon is running roughly the same solid z-Con% he did in 2022, from 83.4% to 84%. Unfortunately, contact rates are not the whole story: he’s produced one of the sharper decreases in average exit velocity I’ve ever seen year-to-year, down from an in-order 89.3 MPH in 2022 to an abhorrent 83.1 MPH in 2023. Leon continues one of the starker contrasts between average EV and 90th percentile EV, with a 23 MPH differential. All due credit to Jesse Roche over at Baseball Prospectus for noting Leon’s penchant for mishits that ultimately limits his hit tool upside, because I missed it in my own offseason eval and ranked over-aggressively preseason. When Pedro makes flush contact, he absolutely smokes the ball. In fact, Leon has managed to be perhaps the only unlucky hitter the PCL has ever produced, underachieving his expected HR total by 5 nukes. Pitch-to-pitch, though, his feel for the barrel is frustratingly inconsistent. As a 25 year old repeating AAA, Leon’s runway is starting to narrow out.
I don’t mean to insist that Leon cannot be a productive big leaguer. His power, patience, and defense combination can result in a long and successful big league career. A defensive asset who can play all three outfield spots, Leon makes up for unimpressive jumps with plus closing speed and a Howitzer cannon of an arm. The Astros occasionally deploy him on the infield dirt, where his athleticism shines through but the glovework may simply never get there. Leon can impact the game through his litany of tools, but has not shown convincing signs of becoming a consistent year-over-year MLB hitter, unless the consistency in question is a batting average that flirts with the Mendoza line on the bottom-left corner of the screen when you watch his highlight reel moonshots.
Reminds me of: Chris Carter’s bat in Cedric Mullins’s body.
#18. Tyler Guilfoil (RHP, 23, A+, 2025)
Fastball: 55/60, Slider: 45/55, Changeup: 55/60, Command: 45/55, Sits 92-94, T96.
A data darling closer at Kentucky, Tyler Guilfoil combines a 19 IVB fastball topping in the mid-90s with a low release point, appealing to many pitch design systems. In 2023, he’s dropped his already-low release point even lower, now a flat-VAA monster. Guilfoil has a late, quick-flip hip trigger after a back-turning leg lift. He short arms his offerings up to the zone deceptively, displaying good command on his fastball and changeup, and solid strike-throwing ability overall.
As will be repeated throughout the back half of this list: pitchers with good command and a plus changeup dominate Low-A. Guilfoil is more intriguing than the other Fayetteville arms because of his projectable fastball in addition to his low-minors performance. That performance has certainly been impressive – Guilfoil has posted a 23.9 K-BB% over 70 innings across both levels of A ball, with overall whiff rates nearing 40%. His fastball and slider both performed, although the slider could benefit from some added bite and a more consistent shape. Guilfoil is averaging 3.5 innings per appearance, so there is some possibility he develops into a five-and-dive strikeout arm. That’s probably the high end of outcomes, but I feel comfortable tabbing Guilfoil as a big league reliever in some capacity.
Reminds me of: Tanner Houck
#19. Cam Fisher (OF, 22, A, ETA: 2027)
Hit: 30/35, Power: 60/70, Run: 45/40, Field: 35/40, Arm: 45
Lovingly referred to as “mid-major Kyle Schwarber”, Cam Fisher has light-tower power helped by an innate ability to get on plane for elevation, paired with an extremely patient plate approach. He looks to pull everything in the air, occasionally displaying feel to launch a low and outside offering over the opposite field fence as well. The former JUCO bandit smoked 48 homers across his two seasons at UNC-Charlotte with a near-.500 OBP, was a high performer in summer wood bat leagues including the Cape, and heard his name called in the fourth round to Houston.
As a professional, Fisher has displayed more of the same. Considerable contact deficiencies present themselves via Fisher’s 70% overall contact rate and below-average z-Con%, and his blend of 17.6 BB%/32.1 K% further begets a three true outcomes projection. The big lefty outfielder crushed collegiate fastballs, but posted some worrisome whiff rates against both premium 93+ MPH velocity and in-zone AAC caliber breaking balls. Given his combination of power and zone recognition, Fisher retains a middle of the order ceiling if the Astros can positively develop his bat-to-ball accordingly. Unlike his most common comparison, Fisher is a fringe-average runner who should be able to handle right field duties. He does not profile to provide value out there, but should just avoid being a Schwarber level negative defender.
Reminds me of: A slightly more athletic Kyle Schwarber with considerable breaking ball difficulties.
#20. Waner Luciano (3B, 18, CPX, ETA: 2027)
Hit: 25/45, Power: 35/55, Run: 50/40, Field: 35/45, Arm: 55
Waner Luciano is a stocky teenaged infielder with strong wrists and good barrel feel, allowing him to avoid mishits while swinging out of his shoes, punishing baseballs out past dead center when it all works. He bulked up considerably before this summer’s complex play, certainly heavier than his listed 6’1/170. Luciano has some bat wrap during his stride, but lands balanced and whips his circuitous barrel through the zone on-plane more often than not. I have his hit tool pegged as fringe average at peak, but with 10 homers in just 194 complex league PAs, Luciano’s power could wind up as plus. He’s not overly aggressive either, although his swing rates are higher than many other slugger projections in an Astros system that prioritizes swing decisions. Rule 5 eligible during the 2026 offseason, Luciano should begin next year in full-season Fayetteville. He will be pushed aggressively if he shows hit tool capability during an advanced assignment. Waner isn’t a premium athlete, so there’s going to be significant pressure on Luciano’s bat at all levels. Given the results so far, the bat might be enough.
Reminds me of: Noelvi Marte
#21. Shay Whitcomb (IF, 24, AAA, ETA: 2024)
Hit: 30/35, Power: 55/60, Run: 50/50, Field: 45/50, Arm: 50.
The organizational home run leader, smoking ’em across two levels in 2023 thus far, Shay Whitcomb was Mr. Irrelevant in the shortened 2020 draft. Taken out of Division II University of California – San Diego, Whitcomb stood out for his extreme bat speed, otherworldly ability to stretch the rubber band at the plate while remaining balanced, and projectable raw power as a stone-gloved middle infield hopeful. This season, he’s lived up to his offensive reputation by smashing balls over the fence with regularity, with plenty of intriguing traits in his data. Shay’s overall contact rates and discipline skew below average but are not terrible, with an 81.5 z-Con% and a 35 O-Swing%. Those are palatable when considering how hard he hits the ball at optimal launch angles, currently tracking for a borderline-elite 13 barrel%. I’ve slotted him this low in a thin farm because of his tremendous difficulty handling spin.
In my 2022 update, I noted that Whitcomb, then just missing a numerical designation, “struggled mightily in adapting to advanced breaking balls in AA.” In 2023, he’s still whiffing on all breaking ball/offspeed types at obscene rates, both inside and outside of the zone. Whitcomb crushes fastballs even better than I had projected, but spin recognition tends to be one of the stickier offensive talent variables, and his deficiency there drags down this package of otherwise intriguing skills considerably.
Additionally, I’m more bearish on Whitcomb’s defense than other evaluators. I think he will need to move off of shortstop even if he does hit in the bigs, operating as a fringe-average rotational piece at third and second base. While his glovework has improved tenfold since his time in college, MLB caliber shortstops bear a high standard. Whitcomb does not have an impressive first step or cannon arm, does not display the requisite internal clock, and is better suited to less premium positions. Still, Whitcomb presents an explosive power-speed blend that can change the game with one swing at any time.
Reminds me of: Tim Beckham
#22. Quincy Hamilton (OF, 25, AAA, ETA: 2024)
Hit: 50/50, Power: 30/35, Run: 50/50, Field: 50/50, Arm: 45
Quincy Hamilton has a high floor and a low ceiling, more or less pigeonholed into a fourth outfield role in MLB. He has a wonderful blend of bat-to-ball and plate discipline metrics, with a 91 z-Con% and a sub-30% chase rate. Hamilton also has MLB average raw power, as evidenced by a near-110 MPH max EV and an 88.7 MPH average EV. Given only that information, he’d find himself higher on lists. Unfortunately, Hamilton has made some but not enough strides since his time as a 2021 draftee at tapping into his power in games. Nearly all of Hamilton’s hardest contact is on the ground or on a line due to his flat bat angle. Every once in a while, the well-built outfielder will really get a hold of a grooved fastball and show off his power ceiling. Ultimately though, Hamilton projects as a pesky part time MLB line drive hitter with a nice on-base floor, and likely never gets to enough playable power to become an impact outfielder. Defensively, Hamilton is a tweener who could end up as an asset in the corners despite his arm strength, but should really only stand in center field in a pinch.
Reminds me of: Willi Castro
#23. Nolan DeVos (RHP, 23, A+, ETA: 2026)
Fastball: 45/55, Slider: 60/60, Curveball: 35/50, Changeup: 35/40, Command: 35/45, Sits 91-93 MPH, T96
An arm that fits Houston’s 2022 draft mold, Nolan DeVos presents a spinny multi-inning relief outlook thanks to a carrying slider and a plus IVB fastball. A bit undersized but sturdily built, DeVos gets down the mound extremely effectively and releases all four of his offerings from a low over-the-top slot, yet another unique arm angle. A supination profile, he displays solid feel for spin overall with plus raw rates on both breaking balls. DeVos could end up with three above average MLB offerings via his fastball, slider, and curveball, but the changeup lags behind.
DeVos succeeds primarily through his fastball-slider combination. His hard, sweepy slider ran a 48% whiff rate at Davidson, and has maintained similar dominance across both levels of A-ball. The fastball, a projectable four seam offering with straight-line rise in the low-90s, has also seen an uptick in effectiveness thanks to professional pitch sequencing. DeVos is clearly aware of the pitch’s success at the top of the zone, and he lives up there with it. Given two offerings that project as above average across all levels and unproblematic command, DeVos has a high floor as a low-variance reliever. There’s still some shot that he works his way into a starting role thanks to his 4-pitch mix, but DeVos already has a very efficient delivery and hasn’t seen any velocity gains yet, a requirement to unlock that ultimate ceiling. He’s seen some struggles on the bump to High-A, but his granular data relays that much of those surface-level results contain a fair bit of noise. DeVos remains a versatile arm to keep tabs on, with many ways to cash MLB checks.
Reminds me of: Joe Barlow
#24. Jose Fleury (21, RHP, A, ETA: 2027)
Fastball: 40/50, Slider: 35/50, Curveball: 40/45, Changeup: 55/60, Command: 35/50, Sits 90-93, T94.
Jose Fleury is an undersized starter profile with an outlier changeup that he relies on heavily. His fastball can approach 20 IVB from a higher slot, and needs additional velocity to profile as an asset in the upper levels. A pronation-dominant right handed arm, I’m skeptical of Fleury’s ability to develop feel for his breaking balls, which often meld their respective shapes far too close to each other. Fleury has an intriguing outlook thanks to his repeatable mound movements and deeper arsenal, and if he can add some power behind his fastball retains a 4-starter ceiling. Adding a cutter as Luis Garcia did may be Fleury’s eventual answer to the breaking ball conundrum, although Garcia was touching the upper 90s at a similar age.
Like with Taylor and Drombroski, I’m not quite ready to buy in to this type of arm dominating Low-A by projecting an above-average MLB starter already, but Fleury’s 23.9 K-BB% will appeal to statline models. How clear Fleury’s path to an MLB rotation becomes depends almost entirely on his ability to pick up a few ticks on his fastball, and add bite to at least one of his breaking balls. Otherwise, Fleury’s airbender changeup and shape-over-power fastball drives a finesse reliever designation with some likely home run issues.
Reminds me of: Oliver Drake
#25. Trey Dombroski (LHP, 22, A, ETA: 2026)
Fastball: 35/40, Slider: 50/50, Curveball: 55/60, Changeup: 55/60, Command: 60/70, Sits 89-92, T93.
Trey Dombroski, the best command arm in Houston’s system, pairs three polished offspeeds with a below average fastball occasionally beginning its velocity reading with an 8. He’s passed Shawn Dubin for the Fayetteville Woodpeckers single-season record for strikeouts in 2023, which sounds a little bit more impressive than it is given that pitchers rarely see his 106 inning total at the low-A level if they’re accumulating that many K’s.
Dombroski’s profile is built entirely around pitchability and plus command. His fastball is unlikely to break the mid-90s and all of his offspeeds are close to as good as they can get already. More than perhaps any other name in the system, I feel as though I am missing something here given that the Astros are slow-playing Dombroski in the low minors. Best guess; Fayetteville has some of the organization’s best facilities, so I would not be surprised to see Trey skip A+ ball and open 2024 in Corpus. The big lefty’s tight slider gives same handed batters fits given his ability to place it in the low-and away chase zone, and I’m a big fan of his sweepy two-plane curveball, which occasionally flashes powerful bite. Dombroski’s changeup has plus-plus fade, giving him an excellent weapon to mask his below average fastball against RHH. All told, Dombroski is a safe, low-variance backend starter profile who profiles to eat innings at the big league level.
Reminds me of: Cole Irvin
#26. Zach Cole (OF, 23, A+, ETA: 2026)
Hit: 30/35, Power: 45/55, Run: 70/70, Field: 55/55, Arm: 45
Zach Cole is a toolsy center fielder with present power and big time contact problems. A muscled-up freak athlete, Cole is a double-plus runner with impressive bat speed, who swings out of his shoes from a brief heel lift with minimal pre-pitch noise in his setup. Despite his controlled actions before the firing mechanism, Cole severely struggles to make contact. When he does get his bat on plane the quality of contact metrics are impressive and should sustain high BABIPs (along with his 7 speed), but Cole is 23 years old in the low minors, and currently running contact rates that indicate a potentially unworkable hit tool. Without a glaring mechanical flaw to clean up, Cole will likely have to make up for his contact deficiencies in other ways.
The Ball State product can handle center field duties as he ascends up the ladder, probably settling in as a fringe average if he cracks the Majors. He can go get it with anybody else in the system, with a below average arm. His speed is not eye wash, as Cole swipes bags with regularity and impacts the game with his legs often.
Reminds me of: Jordyn Adams
#27. Ethan Pecko (RHP, 21, A, ETA: 2027)
Fastball: 40/55, Slider: 50/60, Curveball: 35/40, Changeup: 35/45, Command: 35/45, Sits 91-93, T95.
Ethan Pecko stood out in the Northwoods summer league by posting a 47% overall whiff rate across his 26 innings, his slider showing special enough traits to get him paid. A fastball-slider profile primarily but with other offerings in his back pocket, I’m tabbing Pecko’s high-spin two-plane slider as plus, even one of the better sliders in Houston’s system. With unproblematic mound mechanics and a smooth release that can add some more power, Pecko will be given every chance to start. His low-90s fastball has significant two-seam movement, sharp fading action that induces ground balls and whiffs both. Pecko’s rough A-ball debut outing is going to skew the professional numbers when you look back in the offseason, but his carrying slider opens up a wide range of outcomes. He just turned 21 in August, making him one of the younger collegiate draftees.
Reminds me of: Will Warren
#28. Joe Record (RHP, 28, AAA, ETA: 2023)
Sinker: 60/60, Cutter: 50/50, Slider: 60/60, Curve: 50/50, Changeup: 60/60, Command: 45/45, Sits 93.4 MPH, T96.4.
Joe Record is a deceptive, MLB-ready 5-pitch righty relief look who throws nothing straight and possesses many ways of attacking any individual hitter. His sinker, slider, and changeup stand out as his best offerings via movement profiles, but Record alternates his entire pitch mix effectively to keep hitters off balance. While operating as Sugar Land’s closer, he’s thrown each of his sinker, cutter, curve, and slider at 13%+ usage. I whiffed on identifying Seth Martinez back in the day, and Record shows a loosely similar profile, although restricted to what are likely more dominant single-inning bursts as opposed to a long relief mop-up role.
Record is a tremendous groundball inducer, his sinker running a GB% north of 70% throughout his 45 AAA innings this season. Everything in the big righty’s arsenal plays up thanks to his funky delivery and glove arm that flies all over the place. The ball seems to appear from behind his ear, throwing off hitters’ timing in conjunction with the deep pitch mix. Living around mid-90s velocity with a sweepy slider and downer curve that both induce whiffs, it’s not all contact management. Record projects as a big league middle reliever as soon as tomorrow.
Reminds me of: Andre Pallante
#29. Camilo Diaz (17, 3B/SS, DSL, ETA: 2028)
Hit: 25/40, Power: 30/55, Run: 60/50, Field: 30/55, Arm: 60
Not much has changed for Camilo Diaz, who debuted in the Dominican Summer League as a 17 year old after headlining Houston’s international class. He posted some worrisome contact metrics and a 32.8% strikeout rate, but also smacked enough hard contact to dream on his power outcomes as a left-side infield slugger. Diaz refrains from chasing generally, presenting a profile that Houston’s system tends to do well with. A projectable infielder with soft hands on the dirt and an above average arm, Diaz can stick as an MLB regular if he takes a step forward in bat-to-ball given the rest of his projectable set of tools, including above average infield defense. He could repeat the DSL or come stateside next season, and could fly up lists if he improves his contact rates.
Reminds me of: Jhonny Peralta
#30. Tyler Whitaker (3B/OF, 21, A+, ETA: 2026)
Hit: 30/35, Power: 30/50, Run: 55/55, Field: 50/60, Arm: 60
Billed with the potential for double-plus power as a draftee, Tyler Whitaker’s carrying tool now appears to be his defense. His operation at third base is as smooth as it gets, with excellent athleticism, a sure glove, and plus arm. In 2023, the Astros have bounced Whitaker around third base and both corner outfield spots, but he really shines in the hot corner with a premium internal clock and hard-nosed defensive actions.
Offensively, Whitaker has made some contact strides in his low minors progression, now running below-average contact rates, but numbers that are significant improvements from where they started. A big body with plus raw power, Whitaker appears to have sacrificed some damage for K avoidance in this new approach, restricting his offensive ceiling. He hits the ball on the ground far too often, and lacks the requisite barrel dexterity to create loft via his flat bath path. Having already made a mechanical change to add some lift last season, it’s tough to project yet another, more effective swing path change that would unlock Whitaker’s significant power potential. Development is not linear, and Whitaker can still hammer out plus EV outputs so I’m not closing the book. Because he is such a polished defender with some versatility and his offensive game is progressing, albeit slowly, Whitaker is likely to contribute as a big league bench piece.
Reminds me of: Charlie Culberson
#31. Nehomar Ochoa Jr. (18, OF, CPX, ETA: 2028)
Hit: 25/40, Power: 35/60, Run: 60/55, Field: 30/45, Arm: 55
A tooled-up 6’4/210 elk, the Astros nabbed Galena Park’s own Nehomar Ochoa Jr in the 11th round for a portion of their slot savings through round 10. The UH Cougar commit had some legitimate two-way potential with a hard-boring fastball topping at 94 MPH, but looks like he will stick as a professional outfielder considering his potentially double-plus raw power and feasible path for making enough contact.
Ochoa Jr. destroyed both Houston-area HS baseball and the Texas showcase circuit. He remains rather balanced at the plate, with natural strength resulting in whippy bat speed and light-tower wood bat power. Ochoa also showed out rather well on his jump into professional baseball, smacking three bombs in 42 plate appearances before he even turned 18. A plus runner now who might lose a step down the road, Nehomar Ochoa Jr. is a tremendously intriguing likely corner outfield profile with game changing power and a better hit tool than billed by some outlets.
Reminds me of: Jorge Soler
#32. Justin Dirden (OF, 26, AAA, ETA: 2024)
Hit: 35/40, Power: 50/50, Run: 50/50, Field: 50/50, Arm: 40
While I root for all prospects to succeed, I also try to be as clear-headed in my evaluations as possible. Justin Dirden’s underlying data never supported his old-for-level breakout’s sustainability throughout 2022, so I slotted him 22nd on last publication to some dissent, especially catching the occasional flack when he went on to have an impressive spring training numbers. In Sugar Land this season, Dirden’s statline production and underlying batted ball data have both taken sharp steps back despite some early-season cries for him to take big league CF reps.
A corner outfield projection who can stand in center field thanks to deceptive speed and a willingness to put his big body on the line, Dirden’s main criticisms in my evaluative process throughout 2022 were twofold: his below average impact metrics, and struggles with spin. Dirden puts his hardest contact in the air, making fringe average raw power play up, but generally just doesn’t hit the ball hard enough to sustain a corner outfield profile. With a below average 85.7 MPH average exit velocity and a 108 max in 2023, Dirden hasn’t shown a massive leap in quality of contact. His 8 barrel% would play in the Bigs, but unfortunately swing-and-miss concerns have reared their head as well at this new level. Dirden is currently posting a disastrous 75% z-Con% for a 26 year old corner outfielder with fringe power, paired with an astounding 48.6 whiff% on non-fastballs. It’s been a lost year for Dirden, but he still has some hope as a strong side platoon corner outfield option who can take advantage of his potential home park thanks to an ability to lift the ball to RF with some authority.
Reminds me of: Jake Fraley
#33. Rhett Kouba (RHP, 24, AAA, ETA: 2024)
Fastball: 40/45, Curveball: 40/50, Changeup: 60/60, Command: 60/60, Sits 90.5 MPH, T92.5
Rhett Kouba presents a spot-starter profile who leverages a deceptive low-90s tailing fastball on a unique spin axis, a sweepy two-plane breaking ball, and a carrying changeup to keep hitters off balance while filling up the zone. This is Kouba’s first numerical designation on my lists, last appearing in 2022’s preseason “Just Missed” section as an intriguing 12th round collegiate performer.
Kouba won’t miss many bats, but could cash checks as an innings eater beginning next season. The soft-tossing righty had 110 extremely effective innings at AA this season, putting up a 3.27 ERA and a 25.3 K-BB%, stingy with free passes. He works with his fastball-changeup combination primarily, the latter likely his lone above average offering at the highest level. The changeup kills spin effectively at 1200 RPM and stays on plane with his fastball, mirroring its movement profile with 10 MPH of separation. Kouba’s curveball (it might be a very slow two-plane slider) is a work in progress that’s made significant strides since his time as a draftee, showing significant sweeping movement with 14.6 inches of horizontal break. It’s too slow at 76 MPH to project as a carrying MLB offering, and Kouba also leaves it up a bit too often, but the pitch should be workable. Overall, Kouba’s likely mop up role is a little less exciting than his AA dominance over his 2023 season might lend expectations to, but every team needs someone to save their bullpen.
Reminds me of: Jake Irvin
#34. Anthony Huezo (OF, 17, CPX, ETA: 2028)
Hit: 25/45, Power: 20/45, Run: 60/60, Field: 30/55, Arm: 60.
Houston’s 12th round selection in 2023, Anthony Huezo was a supremely late pop-up prep talent, emerging from the California tournament circuit in 2022 as a professional outfield look thanks to his plus run ability, whippy bat speed, and balanced uncoil. Still not 18 years old, he was one of the younger players in the entire draft. With an intriguing set of tools including exit velocities creeping into the triple digits as Huezo gets bigger and stronger, he profiles as a balanced and hitter-ish three spot outfielder.
In the complex, Huezo held his own appropriately with tons of time to add the necessary impact to his left-handed swing. He showed a distinct preference to take the ball the other way, which hampered his statline power production but is hardly something I can use as a detraction for a teenaged outfielder. As with any prep draftee, Huezo’s range of outcomes is as broad as they get, but he displays that combination of tool and polish that can result in a true breakout prospect.
Reminds me of: Christian Yelich. Again, not a projection.
#35. Alimber Santa (RHP, 20, A, ETA: 2026)
Fastball: 50/60, Slider: 50/60, Changeup: 35/40, Command: 25/30, Sits 94-96, T97 MPH
Santa is an electric relief prospect with likely plus offerings in his mid-90s fastball and new breaking ball, who needs strike-throwing improvement across the board. Somewhat undersized, Santa has a high-effort uptempo delivery with explosive push off his back leg, though does not get down the mound with utmost efficiency. Over the offseason, he reworked a high-70s curveball into a tighter slider shape that can flirt with 2800 RPM. Those two pitches would be all Santa needs for an effective relief outlook, but he routinely loses the strike zone and fails to finish mechanically. Recently turning 20 years old, Santa’s command gains can come along with time, although I find someone like Miguel Ullola’s mound mechanics to be more indicative of workable command. Nonetheless, Santa is a supremely talented arm who could probably brush triple digits in the coming years. If he finds the zone, he can find himself anchoring a big league bullpen.
Reminds me of: Enoli Paredes
#36. Xavier Casserilla (3B, 20, CPX, ETA: 2027)
Hit: 30/45, Power: 25/50, Run: 50/45, Field: 35/40, Arm: 55
I was able to watch the Cape Cod league extensively this summer, so my ears perked up when I heard that the Astros were able to sign Xavier Casserilla as an UDFA following his Cape play. His $170,000 bonus was the largest UDFA amount of 2023, as befitting a JUCO bandit forgoing his Oklahoma State commitment to enter pro ball. Casserilla is a wide-shouldered, quick twitch corner infield profile with good innate bat speed and feel for his barrel. With strong wrists that flash through the zone rapidly, Casserilla looks to send line drives over the second baseman’s head. He can get happy feet in the box, but displays projectable bat-to-ball ability and when he remains balanced has the raw power to smoke line drives up and over the power alleys. In his Cape days, Casserilla showed above average contact ability via his unproblematic whiff rates against premier college talent across all pitch types.
Casserilla’s biggest concern is how his power will translate into professional baseball. Wood bats have shown to be a non-issue given his solid Cape performance, but Casserilla remains line-drive dominant. The thin margin for error for an opposite field line drive approach from a corner infielder puts plenty of pressure on the Seminole State standout’s hit tool. I was and am a fan of Caserilla’s physical foundation and hitter-ish actions, and so would not be surprised if he showed up in 2024 with more considerable over-the-fence thump thanks to a swing tweak.
Reminds me of: Brian Anderson
Historically, this ending place would be where I espouse on national ranking oversight and some underrated T100 guys. They’re correct to place Houston’s farm towards the backend of MLB on true talent. This year, I think T100 consideration ends at Zach Dezenzo, with this list’s top four in a fairly cohesive group together on the fringes. It’s absolutely the thinnest group of potential difference makers for the Astros since I started really studying organizational strength and prospect development, but such is the price of two titles and the whole sign stealing thing. The system has a strong developmental track record that shows no signs of slowing down, so hopefully this piece has outlined and perhaps even made interesting the journey of some under-discussed future big leaguers.
As always, thank you for reading.
- Benjamin Zeidman (@midzee4)