AstrosMinors

Top 5 Houston Astros Prospects

The next wave of Astros prospects are around the corner.

The offseason is here, and it’s time to start looking ahead. With the Astros inevitably making moves and all the free agents this year, we have to assume this team will love slightly different next season. However, it’s also time to look at some of the weapons the Astros have in their minor league programs.

Forrest Fire

It’s no secret the Astros have the top pitching prospect in all of baseball, Forrest Whitley. Teams have had their eye on him for a while now for potential trades, but Jeff Lunhow as said he’s not for sale multiple times. So, you have to wonder if this year is the year we get to see Whitley bring his talents to the juice box. Especially with the caliber of a rotation that Houston has, not to mention the bullpen. It’s going to be very interesting to see how and when Forrest gets added to this five-man tandem.

Tuck and Roll

Kyle Tucker is another highly sought-after prospect that the Astros have in their back pocket. Now he actually made his MLB Debut in the 2018 season, and some would say he had a somewhat disappointing season. It was clear Tucker wasn’t ready for the intensity of “The Show,” and he was sent back down the minors where he flourished. One had to hope that Tucker will make his return in the 2019 season and hopefully with better results.

1st Base Potential

Yordan Alvarez is a slugging first baseman, who recently earned a promotion to triple-A. While he’s spent some time in the outfield, his lack of mobility should keep him to a 1B/DH role in the Majors. He’s hit for both power and average in the minors, but he’ll likely see his batting average dip when he enters the major league level. Regardless, there are high hopes for a player his caliber.

Beer Time

Seth Beer is an early draft pick for the Astros this year. He has put up some impressive numbers early on in his career, but he’s also been beating up on mostly younger competition. There is enormous potential for him, especially after his college performance but a lot has remained to be seen. All eyes will be on this top prospect in the coming season.

Redemption shot

Cionel Perez is another top prospect who made his MLB debut last season. Again, he wasn’t bad, but it’s clear he needed grooming. With more work with Brent Strom, I’m certain he’ll be a threat in the bullpen. He has a feel for pitching and does an impressive job of commanding his four-pitch mix. His fastball can reach mid 90’s which is always good to see, but he’ll need to switch it up to get those K’s where he wants them.

In conclusion, the Astros have some potential stars in their minor league programs, and it will be very interesting to see how they come into play this season. Will the unstoppable pitching of Whitley bring this pitching rotation to another level? Will Tucker redeem himself in the bigs in 2019? Only time will tell, but everyone will be watching in anticipation for this championship quality team to do very wonderful things and hopefully make another run at the title.

Source: Fangraphs.com

Astros still have an A.J. Reed decision to make

Winston Churchill once described Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” So, is the conundrum of Astros first baseman AJ Reed, the power-hitting former second round pick by the organization in 2013. 

While much of the current collection of Astros MiLB followers (correctly) heap praise on the Kyle Tucker’s, Yordan Alvarez’s, and Seth Beer’s in the system, they simultaneously seem to have moved on from one of the most productive hitters in all of the minor leagues over the last few years. 

Consider these statistics and MiLB accomplishments from the big Kentuckian:

  • Career .288 hitter in the minors with 123 homers and 443 RBI to go along with a .926 OPS. 
  • The only two time winner of the Bauman Award, given to the player that leads all of the minor leagues in home runs (2015, 2017). 
  • Was the 2015 MiLB.com Offensive Player of the Year after leading all of the minors in RBI (127), total bases (320), and all full-season players in slugging percentage (.612) and OPS (1.044). He also scored 113 runs, hit 34 homers, drew 86 walks, hit 30 doubles, and batted .340 across two levels. 
  • Named the 2018 MVP for the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies after hitting 28 homers and leading Triple-A with 108 RBI. 
  • In 523 games and 1,971 at-bats, Reed has a career slugging percentage of .547 to go along with a career OBP of .378. 

So, what to do with the 6’4”, 230lb, power hitter? In a normal world, a player with his combination of power and hitting ability, and the credentials to back it up, would be considered an important part of an organization’s future. So, why is AJ Reed the Russia of the Astros organization? Let’s take a closer look. 

THE RIDDLE

Reed, for all of his minor league accomplishments, has had little success at the big league level. In 131 career at-bats with the Astros, Reed has an abysmal slash line of .153/.255/.244, with a staggering 50 strikeouts. In his defense, consistent playing time and opportunities have been lacking. 

There is, of course, the eye test, and with visual evidence we can surmise that Reed’s bat looks slow, he’s unable to handle big-league fastballs, and is lost when down in the count and resorting to guessing what is being thrown at him. 

So, what do you call a power hitting left-handed bat with little to no idea at the plate? 

THE MYSTERY 

Let’s be fair here. As mentioned above, Reed hasn’t been given the consistent playing needed for any young hitter to adapt to the superior MLB stuff that pitchers at this level possess. So, there remains a mystery as to what Reed actually may or may not be able to accomplish should he get, say, 300-400 at-bats in Houston. 

Clearly, the MiLB track record is there. Reed’s natural raw power allows for the lefty to maintain a consistent swing path and allows him to concentrate on just barreling up the baseball and to let his strength do the rest. And, despite the alarming strike out rate, he does have a good idea of the zone and will draw his share of walks. To boot, Reed has improved defensively and the once college pitcher has an excellent arm for the first base position. 

Power hitters typically have the biggest adjustments to make as they jump to the big leagues. The aforementioned Chris Davis—-before becoming the worst hitter in recent memory—-needed the at-bats at the big league level before blossoming into one of the most feared hitters in baseball. The question for Reed, as well as the Astros front office, is can he be afforded the time to develop on a team that is in championship mode with little room to allow a project to develop? And, lastly, do we need to cut ties too soon on potentially a left handed version of JD Martinez?

THE ENIGMA

And here we are, left with the decision of just what to do with the big guy. Reed is on the Astros 40-man roster, which means, barring an outright release, he will be able to continue his journey with the Astros organization. But where, exactly, would Reed best be able to stake his claim  to the active 25-man roster? 

Tyler White, JD Davis, and the incumbent Yuli Gurriel, all appear to have the favor of the Astros organization over Reed. Not to mention, Alvarez and Beer seemingly poised to supplant Reed as an option as well. Also, with news that the Astros are serious players for Nelson Cruz to fill the DH spot, Reed is left with “hoping” for injuries or trades in order to leapfrog himself into consideration as a legitimate big leaguer. 

Let’s look at Reed, as the enigma in the system and what Luhnow and company must be thinking in regards to the slugger. 

Could Reed be part of a package in a trade scenario? Probably not, unfortunately. While Reed has the MiLB track record, other teams also realize that Reed has serious question marks and that the Astros have little leverage in offering Reed as a prospect in a trade. 

Could Reed be a legitimate option for the Astros to fill the DH spot in 2019? Maybe. But, again, he would need many things to fall into place for that to happen. Certainly he could be called up in a pinch, but the reality remains that if the club really had confidence in him, he would have been up several times in 2018. 

Could Reed one day haunt Luhnow in the same way JD Martinez does today? A resounding affirmative to this one. Reed’s raw power is hard to come by, and with a minor league history of being able to hit for power and average, Reed has the untapped potential to carry that success to the highest level. It just may come in a different uniform and given an extended look by a rebuilding team. 

Simply put, I’m not sure anyone following Reed’s career path can say what he is, who he is, or what he will be. We just don’t know what we don’t know in regards to Reed. 

Meanwhile, in 2019, he’ll likely spend the majority of his time in Round Rock, hit around .275, hit close to 30 home runs, drive in over 100 runs, and have nowhere to advance to. 

Sources: MiLB.com; thebaseballcube.com

Forrest Whitley: The Next Evolution of Astro Pitching

The sting of losing in the postseason still seems fresh, the offseason is now upon us.

The Houston Astros have some work to do if they are to challenge the new champion Boston Red Sox for the title next season. With free agency in full swing, general manager Jeff Lunhow is sure to work the phones to see what’s available, while also trying to retain some of his own free agents. While its no secret that everyone loves the big sexy free agent to walk through their clubhouse doors, the best addition is homegrown talent.

Thanks to the great work by the Astros front office, and scouting department, the answer to some of the offseason questions might be on the way to a ‘Juice Box’ near you. His name is Forrest Whitley. So, to quote the great film G.I. Jane, “Are you ready for the next evolution!”

Forrest Whitley is not only the Astros top prospect. He is the best pitching prospect in all of baseball. There are some that compared him coming out of high school to the very successful pitcher that wears the number 35 for your Houston Astros. Maybe you’ve heard of him? His name is Justin Verlander. The kid is a mountain, standing six foot seven inches tall. That’s a very intimidating dude standing on the bump coming at you with a serious arsenal of pitches including an above average fastball that can touch 98.

He backs that up with a really sharp curveball that will only get better once the spin rate masters in Houston get their hands on him. He completes his repertoire of pitches with a slider with great movement off the plate and a change that really hasn’t been seen too much because quite frankly he hasn’t needed it. Now that you have the tale of the tape lets talk about how he is dominating the Arizona Fall League.

Going into the AFL Whitley was known as a big strikeout guy and had the numbers to back it. He did not disappoint in the desert heat striking out the first seven batters he faced in his first game. Over five games he would strike out 23 batters in 17 1/3 innings pitched. That effort earned him a place in the AFL fall stars game which is reserved for the top performers throughout the entire league.

This upcoming spring training will be huge for Forrest to see if the dominance he displayed in the minors and the Arizona Fall League can translate into big league success. For a team that could be without possibly three pieces of its rotation from last year, his arm will be a premium addition at a very inexpensive price. If he can make the team and be even half of what Justin Verlander is at his age, the Astros should be in a fantastic spot to make another run at a title.

Source: MLB.com

2018 Astros MiLB Recap and Awards

The best of the best in the Astros farm system.

Over the last few years, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has orchestrated many trades that have contributed to the big club’s success. The downside, of course, is that by making the big club the formidable force that it is, the overall organizational depth has taken a hit. Or, has it?

Consider this list of current big leaguers that were once part of the Astros future that are now finding success with other organizations:

Mike Foltyniewicz: Ace of the playoff-bound Atlanta Braves.

Vince Velasquez: Integral part of the Phillies pitching staff and part of their promising future.

Ramon Laureano: Roaming the outfield providing highlight reel defense and a solid bat for the surprising Oakland A’s.

Josh Hader: The most dominant left-handed reliever in baseball this year for the playoff-bound Brewers.

Teoscar Hernandez: Power-hitting outfielder for the Blue Jays and a part of that team’s promising future.

Colin Moran: Fourth in NL rookies in RBI for the Pirates.

Joe Musgrove: Middle of the rotation bulldog having success with the Pirates this year after winning World Series ring last year.

Domingo Santana: A 30-homer, high OBP outfielder for the Brewers in 2017, though he had a regression and lack of playing time in 2018.

There are others as well, such as Delino DeShields, Robbie Grossman, Daniel Mengden, Michael Feliz, and David Paulino, to name a few, that have left the Astros organization via trade that are finding success at the big league level.

However, it’s not just current big leaguers that have left the organization via trade. Several top overall prospects in baseball are still waiting to bust through with their new organizations. Most notably: Albert Abreu, Jorge Guzman, Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron, Jake Rogers, Jacob Nottingham, Pat Sandoval, Peter Solomon, Adrian Houser, Jorge Alcala, Hector Perez, and Gilberto Celestino. All these players were once considered among the top prospects in the Astros system.

With such an exodus of talent from the organization in such a short period, one could safely assume that the Astros minor league system is in dire need of replenishing. One would also be emphatically wrong.

In 2018, the Astros top five affiliates each made the playoffs. They had pitching staffs that led their respective leagues in strikeouts and set a MiLB record for strikeouts in a season. Also, two teams won their league championships and had an overall record of 367-262 to lead all of baseball in organizational winning percentage. The organization still ranks in the top-10 according to MLB Pipeline and Baseball America and features two of the top eight overall prospects in the game in Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley.

So, with this as a backdrop, let’s take a closer look at what was a banner season for the Astros MiLB affiliates, some of the notable performers, and dish out some MVP awards.

Fresno Grizzlies (AAA)

Record: 82-57

Hitters:

J.D. Davis won the Triple-A batting title after hitting .342. A.J. Reed was named the team MVP by the Astros brass and led all of Triple-A with 108 RBI and finished second with 28 home runs. Myles Straw wasn’t promoted to Triple-A until mid-season but still managed to finish second with 35 stolen bases. Garrett Stubbs slashed an impressive .310/.382/.455 and displayed excellent defense and pitch framing.
Yordan Alvarez continued his rise up prospect rankings and earned a promotion to Fresno after demolishing Double-A pitching. Alvarez finished the season with a .293 average, 20 home runs, and 74 RBI in just 88 games across two levels.

Pitchers:
Josh James split the season between Fresno and Corpus Christi and perhaps raised his profile more than any prospect in recent memory. James finished the season with a 3.23 ERA and a ridiculous 171 strikeouts in just 113 innings.

Cy Sneed finished with ten wins and a very respectable 3.83 ERA with 114 strikeouts in 127 innings pitched.

Dean Deetz returned from suspension and injury and absolutely destroyed hitters, finishing with a 0.79 ERA and 50 strikeouts in just 34 innings pitched. Rogelio Armenteros battled some command issues this season but still managed an 8-1 record with a 3.74 ERA and 134 K in 118 innings of work.

MVP:

Kyle Tucker, and it isn’t even close. Tucker started the season as the second youngest everyday player in the league and struggled a bit out of the gate. On June 1, nearly two months into the season, Tucker was hitting a respectable but pedestrian .273 with an OPS barely over .800.

Tucker finished the season with these gaudy numbers: .332 AVG / .400 OBP / .590 SLG / .990 OPS / 86 R / 93 RBI / 27 DBL / 3 TRP / 24 HR / 20 SB. At 21 years old, Tucker still has some physical development to do, but the kid is a star in the making.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA)

Record: 82-56

Hitters:

Randy Cesar had a Texas League record 42-Game hitting streak and finished the season with a slash line of .296/.348/.428/.776. Josh Rojas played most of his season with the Hooks and finished with an excellent 53:76/BB:K and stole 38 bases across two levels.

Ronnie Dawson played the final month with the Hooks and showed off his power-speed combo, slashing .289/.341/.518/.859 and combined to steal 35 bases and hit 16 home runs across two levels.

Pitchers:

Brandon Bielak made 11 appearances with the Hooks and posted a 2.35 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP, and struck out 57 in 61.1 innings. Across two levels, Bielak posted a 2.23 ERA. Corbin Martin gave up six earned runs while recording just one out in his first start with the Hooks. After that, Martin was brilliant, finishing with an ERA of 2.97 and a WHIP of 1.09 in 103 innings.

MVP:

Ryan Hartman became just the fourth pitcher in Texas League history to accomplish the pitching “Triple Crown,” finishing tied for first with wins (11), first in ERA (2.69), and first in strikeouts (143).

Buies Creek Astros (Advanced-A)

Record: 80-57 (League Champions)

Hitters:

Corey Julks, a University of Houston product, put together an outstanding all-around season. Julks played his last 61 games with the Astros and hit .282, with 26 extra-base hits, 16 stolen bases, and scored 39 runs. Osvaldo Duarte played 132 games with the Astros and put together his best professional season, hitting .276 with 68 runs scored 52 RBI, and 21 stolen bases.

Pitchers:

Brandon Bailey pitched 20 of his 25 games in 2018 with the Astros and posted 2.49 ERA and struck out 113 in 97.2 innings pitched. Bailey ended his season with the Hooks, where he continued his success. Tyler Ivey had a 2.69 ERA in 70.1 innings while striking out 82.

MVP:

J.J. Matijevic doesn’t leap out at you with gaudy numbers but the second-year pro produces at an elite level, especially for the Carolina League. Matijevic hit only .266 but had an OPS of .849 and homered 19 times. His season totals across two levels: .277 AVG / .350 OBP / .538 SLG / .887 OPS / 66 R / 62 RBI / 26 DBL / 4 TRP / 22 HR / 13 SB.

Quad Cities River Bandits (A)

Record: 81-59

Hitters:

Jacob Meyers led the team in doubles and slashed an impressive .302/.383/.476/.859 in 61 games. Bryan De La Cruz hit .283 with a .728 OPS. 2018 first round pick, Seth Beer, torched the league for a .348 average and a .934 OPS. Colton Shaver led the team in home runs (15) and RBI (50).

Pitchers:

Chad Donato went 6-0 with a 2.04 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP, and 77 strikeouts in 61.2 innings. Cristian Javier struck out 80 in just 49.1 innings and had a 1.82 ERA before being promoted. Before they were traded, Peter Solomon and Pat Sandoval combined to go 15-2 with 159 strikeouts in 142.2 innings. Bryan Abreu went 4-1 with a 1.64 ERA and struck out 68 in just 38.1 innings.

MVP:

The River Bandits pitching staff. In 1,226 innings, the staff had a MiLB season record 1,514 strikeouts, led the league in ERA (2.98), shutouts (17), saves (50), fewest hits allowed (976) and fewest home runs allowed (65). What’s perhaps even more amazing is that this staff wasn’t just 12-15 dominant pitchers overmatching the opposition. Instead, an incredible 32 different pitchers struck out batter for the River Bandits, 16 of which struck out at least 50. Still not impressed? Well, 19 different pitchers had at least one save and 18 had an ERA of 3.00 or less. A truly spectacular season by this staff and their coaches.

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-Short Season)

Record: 42-33 (League Champions)

Hitters:

Alex McKenna played in just 32 games but slashed .328/.423/.534 with five home runs and 21 RBI. Carlos Machado led the team in hits with 59 while batting .304 in 194 at-bats. Before being traded, Gilberto Celestino was slashing .323/.387/.480 in 34 games.

Pitchers:

Nivaldo Rodriguez led the team with 55.2 innings and struck out 50 while posting a 2.91 ERA. Mark Moclair worked through command and control issues but managed to strike out 48 batters in 27.1 innings. Austin Hansen posted a 1.76 ERA, a 0.88 WHIP, and struck out 45 in 30.2 innings of work.

MVP:

Enmanuel Valdez hit just .244 but led the team in doubles (16), runs (40), total bases (100), home runs (8), and extra-base hits (25). He was second in hits with 58 and stole 11 bases.

Statistics retrieved from:

MiLB.com

Baseball-reference.com

Thebaseballcube.com