Wayne Schields

6 Articles Published
Wayne Activity
What Do the Astros Have In Straw, Perez, and Stubbs?

When any trade discussion involving the Astros striking a deal for a prominent big leaguer, the attention on which prospects Jeff Luhnow is willing to part with. This list includes names like Kyle Tucker, Forrest Whitley, Yordan Alvarez, and Josh James, the consensus top four prospects in the Astros system.

However, often, it is the other prospects included in a trade that ended up being the more impactful players. We can look at two recent trades that the Astros have made for evidence of this.

Exhibit A: In 2014 the Astros traded Jarred Cosart and Enrique Hernandez for Colin Moran, Jake Marisnick, and a lottery ticket named Frances Martes. Although Cosart and Moran were the primary pieces moved, the secondary pieces turned out to be the more impactful players. While Cosart has flamed out as a big leaguer and Moran just recently got his shot, Hernandez and Marisnick have become integral and established players in the bigs while Martes catapulted himself to being the top prospect in the Astros system at one point.

Exhibit B: As the upstart Astros made a push for the postseason in 2015, Luhnow traded for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers in exchange for Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips, Josh Hader, and Adrian Houser. Gomez and Santana were the primary pieces moved, but Fiers turned out to be the most important person in the deal for the Astros, but, in hindsight, Hader has turned out to be the gem for the Brewers, becoming perhaps the most dominant reliever in baseball in 2018.

As the 2018-2019 offseason heats up, and with the Astros rumor mill in full swing with Luhnow apparently showing reluctance to move his top four prospects, what prospects could Luhnow be offering as return pieces in trades? Let’s take a closer look at three current Astros prospects that have been mentioned frequently in recent weeks: Myles Straw, Cionel Perez, and Garrett Stubbs.

Myles Straw

Position: CF

Age: 24

MLB Upside: Starting CF

Expected 2019 Level: Triple-A/MLB

Myles Straw enters 2019 in much the same way he did in 2017 and 2018, as one of my favorite Astros prospects. In 2018, as Straw made his way up to Triple-A, Astros fans began to take notice. Splitting time evenly between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Fresno, Straw posted a combined .291/.381/.353 slash line with 70 stolen bases (35 at each level) in 79 attempts. As I’ve stated here before, Straw’s offensive value lies in his ability to get on base and turn walks and singles into doubles via the stolen base. His offensive skill set is enough to earn him at least a 4th outfielder role.

Defensively, Straw has the speed to cover much ground, and he takes efficient routes, which when paired with an above average arm, has Straw projected as a steady defender at every outfield position. With the signing of Michael Brantley, the Astros have a logjam of outfielders on the 40-man roster unless the Astros trade Jake Marisnick, Josh Reddick or Kyle Tucker. The likelihood of Straw remaining with the Astros long term would seem unlikely. Straw could have great appeal for rebuilding teams, and Luhnow could be looking to maximize his value soon.

Cionel Perez

Position: SP/RP

Age: 22

MLB Upside: 3rd Starter/Late-inning RP

Expected 2019 Level: Triple-A/MLB

The Astros feel very good about Perez’s future with the organization. I, however, am still unsure as to what to make of Perez. The positives are not hard to see. Perez is a soon to be a 23-year-old lefty with a plus fastball, a potentially plus changeup, and an above-average slider. His curveball is average, but he can throw it for strikes as a “show-me” pitch. Perez has a high-floor, as his repertoire would certainly play well in the bullpen if he fails to stick as a starter. Now, the negatives. Perez is undersized at 5’11” and 170 pounds and doesn’t have much deception in his delivery.

Perez was hit pretty hard and showed a lack of command in his brief stint with the Astros last year as advanced hitters were able to lay off his secondary pitches and sit on his fastball. The Astros organization appears to believe Perez can stick as a starter and will likely assign him to Triple-A Round Rock to refine his repertoire. A team that believes he can stick as a starter will likely bet on his upside. That said, as of this writing, and with question marks beyond Verlander, Cole, and McHugh, Perez may be valued even more so by Luhnow than he would have if McCullers not been lost for the 2019 season.

Garrett Stubbs

Position: C

Age: 25

MLB Upside: League average starter

Expected 2019 Level: Triple-A

Stubbs rebounded from a dismal 2017 to post improvement across the board in 2018. In 340 at-bats, all in Triple-A, Stubbs slashed .310/.382/.455, with 19 doubles, six triples, and four home runs. In his minor league career, Stubbs has 35 stolen bases in 38 attempts. His line drive approach doesn’t project to add much in the form of power, but his ability to routinely barrel up balls should carry over to the next level. Defensively, Stubbs makes up for his small stature with elite athleticism for the position. He has thrown out 37% of base stealers and owns a career .995 fielding percentage.

Currently, the Astros plan on going into 2019 with Max Stassi and Robinson Chirinos. The last two “Astros catchers of the future,” Jacob Nottingham and Jake Rogers, have been dealt, leaving Stubbs as the lone MLB ready(ish) catcher in the system. Should the forever talked about a trade for JT Realmuto occur, Stubbs seems like a shoo-in to be dealt. Other than that, it would appear that Stubbs is very likely to make his big league debut in 2019 with the Astros, an idea I feel confident in saying the organization can live with.

Source: baseball-reference.com

Way Too Early Top-30 Astros Prospects

With the MLB Winter Meetings wrapping up, many organizations have already begun the process of trading prospects to upgrade their clubs. The Astros and Jeff Luhnow have been quiet so far, but, that is very likely to change.

The Astros organization is loaded with talent and is a consensus top-10, if not top-5, system. The talent isn’t just top heavy either, as the system has evolved into the pipeline that Luhnow said he envisioned and would bring to the Astros organization. The lower levels of the organization are beginning to crank out legitimate prospects to pair with those in double and triple-A.

However, their remains a “good problem,” that is, the organization is perhaps too deep, and MLB ready, or near ready players are beginning to create logjams, leaving many Astros farmhands toiling away on buses in the minors rather than on jets in the majors.

As such, the Astros organizational depth allows Luhnow to use prospects as capital to improve the big club. We will, I suspect, see several of the prospects listed below be mentioned in trade talks and/or be with a different organization by the end of January.

I keep monthly rankings during the season, combining traditional scouting grades with actual performance on the field to determine my rankings. I also use my gut, even though the statistics may not back up my belief in a player’s potential. However, as the adage clearly states, “scout the player, not the player’s stats.”

That said, here are my Winter rankings of the top-30 Astros prospects heading into the Winter Meetings and into 2019, with a quick blurb, and my empirically (not really) researched guess on whether or not they are potential trade pieces.

30. Deury Carrasco, SS: A switch-hitter, he has very little pop but has a stroke from the right side that could develop fringe power. His left-handed swing is all over the place, and he may soon become a right-handed hitter strictly. Carrasco also has plenty of speed and can be disruptive on the base paths. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Very low.

29. Drew Ferguson, OF: Ferguson has adequate arm strength to play all three outfield positions but is best suited for center field, where his speed, routes, and arm all play up. I still think he’s undervalued. Ferguson gets raves for his baseball IQ and makeup. However, there’s a chance he may not make it out of the Rule 5 draft, as the Astros couldn’t find a spot for him on the 40-man roster. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Low

28. Andy Pineda, OF: I’m much higher on him than most. Well, pretty much everyone. He falls under that whole “go with my gut” thing mentioned above, which tells me Pineda is a late bloomer. A lot to work with here and at times he flashes plus tools across the board. However, still very raw. Pineda, like Ferguson, will be exposed to the Rule 5 Draft but is not likely to be selected. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Very low

27. Peter Solomon, SP: Had a breakout 2018, going 9-1 with a 2.32 ERA across two levels. Low ceiling but high floor if he’s able to prove last year was no fluke. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate

26. Bryan Abreu, SP: I wrote about him already. You can read it here. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate.

25. JJ Matijevic, 1B: Matijevic was the 75th overall pick in the 2017 draft, a pick originally slotted to the St. Louis Cardinals. However, we all know what happened there. He has a knack for driving in runs and could develop into an above average MLB hitter. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Low

24. Alex McKenna, OF: Finished his professional debut with a .906 OPS across two levels, showing a toolsy skill set and getting raves for his baseball IQ and work ethic. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Very low

23. Rogelio Armenteros, SP: Armenteros is heavily reliant on control and command to be at his best, which happened more often than not in 2017, but regressed some in 2018. He’s a pitcher that is honing the art and could be a sleeper candidate to help the big club in a major way in 2019. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Low

22. Garrett Stubbs, C: Stubb’s best tool is his defense, which when coupled with his quick feet and athleticism, plays up as a plus. Stubbs also brings rare speed to the position and could steal double-digits given enough at-bats. His hit tool is slightly above average, but there’s little to no power to be tapped in to. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Low to Moderate

21. Framber Valdez, SP/RP: I like Valdez more as a reliever due to his ability to add velocity, as his two-seamer jumps up to 95-96. He made good hitters look foolish in his MLB debut last year and appears to be set for an important role with Astros in 2019. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Very Low

20. Tyler Ivey, SP: A sneaky quick heater with a deep and fairly refined repertoire? Ok then, Mr. Ivey, you have my attention, and I’m now on board after not being too thrilled with your selection. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate

19. Ryan Hartman, SP: Won the pitching Triple Crown in the Texas League with a 2.69 ERA, 143 strikeouts, and 11 wins. That’s good. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate

18. Joe Perez, 3B: Purely based on his high school numbers. Has yet to get any significant at-bats in his pro career. A likely breakout candidate in 2019 with immense raw talent. Will one day be a strong trade chip. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Very low

17. Abraham Toro, 3B: Truthfully, he’s developing faster than I thought he would. More than held his own in the Arizona Fall League. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate

16. Brett Adcock, SP: I think he can stick as a starter. If for whatever reason Adcock flames out as a starter, he could find success as a very good lefty out of the bullpen, where his slider and curve could be extremely effective. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Low to moderate

15. Jayson Schroeder, SP: I loved this pick last year. Astros paid over-slot money, and the kid responded with an abbreviated but successful pro debut, finishing with 18K in 18 innings with a 1.50 ERA in seven outings. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Low to Moderate

14. Myles Straw, OF: Straw’s offensive value, lies in his ability to get on base and turn walks and singles into doubles via the stolen base. His offensive skill set is enough to earn him at least a 4th outfielder role. Defensively, Straw has the speed to cover much ground, and he takes efficient routes, which when paired with an above average arm, has Straw projected as a steady defender at every outfield position. Likely the replacement for Marisnick should Jake get hurt or traded. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate

13. Dean Deetz, RP: Made his big league debut after fanning 63 in 40.2 innings across three levels. He can get very wild at times but seemed to harness his stuff toward the end of 2018. He has a chance to make an impact in 2019. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate

12. Jairo Solis, SP: Solis has many of the same attributes that made Franklin Perez such an intriguing prospect and the central piece in the Justin Verlander deal last August 2017. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate to High

11. Cristian Javier, SP: Javier has been able to get by against lower minors hitters. This year comes with it a chance to separate himself from the organization’s plethora of mid-tier pitching prospects. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: High

10. Brandon Bielak, SP: One of my preseason breakout candidates going into the 2018! season, Bielak did not disappoint, striking out 131 batters in 117 innings with a 2.23 ERA across two levels. He could begin to move quickly with an outside shot at his big league debut in 2019. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate

9. Corbin Martin, RP/SP: The organization will allow Martin to develop as a starter, knowing that he has closer upside should that fail. As a starter, Martin has the repertoire and competitive fire to be a solid MOR starter. His breakout campaign in 2018 has boosted his value tremendously. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate to high

8. Freudis Nova, SS: Nova projects as an above-average hitter with power and speed. His size, at 6’1” and 180, still has room to fill out and his natural lift in his swing could mean an annual 20-25 home run season. Defensively, he projects as a plus defender with a strong arm and strong game aptitude. The organization is very excited about Nova and for a good reason. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Low, but check back in July 2019.

7. Cionel Perez, SP/RP: Perez is still young and acclimating to America after spending his life in Cuba. He made his big league debut in 2018, but 2019 could be the year Perez develops into the pitcher that the club originally believed was worth the $5M bonus. Others are somewhat higher on him than I am, but there’s no doubting the pure arm talent. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: High

6. Seth Beer, 1B/OF/DH: Don’t scout statistics! By the end of 2018, the rigors of the college baseball season and subsequent three months of professional baseball took a toll, and he ended up scuffling. He’s a legit hitter, however, with ample power now and perhaps much more to come. Can’t wait to see what he does in 2019. At the MLB level, he’s purely a DH, however, which lessens his trade value. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Low

5. JB Bukauskas, SP: Really came on strong at the end of 2018 after finally getting healthy. He then followed that up with a good showing in the Arizona Fall League. He is arguably the most likely to be traded of all of the prospects on this list. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Very high

4. Josh James, SP: At this time last year he was a minor league roster filler and maybe a top-100 player in the organization. Today, he’s a legit top-100 prospect in all of baseball. Practice good sleep hygiene, kiddos! TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate to high.

3. Yordan Alvarez, 1B/OF: How much the organization believes in his ability to play the OF will determine if #2 gets dealt. For the record, I like his offensive upside more than anyone on this list. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: High

2. Kyle Tucker, OF: An absolutely torrid last three months of the 2018 season resulted in video game stays. Yes, he’s a legit future star. Just no longer convinced it will be in an Astros uniform. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Moderate to high

1 . Forrest Whitley, SP: Best pitching prospect in the game. Potential to have four—-FOUR!—-plus to plus-plus pitches in his arsenal. He also has the command, control, and work ethic to be an ace. He is an untouchable commodity. TRADE LIKELIHOOD: Very, Very Low. As in, ain’t happening.

Why Astros Fans Should Know Bryan Abreu

Last week, the Astros surprised some by protecting RHP Bryan Abreu from the Rule 5 draft by adding him to the 40-man roster.

So why would the Astros protect Abreu, a 21-year-old late bloomer that hasn’t pitched above Low-A?

Despite signing as an international free agent in November 2013, Abreu didn’t make his stateside debut until 2016, pitching in 10 games in the GCL, mostly out of the bullpen, where he posted a 3.78 ERA while striking out 35 in 33.1 innings. His command was spotty, however, allowing 33 hits and walking 15 to finish with a 1.440 WHIP. Nevertheless, Abreu was promoted to the Appalachian League where he was promptly lit up, allowing eleven baserunners and seven earned runs in just 5.1 innings.

The 2017 season wasn’t much better, as Abreu again finished the year in The Appy, posting a 1-3 record, a 7.98 ERA, and a 1.705 WHIP in 29.1 innings via Baseball-Reference. However, in 2018, the 21-year-old put it all together.

In 14 appearances across two levels—-4 games in the New York-Penn League with Tri-City and ten games in Low-A Quad Cities in the Midwest League—-Abreu dramatically improved across the board, finishing with a combined 1.49 ERA, a 1.031 WHIP, and a staggering 90 strikeouts in just 54.1 innings.

Improved mechanics and the instruction received once he came stateside seem to be the difference. Besides the gaudy statistics, Abreu offers quite a bit to like.

Abreu isn’t imposing at 6’1”/180, but he has good mound presence and makes up for his slight build with tenacity and a very lively arm. Abreu has a three-quarter arm slot, and when he’s in control, his mechanics allow for a repeatable delivery. Abreu does, on occasion, have a head whip with his delivery when reaching back for more velocity on his fastball. However, it doesn’t seem to affect his ability to throw strikes with it. Still, it’s a mechanical issue that may need to be addressed.

Abreu has a four-pitch mix and can throw them all with confidence, supporting the belief that he could remain a starter long term. In the two games I saw him pitch in 2018, Abreu’s fastball, according to game announcers, sat 92-94, topping out at 95 or so and with arm side run that locks up right-handed hitters and produces weak contact, if the hitter was able to get wood on it at all. He’s not afraid to work it up in the zone and his ability to trust his secondary offerings allows his fastball to play up.

His slider comes in at 85-87 and mimics his curve at times but it frequently dives straight down as opposed to sweeping across the plate. When he’s on and repeating his delivery, it produces much swing and misses.

His curveball is a traditional curve that he throws in the low to mid-80s with moderate bend and is set up nicely with his other offerings. From what I saw, Abreu likes to use it versus left-handers, and his arm slot remains true, adding to the repertoire’s effectiveness.

His change is average, but I only saw him throw it a handful of times. He throws it 86-88, so there’s not a big difference in drop off from the fastball. However, it’s enough to keep hitters off balance and give them something else to think about, much in the same way Zack Greinke uses his changeup.

Abreu is definitely someone to keep a close eye on as he has the makings of a breakout prospect in 2019. But, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can simply point to the fact that this Low-A pitcher showed something special in 2018 and the organization felt the need to protect him.

On last Sunday’s Talking Stros, they came up with a compelling reason why Abreu was added to. Listen below.

Astros Prospect Attachment Syndrome

Hello. I’m Wayne, and I have Prospect Attachment Syndrome as an Astros fan. It started over three years ago.

July 30, 2015, was a rough day. My upstart Houston Astros were in a position to make a playoff run, and the MLB trade deadline was all aflutter with rumors.

I was simultaneously excited that we were about to possibly trade for a big-time bat, a legit veteran starting pitcher, and do so without severely mortgaging the promising future of the organization.

Then, news started trickling in. The Astros were getting Carlos Gomez. I threw up a little in my mouth. “I hope we didn’t give up too much,” I thought to myself. Then, I heard we were also getting Mike Fiers.

I didn’t mind getting Fiers, as the rotation definitely needed another piece. However, my next thought proved correct. I believe it was something similar to what Ralphie said on the side of the road. For the record, I didn’t think “fudge” either.

I knew immediately that acquiring Fiers meant more was going to go back to Milwaukee than I was going to be happy with. Again, I fudging proved correct. Going to the Brewers were four of my favorite Astros prospects: Domingo Santana, Adrian Houser, Josh Hader, and the one that caused me the most heartbreak, Brett Phillips.

I wasn’t alone, either. Several Astros Twitter mainstays also were distraught. Moreover, like me, they were distraught over the same guy, Brett Phillips. Losing a future bulldog on the mound? Meh. Losing a 30-homer outfielder? Bummer. Losing a potential Chris Sale type of lefty? Yeeesh, but okay. Losing a damn good dude that interacted with fans on Twitter and has the best laugh in sports? Oh, hell Nah fam! “Not Brett! Oh dear god, please not Brett!” However, of course, it was him.

Fudge fudge fudgitty fudge fudge fudge!

The rest is history, as we now know. Santana did develop into a 30-homer outfielder. Houser made his big league debut. Hader became arguably the most dominant reliever in the game. Phillips, my first prospect love, has since been dealt with yet another team and has yet to live up to his (actually, mine!) promise on the field. I still miss him and want him back. I cry sometimes.

So why bring this up? Well, a couple of reasons. First, this regrettable trade introduced me to Prospect Attachment Syndrome or PAS. No, the American Psychiatric Association has not deemed PAS worthy of addition to the DSM, but it is real. Second, with suddenly six to seven spots to fill on their 40-man roster this winter, Jeff Luhnow should be busy over the next month or so. This means that there’s a distinct possibility that some of the organization’s top prospects will no longer be with the Astros. In other words, my attachment to prospects Kyle Tucker, Forrest Whitley, and Yordan Alvarez, among others, will be tested.

However, with any malady, there are usually precipitants to full-blown PAS. These warning signs are often overlooked and dismissed as “male menopause,” “irrational emotional outbursts,” or, in its more nascent stages, “onset prospect dysphoria.”

Through my experiences, research, and perusals through social media, I have been able to identify three early identifiers that sufferers of PAS often have before their symptoms become acute. My hope is that I can bring awareness to Astros fans before Luhnow goes to the Winter Meetings in December and trades away our sure-fire future Hall of Famers.

Unusual Knowledge of Minor Leaguers Below Double-A

PAS sufferers tend to know when a minor league player was drafted or signed, for how much, for how much below or above slot they were, what round they were taken in, what hillside village they are from, and how much they’ve improved since joining their country’s baseball youth academy at age 13. This is all important information to the PAS afflicted. When combined with some of the more advanced metrics, it paints a picture that allows our man to lay awake at night furiously typing on their Notes app the projected Opening Day roster for their favorite team in 2025.

Our poor subject will also have an updated organization positional depth chart, for when the inevitable moment a friend wants to know how many people Cody Bohanek has to leapfrog to get his chance to prove what you already know about him, that he’s a freaking stud! In more severe cases of PAS, sufferers also have an unusual knowledge of other team’s low-level minor league players. In this case, they may also be recluses and/or sociopaths.

The Belief That Other Fans Know What the Hell You’re Talking About

You know how this plays out. You see a fellow fan at your local Academy store and immediately bypass the traditional greetings and delve right into the exciting news you wish to share:

You, the PAS Sufferer, wearing a Jon Singleton jersey: Man, did you see Carlos Machado on the MiLB stream last night? Dude is raking, am I right?

Them, the normal fan that actually spends time with his family: Um, yeah, I guess so.

You: Bro, if he keeps this up, he might crack my personal top-50 prospects rankings in the system by July and get promoted to High-A.

Them: (stares bewildered at you)

You: (grins and nods head repeatedly like a used car salesman closing the deal)

Normal-Fan: He related to Manny Machado?

You: Pffft, and you call yourself a fan. Embarrassing, bro.

Those with PAS are also likely to have limited skills in reading social cues. In this case, the PAS sufferer mistakes his friend’s blank stare for what it is, and instead, interprets the reaction as, “yeah, you feel me, bro!” Instead of the actual meaning of, “oh my god, he needs help. I bet this is how Jeffery Dahmer started out.”

The self-aware sufferer of PAS will identify quickly that they may have a problem. A quick inventory of meaningful relationships, for instance, could be helpful in early recognition. If their closest friend is @alsohasnolife, then the self-aware will be able to identify that they are heading in the wrong direction and seek early intervention, such as psychotherapy or support groups, where the sufferers can mingle with other in recovery and develop healthier coping skills.

The Belief That EVERY Prospect in Your Favorite Team’s System Will Make It to The Show and be All-Stars

Associated with this trait is the belief that you, the Uncle Rico of your family, are a capable baseball scout, and that if you could only walk away from your family obligations, you would be the next Jonathan Mayo. After all, based on the six YouTube videos you watched of him, you predicted in 2016 that Josh James would eventually be a top-100 prospect in all of baseball and take every opportunity to tell fellow fans that, “Man I told you! I called that!”

You also know with 100% certainty that the 16-year-old infielder from Venezuela with the name you can’t pronounce and hadn’t heard of the day before is the next Jose Altuve. The harsh reality is that only a ridiculously low percentage of current minor leaguers will ever make it to The Show. However, for our undeterred man, this really only applies to other teams, not their beloved organization. The problem here is obvious. That is if every prospect will make it, how do they eventually find a spot on the MLB roster?

The resulting conundrum is that our sufferer will perform mental gymnastics to lay out HIS plan for the organization which will allow all of the prospects a chance to shine without having to part with any of them. Here, the thought of losing any of these players causes anxiety and depression. To cope, our man looks ahead to the 2021 draft and maps out the organization’s priorities and which players should be targeted.

Another aspect of this trait is the fallacy of scouting statistics, not the player. PAS sufferers love statistics and can predict a player’s future performance based on how they perform in the Gulf Coast League. The PAS sufferer imagines himself in “A Beautiful Mind,” deriving meaning from connected the dots with elaborate formulas and video game statistical projections, drawn out on any random scrap of paper, window, or company letterhead while he sits in a redundant work meeting.

There are, of course, many other traits associated with PAS but the above three are the most common. You may be taking a personal inventory at this point. You may have noticed that you, too, are suffering and require immediate intervention. You may also have identified family members. Acknowledging PAS is the first step. Seek help now!

The timing of this public service announcement cannot be minimized, as soon we will witness on social media the depths of PAS when the Astros acquire J.T. Realmuto, for instance. I will caution those that seek to intervene on behalf of loved ones. Provide them with love and understanding. Let them share of their grief of losing their favorite prospect. There will be other prospects to follow, and in time, the pain subsides.

Stay strong my friends. PS, the Astros just traded Trent Thornton to the Blue Jays for Aledmys Diaz, I’ll see myself out.

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

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