Leave a comment

Houston Astros

The Astros have done an excellent job restocking their minor league system after promoting many great young players over the past decade.  They are not yet household names, but were Jeremy Pena, Cristian Javier, and Framber Valdez when they were going through the development process?

That said, the top two players are famous.  Hunter Brown made a splash at the end of the season and has the raw stuff to pitch at the top-of-rotation if he can find better control.  Pedro Leon has the tools to be a fantasy monster, but the approach and strikeouts are concerning. 

The most exciting fantasy players in the system are Jacob Melton, Kenedy Corona, and Zach Daniels.  All three have intriguing speed and power upside but with concerns about how much they will hit.  I still like Korey Lee to take over Houston’s backstop duties eventually, but Yainer Diaz could be the better offensive player.  And then there is Forrest Whitley.  I wish I had some answers/advice for what Dynasty League owners should do, but honestly, I’m at a loss.

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: Hunter Brown
  • Biggest Mover: Kenedy Corona
  • Emerging Prospect: Luis Baez

1. Hunter Brown (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP with upside if control improves
  • Tools Summary: He has a plus arsenal, but his current lack of control is tamping down his ceiling.

When you grade out Hunter Brown’s arsenal, there is much to get excited about.  He throws in the upper 90s (sitting 96 to 97) with a double-plus curveball.  His change-up/splitter is the least effective on his core pitches but should be good enough to neutralize left-handed batters.  The problem is that he can’t throw consistent strikes.  In 59 games in the minor leaguers, he’s walked 4.4 batters per nine, including 3.8 per nine in 2022.  With the injury late in the season to Justin Verlander, the Astros promoted Brown, and he pitched great.  He pitched well enough to earn a roster spot for the postseason. According to Statcast, his fastball averaged 96.6 MPH with good spin, and most importantly, he threw strikes.  I’ve put his ceiling as a number three starter, but with some improvements in his control, he could be a #2 starter.

2. Pedro Leon (SS/OF)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 OF with enormous upside
  • Tools Summary: He has the tools to become an impact player, but the approach and strikeouts are concerning.

Pedro Leon has the tools to be a monster fantasy asset.  He’s a double-plus runner (although he got caught a third of the time last season) capable of stealing 30+ bases yearly.  He has plenty of bat speed to project double-digit home runs.  However, after seeing him play multiple times, the approach and swing-and-miss are a problem.  I was hoping that his layoff was a factor in his struggles.  But it’s now been over 600 plate appearances; keeping that argument alive is hard.  His approach is overly passive at the core, putting him into difficult counts leading to the strikeouts.  There is hope as players change their approaches all the time.  If he does, he could be a 20-20 player. 

3. Jacob Melton (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2024-25 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF
  • Tools Summary: Athletic with plus speed and enough bat speed to project 15 to 20 future home runs.  The swing has many moving parts that need to be addressed.

Jacob Melton was the Astros second-round pick last July and got out of the blocks well in his first taste of professional baseball.  In 19 games in Low-A, he slashed .324/.424/.577 with four home runs and stolen bases. He’s very athletic with plus speed (he stole 29 of 31 in his three years at Oregon) and excellent bat speed.  His swing has many moving parts, so there is some concern about how much he’ll hit.  But the Astros are already addressing it, and with some tweaks, he could be an exciting fantasy option.

4. Korey Lee (C)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 Catcher
  • Tools Summary: He did not have a great Major League debut, but there is enough offensive upside to make him the starting catcher in Houston.

I know Korey Lee’s first exposure to the Major Leagues didn’t go well, and with Yainer Diaz hitting .306 and not looking lost in his Major League debut, it’s easy to want to give up on Lee.  I’m not.  He’s a great defender with a hose for an arm, and I believe he’ll hit enough to post 15 to 20 home runs annually, a handful of stolen bases with a .240 batting average, and a .320 OBP.  Those numbers aren’t Rutschman-esque, but it’s good enough to make him a low-end number-one starting catcher on a 15-team fantasy team.  Plus, his defense will get him playing time.  Candidly, Diaz has more offensive upside, as I think he’s the better hitter, but will Houston make him their starting catcher?  Lee might not be Martin Maldonado, but he’s closer to that than Diaz is.

5. Drew Gilbert (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2024-25 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF with upside
  • Tools Summary: Outstanding defender with a feel to hit.

Drew Gilbert was the Astros first-round pick in 2022 and has already received Jackie Bradley Jr. comps on his ability to play center field.  He’s excellent at tracking balls and has a cannon for an arm. 

In his junior year in college, he walked more than he struck out, adding 11 home runs.  He’s not a burner but an intelligent runner who should be able to steal high double-digit stolen bases yearly.  His ceiling will depend on how much power he develops, but he should hit and, at worse, will be a fourth or fifth outfielder in the big leagues, given his defensive chops.

6. Yainer Diaz (C)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 Catcher
  • Tools Summary: He has plus power and makes better contact than you think.

After hitting .306 with 22 home runs across Double and Triple-A last season, Yainer Diaz got a late-season call-up to Houston.  He’s an offensive-oriented catcher with plus power and a short compact swing that allows him to make excellent contact (16% strikeout rate).  He rarely walks, but with his power and contact skills, the upside is 20+ home runs with a .270 batting average.  The question is will it be behind the plate?  He’s an average defender with a plus arm, but the Astros are used to the likes of Martin Maldonado, and Diaz’s defense is not in the same category.  But there’s power and the ability to hit enough to get full-time playing time at the highest level.

7. Colin Barber (OF)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 OF
  • Tools Summary:  Improved contact and growing power give him a ceiling of a full-time regular.

After showing some significant swing-and-miss in his game in 2021, Barber shortened his swing and consequently improved his strikeout rate.  Doing so allowed him to get to his power, posting a .450 SLG with seven home runs in 63 games in High-A last season.  He’s also a solid-average runner and could post a 20-10 stat line in the future.  With continued improvement, he could develop into a solid Major Leaguer with a ceiling of a #4 fantasy outfielder.

8. Kenedy Corona (OF)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 OF
  • Tools Summary: Intriguing combination of power and speed with a feel to hit.

There’s a lot to like about Kenedy Corona.  The swing is simple; he makes good contact with an approach that should allow him to hit at the highest level.  There’s also plenty of bat speed to project at least average power and enough speed to steal double-digit stolen bases.  Last season, he split his time between Low and High-A and slashed .278/.362/.495 with 19 home runs and 28 stolen bases.  While on the surface, he doesn’t have a path to playing time in Houston, I think he can play, and guys who can usually find playing time.

9. Zach Daniels (OF)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF with extreme risk due to contact issues
  • Tools Summary: He has crazy tools but serious questions about how much he’ll hit.

If you’re looking for tools, then Zach Daniels is your guy.  He’s a plus runner with plus power potential and can play all three outfield positions.  Unfortunately, there are serious concerns about how much contact he will make.  He made improvements last season but still struck out 31% of the time in High-A.  However, he also went 20-20 (23 home runs and 22 stolen bases).  Double-A will likely be the separator to determine if he has a chance to be a big leaguer or not.

10. Joe Perez (3B)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 20 3B or Top 60 OF
  • Tools Summary: He has plus power potential with a chance to hit .260.

Joe Perez split his time between Double and Triple-A in 2022 (although he got a random plate appearance in April in the Major Leagues – he struck out).  It was a decent year with less power than he showed in 2021, but he continued to demonstrate an approach that points to a big-league career in some capacity.  He has plus raw power, and I think there is more in the tank than he showed last season.  I still put his power potential above average (18 to 22) with a chance to hit .260+ with a .320 OBP.  That stat line will not make him a star, but it could give him playing time in the right situation.  Is that with Houston?  I doubt it.

11. Alex Santos (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP with upside
  • Tools Summary: He has the size, athleticism, and high-end velocity that teams love.  His mechanics and secondary pitches are still a work in progress.

Alex Santos is the definition of a high-risk, high-reward pitcher.  He has the size and emerging arsenal to project at least a mid-rotation starter, but he’s still pitcher-raw, and the Astros have been handling him accordingly.  He only pitched 82.2 innings last season and was only allowed to pitch six innings once.  He’ll run his fastball to 96 to 97 MPH, but his secondary pitches and control still need work.  I’m intrigued as he’s 6-foot-4, athletic, and still projectable.  If the control doesn’t progress, he’ll be an option out of the bullpen, but I’m hopeful he will remain a starter.

12. J.C. Correa (C/2B)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Backup Catcher/Utility Player
  • Tools Summary: He was moved to catcher in 2022 and looked ok.  His carrying tool is the ability to make contact.  His swing is more geared for contact, but he could unlock some power with some tweaks.

Carlos’s kid-brother, J.C. Correa, repeated High-A in 2022.  While that’s rarely a good thing, the Astros decided to move him behind the plate, and repeating the level was sensible.  He was at the fall league, but I did not see him catch, but reports throughout the season were encouraging.  He has a long way to go, but he’s athletic enough to make it work.  What he can do is hit!  In 453 plate appearances, he only struck out 36 times, walking 37 times.  That’s elite contact skills, and that alone should get him to the big leagues.  He doesn’t have much power, as his swing is flat.  Plus, he’s a poor runner.  However, as a potential backup catcher who can play some second and a corner outfield spot in a pinch, there could be something there for the Astros.

13. Luis Baez (OF)

  • Highest Level:  DSL ETA: 2026+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: He has enormous power potential with a chance to hit enough to become a full-time player.

Luis Baez was the Astros top international signee in January, signing for $1.25 million.  His carrying tool is double-plus raw power displayed in the DSL last summer, where he slugged .552 with nine home runs in 52 games.  He’s an above-average runner now, but his body type suggests that the speed will disappear once he fills out.  So much so that there is concern that he’ll have to move to first or even serve as a DH one day.  He’s already showing an approach with decent contact skills, and when you combine that with his plus raw power, he has the makings of a power-hitter.

14. Miguel Ullola (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  High-Leveraged Reliever
  • Tools Summary: Big arm but has not shown the ability to throw strikes.

Miguel Ullola has all the makings of a high-leveraged reliever – a two-pitch pitcher who stands 6-feet.  He doesn’t always know where the ball is going, as evident with his 6.9 walks per nine posted last season.  But there’s plenty of athleticism to suggest that the control will improve enough to pitch in a big-league bullpen.

15. Forrest Whitley (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Unknown
  • Tools Summary: At one point, his baseball future was bright.  But, injuries have taken their toll.

It’s hard to believe that Forrest Whitley was the top pitching prospect in the game just three short years ago.  What happened? 

First, ineffectiveness at Triple-A, which led to Tommy John Surgery in 2021, followed by a problematic return in 2022 that led to shoulder issues, has jeopardized his career.  Believe it or not, he turned 25 in September, and after pitching to a 7.09 ERA while walking nearly seven per nine, I have no idea what to think.   I roster him in one Dynasty League, and at this juncture, I’m holding on for another half-season.  Starter or a reliever?  Is he really still a prospect?  I’m not sure I have any answers.

%d bloggers like this: