Houston Astros

Original Published Date: January 2, 2016

It took four years of pain, but the Astros are starting to prove to the baseball world that their combination of scouting and analytics, looked through a very process-oriented lens; works.  They made it to the playoffs and had the Royals on the ropes when their bullpen failed and they were bounced in the Divisional series.

Carlos Correa was a big reason for the success.  He was terrific and gave validation to the process the Astros have been following.  Lose big, get great draft picks and then manipulate the process to get as much talent as you can.  A.J Reed and Alex Bregman are examples of the strategies and lead our list.  Reed is nearly ready for the show and should see significant playing time in Houston in 2016.  Bregman is an advanced college player and should only take a year of two of development.  However, his playing time is currently blocked by Correa and Altuve.

Kyle Tucker, the Astros other first round pick last year reminds me a lot of Christian Yelich and despite his advanced approach is three years away.  Even before Mark Appel was traded, Frances Martes was our pick for the top pitching prospect in the system.  While I still believe Appel will be a very good major league pitcher, Martes has an electric arm and really made a name for himself in 2015.

While the list is only eleven deep, there are at least that many more within the organization who have a chance to see time in the majors.  Enjoy the write-up…it’s a fun and exciting system.

1. A.J. Reed (1B)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: All Star
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 240 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2016
2015 A+,AA 523 113 34 127 0 .340 .432 76.7 13.8 .384

In 2014, Kris Bryant destroyed the minor leagues with 43 home runs, 110 RBI with a 1.098 OPS and easily won our minor league player of the year.  I didn’t think we would see a season like that for a while but A.J. Reed proved us wrong.  In 2015, he posted 1.044 OPS with 34 home runs and 127 RBI.  While not quite what Bryant did, it was pretty darn close.  In fact, Reed had a better strikeout-to-walk ratio and easily won our 2015 minor league player of the year.

Similar to Bryant, there were cries, particularly from fantasy owners of a Reed September call up.  However Lunhow and Co. held firm and kept him in the minor leagues; setting him up for an early 2016 call up and seven years of team control.  Was it the right call?  While we will never know, first base became a strikeout black hole for the Astros and Reed’s 78% contact rate would have played very nicely in my opinion.

Scouting Report:  I first saw Reed in April and loved the bat but didn’t love the body.  I wrote down in my notes – Matt Adams.  The more I looked at him, the more I liked the physical comparison.  However, I quickly realized that Reed was a better hitter…in fact a much better hitter.

While everyone gets excited about the 34 home runs he clubbed, I’m more impressed with his 78% contact rate and 13% walk rate.  It’s a result of a swing that is short to the ball and the ability to put back spin on the ball.  The power is significant but I will stop short of predicting 30 plus home runs and will temper back to 25.  I do think there will be seasons where he hits 30, but his swing is not highly leveraged and he actually sprays the ball to all fields.

Defensively Reed grades out as an above-average first baseman.  While he’s not ultra-athletic, he does have good footwork and reactions and that should be enough.  He does have a plus arm and was actually drafted out of high school as a pitcher by the Mets.  Hopefully we’ll get a chance to see him in a blow-out victory down the road for the Astros.

Fantasy Impact:  Reed is a top 10 fantasy prospect and should be drafted in all Dynasty League formats.  The ceiling is 25 to 30 home runs annually, a .280/.360 batting average/OBP and a ton of RBIs and runs scored.  The only thing he won’t provide is stolen bases.  If you’re in a redraft league, I would consider drafting Reed in the mid-teen rounds and backing him up with a mid-level first baseman.

2. Alex Bregman (SS/2B)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: All Star
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
2015 A,A+ 272 37 4 34 13 .294 .366 89.0 9.3 .314

As compensation for not signing Brady Aiken in 2014, the Astros got the second pick in the 2015 draft and decided to pull a Carlos Correa.  With the second overall pick, they drafted college shortop Alex Bregman.  Since he was not the consensus number two overall pick, they were able to sign him for a below-slot signing bonus and use the savings to snag Kyle Tucker and more importantly, overpay for Cameron Daz in the supplemental first round.  While I did not like how the Aiken situation played out, the Astros once again manipulated the system perfectly and for that, you’ve got to give them credit.

In my opinion, Bregman was the most major league ready player in the draft.  The Astros seemed to agree and started him off in the Midwest League to begin his professional career before promoting him in mid-July where he played the final 37 games of the season in High-A.  He played well in his 66 games, hitting .294/.366/.415, walking as much as he struck out with an 89% contact rate.  I would expect him to return to Lancaster to begin the 2016 with a good chance to finish the year in the Texas League.

With Bregman moving quickly, where will the Astros play him once his arrival to the majors is in sight?  It’s not going to be a short and likely not a second (would they consider trading Altuve???).  Could it be third or the outfield?  I can see the outfield but not third.  While they do have time, they need to figure the calculus out before the 2017 season begin; which could be in the AFL next year.

Scouting Report:  Bregman can really play the game of baseball.  I think his best skill is his hit tool.  He has advanced bat-to-ball skills with a short quick stroke that should allow him to hit .300 annually.  He’s also a plus runner with a chance to steal 30 plus bases annually.  While he’s a line drive hitter, he does have more strength than his 6-foot, 180 pound frame would suggest and could hit 10 to 12 home runs annually.

The best part is that he should move quickly through the system with a likely arrival to the big leagues in 2017.  While his position is a question mark, the Astros will find a place for him…let’s just hope it doesn’t involve trading Jose Altuve…they won’t do that, will they?

Fantasy Impact:  Bregman is a top five prospect in a Dynasty League redraft.  If you are competing in the next couple of years I would consider taking him as a top three player (assuming you are drafting exclusively out of the 2015 draft class).  The ceiling is a .300 hitter with 30 stolen bases hitting at the top of a very good Houston Astros lineup.

3. Kyle Tucker (OF)

2016 Age: 19 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 190 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2018-19
2015 R,SS 232 30 3 33 18 .246 .294 87.5 6.3 .266

With their second pick in the 2015 first year player draft (pick 5), the Astros went with Preston’s little brother, Kyle Tucker.  Kyle is a different player than his brother with better overall tools.  He doesn’t have the same power but is a better athletic, defender and runner.

Kyle Tucker spilt time between the GCL and Appy League and held his own against older competition.  In 63 games, he hit .246/.294/.353 making excellent contact (87%) while demonstration a very good approach.  He also swiped 18 of 22 bases.  The Astros will likely start Tucker in Quad City and given his advanced feel for hitting, could see Lancaster before the season ends.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, Tucker has the ideal size that teams are looking for in the draft.  His best tool is his ability to hit.  The swing is simple with plenty of bat speed and enough loft that he should project to have at least average future power.  He has a very mature approach at the plate, already showing the ability to control the strike zone.  If he progresses like I think he will, the upside is a .300 hitter with 20 home runs.

He’s an average runner and while the 18 stolen bases he posted this year were nice, I don’t expect him to steal bases at that clip as he progresses through the system.  While the Astros will likely play him across all three outfield positions next year, he profiles best as a corner outfielder.

Fantasy Impact:  While he’s still three years away from the big leagues, Tucker has a chance to be an impact fantasy player in the mold of Miami Marlins, Christian Yelich.  He has a great hit tool and enough bat speed to project to hit 20 home runs.  If you add 10 stolen bases, his ceiling is a top 50 player in fantasy.

4. Frances Martes (RHP)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 225 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A,A+,AA 101.2 83 23 4 2.48 8.68 2.04 1.09

The Astros have not been extremely active in drafting players in Latin America so they did the next best thing – they traded for one of the more intriguing arms in their system – Frances Martes.  He was in fact the throw-in player when the Astros sent Jared Cosart to the Marlins for Colin Moran and Jake Marisnick.  As of today, it’s looking like Martes might be the best piece they received.

Martes pitched extremely well across three levels this past year.  He started off in the Midwest League and dominated the league with a 1.04 ERA in 52 innings.  He then tamed the California League before finishing up with three starts in Double-A.  There were even whispers of him being promoted to Houston as a bullpen arm for the stretch run.  While that didn’t happen, it shows you the confidence that the team has in their young right-hander.

Scouting Report:  I caught Martes in a start in Lancaster this season and was duly impressed.  His fastball sat 93 to 96 MPH (T97) with really great movement.  He complemented his fastball with a hard curve that I think could get major league batters out today.  He also showed a feel for a change-up.  His final box score was 7 IP, 0 runs, 5 hits, 9 strikeouts and one walk.

While I was really impressed with the performance, there were some red flags.  First, Martes doesn’t have the greatest body.  He’s only 6-foot-1 and a listed 225 pounds, but it’s a sturdy 225 pounds.  His mechanics are also not great.  He rushes his delivery, often slinging the ball which causes him to open up on his landing which can lead to some wildness.  That said, he’s never struggled with his control and when I saw him, he was able to repeat his delivery quite well.

While the arsenal is good enough to start, he might actually be an intriguing bullpen arm long-term.  For now though, the Astros will likely keep him as a starter but if they are in contention again next year, Martes could be moved to the pen for the stretch run in Houston.

Fantasy Impact:  The pitcher I saw in August has the ceiling of a number two starter and isn’t far way.  Despite my concerns that he might get moved to the bullpen, I like him enough that he will be included in our Top 100 prospect list; due for publication in late January.

5. Derek Fisher (OF)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 205 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2017
2015 A,A+ 485 106 22 87 31 .275 .364 73.3 11.6 .331

The Astros got a gift in the supplemental first round of both the 2014 and 2015 first year player draft.  They were able to secure Daz Cameron this year and snag Derek Fisher in 2014.  While Cameron’s ceiling might be higher, Fisher may ultimately turn out to be the better player.

Fisher split time between Low and High-A in 2015, posting an .847 OPS with 22 home runs and 31 stolen bases.  While his contact could have been better (74%) he showed a very mature approach with an excellent understanding of the strike zone (11.5% walk rate).

Scouting Report:  I had a chance to see Fisher in August in Lancaster and came away impressed.  He has a nice lefty swing that has enough leverage to project 20 plus home run future power.  The swing can get a little long but he has quick hands that should allow him to hit .260 to .270.  I didn’t get a great time on him to first, but he’s far from a speedster so the 31 bases he stole in 2015 was a little surprising.  I think a better baseline is 12 to 15 stolen bases annually.

Fisher will likely split time between Double and Triple-A in 2016 with an anticipated 2017 debut in the major leagues.  That timing should work out well as both Colby Rasmus and Carlos Gomez will be free agents, opening up playing time.  However, he’s best suited for left field and depending on how Preston Tucker develops, Fisher could find himself blocked.

Fantasy Impact:  I’m a big believer in Fisher.  I think there is 20 HR/20 SB ceiling with a more realistic projection of 20/15.  Given his understanding of the strike zone, he will also be an asset in an on-base percentage league with a ceiling of a .350 OBP.

6. Daz Cameron (OF)

2016 Age: 19 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 185 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2018
2015 R,SS 175 34 0 17 24 .251 .353 72.0 11.8 .341

The Astros manipulated the 2015 draft perfectly to land outfielder Daz Cameron in the supplemental first round (pick 37).  It didn’t come cheap as they had to pay him like a top five player, but by over drafting Bregman and Tucker at the top of a weak draft, they had the money to make it happen.  In the end, everybody was happy – except I guess for the other 29 teams.

Cameron was considered the top player for two years prior to the 2015 draft.  As the son of All Star outfielder Mike Cameron, he has the size, pedigree, and baseball acumen that made him a no-brainer top pick.  However, his development stalled as a junior in high school and while he was still considered an exceptional talent, teams decided he was no longer the franchise altering talent they had hoped when he was 16-years-old.  While that’s unfair to put on any player, it’s the curse of being scouted for as long as he was.  Sometimes, scouting fatigue sets in and players just get discounted.

Scouting Report:  I think the Astros will be rewarded for their pick of Cameron.  He has elite bat speed that can’t be taught and an approach that can be.  While he lacks current power with a swing that is more contact-oriented, as he fills out and gains strength, he has the chance to develop average future power.  He’s also a plus runner, stealing 24 bases in his first 51 games.

Defensively, Cameron has a chance to be as good if not better than his father.  He runs great routes and has the speed to make up ground quickly.

Fantasy Impact:  Cameron is a first round fantasy pick in a re-draft Dynasty League that focuses on 2015 draftees.  The ceiling is a .280 hitter with 8 to 10 home runs and 30 stolen bases hitting at the top of a lineup.  Finally, don’t expect the Astros to move quickly with Cameron.  I could see him spending the entire season in Quad City next year and the entire 2017 season in Lancaster before the handcuffs come off.

7. Michael Feliz (RHP)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 225 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A+,AA 111.1 82 35 7 2.59 8.33 2.83 1.02

After an impressive 2015 season in the minor leagues, Michael Feliz was promoted to the big leagues in September to help the Astros in their playoff run.  While he pitched inconsistently in his brief call-up, he showed the kind of electric stuff that he has flashed in his long march through the minor leagues.  What he also showed is that he needs more grooming in the minor leagues before he is ready for primetime.

Feliz will likely start the 2016 in Triple-A with a chance to see Houston in the second half of the year; but this time as a starter.

Scouting Report:  Feliz has the size, power arsenal, and athleticism that you want in a starting pitcher.  His fastball sits 93 to 95 MPH (T96) with a slider and change-up that while inconsistent, flash plus.  As Feliz has matured, he’s also improved his ability to pound the strike zone and now projects to have at least average control.  He does pitch up in the zone and if he misses, could be a little homer prone.  However, he has so much movement on his pitches that I doubt hitters will ultimately be able to square him up.

Fantasy Impact:  Feliz could sneak into the back of our Top 100 list.  He’s nearly big league ready and with his live arm, he should post better than league average ratios with eight to nine strikeouts per nine.  If I’m playing in a 2016 re-draft league, I’m probably not pulling the trigger as I do believe he needs more work on harnessing his command and could be very inconsistent until that occurs.

8. J.D. Davis (3B)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 215 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
2015 A+ 485 93 26 101 5 .289 .370 67.6 9.8 .374

The Astros selected J.D. Davis in the third round of the 2014 first year player draft with the hope of him moving through the system quickly.  He played the entire year in the California League and showed off his plus power by hitting 26 home runs in 120 games.  It did come with a 68% contact rate and therein lies the problem.  While he has tremendous power potential, there is always going to be swing and miss in his game.  Given the Astros are flush with these types of players at the major league level, I think he eventually becomes trade bait down the road.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Davis has the size and strength to profile as a power hitting third baseman.  The swing can get long and consequently there will always be swing and miss in his game.  He does have a good understanding of the strike zone, walking 10% of the time.  While the combination points to a low batting average, his on-base percentage could be 80 to 100 points higher and that should be enough to make him an everyday regular at third.

Davis is a good defender at third with surprisingly good footwork.  He has a cannon for an arm that he showed off as a pitcher in college.  While it won’t matter much, the arm is good enough that he could get the spot pitching assignment during a blowout, which besides watching Bartolo Colon hit, is one of the more amusing things in baseball.

Fantasy Impact: Davis should be owned in all Dynasty Leagues that roster 150 or more minor league players.  The ceiling is a low batting average player with the potential for 20 to 25 home runs annually.

9. Joe Musgrove (RHP)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-5 Weight: 255 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A,A+,AA 100.2 85 21 9 0.72 8.85 1.88 0.92

Joe Musgrove was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the supplemental first round of the 2011 draft.  After spending two seasons in rookie-level ball, he was moved in a 10-player trade to the Astros in return for among other players, Brandon Lyon (remember him???) and J.A. Happ.  After the trade, the Astros worked with Musgrove on his mechanics and things finally started to click in 2014 when he posted a 2.41 ERA in 77 innings in the New York Penn League.

He really got rolling in 2015, tearing through three levels by posting 1.88 ERA, striking out nearly a batter an inning, and walking nobody.  Ok, well that might be stretching it; he actually walked eight in 100 innings.  The only thing that kept him down was a groin injury that cost him three weeks in July and again over the last three weeks of the season.

Scouting Report:  When he was first drafted by the Blue Jays, Musgrove fastball sat in the upper eighties.  However, as he has physically matured and the Astros have worked with his delivery, his fastball now sits 91 to 93 MPH (T94) with two very good secondary pitches in his curve ball and change-up.  He was always able to throw strikes and now with a better arsenal, his stock has soared.

The other interesting aspect of Musgrove’s profile is his ability to get batters to pound his pitches into the ground.  In his 252 innings of professional ball, he has maintained a 2.26 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio.    Despite that ability, he did give up seven home runs in 45 innings in Double-A.  Since he never walks anyone, even if he is prone to given up home runs because his arsenal is not overpowering, he should limit the damage.

Fantasy Impact:  Musgrove should be owned in all Dynasty Leagues that roster 200 or more minor league players.  While the ceiling is only that of a mid-rotation starter, he throws strikes and should be a ground ball machine while striking out seven per nine.

10. Albert Abreu (RHP)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 175 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 R 46.2 35 13 2 4.05 9.84 2.51 1.20

The Astros have never been serious players in the Latin market; meaning they are rarely associated with the best players available during the J2 signing period.  Instead they have opted to sign second and third tier-level prospect and then let their excellent player development process take over.

Albert Abreu is the type of Latin player they sign.  The cost was second-tier at $185,000 but the upside was deemed to be greater.  With an athletic 6-foot-2 and 175 pound frame, he had the projectable body that teams crave, and the fast arm action that should allow him to increase velocity as he matures.

Two years after signing, things are already starting to come together.  In 46.2 innings in the Appy League, Abreu demonstrated a solid arsenal with the ability to get plenty of swings and misses (9.84 per nine).  His control is still raw and that resulted in walking four per nine.

Scouting Report:  Abreu should still be considered a project.  The velocity has ticked up nicely with his fastball sitting 92 to 94 (T96) with excellent movement and plane with a feel for throwing a curve and change-up.  He’s also exploring a cutter that shows excellent movement and could become a weapon as well.  The stuff is electric and the Astros know it.  They will continue to harness his mechanics as he goes through the development process in order for him to learn to throw more strikes.  When that happens, the Astros could have another top-of-the-rotation option.

Fantasy Impact:  I like Abreu a lot and while there is a ton of risk, the reward in a deep Dynasty League could be enormous.  He’s not a guy to necessary target in a re-draft for the upcoming season, but he’s a player that should be monitored very closely.

2016 Emerging Prospect

Akeem Bostick (RHP)
I saw Akeem Bostick pitch in Lancaster over the summer and was impressed by what I saw.   At 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds, he’s long and athletic with a fastball that was sitting 93 to 95 that nobody was able to square.  He complemented the pitch with a decent change-up and curve ball that he set up well, resulting in seven strikeouts over seven innings.  It was an impressive outing and opened my eyes.  Don’t’ let the stat line fool you, Bostick has a big league future.  It might be in the bullpen but the stuff is electric and I would trust the Astros development process to get the most out of him.

Bonus Player:

I had already written up Mark Appel before he got traded to Philadelphia and I couldn’t bear to delete 400 words to the either.

Mark Appel (RHP)

As the first overall player selected in any draft, much is expected.  For positional players, you hope for a player that will transform a franchise but will settle for several all-star appearances.  For pitchers, you hope that he will compete for several CY Young awards or at a minimum, be a solid number two starter on a contender.  Sure, it’s not fair, but when you go number one and are paid a six million dollar plus signing bonus, the stakes are high.

Mark Appel was the number one overall selection in the 2013 first year player draft and so far, he’s been a disappointment.  In 54 games in the minor leagues, he has posted a 5.12 ERA, struck out less than eight per nine and given up more than a hit an inning.   At 24-years-old with 25 starts under his belt in the upper minors, the Astros need to concede that Appel is more likely a mid-rotation starter than the ace they hoped for when the drafted him number one overall.

Scouting Report:  It’s easy to see why the Astros drafted Appel number one.  He’s 6-foot-5, 220 pounds with a premium arsenal.  His fastball sits 92 to 95 MPH with plenty of 6s and 7s.  His slider is also excellent with a sharp tight break with his change-up almost nearly as good.  When you first see him pitch, it’s WOW…I get it.  It’s a premium arsenal and he throws strikes.  Then you see hard hit balls and you then realize something just isn’t right.  How can someone with that arsenal be so hittable?

The fact is hitters get a very good look at the ball coming out of his hand.  In other words, he has little deception in his delivery resulting in too many hard hit balls.  Gerrit Cole had a similar situation in the minor leagues but he was working on his fastball command and the Pirates were less concerned about results.  Unfortunately, that is not the case with Appel.  He many times will make it one time through the order unscathed and then get hit hard.

This doesn’t mean that Appel will not be a good pitcher.  I think he will, but it’s probably a pitcher with the upside of a 3.75 ERA with seven to eight strikeouts per nine with excellent control.  That’s a good pitcher, not a great pitcher.

Fantasy Impact:  By now, most serious Dynasty League owners know the deal with Appel.  If you own him, you’re likely saddled with him until he hits the major leagues.  There is a non-zero chance that he will alter his delivery and improve.  In fact, I would not rule that out as the Astros have a history of working individually with players to find a path that works.  That said, as a fantasy owners, I would not count on it.


6 comments on “Houston Astros

  1. […] You can see the Houston Astros 2016 Prospect List here […]

  2. […] If his control improves, along with an emerging curveball, changeup, and a new cutter (according to Prospect 361), he could soon move up in the […]

  3. Hey Rich,
    Do you think the Astros were too careless with the Giles trade? Seems like Appel’s arsenal would fit well for a closer, and if he was throwing only 1 inning I assume he could sit 97-99mph with a nasty slider, which sounds like…Giles? Am I crazy to think Appel could be as good a closer as Giles if given the opportunity? Though he’s been disappointing as a former #1 pick, Appel’s minor league numbers look very similar to Giles first 3 years in the minors. Plus, wouldn’t the Astros be better off with a rotation that read 1. Keuchel 2. McCullers 3. Velasquez 4. Martes 5. Feliz?

    • Careless might not be the right word I would use, but I know what you mean.

      The Astros believe that Giles has Kimbrel type of stuff with a double-plus fastball and slider. He’s young though and lacks plus command. However, because of the years of team control, it caused them a lot of talent. But, really, how good was that talent. Appel’s stuff is great but plays down because of his lack of deception. VV, I love and I think he’ll be an effective starter or perhaps closer but there have always been health concerns. Eshleman is a strike thrower but is similar to Joe Musgrove. So, when you don’t believe in Appel, it really comes down to VV, Eshleman, and a couple of smaller parts. Plus, remember, the industry is down on Appel.

      Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot to give up and I hear you on the word careless but assuming Giles stays healthy, in three years, he could be the lock-down closer with Appel a Mike Montgomery long-relief guy and VV a mid-rotation stater. If it works out that way, it looks a lot better. And while there is no guarantees in life, that scenario has a pretty good chance of being the end result.


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