|Original Published Date: January 7, 2020|
Success at the Major Leagues usually takes it’s a toll on an organization’s minor league system. To double-down on that statement, I present to you the Houston Astros organization. Once regarded as the best system in the sport, the system has one Top 100 prospect in Forrest Whitley and a lot of extra pieces. The good news is that many of those extra pieces should be able to help the Astros at the big league level, but for those mining for fantasy help, I’m not sure there is much here.
Prospect Quick Shot
- Top Prospect: Forrest Whitley
- Biggest Mover: Shawn Dubin
- Emerging Prospect: Jairo Solis
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1. Forrest Whitley (RHP)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 SP
- Tools Summary: Size and premium stuff but the walks are a problem. The ceiling is still an ace, or slightly less, but there are growing concerns.
The 2019 season did not go the way Forrest Whitley imagined. He was the topped ranked minor league pitcher entering the season and after his impressive performance in the Fall League, he looked like he would join the Astros rotation as early as May. But a 12.21 ERA in eight games in Triple-A quickly derailed his season and then a “shoulder injury” that followed solidified that his Major League debut would have to wait another year.
Early in the season, Whitley never developed a feel for his pitches and then likely lost confidence. He was wild, walking over five per nine and became homer-prone, giving up nine home runs in 24.1 innings. Sure, the juiced ball and PCL played a role, but when you’re considered the best pitching prospect in the game and have four plus pitches, well, you’re expected to work through those difficulties.
Even after he recovered from his bout with shoulder stiffness, the stat line looked better, but the walk rate was nearly the same. If we take a step back, perhaps his control problems should have been expected. He’s 6-foot-7 with long levers and history has told us that it takes time for pitchers of that size to coordinate their delivery. We also must remember that he’s only 21-years-old and given his injury history, he really hasn’t pitched that much.
Assuming health, I think it will come together, but Astros fans and fantasy owners will simply have to wait another year, or perhaps even two before he makes his big-league debut. The arsenal still points to a front-of-the-rotation potential.
2. Freudis Nova (SS)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 2B
- Tools Summary: Intriguing power-speed skills with the chance to hit a little. Has only shown modest production in games to-date.
I’ve long been intrigued by Freudis Nova. Signed as an international free agent in 2016 for 1.2 million dollars, Nova has great bat speed and the chance to eventually hit for plus power. However, to-date, the on the field performance has not backed up the scouting report. He’s been ok given his age and the levels in which he’s played, but has yet to put up dazzling stats.
The Astros assigned him to Low-A in May and over 77 games, he slashed .259/.301/.369 with three home runs and 10 stolen bases. Pretty good for a kid who played the entire season as a 19-year-old. He was aggressive walking only 5% of the time and also struck out too much (22.7% K/9).
Nova will likely start the 2020 season in the Carolina League and I still believe he’ll grow into power with speed at least early in his career with the ability to at least post a .260 to .270 batting average. The Astros have already started to move him to second and third and eventually he should land at the keystone.
3. Abraham Toro (3B)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B
- Tools Summary: Finally started to put together his tools which should allow him to get regular full-time at-bats at the highest level.
Abraham Toro was drafted in the fifth round of the 2015 MLB Draft with a lot of average to above-average tools across the board. However, until this year, he was a .260 hitter with 10 home runs and a handful of stolen bases but with a good strikeout and walk ratios. Through the magic of BABIP, his .260 average has moved to .300 in Double-A and his power started to tick up.
How good was he in Double-A? In 98 games, he slashed .306/.393/.513 with 16 home runs and four stolen bases. He posted a reasonable 17.7% strikeout rate and walked 11% of the time.
The performance in Double-A led to a brief promotion to Triple-A where he hit .424 in 16 games and then a promotion to the Majors where he played in meaningful games down the stretch.
I don’t see Toro as a star, but he has enough power and bat-to-ball skills to become at least a soft full-time regular. I doubt that will be with the Astros, but there is 20 home run pop with a .270 batting average and .350 OBP potential.
4. Jose Urquidy (RHP)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
- Tools Summary: Solid stuff and pounds the strike zone. His height and low-plane will lead to well above-average home runs allowed.
If the Astros had won the World Series, you could point to Jose Urquidy’s start in game four as the key to the series. In five innings, he gave up two hits, no earned runs while striking out four. It was exactly what the Astros needed and the six-foot right-hander delivered. Alas, the Astros lost in seven games and unfortunately, most people will forget about his performance.
Urquidy has a solid four-pitch arsenal with a fastball that sits 93 to 94 MPH and three average to above-average secondary pitches. He gets plenty of swings and misses averaging nearly 10 strikeouts per nine in his minor league career. He also pounds the strike zone, averaging less than two walks per nine. The knock against him is his size and that is leading to a lot of home runs. I don’t think that will change and therefore, his ceiling is likely a number four starter.
Unless the Astros acquire pitching in the off-season, Urquidy should see plenty of time in the big league rotation.
5. Korey Lee (C)
- Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 Catcher
- Tools Summary: Wildly viewed as an overdraft during the 2019 MLB Draft. Solid defensive chops with some good bat-to-ball skills. The power is still developing.
In watching the MLB Network’s coverage of the draft last June, it was quickly clear that the Astros selection of Korey Lee was unexpected. It was a similar reaction around baseball when the Cubs drafted Hayden Simpson in the first round in 2010. They claimed another team was in on him and that was the reason they needed to draft him in the first round. Simpson made it as high as High-A and was out of baseball three years later. Will that be the path of Lee, or were the Astros just ahead of the game on the pick?
The early returns have been positive. In the NY Penn League, he hit .268 striking out only 19% of the time while walking 11% of the time. He is a solid defender behind the plate and is athletic enough to play at other positions (outfield and first).
If it all comes together, the Astros hope that Lee will be able to build on his solid bat-to-ball skills while adding power. From a fantasy standpoint, it’s a hold for me until we see more.
6. Cristian Javier (RHP)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Closer
- Tools Summary: High spin rate arsenal with funk in his delivery. He currently can’t throw consistent strikes, but if that improves, he could be an option to pitch at the back of the bullpen.
Signed in 2014 from the Dominican Republic, right-hander Cristian Javier had an excellent 2019 season. Across three levels, he pitched to a 1.74 ERA striking out 13.5 batters per nine but also walking 4.7 per nine. Additionally, he was nearly unhittable giving up a paltry four hits per nine innings. As is evident by his walk rate though, he doesn’t always know where the ball is going
Javier doesn’t light up the radar gun with a fastball that sits in the Low-90s, but his high spin rate provides extra life on the pitch. The delivery also provides some funk with fast arm action. But the delivery also is the source of his control issues as it’s far from smooth with little semblance of a consistent release slot. But, it’s working as the hit rate tells the story. Ultimately, I think Javier moves to the pen and that should allow his fastball to play up and provide an even better profile.
7. Jairo Solis (RHP)
Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2023+ Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
Tools Summary: Projectable right-hander who spent the entire 2019 season recovering from Tommy John Surgery.
Jairo Solis signed a $450,000 signing bonus in 2016 and burst onto the scene the following season starting off the year in the DSL while finishing the year in the Appy League. He showed a plus fastball that could scrape 96 MPH with a high-spin rate with promising secondary pitches. Unfortunately, he blew out his elbow in 2018 and needed season-ending Tommy John Surgery. He missed the entire 2019 season.
Assuming health, Solis has the arsenal and control to be a mid-rotation starter. He just turned 20, so he has a lot of time to develop. While he’s not yet an add in a Dynasty League for me, he is someone I’m watching upon his return. Given his projectable body, he might even return throwing harder than he did before his injury.
8. Shawn Dubin (RHP)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP or bullpen arm
- Tools Summary: Solid to plus arsenal. He needs to improve his control, but it’s a big-league arm.
When you draft a player in the 13th round and pay them a $1,000 signing bonus, your hope for the player is that he can play a few years and help provide depth in your system. Well, the Astros drafted Shawn Dubin in the 13th round in the 2018 MLB Draft and indeed signed him to a $1,000 signing bonus. But, he pitched very well and now looks like he might have a chance to pitch in the big leagues.
In 25 games across Low and High-A, he pitched to a 3.58 ERA striking out over 12 per nine and walking 3.7 per nine. The walk rate is a little high but his success was not built on a trick pitch or significant deception and instead, he’s got a solid arsenal. His fastball can touch 97 with a plus curveball, a plus slider, and a workable changeup. He’s only 6-foot-1 and might be susceptible to home runs, although it as not a problem in 2019.
I’m not ready to grab him in a Dynasty League, but there’s a good chance he sees the Major Leagues, potentially as soon as 2020.
9. Dauri Lorenzo (SS)
- Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2024+ Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS with extreme risk
- Tools Summary: One of the premium international free agents signed in 2019. Athletic with big tools and the ability to hit.
The Astros gave Dauri Lorenzo a 1.8 million dollar signing bonus last July as their top international free agent signed. The Astros are excited about the athletic, switch-hitting shortstop and his potential to move quickly through the minor leagues. He was one of the best pure hitters in the class with excellent bat speed. He’s currently a plus runner but will likely slow as he matures.
He’s a lottery ticket at the moment but for Dynasty Leagues that roster at least 200 players, owners need to make bets on young Latin Players. Lorenzo is one such player that I would be looking to make an investment.
10. Tyler Ivey (RHP)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP but likely a bullpen arm
- Tools Summary: Solid arsenal with a complicated delivery that is leading to poor control.
If you’re scouting the stat line, Tyler Ivey looks pretty good. In 46 innings in Double-A, he pitched to a 1.57 ERA striking out nearly 12 per nine while walking just over three. He’s was limited to 46 innings at Corpus Christi due to time spent on the IL as well as a suspension due to a “foreign substance” found in his glove in an April start.
The stuff is solid with a fastball that sits 92 to 94 MPH and three workable off-speed pitches. The problem is his delivery. It’s complicated, some have called it herky-jerky including Ivey himself with a lot of effort. While it provides deception, it’s also hard for him to repeat his delivery. This is leading to high pitch counts and poor control. Therefore, a move to the bullpen is highly likely.
11. Garrett Stubbs (C)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Second catcher
- Tools Summary: Solid hit tool with good speed from the catcher position. His lack of power though likely makes him a part-time player.
In the end, Garrett Stubb might be an extra bat on a Major League team, particularly if he stays with the Astros, but in another situation, I think there could be more.
Stubbs was drafted as a catcher but because of his size and athleticism, the Astros have played him both behind the dish and in the outfield. He’s a good hitter who controls the strike zone well but lacks power. In fact, his lack of power is not only evident in his career .399 SLG but his BABIP is also below average. While BABIP can be volatile, a consistent low average can be driven by a lack of speed and/or lack of hard contact. Since Stubbs has solid speed, his lack of hard contact is likely the reason.
Still, I find him intriguing. With regular at-bats, he could be a high average, high OBP player with double-digit stolen bases and 5 to 10 home runs. That’s far from a star, but from a fantasy standpoint, he’s contributing in difficult categories. If that can come at catcher with 400 plus plate appearance, that’s an interesting player in a two-catcher league.
12. Jeremy Pena (SS)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder
- Tools Summary: He’s a plus defender with a solid hit tool that can run a little. That likely makes him a utility player at the highest level.
Jeremy Pena is one of the more interesting players in the Astros organization. He was drafted in the third round of the 2018 MLB Draft out of the University of Maine. He’s a plus defender who can hit with good speed. Across Low and High-A, he hit .303 with a .385 OBP with 20 stolen bases. He struck out 18% of the time while posting a 9% walk rate. While his swing is contact-oriented, he did manage to hit seven home runs while posting a .440 SLG.
The ceiling is likely a utility player at the highest level, but in the right situation, there’s a chance he could be more. I’m going to put his ceiling as a middle infielder with a chance to hit .270 with a .340 OBP, steal 15 plus stolen bases and hit a handful of home runs.
13. Jonathan Arauz (SS) – Taken by the Red Sox in the Rule-5 Draft
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder
- Tools Summary: The results have been inconsistent but he has a little bit of pop and speed if he can hit enough.
Jonathan Arauz was part of the return the Astros got in the Ken Giles trade in December 2015. Signed as an international free agent earlier that year, he’s the kind of young high-upside guy that gets included in big trades. It’s now been four years since the Astros acquired Arauz and I think it’s safe to say, the results have been inconsistent.
He’s shown an ability to control the strike zone but has yet to hit for much power. This season, he hit .249 with a 20% strikeout rate and an 8.5% walk rate but has also only posted a .388 SLG. Given his bat speed, I would expect to see more power in the future. He also added six stolen bases.
In Dynasty Leagues, Arauz is still a hold for me, but if it all comes together, he could develop into a solid middle-infielder bat with a little speed and pop.
14. Bryan Abreu (RHP)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: High-Leverage bullpen arm
- Tools Summary: Plus fastball-curveball but lacking the third pitch. Control is currently below-average.
Bryan Abreu is another in a long line of young hard-throwing arms in the Astros system. He split his time between High and Double-A before receiving a September call-up to the Major Leagues. He’s primarily a fastball-curveball pitcher but both pitches grade out as plus. His fastball sits 95 to 96 MPH but only has an average spin rate. However, the curveball is a 12-6 hammer with double-plus spin and movement. The change-up is below average and consequently, he rarely throws it.
Given his size, lack of a third pitch and current below-average control, he’s likely a bullpen arm long-term. However, the arsenal is good enough for him to work in high-leverage situations.
15. Alex McKenna (OF)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF with risk
- Tools Summary: Tooled up player who did not play well in 2020.
I had high hopes for Alex McKenna entering the 2019 season. He was a fourth-round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft who showed a nice approach in college, is a solid-average runner with good raw power. In his pro debut, he also played well slashing .311/.394/.512 in 44 games across the New York Penn League and Low-A. Unfortunately, he started the season late due to a hamstring injury and just never got it going. He struck out nearly 30% of the time and showed no power (.306 SLG).
In Dynasty Leagues, he’s still on my watch list. There’s just too much athleticism there to write him off. If there is another bad season, then ok. However, for now, I’m rationalizing. Injury, “never got it going”, blah, blah. Let’s give me another kick at the can…