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Houston Astros

The Houston Astros system is far from what it used to be as there is no Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, or Jose Altuve.  However, there is still talent, particularly in pitchers.  In fact, it appears the Astros have a type. They are usually Latin, smallish, throw hard and move through the system fast.  Think Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, and Jose Urquidy. The system is full of them… One guy who is not of that type is Forrest Whitley.  The problem is he’s hurt and even before that, he was not effective in his time in Triple-A.  There’s no reason to give up on him yet, but there is time to worry.

I do like Freudis Nova and believe he could be one of the sleepers in the minor leagues.  There are tools for sure.  He just needs to play.  Finally, the Astros big international sign is 22-year-old Cuban Pedro Leon.  The Astros are going to pay him a lot of money in January and believe he could be special.  They could be right but that position is not widely held across the league.

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: Forrest Whitley
  • Biggest Mover: Luis Garcia
  • Emerging Prospect: Pedro Leon

1. Forrest Whitley (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 20 SP
  • Tools Summary: Size and premium stuff.  However, control has become a problem and more importantly, lingering shoulder soreness puts his Major League arrival date in doubt

I’m not even sure what to write.  So, here goes…

Forrest Whitley was considered the best pitching prospect in the game entering the 2019 season.  He has the size, a double-plus fastball, four usable secondary pitches with all of them flashing plus at-times.  Things came unraveled in 2019 as he couldn’t throw strikes in Triple-A and then was put on the shelf with shoulder issues.  Then in 2020, he didn’t pitch at all because of again, shoulder issues.  I also heard that the Astros tried to get him to elevate his fastball, ala Gerritt Cole and that did not go well.

So, that’s where we are.  A talented pitcher that has everything you want in an ace who is hurt and/or has lost confidence in his ability because the Astros tried to tweak the way he pitches.  Does he return in 2021?  Will he pitch effectively?  What is his realistic ceiling now?  These are all great questions without any answers as I write this on Thanksgiving week.

2. Freudis Nova (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 SS
  • 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, Nova has great bat speed and the chance to eventually hit for plus power.  However, to-date, his on-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. He’s a good runner as well, so you could looking at a 20-10 type of player.  Finally, the swing also works and as he gains experience, I think he’ll hit enough to be a full-time regular if not a little more.

3. Pedro Leon (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Int’l player expected to sign ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF
  • Tools Summary: 22-year-old Cuban émigré expected to sign in January.  There’s double-plus speed, great bat speed with a chance to hit

The Astros are expected to sign now 22-year-old outfielder Pedro Leon.  He hasn’t played since the 2018-19 season in Cuba where he slashed .383/.467/.789 in 32 games with 15 home runs and seven stolen bases.  Now the level was equivalent to Low-A in America, but still, a home run in every other game will get your attention.  Plus, his signing will likely cost the Astros close to $4 million.  So there is significant upside here but remember he has played for two years and will turn 23 in May.  There is a lot of history of these situations not ending well, but the fantasy upside is alluring.

4. Korey Lee (C)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2023 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.  So, were the Astros being shrewd, or were they just trying to be too smart.  Well, 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.

5. Alex Santos (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2024+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP or reliever
  • Tools Summary: Projectable right-handed high-school pitcher with a good arm

Due to Trash can gate, the Astros first pick in the draft did not happen until the supplemental second round where the selected high school right-hander Alex Santos.  He’s 6-foot-3 and a projectable 185 pounds.  The Astros love his arm and for good reason.  He can already hit the mid-90s and as matures, is expected to throw harder.  He also shows an ability to spin a curve.  The outcomes at this point are very wide and so much will depend on his development.  Just know, the Astros have done very well recently developing similar players so he’s one to keep tabs on.

6. Luis Garcia (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP or reliever
  • Tools Summary: A typical Astros pitcher.  Smallish, hard-throwing, and having success

The Astros have a type.  Young, Latin, smallish pitchers who throw hard and just get the job done.  Enter Luis Garcia.  He went straight from High-A in 2019 to posting a 2.92 ERA in 12.1 innings down the stretch in 2020.  In case you’re wondering, that’s not easy to do.  His fastball sat 93 to 95 with a high spin rate with three workable secondary pitches.  While he didn’t strike out a lot of batters in his short MLB debut, he always has in the minor leagues.  He’s likely a waiver wire pickup in 2021 but remember the name, there could be something there.

7. Hunter Brown (RHP)

  • Highest Level: Alternate Site ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling:  Closer
  • Tools Summary: 80-grade fastball but with little idea where the ball is going

Hunter Brown was drafted in the fifth round of the 2019 MLB Draft.  He has a big fastball that can touch triple digits but has well below-average current control.  His delivery isn’t great as he throws across his body but with work, the Astros should be able to get him more direct to the plate so he can throw enough strikes to be a bullpen arm in the Majors.  With his big fastball, that role could be a Closer.

8. 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 accumulated some more Major League service time by between three innings for the Astros in 2020.  Once again, he couldn’t throw consistent strikes but StatCast loves his stuff.  His fastball, slider, and curveball have great movement and he misses plenty of bats.  I think he’s a reliever and assuming he can improve his control a grade, he could get high leverage opportunities as soon as next season.

9. Tyler Ivey (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling:  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 in 2019, he pitched to a 1.57 ERA striking out nearly 12 per nine while walking just over three.  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.

10. Jairo Solis (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2023+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP
  • Tools Summary: Projectable hard-throwing right-hander who spent the entire 2019 season recovering from Tommy John Surgery.  He was reportedly hitting the upper 90s again in the Fall Instructs

Jairo Solis missed the entire 2019 rehabbing from TJ surgery and finally made an appearance in the Fall Instructs where I was told he was hitting the upper 90s on his fastball.  He’s still several years away but the Astros have a history of developing similar pitchers and getting them to the big leagues quicker than anticipated.  The upside is a mid-rotation starter.

11. Shawn Dubin (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2021 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.

Shawn Dubin has exceeded all expectations after being selected in the 13th round in the 2018 Draft.  He’s showing a plus arsenal and the ability to throw strikes.  In 39 games in the minor leagues (24 starts), he’s pitched to a 3.79 ERA striking out nearly 12 per nine.   Now for the bad news, he’s already 25, stands 6-feet with a slight build of 155 pounds.  I think we see him in 2021 and while the profile says ignore, I don’t know, I think there’s something there.  Fantasy owners should keep an eye on him.

12. Jordan Brewer (OF)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 OF with risk
  • Tools Summary: Double-plus speed with some pop but just has not gotten time to play

Jordan Brewer was drafted in the third round of the 2019 draft after slashing .338/.396/.586 with 12 home runs and 24 stolen bases as a junior at the University of Michigan. He’s a double-plus runner with good bat speed with an understanding of the strike zone.  The problem is he just turned 23 and has hardly played in professional ball.  If he can get it rolling in 2021 and make it to Double-A, he might be worth a pickup in a Dynasty League as the speed will play.

13. Colin Barber (OF)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 OF
  • Tools Summary: A little bit of speed and pop.  There is upside here

Colin Barber was selected in the fourth round of the 2019 MLB Draft.  In 28 games in rookie ball in 2019, he showed the ability to control the strike zone with some speed and pop.  There is upside here and he just needs to play to turn his talent into useful baseball skills.

14. Jeremy Pena (SS)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling:  Middle Infielder
  • Tools Summary: Defensive-oriented shortstop who can hit a little with good speed

Jeremy Pena was drafted in the third round of the 2018 MLB Draft and has excelled defensively since entering Professional ball.  He makes good contact and can work a walk but he doesn’t have great bat speed so he might lack the power to be a full-time regular in the big leagues.  From a fantasy standpoint, he has good speed and has shown some skill in stealing bases.

15. 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 signing bonus in 2019 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.

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