With the big team coasting into the All Star break with a huge lead in the division and a 19-1 shellacking of the Blue Jays under its belt, it is time to glance downward at the top prospects in the minors and how they have done to date.
Prospect ranking based on latest mlb.com prospect list….
- Francis Martes RHP (21 years old, FA out of Dominican). Fans don’t have to look down for the Astros #1 prospect as Martes has spent a few weeks at the major league level. Observations – he looks like a player who should come to spring training next season after a diet and workout change in the offseason and a 25 lb. weight loss. He has a good lively arm, but has had the same problem at the major league level as at AAA – control. At the majors, he posted a 2-0 record, 5.18 ERA, 9.6 K/9 IP and 4.4 BB/ 9 IP line. So are the Astros going to send him back down when their wounded return, put him in the bullpen or dangle him in a trade for a big time pitcher?
- Kyle Tucker OF (20, 1st round/5th overall pick 2015). KTuck is arguably the #1 prospect now. He has had a swift rise through the minors and has put up very strong and similar numbers in 2017 at Buies Creek A+ (9 HR/43 RBIs/13SB. .288 BA/.379 OBP/.932 OPS) and Corpus AA (8 HR/20 RBIs/6 SB/.288 BA/.349 OBP/.902 OPS) . ETA to the big club – Late 2018
- David Paulino RHP (23, FA out of Dominican). Probably the only number worth considering for Paulino is the number 80. That represents the 80 game PED suspension handed to the big right hander recently. Can the Astros trust him going forward? How far down the list does this suspension drive him in the Astros’ plans? In a couple short stints with the Astros he has shown a big arm and a propensity to give up home runs. Will he ever climb back up again?
- Derek Fisher OF (23, 1st round supplemental pick in 2014). A big spring with the Astros paired with a solid 5 game cameo with the big club has moved Fisher up the ladder in fan awareness and possibly in the trade bait pecking order. His performance at AAA has shown improvement in his one weak spot (K%) and his numbers to date (19 HR/56 RBI/14 SB/ .306 BA / .945 OPS) highlight a player who is just an opportunity away from a MLB career. He will be playing with someone at the major league level by the end of 2017.
- Forrest Whitley RHP (19, 1st round/17th overall pick in 2016). Whitley has been as good as advertised as he has hopped all the way up to A+ ball after being picked out of high school last year. In two stops in 2017 he has a 3-3 record, 2.56 ERA, 1.225 WHIP and an impressive 12.6 K/9 IP. ETA – 2019 or so
- Franklin Perez RHP (19, FA out of Venezuela). After a strong 2016 at A ball, Perez has followed up with an impressive performance at A+ Buies Creek. His 4-2 record, 3.22 ERA, 8.6 K/9 IP and microscopic 0.974 WHIP have moved him into the top 10 prospects quickly. ETA – See Whitley above
- Teoscar Hernandez (24, FA out of Dominican). His 100 ABs to date at the major league level were OK, but nothing special (4 HR/11 RBI/.230 BA/ .724 OPS). He has put up solid but not eye catching numbers at AAA in 2017 (8 HR/32 RBIs/.265 BA/.791 OPS). The problem at this point is that he has fallen behind Mr. Fisher in the pecking order and will probably fall behind Mr. Tucker when he gets promoted to AAA.
- Ramon Laureano OF (22, 16th round 2014). After a blazing 2016 at hitter friendly Lancaster A+ and not so friendly Corpus AA, Laureano has fallen to earth in 2017. His 37 Runs and 37 RBIs are decent, but his .232 BA and .667 OPS are lacking. However, as Mr. Bill pointed out in the previous post, Laureano is on a recent very hot run which may bode well for the season as a whole.
- Daz Cameron OF (20, 1st round/37th overall in 2015). Daz has struggled a bit in his short Astros minor league career, but he has also struggled in comparison to 5th overall pick and same age OF Kyle Tucker, who has flourished while rising up through the minors. Cameron is only 20 and he’s playing better (but not great) in his second go round at A ball. His 48 runs/9 HR/41 RBI/19 SB are all good numbers, his .231 BA/.728 OPS – not so much. He is playing above his age and hopefully he will turn the corner in the next year or so.
- Miguelangel Sierra 2B/SS (19, FA out of Venezuela). In 2016, Sierra put up strong numbers in rookie ball and was promoted to Tri-City A- ball where he played like an 18 y.o. Repeating A- ball in 2017 has not resulted in any improvement as his numbers to date reflect (.154 BA/.574 OPS). Does he need to be dropped back to rookie ball or does the teenager just require patience?
- Garrett Stubbs C (24, 8th round 2015). At 24 y.o., Garrett seems like a creaky old uncle next to all these youngsters on this list. His strong 2016 season at both A+ and AA ball positioned him to be the next catcher up in the organization. His repeat at AA Corpus this season has not been as impressive (4 HR/21 RBI/.242 BA/.679 OPS), though he has a very solid 37% caught stealing rate. Right now he is not making enough noise to push through Max Stassi or Juan Centeno at AAA.
- Gilberto Celsetino OF (18, FA out of Dominican). Tough to be too hard on a true 18 y.o. just getting his feet wet a rookie ball in Greeneville. Nothing is standing out yet as in 15 games, he has 10 runs, 1 HR, 3 RBIs and a .246 BA with a .693 OPS. Check back in a year or two.
- J.D. Davis 3B (24, 4th round in 2014). Davis, who was impressive this spring training with the big club has followed up a good 2016 with a very good 2017 (.284 BA/.860 OPS/19 HR/52 RBIs). With Alex Bregman manning the hot corner in Houston and Yuli Gurriel and Marwin Gonzalez there as insurance, and with Colin Moran ripping up AAA, third base would seem to be a likely trade chip spot for the team.
- Yordan Alvarez 1B/OF (20, FA out of Cuba). Alvarez started 2017 by ripping apart A ball (9 HR/33 RBIs in only 32 games). After a promotion to Buies Creek A+ he has been solid (.268 BA/.365 OBP/.780 OPS) in 12 games there. He should be knocking on the MLB door around 2019 or 2020.
- Freudis Nova SS/3B (17, FA out of Dominican). The kid has played 16 games in the Dominican Summer League – hitting .293 BA/.793 OPS and committing 8 errors (7 at shortstop). Stop back in about 3 seasons.
- Cionel Perez LHP (21, FA out of Cuba). The young man has jumped from Cuba to A ball with the Astros and has been good, but not spectacular. 4-3 record, 4.39 ERA, 1.247 WHIP and 8.9 K/9 IP are all decent numbers. Considering the dearth of left-handers in the Astros organization he should be on the rise.
- Elian Rodriguez RHP (20, FA out of Cuba). He has a 10.13 ERA, but he’s only pitched 5.1 IP in the Dominican Summer League. He obviously is just starting off, so tune in later.
- Anibal Sierra INF (23, FA out of Cuba). He has moved up from A to A+ ball in 2017, though his hitting has been fairly suspect at both spots (3 HR/20 RBI/.208 BA/.565 OPS overall). After killing it in rookie ball in 2016, he has leapt over A- ball and A ball (only 9 games) and perhaps A+ is a little much for him.
- Jonathan Arauz SS/2B (18, part of Ken Giles trade from Philly). He’s an 18 y.o. light hitting middle infielder playing at A ball. His .228 BA / .623 OPS is as expected.
- Ronnie Dawson OF (22, 2nd round 2016 draft). The youngster is showing decent flashes at A ball (46 runs/10 HRs/32 RBIs) but needs to lift up his .235 BA/.718 OPS. He only has about one pro season under his belt, so patience is needed.
One of the striking things about this particular list is the large quantity of Latin American free agents. Eleven of the twenty (5 from the Dominican, 4 from Cuba, 2 from Venezuela) have been picked up that way, which has been reflected in how aggressively the Astros pursued these FAs in the past few years.
In general the top 20 is a mixed bag of guys excelling, guys competing and guys trying to stay afloat. There is no way of knowing how many will actually make it to the big leagues, get traded off or fall by the way-side, but there is a good chance a few of these players will be important to the big club in the next five years.