Top 21 Prospects: Houston Astros

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the Houston Astros farm system. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from my own observations. The KATOH statistical projections, probable-outcome graphs, and (further down) Mahalanobis comps have been provided by Chris Mitchell. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of my prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this. -Eric Longenhagen

The KATOH projection system uses minor-league data and Baseball America prospect rankings to forecast future performance in the major leagues. For each player, KATOH produces a WAR forecast for his first six years in the major leagues. There are drawbacks to scouting the stat line, so take these projections with a grain of salt. Due to their purely objective nature, the projections here can be useful in identifying prospects who might be overlooked or overrated. Due to sample-size concerns, only players with at least 200 minor-league plate appearances or batters faced last season have received projections. -Chris Mitchell

Other Lists
NL West (ARI, COL, LAD, SD, SF)
AL Central (CHW, CLE, DET, KC, MIN)
NL Central (CHC, CIN, PIT, MIL, StL)
NL East (ATL, MIA, NYM, PHI, WAS)
AL East (BAL, BOSNYY, TB, TOR)
NL West (LAA)

Astros Top Prospects
Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV
1 Francis Martes 21 AA RHP 2018 60
2 Kyle Tucker 20 A+ OF 2019 55
3 Franklin Perez 19 A RHP 2020 50
4 Forrest Whitley 19 R RHP 2019 50
5 Ramon Laureano 22 AA OF 2017 50
6 David Paulino 23 MLB RHP 2017 50
7 Derek Fisher 23 AAA OF 2017 45
8 Teoscar Hernandez 24 MLB OF 2017 45
9 Gilberto Celestino 18 R OF 2020 45
10 Daz Cameron 20 A OF 2020 45
11 Miguelangel Sierra 19 A- SS 2020 45
12 Cionel Perez 20 R LHP 2019 40
13 Garrett Stubbs 23 AA C 2018 40
14 Jandel Gustave 24 MLB RHP 2017 40
15 JD Davis 23 AA 3B 2017 40
16 Ronnie Dawson 21 A- OF 2020 40
17 Framber Valdez 23 A+ LHP 2017 40
18 Hector Perez 20 A RHP 2020 40
19 Freud Nova 17 R SS 2021 40
20 Jake Rogers 21 A C 2019 40
21 Lupe Chavez 19 R RHP 2020 40

60 FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2012 from Dominican Republic
Age 21 Height 6’0 Weight 170 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command
60/60 60/70 45/55 40/55

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Recorded strikeout and walk rates of 25% and 9%, respectively, at Double-A.

Scouting Report
The story of Martes’s acquisition is well told. The effects of the deal are obviously still resonating atop Houston’s prospect list, but perhaps more significant is the way that deal changed the way complex-level ball is scouted. Since Martes was unearthed in the GCL, more and more scouts are being assigned to rookie ball in Florida and Arizona. Some clubs have scout(s) here every year, others tailor their coverage based on where they are on the competitive spectrum, with rebuilding clubs more likely to have scouts here than ones who, if they make a trade, are hunting big leaguers instead of teenage lottery tickets. So while Martes has a chance to make a significant impact on an Astros club poised to compete for their division and, maybe, a World Series, the ripples through the industry created by his acquisition are arguably more significant. Okay, on to Martes as a prospect…

Martes is a rare talent with sneaky athleticism for a pitcher with his build. He was 94-98 for me in the AFL, a 70 fastball on pure velo but docked a grade due to a lack of movement. (It was touched up in my AFL looks.) He shows feel for commanding it to both sides of the plate in bursts but still has rashes of erratic control. He varies the shape of his power curveball, which has hard, late break, depending on situation/location. Once his command of it is fully realized (something I’m betting on because, again, we’re talking about a good athlete), I think it’s going to be a dominant, plus-plus pitch. The changeup flashes and once Martes’s fastball command improves a bit, I think the changeup development will follow shortly after it, as he’ll find himself in changeup-friendly counts more often and should be able to develop that pitch.

As if his pure stuff weren’t enough, Martes has started weaving some old-man tricks into the fabric of his repertoire. He’s been quick-pitching hitters this spring and altering the pace of his delivery to mess with hitters’ timing. He conservatively projects as a plus big-league starter. If that fastball starts moving, though, and plays at its velo, he could be more than that.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 7.0 WAR

55 FV Prospects

Drafted: 1st Round, 2015 from Plant HS (FL)
Age 20 Height 6’4 Weight 190 Bat/Throw L/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/70 45/55 30/50 45/40 40/50 55/55

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Slashed .276/.348/.402 at Low-A in 2016.

Scouting Report
An offensive force at Plant High School in Florida, Tucker hit nearly .500 as a senior and was the best pure high-school hitter in a 2015 first round full of bat-first prep prospects. One of the sweetest swings in prospectdom belongs to Tucker, whose cut is more compact than is typical for a hitter this size. His hands are lightning quick and twitchy while the rest of him appears casually indifferent at the plate. He has a chance to generate both a high contact rate as well as power once his body fills out. How much he adds will dictate what kind of offensive force he’s going to be. Tucker doesn’t have the typical broad-shouldered frame associated with power-hitting outfield prospects, and not all scouts are projecting heavily on the body.

But Tucker should hit enough to profile in right field (he has an above-average arm), where he’s likely to end up as the physical maturation begins. Tucker has played a lot of center field but isn’t a burner and will probably slow down a bit with age, though he could be an above-average defender in a corner. While I’m personally disappointed that we won’t find out what kind of numbers Tucker would have produced in the Cal League, it’s probably better for his development that he’s headed for Houston’s new Carolina League affiliate. If he hits there he could get a late-season cup of coffee at Double-A as a 20-year-old.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 11.6 WAR

50 FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Venezuela
Age 19 Height 6’3 Weight 197 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command
55/60 40/45 50/55 45/55 40/50

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Recorded 75 strikeouts, 19 walks in 66.2 innings.

Scouting Report
Though he won’t turn 20 until December, Perez has very much grown into his 6-foot-3 frame and is thick and strong bodied. Over the past two-and-a-half years, Perez’s fastball has climbed from the upper 80s and into the mid-90s, sitting 92-94 and touching 96 with sink. By the end of 2016, Perez was showing some feel for running his fastball off the hip of left-handed hitters and back into the zone for unhittable strikes a la vintage Bartolo Colon.

Perez takes a gargantuan stride as he delivers the ball to the plate and at times lands off balance, causing the rest of his delivery to come undone and leading to some noncompetitive pitches. But his arm works well and all of Perez’s amble mass hurdles, full steam, directly at the plate. Scouts are pretty confident Perez will have the control to start at maturity.

He also has a hammer overhand curveball, a viable slider, and a changeup that plays up due to natural deception in Perez’s delivery. There’s a chance for three above-average or better offerings and solid-average command here, making him potential No. 3 starter.

Because the Astros piggyback their minor-league pitchers, some scouts are apprehensive about taking their stuff at face value. Perez, for example, averaged about four-and-a-half innings per appearance in 2016 and had at least six days between each start. The concern is that the stuff plays better in shorter stints than it would for six-plus innings at a time. But even if Perez’s velocity is a bit of a mirage, his curveball feel is not, and his heater has enough sink that it should play even in the low 90s, if that’s where it ends up.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 6.6 WAR

Drafted: 1st Round, 2016 from Alamo HS (TX)
Age 19 Height 6’7 Weight 240 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Cutter Command
60/60 45/50 55/60 45/50 45/50 40/50

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
None.

Scouting Report
As a rising high-school senior, Whitley had issues throwing strikes at the Under Armour showcase in Chicago (like every pitcher at the event) but then looked great at Area Codes, working in the low 90s with a good curveball and throwing strikes. Whitley got in better shape as a senior and his velo ticked up.

Now, Whitley sits 90-95 (93-95 as he’s gotten going this spring), touches 97, and is mixing in four (yes, four) secondary offerings. He manipulates his fastball and can create cutting action in the low 90s; he has a sharp, late-biting slider in the mid-80s; some changeup feel; and that traditional Texas curveball, which headlines the arsenal. He throws more strikes than a pitching prospect this size typically throws at this age, and works down in the zone with his fastball.

Whitley was arguably the most advanced high-school pitcher in the 2016 draft (Braxton Garrett has an argument, too), his stuff a bit less projectable than some of his peers. He could move quickly and has a chance to be a good No. 3 starter.

Drafted: 16th Round, 2014 from NE Oklahoma A&M
Age 22 Height 5’11 Weight 185 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
50/60 45/45 30/40 60/60 50/55 55/55

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Produced .428 OBP across two levels in 2016.

Scouting Report
Laureano broke out in 2016, but he spent much of it in the Cal League, which led to mid-year skepticism. Then he was promoted to Double-A and kept hitting. Then he came to the Fall League and continued to make lots of loud, all-fields contact. Now everyone is buying that he can hit and reach base at a high clip. Laureano doesn’t have monster physical tools but rather a simple, compact swing and strength in the wrists that allow him to drive the ball with surprising force. He made several impressive adjustments in the middle of at-bats in the AFL, often swinging over top of a breaking ball early in an at-bat but then either recognizing and laying off the next one or staying back and hitting it hard somewhere. This ability helped Laureano lead the minors in OBP.

He’s also a comfortably plus runner (I had him anywhere between 4.07 and 4.18 down the line in the Fall League) who fits defensively in center field and could be plus in a corner spot. There probably won’t be much game power here, in part because Laureano’s approach to hitting doesn’t prioritize it, but I believe in the bat and secondary skills enough to project him as a high-probability, average everyday player, wherever he ends up defensively. I have him ahead of Derek Fisher on the list because Fisher’s feel for baseball has always belied his physical tools and, while Fisher has more upside, I think there’s still more bust potential there. Meanwhile, I consider Laureano a safer bet to contribute. And I think Laureano’s secondary skills separate him from Teoscar Hernandez.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 6.2 WAR

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2010 from Dominican Republic
Age 23 Height 6’7 Weight 215 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command
55/55 40/45 55/60 50/50 45/50

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Has thrown just 208 total innings in five pro seasons.

Scouting Report
Paulino’s curveball is ridiculous. He’s a tall, lanky righty with an overhand slot and that curveball is spinning down from the heavens with, at times, more than 3300 rpms. It’s a slow, loopy, low-70s curveball in the Barry Zito mold, but Paulino does not maintain his fastball arm speed when he throws it, something advanced hitters are able to identify. Just on movement it’s a plus pitch, but if it’s going to be that effective in the majors, Paulino needs to sell it better.

The curve is the eye-catching aspect of an otherwise solid, albeit somewhat pedestrian repertoire that features a 92-94 mph fastball which touches 96, a low-80s slider, and average changeup.

Paulino’s delivery has little violence or visible effort. He doesn’t have surgical command but throws strikes and hasn’t had issues with walks at any point during his career. But while Paulino’s frame and mechanical ease are both typically considered inning-eater traits, he had Tommy John in 2014 and missed time in 2016 with elbow tendinitis. He’s 23 and hasn’t thrown more than 90 innings in affiliated ball during a single season. Some scouts are concerned enough about the injuries to project Paulino in the bullpen while others think you just leave him in a rotation to build innings and maybe improve some pitches — even if it means Paulino doesn’t grab hold of a big-league job until age 24 or 25. Of course, because Houston is competing for a spot in the postseason, his role might just be dictated by whatever the big club needs and not his own development. I have him projected as a league-average starter.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 5.6 WAR

45 FV Prospects

Drafted: 1st Round, 2014 from Virginia
Age 23 Height 6’3 Weight 207 Bat/Throw L/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
40/45 60/60 40/50 70/70 40/45 40/40

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Projected by ZiPS for 10% walk rate this year.

Scouting Report
The Astros drafted a toolsy but enigmatic outfielder named George Springer in the 2011 draft’s first round, and it’s safe to say that it’s worked out for both parties. Fisher was a similar prospect in 2014, a 70 runner with plus raw power at Virginia but a 30 defender in the outfield with no instincts and inconsistent bat-to-ball ability.

Fisher played left field in college in deference to Royals prospect Brandon Downes, but he had the pure speed to give center a try in pro ball. After two seasons of working primarily in center field, Fisher remains raw there and far more likely to fit, long term, in left field (he has a 40 arm), where he projects as an average defender purely because of his speed.

Obviously, it’s more difficult for a prospect to profile in an outfield corner than it is in center field, and there’s some doubt among scouts about Fisher’s ability to do it, as he swings and misses a lot. He has a 25% career strikeout rate and was a bit worse than that in Double-A last year. He also K’d 15 times in 51 plate appearances this spring.

But Fisher has a long track record of patience, reaching base at a career .370 clip. His power plays in games (he hits balls out to all fields and doesn’t need to square pitches up to hit them out), so pitchers are going to have to be careful with him, and Fisher seems poised to take advantage of tepid strike-throwers and reach base at a high clip in the majors. If he does, his speed is going to add baserunning value to his profile. He was 11-for-11 on stolen-base attempts this spring and is a true 70 runner underway.

The defense and strikeouts will likely dilute Fisher’s big-league impact and might rightly be considered a bit of a red flag, but he undoubtedly has impact big-league tools. If he ever starts hitting, he’s a potential star. Fisher is already 23 and it’s unlikely he develops great bat-to-ball skills at this point, but he still projects as a big-league regular of some kind because of the power, patience, and speed.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 5.3 WAR

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2010 from Dominican Republic
Age 24 Height 6’2 Weight 180 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
45/50 50/50 40/45 55/55 50/55 55/55

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Posted .190 ISO in 112 big-league plate appearances in 2016.

Scouting Report
Hernandez went unpicked in the 2015 Rule 5 draft after a disappointing year at Corpus Christi but simplified his footwork in the box. (It wasn’t all that complicated to begin with, but his front foot is down much earlier now than it was in 2015.) Now he tracks pitches better and lets his natural bat speed and wrist strength generate the quality of his contact. The contact issues that plagued Hernandez in 2015 seem solved and the rest of his tools, all average or a tick above, are all free to play in games now that Hernandez is a functional offensive player.

While Hernandez’s game power is limited a bit by his newfound approach, he’s an above-average runner capable of playing all three outfield spots (I have him projected in the corners because I can’t see him supplanting Springer in center) and has an above-average arm. Even if the hit/power combination isn’t sexy in a corner spot, it’s nevertheless viable, and Hernandez projects as a second-division regular. With Houston’s glut of outfielders at the upper levels, he might be relegated to luxurious fourth-outfielder duty as long as he’s in the org.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 4.2 WAR

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic
Age 18 Height 6’0 Weight 170 Bat/Throw R/L
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/60 40/50 20/45 55/60 45/60 55/55

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
None.

Scouting Report
The Astros were smitten with Celestino’s ability to hit in games as an amateur, a rare feat in a player-evaluation environment ruled by 60-yard dash times and batting practice. He also had his class’s most advanced feel for center field and got a $2.25 million bonus in 2015 as a comparatively high-floor international prospect.

That’s not to say Celestino lacks upside. His feel for center field is outstanding and he could be plus there at peak. The bat-to-ball ability Houston saw from Celestino as an amateur has carried to pro ball so far, and he walked more than he struck out last year in the DSL, prompting a brief stateside promotion late in the summer at age 17. He projects as an above-average to plus hitter.

Celestino doesn’t have obvious physical projection like big, wiry 6-foot-4 teenage outfielders like Pedro Gonzalez or Josh Lowe, but his shoulders are broad, he has long limbs and big hands and feet, and I think there’s sneaky power projection here. Celestino’s swing already has the sort of naturally high finish typically associated with in-game power, and if he does grow into more raw, I think it’s likely to show up in games. Even fringey game power would be a boon from a good defensive center fielder. I think there’s fairly significant upside here. If Celestino hits his way out of the GCL this year and gets a cup of coffee at an affiliate late in the summer at age 18, he might merit top-100 consideration next year the way I thought Cristian Pache did this offseason.

10. Daz Cameron, OF
Drafted: 1st Round, 2015 from Eagle’s Landing (GA)
Age 20 Height 6’2 Weight 185 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/45 50/50 30/45 55/55 45/50 50/50

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Slashed .278/.352/.418 after demotion to NYPL.

Scouting Report
The Astros have had several opportunities to manipulate their draft bonus pool since the current system was put in place, and they successfully moved Cameron back to their supplemental pick at 37 overall, signing him for $4 million in 2015. Cameron was viewed as a potential 1-1 candidate as an underclassman, prompting #SpazForDaz rhetoric online among Philly sports fans who faced the prospect of a rebuilding major-league team for a few years. In reality, Cameron matured sooner than many of his peers did and looked dominant as a sophomore and junior at showcases, but his classmates caught up to him by their draft year and Cameron was viewed as a top-eight to -15 talent on draft day.

Cameron’s tools are modest but well rounded, and he projects to competently play a premium defensive position. He struggled to make contact last year during an aggressive Midwest League assignment, and his swing is being reworked. Scouts are cautiously optimistic about his ability to make necessary adjustments because they believe in his athleticism and bat speed.

Even if he can become a fringe hitter with fringe game power, that combination will play every day in center field. While Daz isn’t a true burner, he’s a 55 runner with good defensive instincts and should be fine in center. His 2016 was a lost year, but it’s too early to dismiss this kind of multi-tool talent. Most prospects fail and have to make adjustments at some point during their careers; Cameron’s moment for this just happened to come in his first pro season. There are people in the industry who prefer prospects to deal with issues like this in the relative obscurity of the low minors rather than have to do it for the first time at the upper levels or in the big-league spotlight the way A.J. Reed and Byron Buxton have.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Venezuela
Age 19 Height 5’11 Weight 165 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/45 45/55 30/50 50/45 40/45 55/55

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Hit 11 homers in 31 games at short-season Greeneville.

Scouting Report
Sierra projects to play a competent shortstop (largely due to polished actions, exceptional hands, and good arm strength) and do a little bit of damage with the bat and is therefore a terrific prospect despite lacking especially loud tools.

Signed for an even $1 million in 2014, Sierra spent his first pro season straddling the DSL and GCL before kicking out to an affiliate, Greeneville, for 2016. He hit for more power there than anyone expected, ripping out 11 homers in just 31 games. Scouts aren’t sure, however, that the pull-heavy approach which led to this brief run of dingers is sustainable at upper levels. (He was promoted to Tri-City after his start at Greeneville and struck out in a third of his at-bats.) A source who saw Sierra in the NYPL notes his swing-and-miss issues stemmed from swing length and an excessively deep load, rather than a high-effort swing (Sierra actually generates loud contact with relative ease and strong wrists) or expansive approach, and they consider the issue correctable. Sierra projects to have a fringe-hit, average-game-power combination at maturity.

While I consider Sierra likely to stay at short, there’s also a chance he moves. He’s an average runner right now and has thick thighs and a high butt, which portends more mass. He has a good first step, takes efficient routes to ground balls, and covers more ground than expected given his speed. He also has terrific hands and an above-average arm. Like most teenagers, Sierra needs to work on procedural aspects of defense, but I have him projected as a fringe-average defender at short. If he does thicken to the point where he has to move, obviously there will be more pressure on the bat.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 0.8 WAR

40 FV Prospects

12. Cionel Perez, LHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Cuba
Age 20 Height 5’11 Weight 170 Bat/Throw L/L
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command
55/60 40/50 50/55 40/45 40/50

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
None.

Scouting Report
I ranked Perez seventh overall in the 2016 J2 class, and he and Houston agreed to a bonus just over $5 million that was voided and renegotiated down to $2 million when his physical gave the Astros pause about his elbow. He’s starting the season in extended spring training.

Perez is small, but he has crazy arm acceleration and routinely sits 89-93 with his fastball when healthy while touching 96, which he’s kissed this spring. He has feel for both a curveball and slider (though they might be the same pitch, the shape of which Perez can alter), the former of which is already flashing plus with big depth and late bite. He’s shown a 45 changeup, as well, though he doesn’t consistently show the same electric arm speed of his fastball through release. The changeup also lacks consistent movement.

Perez is explosive and athletic despite his diminutive stature and stick-figure build. The delivery does feature some effort and Perez had some issues with strike-throwing as a teenager in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, but most think he’ll throw enough strikes to start. He projects as a mid-rotation starter, but what was already significant risk is now extreme because of whatever Houston found during his medicals.

Drafted: 8th Round, 2015 from USC
Age 24 Height 5’10 Weight 175 Bat/Throw L/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
40/50 45/45 30/40 50/50 50/55 55/55

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Recorded more walks than strikeouts in month-long stint at Double-A.

Scouting Report
Take a second to note the size of the pitching prospects at the top of this system and then imagine Stubbs catching the lot of them. Stubbs is unlike any catching prospect most scouts have ever seen. He’s still very small despite having added weight since college (he was PAC 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2015), and scouts aren’t sure if his body can withstand the beating starting catchers take behind the plate for 100-plus annual games. He also presents pitchers with a smaller target than usual, which requires some adjustment for them.

But on tools, Stubbs is quite interesting. He’s an average runner, has good bat-to-ball skills, an above-average arm, and is a good ball-blocker and -receiver. In a vacuum, those are starting-caliber tools for a catcher but, again, nobody knows whether or not Stubbs’ body will hold up. He caught about 80 games in 2016 if you include his work in the Fall League, had a DL stint in late April, and has battled shoulder discomfort this spring. On the surface, he seems like a candidate for something akin to what the Dodgers are doing with Austin Barnes (catch some, play a few other positions), but Stubbs turns 24 in May and hasn’t done anything but catch as a pro. I have him projected as a backup. He recently appeared on the Effectively Wild podcast discussing his prospectdom and a childhood trampoline injury.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 7.3 WAR

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2010 from Dominican Republic
Age 24 Height 6’2 Weight 210 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Command
70/70 55/55 40/40

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Recorded 27% strikeout rate in 15.1 big-league innings.

Scouting Report
A low-slot righty with a mid- to upper-90s fastball and above-average slider that both play up due to the funk in his delivery, Gustave projects as a viable middle-relief piece (and potential setup man) as long as he’s throwing strikes.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 1.1 WAR

15. JD Davis, 3B
Drafted: 3rd Round, 2014 from Cal State Fullerton
Age 24 Height 6’2 Weight 215 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/40 60/60 45/50 40/40 40/40 70/70

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Hit 49 homers combined in 2015 and 2016.

Scouting Report
Davis got plenty of opportunity to play for the big-league club this spring with much of Houston’s infield at the World Baseball Classic, and he endeared himself to the staff by hitting .365 in a team-high 28 games. Davis has plus raw power and has gotten to most of it in games as a pro despite swing-and-miss issues. He’s a boxy, plodding athlete who passes at third base (though he’s below average there) because he has a 70 arm (he pitched out of Fullerton’s bullpen in college). He could be a fringe regular for someone but projects as more of a corner utility bat with power for Houston, which is loaded at the corners.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 1.2 WAR

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2016 from Ohio St
Age 22 Height 6’2 Weight 225 Bat/Throw L/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/40 60/60 40/50 55/50 30/40 40/40

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Slashed .330/.420/.610 as junior of Ohio State.

Scouting Report
When Ronnie Dawson connects, it’s evocative of Willie Stargell. He has a short, swooping, uppercut swing, a short finish, and he pauses to admire his work as the ball disappears over the right-field wall. Dawson has plus raw power and a good feel for the strike zone, which allows him to work himself into favorable counts and try to hit balls into orbit. He’s also an above-average runner and has worked to improve his conditioning since his sophomore year at Ohio State, when he was quite heavy.

That’s where it stops, though, as Dawson has swing-and-miss issues (he’s a big, upright, power hitter) and questionable defensive instincts. He struck out in 22% of his plate appearances in short-season ball last year after he signed, which is a bit of a red flag for a college hitter, and his pull-heavy batted-ball profile suggests his batting average might be further suppressed the shift.

Houston has had recent success developing good athletes with glaring holes in their game, and Dawson is just that. He has a similar tool profile to Tigers outfield prospect Christin Stewart, and I’d argue Dawson is a better athlete. But he needs to show he can reach base and get to his power in pro ball as Stewart has, and Dawson hasn’t yet had the opportunity to do that. He projects as a three-true-outcomes outfielder with some speed, though there’s significant risk here because of the swing-and-miss issues and because Dawson is already at the bottom of the defensive spectrum.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 0.3 WAR

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Dominican Republic
Age 23 Height 5’11 Weight 170 Bat/Throw L/L
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Command
55/55 60/60 40/45

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Recorded 79 strikeouts over 73 innings in 2016.

Scouting Report
The Astros’ 40 man is shallow on lefties and Valdez, who pitched across four (yes, four) levels last year opened eyes during the spring and is a candidate for promotion at some point this year. He sits in the low 90s, touches 94 with the fastball, and has a plus curveball with true 12-6 movement. He has a lower slot and quick arm action, so there’s some deception here, too. He profiles as a quick-moving lefty relief option.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 1.6 WAR

18. Hector Perez, RHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Dominican Republic
Age 21 Height 6’3 Weight 190 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Splitter Command
55/60 55/60 45/50 40/50 30/45

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Recorded 80 strikeouts over 60 innings in 2016.

Scouting Report
Perez has a prototypical power righty body and stuff with a projectable (but already strong) frame, a low- to mid-90s fastball that will touch 97, and a plus-flashing, vertical slider. The rest of the package is raw, especially the control, and there’s significant risk that Perez is ultimately a reliever. But there’s also big-time upside here if he can harness his high-effort delivery.

Perez has a nearly vertical arm slot (which is why both of his breaking balls have vertical movement) and his fastball often sails up above the zone. It’s hard to create bat-missing movement on a changeup from that slot and a splitter might make sense moving forward. If Perez can develop a viable offspeed weapon, he could have three impact pitches and, even with fringey control, would make for a fine, perhaps inefficient starting option. Until that occurs, I’m leaning toward a relief role, but there’s big ceiling here.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 2.8 WAR

19. Freud Nova, SS
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Dominican Republic
Age 17 Height 6’1 Weight 180 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/40 45/60 20/55 60/50 30/45 55/55

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
None.

Scouting Report
Nova had a deal with Miami for $2.5 million, but the Marlins backed out after he tested positive for steroids ahead of the signing date. He signed with Houston for $1.2 million. Nova has plus bat speed and a loft-heavy swing. He takes big, long hacks and tries to obliterate the baseball. He projects to have plus raw power at maturity. His hands and defensive footwork are rough and that, combined with the way scouts anticipate his thick, physical frame to mature, make it unlikely that he remains at shortstop. He’s more likely to become a bat-first second baseman who strikes out a lot and hits majestic dingers, but nobody is sure how the PEDs might have aided in the power scouts saw during workouts. Early returns indicate the power is intact.

Drafted: 3rd Round, 2016 from Tulane
Age 22 Height 6’1 Weight 190 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/30 45/50 20/40 30/30 50/70 60/60

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Hit .233 over career at Tulane, but .261 as junior and .274 on Cape.

Scouting Report
Rogers is the best defensive catching prospect I’ve ever seen in person, with soft hands, excellent mobility and ball-blocking ability, a quick release, and above-average pure arm strength that plays up because of how quickly he gets rid of the ball. He’s almost assuredly going to be some kind of big leaguer just by virtue of his defense. His bat is really light, though, and potentially unplayable in an everyday capacity. He does hit the ball in the air regularly, so there’s a chance he runs into enough power to start, but I don’t see enough bat speed for Rogers to do much damage. He projects as a high-probability backup.

21. Lupe Chavez, RHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Mexico
Age 19 Height 6’2 Weight 150 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command
40/45 40/45 50/60 45/60

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
None.

Scouting Report
Acquired from Toronto in the Scott Feldman trade, Chavez is a small but somewhat projectable righty with an advanced changeup and command. His fastball mostly sits in the upper 80s, but there’s a chance for a bit more as Chavez matures. He’ll need to tighten his breaking ball, but currently projects as a changeup/command back-end starter.

*****

Noteworthy Mahalanobis Comps for 40+ FV Prospects
Rank Prospect Most Noteworthy Comp
1 Francis Martes Freddy Garcia
2 Kyle Tucker Desmond Jennings
3 Franklin Perez Jake Peavy
5 Ramon Laureano Darren Bragg
6 David Paulino Scott Baker
7 Derek Fisher Shin-Soo Choo
8 Teoscar Hernandez Nate McLouth
11 Miguelangel Sierra Mark Reynolds
13 Garrett Stubbs Russell Martin
14 Jandel Gustave Scott Stewart
15 J.D. Davis Josh Fields
16 Ronnie Dawson Josh Willingham
17 Framber Valdez Runelvys Hernandez
18 Hector Perez Jon Niese

*****

Other Prospects of Note (In Order of Preference)

Yordan Alvarez, 1B – The Dodgers signed Alvarez to for $2 million last June and then sent him to Houston several weeks later in exchange for Josh Fields. Alvarez is a huge teenager with a pretty left-handed swing. He didn’t hit for power in Cuba but was just 17 when he played his final season there. Scouts who have seen workouts have a 60 on the raw power and say it’s to all fields. Alvarez’s entire projection exists in abstraction at this point because, as a first-base-only prospect, all that matters is that he hits and hits for power in games. But he’s played in just 16 games since 2014, all of them last year in the DSL against players younger than he was. He could be poised to break out.

Brady Rodgers, RHP, 4.0 KATOH+ WAR – Rogers lives off of sequencing and locating his deep but fringey repertoire. He will throw either of his two breaking balls in any count for strikes and consistently spots his slider to his glove side but sits just 88-90 with the fastball and none of his secondaries misses bats. He’s on the precipice of the majors (he debuted last year) and could competently come up and throw strikes during some spot starts this year. He projects as an up-and-down arm long term.

Jonathan Arauz, 2B, 1.6 KATOH+ – Acquired from Philadelphia as an a la carte throw-in to balance the Ken Giles trade, Arauz is a switch-hitter with great feel to hit from the left side. He has a potential plus bat but projects to second base and will need to develop some power to profile there. He’s small — listed at 6-foot, 150 — and scouts are split about how much power is going to come. While his bat is advanced, Arauz is far from the big leagues and is serving a 50-game suspension for a positive test for meth.

Jorge Alcala, RHP, 2.2 KATOH+ – A projectable but erratic 21-year-old Dominican righty, Alcala has big arm strength that produces a fastball in the 93-96 range and will touch 98. Neither his slider nor changeup is very consistent right now, but the former is promising and he throws strikes. He’s starting the year in Low-A and his upside will be dictated by how his secondaries develop.

Trent Thornton, RHP, 1.6 KATOH+ – A fifth rounder out of UNC in 2015, Thornton commands fringe to average stuff, including a low-90s fastball and old school 12-6 curveball. He projects as an up-and-down arm or back-end starter.

Angel Macuare, RHP – Signed for $700K last July, Macuare has a back-of-the-rotation, inning-eater profile. He’s a strike-thrower with a fringe fastball in the 87-91 mph range that will touch as high as 93. He has great curveball feel and it projects to be his best pitch, while the changeup and command project to average or just short of it. It’s not a sexy profile but one that is relatively safe compared to the other arms in the class. Macuare is a projectable 6-foot-2, 170, and the youngest pitcher on this list, which means he should at least maintain his present velocity despite the rigors of a pro workload.

Anibal Sierra, SS – Sierra originally agreed to a $3.5 million deal that Houston reduced to $1.5 million, citing an issue with Sierra’s vision. He projects as a power-over-hit utility infielder, capable of passing at short while playing second and third as well. He’s already 23 and starting the year in Low-A.

James Hoyt, RHP, 1.2 KATOH+ – At age 30, Hoyt is the oldest player I’ve written up during this series. He was undrafted as a college senior (in part because he was hurt) and spent a few years in independent ball before Atlanta signed him in 2012 and then sent him to Houston in the Evan Gattis deal. Hoyt sits 91-95 with an above-average slider and splitter. Just on stuff, he’s relief depth, but there’s something supernatural about his path that seems to be leading him toward a moment of significance.

Riley Ferrell, RHP – Ferrell was the closer on a good 2015 TCU pitching staff who in the mid-90s with a plus slider and projected as a setup man or closer in the majors. He was sidelined with a shoulder injury last year and, while his slider quality remains, the velo isn’t back yet and he’s sitting in the low 90s.

Juan Pablo Lopez, LHP – Signed out of Mexico last July, Lopez is a projectable 6-foot-4, sits 88-91, and has some changeup feel. He’s 6-foot-4, 170, and turned 18 in February. He’ll likely pitch in the GCL this year.

Jason Martin, OF, 1.9 KATOH+ – Martin has solid bat-to-ball skills and runs fairly well. If he can tighten up his routes in center field (he’s not a true burner who can survive there on speed alone), he could hold down a fourth- or fifth-outfielder job.

Cristian Javier, RHP, 2.6 KATOH+ – A 20-year-old Dominican righty, Javier carved up the GCL last year with an 89-92 mph fastball and good curveball feel and command.

Myles Straw, OF, 1.6 KATOH+ – Straw has a freakish opposite-field approach, hitting nearly everything the other way. He’s also a 70 runner with a plus arm. He hit .374 at Quad Cities last year but was a little old for the level. He has bench-outfield tools but that’s a solid outcome for a 12th-round pick, which Straw was in 2015.

Jose Luis Hernandez, RHP, 1.9 KATOH+ – Another pitchability righty from Mexico, Hernandez used a bevy of pitches (headlined by a changeup) to carve up the Midwest League last year. He’s 21 and relatively unprojectable at 6-foot, 210, but has enough stuff and command to project as a depth arm.

Stephen Wrenn, OF, 1.2 KATOH+ – A comfortably plus runner, Wrenn had a bad junior year (at least partly due to injury) at Georgia and fell to the sixth round after he was widely expected to go in the top-100 picks following a good summer on the Cape. His swing is geared for ground balls to the left side of the infield, and Wrenn seeks to run his way on base. Despite the ground-ball approach to contact, Wrenn strikes out a lot and will probably have to make some sort of offensive adjustment to attain his bench-outfielder ceiling.

Jacob Dorris, RHP, 1.1 KATOH+ – Dorris uses multiple arm slots to deceive hitters and, while he struggled in my Fall League looks, he misses bats and throws strikes with a “rise ball” and slider. The linked video is the most bizarre I shot during the 2016 AFL, not just because Dorris and his ballet act are wholly unique but also because of the high-profile hitters he faces in the video who are juxtaposed by a uniquely aged and dressed bat boy.

Carlos Machado, OF, 0.4 KATOH+ – A wiry, strong and projectable outfielder with good feel to hit, Machado has a corner-only defensive profile, so it’s imperative he keep hitting and grow into some power. (He’s listed at 6-foot-2, 170.) He was overmatched in the Appy League after proving too advanced for the GCL last year, but he doesn’t turn 19 until June.

Patrick Sandoval, LHP, 0.9 KATOH+ – Sandoval was viewed as a tough sign in the 2015 draft, but the Astros had enough of their bonus pool left to make a run at him in the 11th round and they signed him for $900K. He was a well-built lefty with an 88-91 mph fastball and some curveball feel, though he lacked projection and his delivery was a little rough. He missed some bats in 2016, but his stuff hasn’t progressed and he has some strike-throwing issues.

Bryan de la Cruz, OF – Signed for $170K in 2013, de la Cruz has some bat speed, power, patience, and physical projection at 6-foot-2, 175. He’s got some swing-and-miss issues (a scout questioned the barrel feel) but enough to keep following.

Chuckie Robinson, C – A late-round pick out of Southern Miss in 2016, Robinson is a big-bodied catcher with a plus arm and beer-league-softball swing. He split time with Jake Rogers in Tri-City last summer and realistically has a depth-catcher ceiling, but the arm and power are interesting.

Abraham Toro, C – A fifth rounder out of Seminole State in 2016, Toro is a stocky, switch-hitting infielder who will get reps at catcher this year. He has a plus arm and I thought his defensive footwork at third was good when I saw him in the fall. He’s very pull-heavy from the left side of the plate, and I give him a better chance to hit from the right side, where he uses the whole field.

Ronny Rafael, OF – Signed for $1.5 million during the 2014 J2 period, Rafael was Houston’s most expensive prospect of that class, which also netted Miguelangel Sierra. He was and remains a twitchy, well-built athlete with bat speed and arm strength but has had glaring contact issues for two years in the DSL.

Cistulli’s Guy
Selected by Carson Cistulli from any player who received less than a 40 FV.

Dean Deetz, RHP, 0.7 KATOH+
Followng a late-season promotion to the Double-A Texas League last year, Deetz proceeded to record two nearly flawless starts for Corpus Christi, posting a 17:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio against just 42 batters over 12.0 innings. Nor does it appear as though Deetz benefited merely from command or polish. Reports suggest that his fastball generally sits in the mid-90s. Video evidence, meanwhile, suggests that Deetz’s breaking ball is very problematic for Seattle prospect Kyle Petty, if no one else.

 

 

Those two whiffs occurred during Deetz’s 2017 season debut, during which he recorded an 8:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a fielding-independent result that more or less approximates those he produced during last season’s strong finish. The changeup receives little attention and I haven’t seen one myself, so this might be a relief profile. At 23, though, he has some time to develop it.

*****

System Overview

The competitive Astros are in great position to move minor-league pieces in exchange for big-league contributors should the org find it necessary to do so in July, and it should be possible to add a big piece without totally raiding the prospect pantry. The depth of interesting young talent in this system comes from the club’s recent splurge in Latin America, as well as a willingness and desire to get creative with their draft pool when the situation is right. That practice has largely been a success, with the Brady Aiken draft representing a clear low point for the club on several levels.

The 2016 July 2 class ran into some medical issues and several prospects had their bonuses reduced after taking their physicals. This club has several unique bodies in the system, specifically large bodies on the mound. If Martes, Franklin Perez (who’s probably heavier than his listed weight), and Forrest Whitley end up in a rotation with Joe Musgrove, Houston will have half a ton of pitching in just 80% of their rotation.

Houston’s first three picks in this year’s draft line up in a strange way. They pick 15, 53 and 56 and have the 11th-most bonus pool money in the league, so perhaps there’s room for creativity or, more sneakily, enough pool room to scoop up a high-profile talent whom Tampa, Minnesota, San Diego or another team with multiple picks in the 30s is trying to move back. Also keep an eye on them for Cuban outfielder Luis Robert. The club has dipped its toes in Cuban waters and is already pot committed to this year’s J2 class. Robert would have to be cleared to sign before the period lapses in mid-June.

We hoped you liked reading Top 21 Prospects: Houston Astros by Eric Longenhagen!

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Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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cperd
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cperd

Over/Under 2.5 of these players will be White Sox property by next summer.

Zach Walters Appreciation Guild
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Zach Walters Appreciation Guild

Correct. One of those two.