Last year's Astros list

The State of the System: The Astros may lack for close-to-majors prospects, but they do not lack for prospects.

The Top Ten

  1. RHP Francis Martes
  2. OF Kyle Tucker
  3. RHP David Paulino
  4. RHP Franklin Perez
  5. RHP Forrest Whitley
  6. SS Miguelangel Sierra
  7. OF Ramon Laureano
  8. OF Derek Fisher
  9. OF Teoscar Hernandez
  10. OF Daz Cameron

The Big Question: How do you convert minor-league talent into MLB production?

It’s amazing how relatively quick the process of rebuilding can be if you commit to it—I mean, really commit to it—and the Astros did nothing if not jump in with both feet. Ownership slashed total payroll expenditures by 15 percent in 2011, then lopped another $17 million off the big-league bill in 2012 on the heels of finishing 40 games out. And then, The Great Bottoming Out in 2013: The franchise cut its big-league player budget by more than half and spent all of Jason Heyward’s 2016 salary on its entire roster, losing 111 games for its trouble and securing its third consecutive top overall pick in the draft.

Broadly speaking, those three drafts (and a fourth in 2014 that included two picks in the top five) injected an absurd amount of talent into Houston’s minor league ranks. By 2013 the franchise cracked the top ten in our Organizational Rankings, and by the following season it was a top-five outfit even after graduating its top prospect from the winter prior. Organizational rankings of 12th in 2015 and eighth in 2016 ensued despite matriculating an absurd and steady stream of talent onto the major-league roster.

Houston added over $26 million in salary commitments last year, which marked a year-to-year jump of over 36 percent from the club’s 2015 payroll. That was the second-largest increase of any franchise, behind only the eventual world champions. And the organization certainly hasn’t been shy in furthering its financial commitments this offseason, with the additions of Josh Reddick, Carlos Beltran, and Charlie Morton in free agency and the assumption of the next two years of Brian McCann. The $53 million due to Houston’s newest residents (plus $20-some-odd million in arbitration raises for a half-dozen existing players) more than offsets the approximately $34 million in free agent losses, and indicates where the front office views themselves on the win curve.

All of this is, of course, setup to the big question facing a team so positioned as these modern day Astros: what exactly to do when the time comes to compete, and all you’ve got is this lousy T-shirt, a couple areas of your roster you’d like to strategically improve, and all these prospects stashed below your young core?

Well, we learned one answer with the Ken Giles trade last year. Fresh off the club’s first playoff appearance in a decade, General Manager Jeff Luhnow shipped the organization’s defending #2 (Mark Appel) and #3 (Vincent Velasquez) prospects, along with its reigning second-rounder, to Philadelphia in order to obtain just the kind of lockdown relief ace that would’ve really tied together an already-stellar bullpen. It was an aggressive move to strengthen a strength, and while Giles’ topline numbers didn’t tell an awesome story, his peripherals sure did, and to the extent that the club’s performance modeling was accurate, they have so far gotten what they paid for in that deal.

We got a couple more answers earlier this offseason, the first coming when the team exchanged pitcher Albert Abreu for McCann to plug its hole at catcher. This deal was a lower-fi affair—at least in terms of prospect portfolio carnage—on account of the fact that Abreu, while an enticing prospect, is an A-ball arm without an elite, “top prospect” ceiling. He’s a solid-average headliner in a salary-acquisition deal such as this, and an encouraging marker of both systemic depth and baseline management aggressiveness.

The second answer came when that same management reportedly refused to pony up a package of Joe Musgrove, Francis Martes, and Kyle Tucker (numbers five, six, and eight on the “25 and Under” list below) in a proposed deal with the White Sox for Jose Quintana. Mos Def once warned us that “when you push too hard, even numbers got limits,” and this is perhaps an inevitable truth when prognostication is required for evaluation. But in long valuation terms the team may very well have been right to decline such a proposal. Or Quintana could go on to post three surplus WARP to the combined efforts of Musgrove and others occupying the rotation spot he otherwise would have filled. Or perhaps Musgrove himself will outperform a down year from Quintana. Or another, better deal for a starter will emerge later this offseason. Being the General Manager of a baseball team, perhaps most especially one on the upside of the win curve right now, is hard. And it is harder still when you leave that question unanswered for another day: what exactly to do with all these prospects stashed below your young core? —Wilson Karaman


1. Francis Martes, RHP
DOB: 11/24/1995
Height/Weight: 6’1” 225 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: Signed November 2012 by Miami out of the Dominican Republic for $78,000 traded from Miami to Houston in seven-player deal
Previous Ranking(s): #3 (Org.), #63 (Overall)
2016 Stats: 3.30 ERA, 3.72 DRA, 125.1 IP, 104 H, 47 BB, 131 K in 25 games at Double-A Corpus Christi

The Good: Martes boasts one of the better top-two pitch combinations in the upper-minors, with potential plus-plus grades hanging on both his fastball and curve. Premium arm speed drives an explosive heater into the mid-90s, and he'll knock on triple-digit doors when he reaches back. The pitch has mild natural tailing action and excellent late life, and can miss bats in and above the zone. His hard curveball comes in at slider speed with tight rotation and late 11-5 break, and he has shown capable of working it in zone to steal strikes or taking it below as a potent chase pitch. His firm change made strides with consistency, and flashes as a solid-average complement that works well off the fastball to generate grounders and moderate swing-and-miss.

The Bad: Martes was initially greeted rudely by Double-A hitters when he tried to throw everything by them and though he made strides in refining his approach, he's still transitioning from thrower to pitcher. He can get firm with his landing and jostle himself out of fine command, and his frame is higher maintenance with a thick middle. He's a couple inches shorter than ideal for a power righty, and the fastball can lose plane when elevated.

The Irrelevant: Martes burst onto the prospect scene after posting a 1.04 ERA in 52 innings at Quad Cities in his full-season debut. You know what else burst onto the national scene via the Quad Cities region? The damned railroad, that’s what: in 1856 the Rock Island Railroad Company completed construction of the first trans-Mississippi River railroad bridge, connecting Davenport and Rock Island and opening up the west to modernized transit.

The Role:

70 OFP—No. 2 starter
60 Likely—No. 3 starter/first-division closer

The Risks: After the initial adjustment period Martes acquitted himself impressively as one of the youngest arms in the Texas League. Continued strides with the changeup and command quelled any notion of fast-tracking him as a potentially electric relief ace, though the potential remains as a fallback. Despite all of this, he's a pitcher, so…you know.

Major league ETA: Late 2017/Early 2018 —Wilson Karaman

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Martes is one of my favorite fantasy pitching prospects, as he has the stuff to miss a ton of bats and is not terribly far away from reaching the Majors. I wish he had a better chance of remaining a starter, sure, but the upside he can reach if he’s able to do so is very tempting. If it all clicks for Martes, I think we could be looking at a Carlos Carrasco-type weapon and a top-30 fantasy starter. If he falls to the bullpen, he’d be an elite option if he closes. He’s the type of dynasty pitcher worth investing in.

2. Kyle Tucker, OF
DOB: 01/17/1997
Height/Weight: 6’4” 195 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted fifth overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, Plant HS (Tampa, FL); signed for $4 million
Previous Ranking(s): #5 (Org.), #93 (Overall)
2016 Stats: .339/.435/.661, 6 HR, 31 SB in 16 games at High-A Lancaster, .276/.348/.402, 3 HR, 1 SB in 101 games at Low-A Quad Cities

The Good: Tucker is an advanced hitter, with an old school setup that relies on a lower hand position at launch and strong wrists to snap the barrel onto plane early and hold it for a long time through the hitting zone. He covers both sides of the plate well despite long limbs, and the hips work well to help him generate bat speed and the plane to drive pitches. He’s an instinctual base runner who gets quality reads and gets up to speed quickly, and he’s a high-effort player in the field who gets quality reads on contact from anywhere in the outfield. The arm is adequate for right, which is his most likely ultimate landing spot.

The Bad: There is still a significant amount of projection to what his offensive game will ultimately look like, largely on account of his body and questions about how it will fill out. He tends to default to a handsier, one-piece swing at present, and while there is loads of room to add strength, his sloped shoulders and narrower frame leave open the question as to just how much bulk and raw power he’ll ultimately develop. The game power should have no trouble reaching at least average at maturity, but how far above that it creeps will have the final say on what the role ceiling ultimately looks like. He’s more of an average runner at present, and while his instincts should help him retain most of his defensive and baserunning value, neither is likely to remain a true asset if he does max out physically.

The Irrelevant: Both Kyle and his older brother (and fellow Astro) Preston share an alma mater with Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, one of the great beer drinkers of this or any other era.

The Role:

OFP 60—First-division right fielder
Likely 55—Above-average regular

The Risks: Tucker succeeded in his full-season debut, culminating with an outstanding 20-game run at High-A to close the year. There are multiple avenues for him to travel en route to creating big-league value, and the tools are wide and deep enough that whatever the ultimate formula looks like has a good chance of adding up to an above-average regular. The gap remaining between his present and projected versions is enough to keep him in a higher-risk bucket, but he has the talent to close that gap in a hurry next season.

Major league ETA: 2018 —Wilson Karaman

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: I like gambling on players with Tucker’s skillset, but he’s a bit rawer than I prefer (says the Nick Williams fan with a straight face) and I’m worried the power/speed combo is more solid than special. That being said, Tucker has moved into the mid-minors and no one really doubts his hit tool, so that’s good enough for me. Hope he develops into Hunter Pence and be happy if he develops into Stephen Piscotty.

3. David Paulino, RHP
DOB: 02/06/1994
Height/Weight: 6’7” 215 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: Signed September 2010 by Detroit out of the Dominican Republic for $75,000; traded from Detroit to Houston for Jose Veras
Previous Ranking(s): #9 (Org.)
2016 Stats: 5.14 ERA, 6.31 DRA, 7 IP, 6 H, 3 BB, 2 K in 3 games at major league level, 0.75 ERA, 2.42 DRA, 12 IP, 9 H, 2 BB, 14 K in 3 games at Gulf Coast League, 1.83 ERA, 2.17 DRA, 64 IP, 47 H, 11 BB, 72 K in 14 games at Double-A Corpus Christi, 3.86 ERA, 2.33 DRA, 14 IP, 16 H, 6 BB, 20 K in 3 games at Triple-A Fresno

The Good: Rare is the 6-foot-7 pitching prospect with the frame of Kevin Garnett who flashes an ability to corral his body into coherent, controlled movements and repeat his delivery. But here we are with Paulino, who leverages his height into with quality extension from a high three-quarters slot. His mid-90s fastball will touch 97 with excellent plane and boring action down into the zone. The curveball is his best secondary pitch, flashing plus with hard 12-6 action and loads of bite. He shows comfort with and feel for a mid-80s change as well, and while it plays relatively straight he keeps it out of trouble spots and sells it effectively with his arm speed. His angle of attack makes squaring and driving his pitches extremely difficult—he’s allowed just six home runs in over 200 professional innings to date.

The Bad: He struggles to finish his delivery and command to the glove side at times, and the curve in particular can lose its shape and hang up as a result. Despite a fast-track advance through the minors, he has yet to prove particularly durable, with Tommy John surgery and a subsequent bout of elbow tendinitis on his resume.

The Irrelevant: Both Paulino and Francis Martes were acquired in trades based off reports by the same pro scout, Alex Jacobs, assigned to cover the Florida back fields as a key component of the organization’s overhauled pro scouting strategy under Kevin Goldstein (#RIP).

The Role:

OFP 60—No. 3 starter
Likely 50—High-strikeout no. 4 starter

The Risks: Paulino’s recent history includes questionable durability and a minor discipline issue that cost him a team-sanctioned suspension this past summer. Combined with the fact that he is, at last check, a pitcher, Paulino remains a higher-risk prospect despite being on the cusp of regular big-league reps.

Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016 —Wilson Karaman

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: I’ve warned you to stay away from mid-rotation guys ad nauseum, but this writeup suggests that Paulino is going to miss a hell of a lot of bats, even if his ERA and WHIP conspire to prevent him from reaching true fantasy glory. His short lead time and swing-and-miss stuff make him a solid buy for dynasty leaguers, and he should flirt with a top-100 ranking. Ian Kennedy was a top-40 starter by striking out 180 batters and logging a 3.70 ERA, and that feels right for Paulino. I’m more concerned that he won’t log 200 innings consistently than I am that the stuff won’t play.

4. Franklin Perez, RHP
DOB: 12/6/1997
Height/Weight: 6’3” 197 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: Signed July 2014 out of Venezuela for $1 million
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: 2.83 ERA, 2.17 DRA, 66.2 IP, 63 H, 19 BB, 75 K in 15 games at Low-A Quad Cities

The Good: Perez is only 18 and still projectable. He also carved up the Midwest League in 15 starts there this year. That’s a rare balance of potential and present in a teenaged arm. His fastball is his most advanced pitch and it is a potential plus pitch. Perez can dial it up to 95 and manipulate the movement in a variety of ways. His change flashes plus with quality deception and fade.

The Bad: Perez is still pretty raw. His mechanics are inconsistent and make the current command profile play down. He won't get punished for it yet, because the stuff is more than good enough to baffle A-ball bats. The curve will flash average but is also inconsistent at present. Although he is still lean right now, the body may require some monitoring.

The Irrelevant: The Quad Cities are composed of Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa and Rock Island and Moline in Illinois.

The Role:

OFP 60–Mid-rotation starter
Likely 50–No. 4 starter

The Risks: Perez was one of the youngest players in the Midwest League this year. While that makes his performance all the more impressive, he has a long way to go to the majors and a lot of development time ahead of him. The Astros also kept a tight cap on his usage in games. We could also quibble about the ultimate projection for the curve and command as well, but let’s just stick with “He’s an 18-year-old pitcher.”

Major league ETA: 2020

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: You don’t get extra points for the “impressive for a pitcher his age” caveat in fantasy. Perez is one to keep an eye on but at present his lack of super-high ceiling and his lead time make him a fringy dynasty league prospect. He’s watch-list worthy, though.

5. Forrest Whitley, RHP
DOB: 9/15/1997
Height/Weight: 6’7” 240 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 17th overall in the 2016 MLB Draft Alamo Heights HS (San Antonio, TX); signed for $3.148 million
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: 7.36 ERA, 2.25 DRA, 7.1 IP, 8 H, 3 BB, 13 K in 4 games at complex level GCL, 3.18 ERA, 2.87 DRA, 11.1 IP, 11 H, 3 BB, 13 K in 4 games at short-season Greenville

The Good: The latest in a seemingly never-ending line of long, tall Texan prep arms, Whitley is exactly what you would expect from the paradigm. He runs his fastball up to 97 and gets big plane on the pitch. He pairs it with a power breaker that at its best shows steep 11-5 break.

The Bad: Although he keeps his delivery in line better than your standard 6-foot-7 teenaged arm—if there even is such a thing—Whitley does have long levers and his mechanics can get out of sync. He has “some feel for the changeup,” but it is a pitch he has never really needed before. He’s well-filled out, especially in his lower half, so there isn't as much projection here as, say, Dustin May.

The Irrelevant: “Long, Tall Texan” is best known as a Beach Boys hit, but it was actually written by Nashville studio musician, Henry Strzlecki.

The Role:

OFP 55—Mid-rotation arm or late inning reliever
Likely 45—Backend starter or setup man

The Risks: A veritable cornucopia of risks. He is a teenaged arm that needs both secondaries to jump a grade or two. He has no pro track record outside of eight starts in rookie ball. There are potential tall pitcher issues here, and just general pitcher issues, because he is after all a (tall) pitcher.

Major league ETA: 2021

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: To the surprise of no one who’s read even one of the previous installments, I think Whitley is too far away and has too modest a ceiling to invest in. Let’s wait and see what he looks like in a year or two.

6. Miguelangel Sierra, SS
DOB: 12/02/1997
Height/Weight: 5’11” 175 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: Signed July 2014 by Houston out of Venezuela for $1 million
Previous Ranking(s): #10 (Org.)
2016 Stats: .289/.386/.620, 11 HR, 6 SB in 31 games at Appy League Greenville, .140/.216/.183, 0 HR, 0 SB in 25 games at short-season Tri-City

The Good: Sierra got stronger in the 2015 offseason and the power surge in Greeneville, while aided by the environment, is mostly real. The ball jumps off his bat and he gets some natural loft. He’s a good bet to stick at shortstop and has the potential to be a plus glove there with a plus arm.

The Bad: Sierra fell in love with the bombs he was hitting in the thinner air of the Appalachians, and college arms in the NYPL were able to exploit his attempts to hit every pitch across the Hudson River. He’s got a little shimmy in his swing, so I wonder how consistent he can keep his upper and lower halves in time, and the ceiling for the hit tool may only be average or solid-average.

The Irrelevant: Although he didn’t quite have enough PA to qualify, Sierra would have led the Appy League in slugging by almost 50 points.

The Role:

OFP 55—Above-average shortstop
Likely 40—Utility infielder with some pop

The Risks: Sierra just turned 19 and hasn’t hit outside of short-season (or even in the Penn League). I have some questions about the ultimate hit tool projection. There’s a long and winding road for him to the majors, but at least he is a shortstop and not a pitcher.

Major league ETA: 2021

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: There’s enough to like about Sierra as a guy to follow as a shortstop who might hit, but he’s too far away to invest in right now (depending on league depth). Check back in three months.

7. Ramon Laureano, OF
DOB: 7/15/1994
Height/Weight: 5’11” 185 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 466th Overall in the 2014 MLB Draft Northeast Oklahoma A&M College (Miami, OK); signed for $25,000
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .317/.426/.519, 10 HR, 33 SB, in 80 games High-A Lancaster, .323/.432/.548, 5 HR, 10 SB in 36 games at Double-A Corpus Christi

The Good: An unheralded 16th-round pick, Laureano can flat out play. He led the minors in on-base percentage, and while his Lancaster environs get partial credit, the numbers were largely earned at High-A before notably holding in the wake of his promotion to the Texas League, and he kept right on hitting in the AFL. He gets himself into good counts consistently, and hunts fastballs when he does. Strong wrists and mild leverage play well with strong plate coverage, enabling damage to all parts of the field. In spite of his modest size he generates fringe-average pop on the back of hard, line-drive contact to the gaps, and plus speed and instincts help him take extra bases on the regular. He shows as a capable defender in all three outfield spots, with particular strength in left and enough arm to handle right.

The Bad: He's not the most natural center fielder, and he can struggle to make quick reads and pick up trajectory there. The speed plays down at times out of the box on account of a high swing finish, and his is a longer stride that can take a few steps to kick into high gear when tracking in the outfield. While there is some pop, it’s likely to play more consistently as doubles and triples variety rather than the over-the-fence kind he showed in the California League.

The Irrelevant: Laureano’s college program, Northeast Oklahoma A&M, saw three players drafted in the 2014 class, including fellow Astro Dean Deetz (featured below). All three (also including Angels’ fifth-rounder Jake Jewell) will attempt to one day leapfrog current Diamondbacks pitching coach Mike Butcher as the school’s most famous alumnus.

The Role:

OFP 55—Above-average outfielder
Likely 45—Second-division starter/quality fourth-outfielder

The Risks: As a pop-up guy with the stigma of Cal League inflation on his resume he'll have to continue to produce against high-minors pitching, though the well-roundedness of his skillset makes him a higher-probability player.

Major league ETA: 2018 —Wilson Karaman

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: If you’re looking to get in on an offensive prospect your league mates haven’t heard of yet, Laureano is not a bad pick. Sure, the upside is modest-ish, but you have to love the approach and with a stint in Double-A already under his belt the lead time here is acceptable, too. The hope is Laureano develops into an OF 3/4 who uses his average, speed, OBP and some homers to serve as a well-rounded asset, albeit one who might not make an impact in any one category. That’s still a mighty useful player.

8. Derek Fisher, OF
DOB: 08/21/1993
Height/Weight: 6’1” 210 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 37th overall in the 2014 MLB Draft, University of Virginia (VA); signed for $1.5431 million
Previous Ranking(s): #6 (Org.)
2016 Stats: .245/.373/.431, 16 HR, 23 SB in 102 games at Double-A Corpus Christi, .290/.347/.505, 5 HR, 5 SB in 27 games at Triple-A Fresno

The Good: Fisher’s raw athleticism and underlying tools continue to allow us to dream big dreams. He boasts plus raw power along with speed that rates at least that high, and after a second consecutive 20-20 season—this latest one with the distinction of not being Lancaster-aided—it’s fair to say he has shown a consistent ability to apply both tools in games. He sees a lot of pitches and takes a healthy number of walks, which helps drive up his on-base profile. He’s an efficient base-stealer, with quality reads and quick breaks, and he has the kind of high-end closing speed that can make up for mistakes on the grass. He’s shown some improvement with the glove over the past year, as well.

The Bad: The defense still isn’t great, even in a corner, on account of persistent struggles reading trajectory and adjusting his routes. The club continued to give him reps in center in the upper-minors, but he doesn’t present as a natural defender with the instincts to hold the position, and the arm is well light for right field (where he also played frequently in 2016). At the plate his swing is geared to generate power, with a noisy load and inconsistent trigger that can compromise his barrel and contribute to swing-and-miss issues that aren’t likely to abate. The raw hit tool is unlikely to make it near average, and that compromises the game power.

The Irrelevant: Fisher was named the Pennsylvania State Player of the Year as a high school senior in 2011, leading to a sixth-round selection by the Rangers. That was a weird draft for Texas, whose top four have produced zero value as of this writing. The club also failed to sign its fifth- (Brandon Woodruff), sixth- (Fisher), and seventh- (Max Pentecost) round picks, before inking Kyle Hendricks, Andrew Faulkner, and Jerad Eickhoff (among others) later on.

The Role:

OFP 55—Above-average left fielder
Likely 45—Second-division left fielder

The Risks: It’s an easy crutch to lean on the ol’ “he’ll go as far as his hit tool takes him” rejoinder, but for a prospect like Fisher it rings especially true. The secondary offensive skills are outstanding, and if he’s able to get to enough of his power and get on base often enough to deploy his speed, he has the makings of an above-average regular even in spite of poor batting averages. On the flipside, the defensive profile is suspect enough that if he doesn’t max out his offensive value he can just as easily wind up a wildly inconsistent lower-end outfielder with limited utility in left.

Major league ETA: 2017 —Wilson Karaman

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Fisher is a better dynasty prospect than an IRL asset because we don’t care where he plays in the outfield so long as he’s tolerable enough to play there everyday. Should that happen, Fisher’s speed and raw power make him a very enticing gamble, albeit one who might not come with a super high average. Still, Melvin Upton Jr. just finished as a top-40 outfielder despite hitting .238 because he slugged 20 homers and recorded 27 steals. Fisher’s secondary tools might not be that loud, but you get the idea; counting stats make up for a lot.

9. Teoscar Hernandez, OF
DOB: 10/15/1992
Height/Weight: 6’2” 180 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: Signed February 2011 out of the Dominican Republic for $20,000
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .230/.304/.420, 4 HR, 0 SB in 41 games at major league level, .305/.384/.437, 6 HR, 29 SB in 69 games at Double-A Corpus Christi, .313/.365/.500, 4 HR, 5 SB in 38 games at Triple-A Fresno

The Good: After a disastrous 2015, Hernandez bounced back and hit his way to Houston. He’s a plus runner and everything else is within a half-grade or so of average, including an above-average arm that allows him to play all three outfield positions. He’ll add enough value at the plate to play in the majors for a good long while. He’s ready now for a role in the bigs…

The Bad: …But it’s not an impact profile of any sort. Hernandez might not even be an everyday player. He struggles to consistently make good contact, and the power may play fringe-average at best because of that. He’s not ideal as an everyday center fielder despite the speed, which leaves him as a bit of a tweener.

The Irrelevant: Hernandez only got $20,000 as a signing bonus, but he beat outfielder Ariel Ovando—the Astros most expensive signing from that J2 class—to the majors. Ovando is now a pitcher in the Cubs system.

The Role:

OFP 50—Average outfielder
Likely 40—Platoon/bench outfielder

The Risks: He might never hit major league righties enough to hold down an everyday job, but he is otherwise major-league ready.

Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Given how crowded Houston’s outfield is and how Hernandez probably profiles best as a bench bat, there’s not a ton of hope for him in fantasy unless he gets traded or the Astros outfield suddenly changes. I like his bat and do think he could be of some use in deeper leagues if he gets playing time, but that’s a pretty big if at this point.

10. Daz Cameron, OF
DOB: 01/15/1997
Height/Weight: 6’2” 185 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 37th overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (McDonough, GA); signed for $4 million
Previous Ranking(s): #4 (Org.), #85 (Overall)
2016 Stats: .278/.352/.418, 2 HR, 8 SB in 19 games at short-season Tri-City, .143/.221/.221, 0 HR, 4 SB in 21 games at Low-A Quad Cities

The Good: He’s still only 19 and played better once the Astros sent him to the more age-appropriate Penn League and found some more consistency with his swing. The tool set won’t wow you, but he’s a potentially solid-average center fielder with plus speed, and at the plate he could develop into an average hitter with 10-home-run pop.

The Bad: He’s a solid center fielder, but he isn’t his pops there, so the glove won’t carry the profile. Cameron’s not going to develop his father’s power either. Man, it’s gotta be tough following the career path of your Hall-of-Very-Good paterfamilias, because jamokes like me keep comping you to him. Even after he righted the ship in short season, there’s still a fair bit of swing-and-miss in the profile.

The Irrelevant: The four million smackers that Daz got as a bonus is a full 100 times more than his father, got from the White Sox as an 18th round pick.

The Role:

OFP 50—Average center fielder
Likely 40—Fourth outfielder

The Risks: Cameron struggled in his first taste of full-season ball, and if he misses even a little on the ultimate offensive tool grade projections, he may end up more of a fourth outfielder type, as he lacks an obvious carrying tool. On the positive risk side, reports suggest he was putting it together at the plate before a broken index finger ended his season early.

Major league ETA: 2020

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Cameron has name value because of his bloodlines and draft position, but 2016 was not an inspiring year. He’s not worth dropping or actively looking to move on from, but know that you’re dealing with damaged dynasty goods.

Others of note:

"The Guy We Wish Was, Like, Two Inches Taller and 30 Pounds Bigger"

Garrett Stubbs, C
Stubbs emerged as an impressive backstop at USC, blending intelligence, quality receiving, and an excellent approach into consistent productivity on both sides of the ball en route to winning the Johnny Bench Award in his senior season. The rub? At 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, he is, shall we say, slight for the position. Stubbs has done pretty much the exact same things as a pro that he did in college. He takes excellent, controlled at-bats, rarely expanding the zone. His simple swing produces solid contact, and while he lacks for much in the way of power, he's a smart hitter who uses the whole field. He's sneaky-quick for a catcher as well, with solid-average run times and the instincts to pick off the occasional bag. He shouldered a well below-average catching load last year, but he excelled behind the dish when he played. What he lacks in size he makes up with agility, and his quiet receiving is an asset on the margins of the zone. The legs have quality spring, and paired with his above-average arm helped drive a 51 percent caught-stealing rate for the season. The Astros plan to loosen the reigns and test his durability with an everyday role at Double-A next year, and we'll all learn together if the frame can hold up to the rigors of a full season sweating under the tools of ignorance. There is no talk as of now about adding any other positions to the portfolio, though he played some center, second, and third in college, and the athleticism leaves open the possibility for a later date if full-time catching proves too much for the body to handle. —Wilson Karaman

The bonus babies (emphasis on babies)

Jonathan Arauz, SS
A switch-hitting shortstop, Arauz is a ways away from contributing to a big league team, but still has a lot of tools and projection remaining. A smooth defender at short, he isn’t the fastest runner but has good instincts and footwork to project as an average to better defender. There is good feel for the barrel as well as above-average bat speed which project him to be an average to better hitter down the road. The road for Arauz is long, but patience is a virtue, and might be a top ten guy next year with a strong performance in full-season ball. —Steve Givarz

Gilberto Celestino, CF
Like Arauz, Celestino has a nice balance of maturity for his age and enough remaining projection to raise the eyebrows of the more tool-inclined evaluator. Also like Arauz, Celestino is a good bet to stick up-the-middle, as he is a plus runner that already has feel for his routes. The approach is also solid for a dude that can’t even buy Marlboros yet, and I was inclined to maybe sneak him onto the backend of the Top Ten. In the end he isn’t quite there yet, and there is some wisdom in our patience here, but I fully expect Celestino to have forced the issue by the time I start writing the 2018 Astros list.

The boom or bust (emphasis on boom)

J.D. Davis, 3B
Davis gave you more of the same in 2016. The fact that he was able to repeat his particular brand of success in Double-A is heartening, but his particular brand of success is the type that requires a Triple-A test and a…uh…Quadruple-A test as well. There is big power, and commensurate swing and miss. If he didn’t already have a summer gig they could have sent him down to San Padre Island to keep beachgoers cool with his mighty hacks. He’s still a little rough at third base and will be 24 next year. There’s still a reasonable shot at a bat-first—well, really pop-first—everyday third baseman here, but there’s still a few more exams to pass.

The “One Day It Might All Click For Him” Guy

Dean Deetz, RHP
To close, or not to close? That is the primary question for Deetz’s developmental path, and it is one for which the organization does not yet have an answer. He has some of the best pure stuff in the system, highlighted by a gnarly fastball that sits mid-90s as a starter with movement and late life in the zone. His mid-80s change shows good velocity separation and plus movement, and the pitch can generate silly swings and weak contact when he executes it down in the zone. He rounds out the arsenal with a hard, tight low-80s curve that bites late with quality lateral movement to stay off barrels. All three pitches will flash plus, but rarely will they do so simultaneously or with any regularity. The mechanical consistency and focus to execute wavers from inning to inning (and sometimes batter to batter), but the athleticism and arm action both suggest the potential for rapid improvement, and he’ll hint at nascent command throughout starts in spite of wonky control. He tantalized with a pair of dynamic starts to close the year after an end-of-season promotion to Double-A, and those efforts may just be enough to keep him in a starting role…for now. What we do know is that he’s a very interesting power arm to keep an eye on, with the potential to impact the big league bullpen in the second half of ‘17. —Wilson Karaman

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/90 or later)

  1. Carlos Correa
  2. Alex Bregman
  3. Lance McCullers
  4. A.J. Reed
  5. Francis Martes
  6. Kyle Tucker
  7. Michael Feliz
  8. Joe Musgrove
  9. ​David Paulino
  10. Franklin Perez

First, we say farewell to the aged: Jose Altuve, Ken Giles, and Jake Marisnick — two, four, and ten last year — all leave this year’s edition of the list in consequence of their advanced years. On the whole, though, there’s not much that’s changed at the top. Correa, one of the five best position players in baseball, is at the top of the list. Bregman and McCullers have switched places, more because of something Bregman did (put up a .270 TAv in the big-leagues as a 22-year-old) than anything McCullers did wrong. This is a very strong top three.

After three, though, things get complicated. A.J. Reed at four could look very good in a year — after all, this is a guy who’s done nasty, nasty things to minor-league pitching, and is still only 23 — or it could look a little high. He didn’t do much to boost his stock in 141 big-league plate appearances last year, and the strikeout rate (34 percent) is especially concerning. One more year like that, and he’ll drop way down this list, and not because of his age. Live up to his potential? He could bump up above McCullers, though probably not above Bregman.

Martes and Tucker you know about, and both are strong talents who’ll be making a difference in Houston sooner rather than later. Though he's a reliever, Feliz has the advantage of actually having pitched in the big leagues (a quality he shares with Joe Musgrove), and having struck out 13.2 per 9 last year across 65 innings of work. Musgrove is far less impressive, but did just fine last year and should do fine the next, too. Paulino and Perez are two young pitchers, but good ones, and their talent probably eclipses that of the two ranked above them. Perez has a very good chance of staying a starter going forward. —Rian Watt

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Great as always! Any thoughts on Jason Martin? He showed some tantalizing potential last season but I haven't really seen his name anywhere. Is the consensus that it was more of a fluke than a step forward in development?
I like Martin, and he did make some legitimate improvements as a very young player for the level last year at High-A. He's a solid player with across-the-board skills. The over-the-fence power isn't going to be on the level that his Lancaster numbers suggested, and there isn't really a standout tool, but he's got a well-rounded game with a path to a big league bench. Here's my report on him from June:
I always wrote off Northeast Oklahoma A&M as a super small and irrelevant school because of the name.
The Irrelevant: Dean Deetz has his own website
That is tremendous
This is surprisingly high on AJ Reed when others (BA, Sickels) seems to have completely gone off him.
I can't speak to the rationales of others, but all of the things that attracted us to Reed in naming him the organization's #2 prospect a year ago remained largely intact at Triple-A, and while he obviously struggled in his big-league debut, he's 23 and has a demonstrated track record of making quality adjustments. He's going to have to earn his playing time this year, and our placement of him where we put him is a reflection of the fact that we remain reasonably confident he can do so.
Thoughts on Colin Moran? Is there a more polarizing prospect in all of baseball?
Loving the Robert Earl Keen reference!
You got Tucker's slash lines backwards.