The State of the System: Deadline deals took a chunk out of the Astros farm system, but they don’t hang a pennant for topping our org rankings.
The Top Ten
- Forrest Whitley, RHP
- Kyle Tucker, OF
- J.B. Bukauskas, RHP
- Yordan Alvarez, OF/1B
- Rogelio Armenteros, RHP
- Jonathan Arauz, IF
- Gilberto Celestino, OF
- David Paulino, RHP
- Colin Moran, IF
- Corbin Martin, RHP
1. Forrest Whitley, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’7”, 240 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 17th overall in the 2016 draft Alamo Heights HS (San Antonio, TX); signed for $3.148 million.
Previous Ranking(s): #4 (Org)
2017 Stats: 1.84 ERA, 1.89 DRA, 14 ⅔ IP, 8 H, 4 BB, 26 K in 4 games at Double-A Corpus Christi; 3.16 ERA, 2.14 DRA, 31 ⅓ IP, 28 H, 9 BB, 50 K in 7 games at High-A Buies Creek, 2.91 ERA, 3.63 DRA, 46 ⅓ IP, 42 H, 21 BB, 67 K in 12 games at Low-A Quad Cities
The Good: At barely 20, Whitley is already further along the development path than many pitchers older than he is. While the fastball velocity isn’t quite at an elite level yet, he has good command of the pitch, and three other pitches besides—a curveball (75-77), changeup (81-84), and slider (84-85). He doesn’t rely on any of the three as his “strikeout” pitch, instead preferring to pitch smartly batter by batter—but don’t mistake this for a lack of stuff; his curveball has depth and bite, and his slider has flashed as well. That fastball, which usually sits in the low 90s and can touch 97, has solid cutting action, too, meaning that Whitley’s got the crafty righty spot on lockdown already, with the potential for explosive stuff.
The Bad: We have him listed at 240 pounds, which is a bit of wishful thinking on the part of whoever put that into the MLB database. If he can gain that much in muscle, and possibly gain some MPH on the fastball, as well, that would be great, but right now, he’s got a really slight build after shedding weight since his draft date. Along with that slight build comes durability concerns—yes, he’s young, but he only pitched six innings once last season. Whitley really is a classic high-ceiling, low-floor prospect.
OFP 70—No. 2 starter
Likely 60—No. 3 starter/bullpen ace
The Risks: What if he never gains the strength? What if he can’t pitch more than four solid innings at a time? Basically, he’s a pitching prospect. —Kate Morrison
Major league ETA: 2019
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: There’s risk here to be sure, but Whitley also has big-time upside that should have dynasty leaguers drooling. If it all comes together, Whitley could be an SP2/3 who won’t lead the league in any one fantasy pitching category, but who could be an exceptionally well-rounded contributor in all non-closing cats. One word of caution—he’s advancing through the minors quickly enough that he might not be near his peak yet when he reaches the majors. So while his MLB ETA may be 2019, his fantasy impact ETA may be closer to 2020 or even 2021. Still, he’s arguably a top-15 fantasy SP prospect right now.
2. Kyle Tucker, OF
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 190 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 5th overall in the 2015 draft, Plant HS (Tampa, FL); signed for $4 million.
Previous Ranking(s): #2 (Org), #37
2017 Stats: .265/.325/.512, 16 HR, 8 SB in 72 games at Double-A Corpus Christi; .288/.379/.554, 24 BB, 45 K in 48 games at High-A Buies Creek
The Good: Tucker’s a polished prospect, one of the more major-league ready youngsters the Astros haven’t yet promoted. While he’s not a Gold Glover, he’s a perfectly average defensive outfielder, with a reportedly solid arm. His bat is his real calling-card, though, and Tucker is both known for the ability to hit for power, and his plate discipline.
The Bad: The aforementioned plate discipline sometimes looks like plate passive-aggressiveness, a willingness to take perfectly hittable pitches when sometimes a little more swing-happy approach might be warranted. Tucker is also fairly stiff in his approach, meaning that as he progresses, pitchers might be able to attack that with breaking balls.
OFP 60—First division starting outfielder
Likely 55—Above-average starting outfielder
The Risks: The almost-passive approach to hitting won’t help him in the major leagues, and the Astros have their outfield locked up for the next few years, meaning Tucker would really need to prove himself better than either Josh Reddick or Marwin Gonzalez to lock down a position. —Kate Morrison
Major league ETA: 2019
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Despite being potentially passive to a fault, Tucker has one of the better hit tools in the minors. Couple that compliment with his ETA, and it’s easy to see why Tucker will be a top-20, and potentially top-10, guy on our dynasty top-101. We were all waiting for the power to emerge, and now that it has, Tucker looks like he can be an average-driven fantasy stud in his prime who contributes enough HR and SB to flirt with OF2 territory.
3. J.B. Bukauskas, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 196 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 15th overall in the 2017 draft, University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, NC); signed for $3.6 million.
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2017 Stats: 4.50 ERA, 4.37 DRA, 6 IP, 4 H, 4 BB, 6 K in 2 games at short-season Tri-City; 0.00 ERA, 3.41 DRA, 4 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 3 K in 1 game at complex-level GCL
The Good: Bukauskas was drafted 15th overall but easily could have landed in the top-10. Both his fastball and slider possess plus or better ceilings. The fastball sat 92-95 with late sinking action during his first three professional outings and reached 98 at UNC. The mid-80s slider displays impressive tilt and late break and should be a consistent out-pitch for him going forward. His changeup isn’t bad either, which flashes above average thanks to late fade.
The Bad: His below-average height and relatively high-effort delivery suggest a possible future shift to the bullpen. In addition, his slider command presently lags behind that of his fastball while his changeup is inconsistent and sparingly used.
OFP 60—No. 3 starter
Likely 50—High-leverage reliever
The Risks: He is a 21-year-old pitching prospect with only 10 innings of professional experience. He would have progressed through the minors quickly as a reliever but will require a few more seasons of developmental time as a starter. —Erich Rothmann
Major league ETA: 2020
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Sometimes guys with this fantasy profile turn out to be Carson Fulmer, sure, but other times they turn out to be Sonny Gray. Bukauskas has enough flaws that he won’t enter the top-50 conversation, but he has a case for the top-101 based on his upside and acceptable MLB ETA. The hope is that he develops into a strikeout-heavy SP3/4. The next-best scenario sees him emerging as a closer. As for the other scenarios, well, there’s a reason we try to scare you away from most pitching prospects.
4. Yordan Alvarez, OF/1B
Height/Weight: 6’5”, 225 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Signed June 2016 by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Cuba for $2 million. Traded to the Houston Astros for Josh Fields in August 2016.
Previous Ranking(s): N/R
2017 Stats: .277/.329/.393, 3 HR, 6 SB in 58 games at High-A Buies Creek; .360/.468/.658, 9 HR, 2 SB in 32 games at Low-A Quad Cities
The Good: Big lefty power. It’s a wonderful thing. Alvarez has it. You want it. The Astros also wanted it, and while the overall profile is a work in progress, it’s potential plus power or perhaps even more if he makes the necessary approach adjustments. And the approach isn’t awful at present given his relative inexperience. He’s comfortable going deep in counts and will take close pitches. Alvarez also a better athlete than you’d think given his size. He posted fringy run times and is passable in left field at present…
The Bad: but he’s still likely a first baseman long term. There’s some stiffness in the swing as well, and given his height and the length of the stroke, he can get exploited by high-low sequencing or off speed in the dirt. He may never hit enough to get enough of the power into games to be a meaningful bat at first base.
OFP 60— Above-average first baseman who you can stick in a corner once a week
Likely 45—Fringe first baseman/platoon bench bat
The Risks: Positional and hit tool questions. Yet to hit upper minors pitching. There’s some risks, folks.
Major league ETA: 2020
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Man, the Astros just grow these guys on trees. I’m not Bret, and so I will not tell you to go all-in on the big lefty, but there’s a lot to like with Alvarez. Personally I prefer guys with more fantasy upside who are closer to the majors like Bobby Bradley, but if you favor Alvarez’s higher floor, you’re well within your right. The hope here is that Alvarez develops into a top-25 first baseman a la 2017 Justin Bour. Alas, he is too athletic and too left-handed to compare to C.J. Cron.
5. Rogelio Armenteros, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 215 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Signed September 2014 by the Houston Astros out of Cuba for $40,000.
Previous Ranking(s): N/R
2017 Stats: 2.16 ERA, 1.72 DRA, 58 ⅓ IP, 42 H, 19 BB, 72 K in 10 games at Triple-A Fresno; 1.93 ERA, 2.78 DRA, 65 ⅓ IP, 49 H, 19 BB, 74 K in 14 games at Double-A Corpus Christi
The Good: Armenteros is yet another polished young pitcher, though his lack of a solid third pitch is what keeps him from being even further up this list. The main two pitches he works with right now are a heavy fastball in the low 90s, and an upper-70s curveball that he manipulates the depth and horizontal break on with ease. He has a quick, loose delivery, a solid feel for how to throw the ball, and a great approach to opposing hitters.
The Bad: If he’s going to be a starter, he needs to improve the changeup he showed over the 2017 season, and quickly. Right now, it’s a bit soft, and while he’s shown an ability to stay away from it, in the majors, he’ll absolutely need to throw it.
OFP 55—Middle of the rotationish starter
Likely 45—Back-end starter or setup
The Risks: If he does develop a third pitch, he’s a middle-of-the-rotation starter with upside. If he doesn’t, he’s a reliever. Also, he’s a pitcher.
Major league ETA: 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Armenteros is close to the majors, but he lacks the upside and starter probability to stash unless you’re rostering in excess of 200 prospects. That being said, watch for reports on the changeup or another third pitch, because if he gets himself a decent one he could end up starting for one of the better teams in the league, at least on an interim basis. That’d make him a potential cheap wins play when used judiciously.
6. Jonathan Arauz, IF
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 150 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Signed August 2014 by the Philadelphia Phillies out of Venezuela for $600,000; acquired via trade from the Philadelphia Phillies.
Previous Ranking(s): Others of Note
2017 Stats: .220/.331/.276, 0 HR, 0 SB in 36 games at Low-A Quad Cities; .264/.341/.364, 1 HR, 1 SB in 33 games at short-season Tri-City
The Good: Arauz is a jack-of-all-trades sort of prospect. He showcased a well-developed eye, good plate coverage, and strong bat-to-ball skills as an 18-year-old. His setup has a lot of pre-pitch noise, but he ends up getting his hands into position on time, and his swing features a healthy leg kick and above-average bat speed. He is a solid fielder as well, logging time at second, third, and short, and handling all of them adequately. The body still has room to add mass, so there might be some power hidden in there.
The Bad: There might be some power coming, but there’s almost none there right now. Arauz has a penchant for contact, but most of it isn’t good. He’ll generate too many weak choppers and lazy fly balls right now, and even the quality contact just doesn’t go very far. He’ll hold his own at short, but it’s not where he sticks long term, and a move to second or third raises the offensive bar significantly. He’s only an average runner now, so if he does bulk up, it could cost him a few steps.
OFP 55—High BA/OBP super utility player
Likely 45—Meh BA/decent OBP regular utility player
The Risks: He just spent a season struggling while bouncing between Low-A and short-season, so there’s a lot of risk here, but not as much as you might think. He was only 18 and showed a strong underlying skill set with well-rounded tools. The chance of failure is high, but Arauz has a few different paths to the majors. —Emmett Rosenbaum
Major league ETA: 2021
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Take a wait-and-see approach with Arauz. He has enough going for him and enough potential paths to value that you should remember his name, but modest enough upside and a far away enough ETA that he doesn’t need to be rostered yet.
7. Gilberto Celestino, OF
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 170 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Signed July 2015 by the Houston Astros out of the Dominican Republic for $2.5 million.
Previous Ranking(s): Others of Note
2017 Stats: .268/.331/.379, 4 HR, 10 SB in 59 games at short-season Greeneville
The Good: Celestino is a tooled-up center field prospect. Lithe and fast, Celestino has three future above-average tools in his speed, arm, and glove. These are tools that elevate his floor, since there is likely major-league value here as an extra outfielder even if the bat and power do not develop. Celestino makes hard line-drive contact when he can fastball hunt, and at maturity, I project average raw power, which he looks to tap situationally with a more lofted pull-heavy swing than his more all-fields line-drive approach that commonly features. Still only 18, Celestino has time to increase his offensive value.
The Bad: Celestino’s youth showed against better pitching in the Appalachian League—not a concern per se given his age. That said, Celestino has work to do with pitch recognition and zone expansion, particularly soft away. While the 50 raw power is a good fit in center field, it’s a major question if he will get to it in games, and I expect him to be at his best when he’s drilling gaps versus trying to pull homers.
OFP 55—First-division starting center fielder, top of order
Likely 45—Second-division starting center fielder
The Risks: The bat. There’s tantalizing potential given Celestino’s toolset and age, but until I see better pitch recognition in full-season ball, I question future impact. Nonetheless, the speed and defense raise the floor. —John Eshleman
Major league ETA: 2021
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: It’s great to hear that Celestino has three above-average tools, but it’s a bummer that only one of them really matters for our purposes. Put Celestino on your watch list and monitor his stats/any scouting reports that emerge. If he can work his way toward solid-average hit utility, he comes a potential SB-driven OF4. If not, well, maybe you’ll be able to use him in your AL-Only league some day.
8. David Paulino, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’7”, 215 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Signed September 2010 by the Detroit Tigers out of the Dominican Republic for $75,000; acquired via trade from Detroit.
Previous Ranking(s): #3 (Org), #83 (Top 101)
2017 Stats: 6.52 ERA, 6.52 DRA, 29 IP, 36 H, 7 BB, 34 K in 6 games at the major league level; 4.50 ERA, 7.94 DRA, 14 IP, 11 H, 9 BB, 13 K in 3 games at Triple-A Fresno
The Good: Paulino has shown Top 101 stuff on the mound throughout his minor league career. He has a plus fastball that gets extreme plane due to his height and extension. He has a full four-pitch mix with two useable breakers. The curve is potentially plus. The change isn’t too bad. He already has major league time.
The Bad: Generally Paulino has had trouble staying on the mound due to durability issues. This year it was an 80-game PED suspension. We are not arbiters of morality here, but it was even more lost development time, time that may have come against major-league bats. He’s going to have to make adjustments there too, as his command hasn’t been great against them. The change isn’t too bad, but it’s not going to keep people from throwing reliever projections on him.
OFP 55—Frustrating third starter that racks up Ks but occasionally just gets shelled
Likely 40—Good middle reliever
The Risks: Hoo boy. Yeah, I mean. He has had Tommy John surgery, and elbow tendinitis after that. An 80-game PED suspension after that, and he hasn’t consistently shown major league command or a third pitch. That’s a bigger spread OFP/Likely spread than I am generally comfortable with for a guy who is going to be 24 and is a handful of starts from graduating, but it may understate the risk here.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: For fantasy purposes I prefer Paulino to Armenteros, but there’s nothing I can say that reduces Paulino’s risk profile. The strikeout potential is big, but that won’t matter much if Paulino can’t reign in his command, and obviously the suspension doesn’t help. Odds are Paulino is a reliever, but he might be a damn good one. If he does manage to start he could be a high-WHIP, high-K SP5/6. That means he’ll flirt with top-150 status, but he’s certainly not a lock to get there.
9. Colin Moran, IF
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 204 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 6th overall in the 2014 draft, University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, NC); signed for $3.5165 million. Acquired via trade from Miami.
Previous Ranking(s): N/R
2017 Stats: .364/.417/.818, 1 HR, 0 SB in 7 games at the major league level; .301/.369/.532, 18 HR, 0 SB in 82 games at Triple-A Fresno
The Good: Moran combines a sweet-looking lefty swing geared for line drives with decent bat speed and feel for hitting. If you’re watching him on the right day, it just all looks right at the plate, and he usually will not get himself out. He’s got some raw pop, and did convert it into enough game power to at least be interesting at face value, granted that he did so in a repeat performance in the PCL.
The Bad: It’s not great to still be eligible for this list as a 25-year-old hitter when you went as the sixth pick in the nation. The athleticism and speed are well below-average, and combined with an iffy arm, he’s stretched defensively at third. At first, well, he’s stretched offensively. At the end of the day, Moran just doesn’t have a standout tool that looks likely to carry him to a star profile—unless we’re missing low on the hit tool.
OFP 50—Adequate corner dude that you’re always trying to replace as a regular
Likely 45—Is there still a spot for fifth infielders who can’t play short?
The Risks: Roster spots for this profile of player have been evaporating in exchange for third lefties in the pen and sixth starters. He also has a history of going on terrible cold streaks and a poorly-timed one of them could stamp him as a Quad-A or foreign league lifer. It’s also not apparently clear that the Astros have anywhere for him to play.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016 —Jarrett Seidler
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: If he ends up with an everyday role in a decent offense you can use him as a stopgap source of emptyish average at third base. Feel the excitement.
10. Corbin Martin, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 200 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 56th overall in the 2017 draft, Texas A&M University; signed for $1,000,000
Previous Ranking(s): N/R
2017 Stats: 0.00 ERA, 2.30 DRA, 5 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 5 K in the GCL; 2.60 ERA, 1.34 DRA, 27 ⅔ IP, 20 H, 8 BB, 38 K in 8 games at short-season Tri-City
The Good: Martin was the Astros second-round pick out of Texas A&M and the stuff is potentially a little bit better than your run-of-the-mill second-round college arm. He has a starter’s frame. The fastball touched 96 in college but likely settles in more as a 55 offering as a pro. He has a full four-pitch mix and both the curve and change flashed plus with the curve having the better long term projection as a mid-80s, tight downer.
The Bad: The fastball can play down at times due to fringy command and lack of movement. The secondaries only flash at present and will need more consistency to get him to the OFP. He may end up lacking a bat-misser at the highest level.
OFP 50—No. 4 starter
Likely 45—No. 5 starter
The Risks: Martin really only put it together as a starter his junior season, so there isn’t a long track record here. This kind of profile can be riskier than you think just because there isn’t that much margin for error.
Major league ETA: 2020
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: You know how I feel about back-end starters and guys without a premium fastball carry more risk than most. Keep an eye on him to see if he can add a tick or two, because the advanced secondaries are nice.
The Next Ten (in alphabetical order):
J.D. Davis, OF, Houston Astros
You can pretty much copy and paste everything we’ve written previously about Davis in these spaces, though with positive caveats that he has demonstrated clearly the ability to get to his big raw power against the most advanced arms the minors have to offer, and he can now include “big leaguer” on his C.V. His plus power works to all fields, but some stiffness in the swing and sometimes-clunky barrel delivery leads to a ton of rolled-over contact. He’s managed to keep his strikeout rate in relative check given an outsized amount of swing-and-miss in the game, though an aggressive approach and the aforementioned pull-side tendencies will conspire to limit his on-base game. He’s made gradual improvements with his footwork and lateral agility at third, but still projects on the fringe side there. A plus-plus arm has gotten a touch more accurate as well, to where it now plays closer to its raw tool grade. It’s a tight fit of a profile, one that will be dependent on him continuing to reach nearly the entirety of his power ceiling for it to work. If it does, a career as a second-division third baseman remains a distinct possibility. —Wilson Karaman
Carlos Machado, OF, short-season Greeneville
The 19 year-old Venezuelan raked in 2017 between the GCL and Appy League to the tune of a .324/.387/.462 slash line. Machado is an excellent contact hitter with a direct bat path and advanced feel to hit and plate discipline for his youth. He routinely finds himself in hitter’s counts and rips liners gap-to-gap when pitches are in the zone. There is some power here with a projectable body, but his current approach does not suggest a major power spike. As a result, Machado fulfills the tweener risk profile, since it’s a corner outfield defensive future. An average athlete, Machado’s bat and plate discipline will keep him climbing up the ladder, but he will likely need to find more power (or hit at an elite level) to carve out a regular role at the big league level. —John Eshleman
Freudis Nova, SS, Dominican Summer League
Nova who fell into the Astros lap in 2016 after a deal with the Marlins was kiboshed due to a reported failed PED test. While it cost the 16-year-old shortstop some money, he still got 1.2 million as the crown jewel of Houston’s IFA class that Summer. He hit .247/.342/.355 in 47 DSL games which is utterly meaningless, his loud tools are what you care about here. He’s already seeing some time at third base, and both the bat and the arm should play there if he does have to shift over. He’s miles away from the majors, and I’m generally leery of ranking players with no stateside time based on a big bonus and vague tools reports, but it seems pretty obvious that he needs to be on this list somewhere.
Cionel Perez, LHP, Double-A Corpus Christi
Perez debuted in 2017 after a somewhat contentious negotiation with the Astros that resulted in a slashed bonus after “medical concerns.” That somewhat familiar story aside, there wasn’t much to quibble with in his pro debut. The 21-year-old Cuban lefty climbed three levels, pounding the zone with a mid-90s fastball and potential plus slider. He’s undersized, inconsistent, the change is rough, and there is some effort in the delivery, so he may fit best as a power lefty reliever. On the plus side, he may be ready to fulfill that role sometime in 2018.
Hector Perez, RHP, High-A Buies Creek
This Perez has nasty stuff as well. Seriously nasty. It’s a plus fastball/slider combination, and plus might be light on the ultimate slider projection. However, “strikethrower” is not an epithet we will be using in this blurb. Perez walked more batters than he struck out the last month of the season, and that isn’t wildly out of character with his season in general. There’s a lot of effort here, a not always repeatable release point, and another bullpen future. This Perez may have a bit more of a winding road to the majors, but you could certainly argue there is closer stuff in here. He also may be one of those guys that walks 7 per 9 in Triple-A for a while but keeps getting chances because the stuff is…well, nasty.
Nathan Perry, C, complex-level GCL
A densely bodied catcher, similar to Brian McCann—standing approximately 6-foot-3, 200 pounds—Perry shows advanced feel for the tools of ignorance. The arm action is clean, proving to have a solid-average arm. Furthermore, he moves well behind the dish, and appears to be well-received by both Spanish- and English-speaking pitchers. He commands the field well, too. Offensively, he, and other Astros GCLers, were tough to evaluate, as many did not play consecutive days. Take his offensive profile with a bit of salt. He showed a longer swing with a propensity for being late or missing the ball, while making liner contact to the opposite field when he did make contact. Maybe, some draft rust? There is raw power, and room for muscle for the lefty batter can grow into more juice. At the very least, he showed a good approach at the plate with a keen eye for the zone, suggesting a potential above-average walk rate. I like what he projects defensively. We will need to see more contact-wise. Nonetheless, this profile is a good formula for catchers. —Javier Barragan
Patrick Sandoval, LHP, Low-A Quad Cities
Sandoval got $900,000 as an 11th round overslot prep arm in 2015, and it’s been a bit of a slow burn since then. He finally got his first taste of full-season ball in the dog days of summer, but has started the past three seasons at each of the Astros short-season affiliates. Sandoval has an ideal pitcher’s build—he’s a big, strapping lefty—but there’s some effort in the delivery to get the fastball up into the lower 90s. The curveball will flash plus, and there’s a potentially average slider here too. It hasn’t come together yet. It’s likely to continue to be a slow burn, and the end result might just be a lefty reliever, but there’s enough here to keep me on the hook. And sometimes these guys just click.
Jairo Solis, RHP, short-season Greeneville
The projectable Venezuelan spent the entire 2017 season as a 17-year-old, so we’re talking about a kid who compares age-wise to the upcoming prep 2018 class. Solis would slot quite highly in such a scenario, already demonstrating feel for three pitches and advanced pitchability, moving from the DSL to GCL to Appy League in 2017. He struck out 10+ per 9 along the way. With a body that’s still maturing, Solis can struggle to repeat, losing his release point and coming around his breaker, but it is a clean arm action with low-level effort. When he was synced, he was 90-93 mph with a running two-seam fastball that he spotted where he wanted. His high-70s curveball is a potential out-pitch, thrown with conviction in any count and for both strikes and chases. His changeup shows good signs for an at least average offering with late fade but a tad firm at 84-87 mph. This repertoire excites, particularly given the projection on Solis’ listed 6-foot-2, 160-pound frame which may well portend added velo and mechanical stability. The ‘Stros will keep an eye on his innings, but Solis is full-season ready for his age 18 season. — John Eshelman
Myles Straw, OF, Double-A Corpus Christi
Straw is really fast, a pure 80-runner out of the box, in the field, on the bases. His speed is an intimidating presence at the top of a lineup for the opposition. While he only has average bat speed, he can make contact with any offering thrown at him and use his legs to do the rest. There is no over the fence power to speak of, as his swing is designed for low-line drives and hard grounders. So it does put a lot of pressure on his legs for success. He does put the ball on the ground a lot though , and works the opposite way, which leads to some questions about how he will do against better velocity up the ladder. Straw can cover the whole outfield, projecting to be an above-average defender in all three spots. He fits best in center or left on account of his below-average arm though. This profile is pretty volatile, his ceiling is that of a fourth outfielder who’s speediness helps get him a major league minimum for a few years. The floor is a Triple-A speedster who can’t hit upper level pitching. —Steve Givarz
Garrett Stubbs, C, Triple-A Fresno
It was a tough year offensively for Stubbs, whose Lancaster bubble burst at Double-A after an initially encouraging stint at Corpus to close the 2016 campaign. He added about 15 pounds of weight last offseason, but never quite managed to work it into his offensive game. He’s still a patient hitter with sound bat-to-ball skills, but the quality of contact wasn’t great for much of the year, including an approach that migrated towards the pull-side. There’s very little power in the swing. He continued to impress behind the dish, utilizing his agility to get out on balls and block effectively, while maxing out an above-average arm with lightning-quick pop mechanics and consistent throwing accuracy. He also continued to display sneaky intelligence on the bases, swiping 11 bags without getting caught. He remains on an eventual major-league trajectory, but will need to continue gaining strength and show that the bat can play in a return engagement with PCL pitchers next spring. —Wilson Karaman
Friends in Low Places
J.J. Matijevic, OF, Low-A Quad Cities
The Astros selected Matijevic 75th overall this past June with the competitive balance pick they received from the Cardinals’ hacking scandal fallout. After a successful 2016 stint on the Cape career at Arizona, he was viewed as one of the top college prospects leading up to the draft. The left-hander has a line-drive swing with some lift and generates solid bat speed largely due to his strong upper body. The 22-year-old’s raw power is at least above-average, and his hit tool’s ceiling is likely similar after his approach appeared to significantly improve during his senior year. However, he surprisingly slashed only .228/.290/.384 with 69 strikeouts in his first 248 professional plate appearances (mostly for short-season Tri-City). Nonetheless, his performance at the plate should begin to reflect his true talent as he adjusts to minor league pitching and his approach continues to mature. He was a decent first baseman in college although Houston has moved him to left field for now. His arm is average, but he could ultimately return to first given his underwhelming speed and athleticism. Overall, Matijevic has a chance to become a major-league regular if all goes as planned. —Erich Rothmann
A second opinion: There’s a decent argument David Paulino shouldn’t be in the top ten
I mentioned above that I do not see the prospect team as moral arbiters of baseball’s joint drug agreement. And to be perfectly honest in 2017 I don’t really care about your opinion on PEDs. You probably have nothing new to add to the conversation. I have gathered from comments over the years that a fair amount of readers think I am in my early or mid-twenties. Fair enough, you might need the hubris of youth to want to take on this role, to not see it as a Sisyphean task. But I am 35. I have crystal clear memories of 1998, 2003, Congressional hearings, survey testing, etc. The rules are the rules, but Paulino won’t be the first or last person we rank in these pages that has failed a drug test. He reportedly isn’t the only one in this organization.
And I am not a chemist. I can’t claim to know if Boldenone is more effective at helping out athletes than any of the other various banned substances that can cost you half a season. I can’t speculate if any positive effects will linger into 2018. I’m not particularly interested in what it says about Paulino’s makeup. Again, I don’t really desire to be a moral arbiter of prospects. Michael Kopech hurt his pitching hand punching a teammate. He has a JDA suspension of his own. He ranks highly both on the White Sox list and our eventual national one. So the above contention isn’t based on the idea that Paulino is a product of performance-enhancing drugs.
I don’t like uncertainty. The entire job is inextricably linked to uncertainty, sure. I have to cut through it. Pitchers make that tougher generally. Pitchers with long injury histories and durability questions make it very tough. It would not have been surprising if Paulino missed half a season in 2017. Not for the reasons he did, perhaps, but it’s been a recurring theme. And it’s more lost development time. 2017 was supposed to answer some questions, or at least get him out of my purview as a prospect writer. It brought neither relief, instead more risk, more uncertainty. I hate uncertainty.
This is not a very deep system now, something that perhaps keeps my most famous predecessor up at night, but perhaps not. There’s certainly an argument for Paulino to be in the top ten here, but if he is just about to be a 24-year-old future reliever with command issues? Well, that’s a tougher sell. Me? I’m uncertain. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Top Talents 25 and Under (Born 4/1/92 or later):
- Carlos Correa
- Alex Bregman
- Lance McCullers
- Forrest Whitley
- Kyle Tucker
- Francis Martes
- JB Bukauskas
- Joe Musgrove
- Yordan Alvarez
- Rogelio Armenteros
While things at the top of this list have remained fairly stable for the Houston Astros, the lower half looks considerably different than this time last year—and not at all thanks to aging. In fact, no one aged off this list from last year’s edition—any and all replacements were simply due to the quality of players Houston has been bringing through their system.
Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Lance McCullers headline this grouping of young players, and all three have at least one more year headlining this list ahead of them. These three are part of why Houston has such a large window of opportunity to collect a second ring before they even have to think about rebuilding—with this kind of core, any non-contending year is a shame.
It’s sometimes hard to believe that Correa, in particular, has three years left to head this list, because it feels like the talented shortstop has been a leader on this team for longer than a 22-year-old should be. Only 22 he is, though, and that should put fear into every American League team going forward. Correa began 2017 with the kind of slump that can sometimes end careers, but ended the season with a batting average above .300, and a better strikeout and walk rate than 2016. As hard to fathom as this may be, it seems Correa can only get better.
Bregman is another example of a young player only making themselves better. Similarly to Correa, he raised his batting average 20 points from 2016 to 2017, and improved both his strikeout and walk percentages—a common theme amongst nearly all Astros hitters this season. Additionally, Bregman really stepped up with the glove, showing why he was considered one of the better defensive prospects (as he should be, spending college and the low minors as a shortstop). His versatility and offensive ability make him a cornerstone of the Astros future, and having him locked in, along with Correa, is something every team wishes they had.
The two major league pitchers on this list, McCullers and Joe Musgrove, couldn’t be more different, but each had their important role to play in the Houston success of 2016. McCullers will forever be known for his save-earning performance backing up Charlie Morton, and Musgrove earned the win in Game 5 of the World Series, but it’s unlikely the team makes it to the series without the regular season performances of both pitchers. McCullers, in particular, pitched excellently through the first half of the season, with an injury-hampered second half causing his overall season to look perhaps less solid than it actually was.
Francis Martes (a major-leaguer in his own right, but less established than the two above) was a fast-riser in this column last year, but hit some speed bumps in 2017; most notably his control. He missed bats as expected but he wasn’t able to limit the free passes, so he was always dealing with traffic and didn’t acquit himself particularly well in that regard. It was a problem in both the majors and the minors this year, and the fears that some harbored about a potential shift to the bullpen were not allayed by this performance. There’s no reason to give up on his chances as a starter too quickly, of course, and the Astros should have room in their rotation to give him a try. Still, it’s an easy call to slot him behind the top tier prospects in this system. —Kate Morrison