Evaluating the 2016 Prospects: Houston Astros

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The Astros vaulted themselves into the playoff hunt on the backs of their young talent and smart free agent buys. Now that many of those players will be staying with the major league club, you might expect the system to be relatively barren. In fact, however, it is littered with mid- to upper-range prospects that could help as soon as this year. Though Houston has decent quality and quantity of prospects, the most interesting thing about this system is how much turnover it has seen since last offseason. Only five of the top-15 prospects from Kiley’s list last year remain eligible for this year’s list, the rest gone via trade or promotion.

One of the joys of scouting Astros prospects is the run environments of their High-A and Triple-A affiliates. Many of the top prospects in the system – AJ Reed, Derek Fisher, JD Davis, Francis Martes, etc. – spent all or or part of their 2015 seasons in High-A Lancaster, quite possibly the most hitter-friendly park in the country. That fact makes it a fun task to figure out whose skills have improved versus whose have been artificially elevated by an extreme run environment. For many of them, evaluators almost have to ignore their High-A production and wait to see them in Double-A. I have to admit, Fisher fits into that category for me somewhat. It also makes Martes’ stat line look even more impressive.

For these rankings, there aren’t too many eye-opening choices for the upper spots on the list. I have AJ Reed in the number-one spot, believing his offensive ability to be strong enough to make him a more productive big-league player despite his defensive position. Besides Tyler White and Jon Kemmer jumping up this list for their potential at the plate, there’s Kyle Tucker and Derek Fisher sliding down just outside of the 50+ FV group. I don’t feel completely confident in my evaluation of Fisher yet, and Tucker is too young and raw for me to be comfortable ranking him ahead of the others above him.

Here’s the primer for the series and my scouting thoughts in general. The grades I put on players heavily weight the functionality of each tool in game situations, rather than just pure tool grades. Here is a table to understand the position player grades:

Scouting Grades in Context: Hitters
Grade Tool Is Called Batting Average HR ISO Baserunning Runs Fielding Runs
80 80 0.320 40 0.300 12 30
75 0.310 35-40 0.275 10 25
70 Plus Plus 0.300 30-35 0.250 8 20
65 0.290 27-30 0.225 6 15
60 Plus 0.280 23-27 0.200 4 10
55 Above Average 0.270 19-22 0.175 2 5
50 Average 0.260 15-18 0.150 0 0
45 Below Average 0.250 12-15 0.125 -2 -5
40 0.240 8-12 0.100 -4 -10
35 0.230 5-8 0.075 -6 -15
30 0.220 3-5 0.050 -8 -20

As well as one to understand what the overall grades approximate:

Scouting Grades in Context: Overall
Grade Hitter Starting Pitcher Relief Pitcher WAR
80 Top 1-2 #1 Starter —- 7
75 Top 2-3 #1 —- 6
70 Top 5 #1/2 —- 5
65 All-Star #2/3 —- 4
60 Plus #3 High Closer 3
55 Above Avg #3/4 Mid Closer 2.5
50 Avg Regular #4 Low CL/High SU 2
45 Platoon/Util #5 Low Setup 1.5
40 Bench Swing/Spot SP Middle RP 1
35 Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up 0
30 *Organizational *Organizational *Organizational -1

One other difference in the way I’ll be communicating scouting grades to you is the presence of three numbers on each tool instead of just two. The first number is the current grade. The second number is the likely future grade; or, if you prefer percentiles, call this the 50th percentile projection. The third number is the ceiling grade, or 90th percentile projection, to help demonstrate the volatility and raw potential of a tool. I feel this gives readers a better sense of the possible outcomes a player could achieve, and more information to understand my thoughts on the likelihood of reaching those levels.

In the biographical information, level refers to where they finished the year, unless they were sent down for injury rehab or other extraneous reasons. Ages are listed as of April 1, 2016. You can also find each player’s previous rank from Kiley’s list last year. Below, Dave Cameron shares his thoughts on the general state of the organization. Returning for his popular cameo, Carson Cistulli picks his favorite fringe prospect toward the end of the list. Next up will be the Kansas City Royals.

Organizational Overview
After some pretty lean years during their tanking rebuilding process, the Astros look to be setup pretty well for a multi-year run, with one of the game’s elite young talents leading the charge. However, it’s worth remembering that improvement is often not a linear progression, and it would folly to think that the Astros step forward in 2015 represents a baseline that they will only build from. There’s a core group in place that should keep the floor fairly high, but the quality of the second-tier players still leaves a bit to be desired, and the team may find that it’s harder to add wins as you climb the ladder. If they can hit on a few more reclamation projects, providing value at spots that look a bit weak now, they could end up as the best team in the American League, but it’s also quite possible that they take a step back and end up chasing a Wild Card spot. The long-term future is bright, and it could be here already, but don’t be too shocked if 2016 represents more of a consolidation than further growth

50+ FV Prospects

Video courtesy of ieProSports
1. AJ Reed, 1B
Current Level/Age: AA/22.9, 6’4/240, L/L
Acquired: Drafted 42nd overall (2nd round) in 2014 out of Univ of Kentucky by HOU for $1.35 million bonus
Previous Rank: 13

Reed continues to exceed even the Astros’ highest expectations, particularly in the batting-average department. His best numbers came in the hitter-friendly California League, though he has hit at every stop so far in his minor league career. He’s limited to first base because of his well below-average speed, though he has good hands, decent reactions and a great arm. The Astros’ minor league coaches believe he is one of the best hitters they have had in a long time, and I have to agree with them.

Reed has 65 raw power, though there may be more upside because of a great swing and approach. Some scouts have questions about his swing limiting his hit tool, with many opinions saying it’s too long of a path, slowing down his bat speed. While his lead arm does get extended right before he starts his swing, his upper body never looks rigid or incapable of adjusting to the pitch. And most of what looks like length is him getting into the line of the pitch as well as — if not better than — nearly every minor league hitter.

That he complements all that with a solid game plan of attacking good pitches to hit, laying off pitchers’ pitches and the ability to hit line drives and deep fly balls to all fields, I would argue his hit tool is already above average, with a very real chance of being as good as his power tool. To me, he looks like a near-elite overall hitter, and definitely has the tools and mentality to keep his strikeout rate right where it is as he advances. His approach and power will allow his walk rate to translate well against major league pitching, which could effectively propel him into plus-plus territory with the bat, even if his strikeouts increased, as well.

Reed still has to demonstrate success against high-minors pitching to prove he’s ready for the big leagues, but it may be a matter of months before he’s manning first base in Houston. Don’t buy into the bat-speed argument. This guy’s going to hit.

Hit: 55/60/65 Power: 55/60/65+ Run: 30/30/30 Field: 45/45/50 Throw: 60/55/60
Overall: 50/60/65+

Video courtesy of Cubs Prospect Watch
2. Alex Bregman, SS
Current Level/Age: High-A/22.0, 6’0/180, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 2nd overall (1st round) in 2015 out of Louisiana State by HOU for $5.9 million bonus
Previous Rank: NA

Bregman stands out for his elite contact skills, and he has enough bat speed to do something with the ball when he connects. Scouts questioned his capabilities at shortstop, but range is the only part of his defense that will end up around average; he has soft hands and a good arm. In truth, Carlos Correa is the only reason he won’t play short for the Astros anytime soon.

Some evaluators believe Bregman will develop average power, but I just don’t see that in the cards. He has the strength, but his approach is geared toward contact and his flat-to-downward swing plane limits his fly-ball power to balls up in the zone, where the bat path levels out more. I’m giving him a 45 ceiling grade on it, but that would require conscious swing changes that won’t be necessary for him to be an excellent asset on offense. He’s going to be a line-drive machine with a severe allergy to strikeouts. On top of that, he doesn’t abuse his contact skills by swinging early and often, and will take his walks when pitchers don’t give in to him.

Throw on top his above-average running game, and Bregman starts to look very good as a future plus regular with All-Star upside. He will move quickly through the system if the Astros allow it, and will be ready to be an asset on both sides of the ball, even if he moves to second, third or the outfield.

Hit: 55/60/65 Power: 35/40/45 Run: 50/55/55 Field: 50/55/55+ Throw: 55/55/60
Overall: 45/60/65+

3. Francis Martes, RHP
Current Level/Age: AA/20.4, 6’1/225, R/R
Acquired: Signed in 2012 out of Dominican Republic by MIA, traded to HOU in July 2014
Previous Rank: NA

Martes blew through two levels of A-ball before ending his season with three decent starts in Double-A Corpus Christi. He has an excellent fastball-power curve combination with an occasional average changeup thrown in. He throws strikes despite profiling as more of a power arm, which is especially impressive for a pitcher who was 19 years old for all of the 2015 season. There are still some hurdles for him to jump to be an impact starting pitcher — notably his command, the development of his changeup and the ability to keep his body in good enough shape to protect his arm.

He has a delivery that can get too arm-heavy due to having a thicker lower body without a lot of quickness. He strides a bit too closed, which keeps his hips from really initiating the throw and forcing the arm to pick up the slack. That said, he has a clean arm action that does an excellent job making up for the inefficiencies, and his command still has a chance to be above average in the future as a result. He gets too rotational when he over-corrects his closed off lower half. Those pitches usually end up staying in the high part of the zone, a place where Double-A and Triple-A hitters will make him pay until he can makes some adjustments.

Martes’ curveball is a thing of beauty, thrown hard with sharp downward break and good command. Even when he leaves it up in the zone, it has enough bite that hitters will have a tough time barreling it up. His changeup has mild fade and average arm action, though he has been throwing it more and more in the last couple seasons, likely developing it into a below-average to average third pitch.

He has the stuff right now to get big-league hitters out coming from the bullpen, but the Astros will want to see what they have in the rotation before shifting him into a less impactful role. It’s a little tough to peg down what he could be. He shows enough upper-body athleticism, stuff and command at a young age to have a number-two starter ceiling, but the lower body tightness, lack of true third pitch and a body type that may be difficult to keep in shape hint at more of a number-four role or late-inning bullpen job. Either way, he’s a valuable asset worthy of the top pitching spot in the organization.

Fastball: 50/60/65 Curveball: 55/60/65 Changeup: 40/45/50 Command: 45/50/55
Overall: 45/55/65

4. Daz Cameron
Current Level/Age: R/19.2, 6’2/185, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 37th overall (Supp 1st round) in 2015 out of Georgia HS by HOU for $4 million bonus
Previous Rank: NA

Cameron debuted in Rookie ball after signing last year, and largely had a great showing at the plate and on defense. As a team official described it, he has average or better tools across the board, without any one tool projecting way above average. I do see power potential in his bat as he matures, but right now he doesn’t project for more than below-average pop. He should be able to stick in center field, especially if he can turn his plus or better speed into usable range in the field.

He has all the athletic tools and movements you want to see from a first round, up-the-middle type player. He has great bat speed and a low line-drive swing path, while also showing the makings of a solid gameplan at the plate. Contact issues may come up as he progresses through the system, but there are enough positive qualities to see him developing into an average bat. He also shows a better ability to generate lift in his batting-practice swings, which could show up more in games as he gets comfortable.

It’s his overall skill set that makes him a great prospect, and one that gives him possibly the highest ceiling in the system. As a high school pick, he will take some time to show who he is, and his profile could go a number of different ways. He’s also the kind of athlete who may be able to produce at a higher offensive level just because of sheer physical tools. For 2016, team sources see him starting in the Midwest League.

Hit: 35/50/55+ Power: 30/40/50 Run: 55/60/65 Field: 50/55/55+ Throw: 50/55/55
Overall: 30/50/65

Video courtesy of Minor League Baseball
5. Colin Moran, 3B
Current Level/Age: AA/23.5, 6’4/215, L/R
Acquired: Drafted 6th overall (1st round) in 2013 out of Univ or North Carolina by MIA for $3.5165 million bonus, traded to HOU in July 2014
Previous Rank: NA

Moran was seen as the safe choice when he was drafted in 2013 as a great bet to hit with possible power. Now that he’s been around just a couple years, the interest seems to have waned, but I don’t see a big change in who he is now compared to his college form. The defense leaves a little to be desired, for sure, though he has shown he can play third at a close to average clip despite his poor speed. The bat is real, and Moran should get a chance to show what he can do against major league pitching as soon as this year.

Though his power has yet to really show up, he did post a .153 isolated slugging in Double-A last year, and has at least solid doubles power. He can hit balls out of any park on pitches up in the zone, where his swing has more natural lift. I still see some potential reaching above-average power, especially after seeing him hit some drives on pitches low in the zone last season, but he remains mostly a line drive/ground ball hitter with pull-side power.

In total, though, even if he stayed below average at third, he’s going to produce enough, with his strong hit tool and excellent eye conspiring to produce a league-average player overall. He has a great swing with excellent balance, a forgiving bat path and tons of ways to adjust on changes in speed. Once in a while, his hips will get out in front of him slightly as he strides, but that’s really splitting hairs. A Houston source with whom I spoke believes he could walk even more if he wasn’t so confident in his ability to make contact, a sentiment with which I largely agree.

The rest of his kit is unimpactful. He has poor speed and won’t be able to do much on the bases. It also leaves him with limited range at third, but he has good hands and a decent arm that keep him able to make enough plays. A team source has his arm in the plus range, which may be a bit optimistic when it comes to game utility, but important to note nonetheless.

So, the lack of excitement around him seems to be nothing more than prospect fatigue, not anything wrong with his outlook. It is easier to get hyped over a guy you know will hit for power, especially at a corner position, but for Moran it’s not going to be a deciding factor. Add everything up, and he still has the upside of a plus big-league position player. He will head to Triple-A in 2016 where he will be the starting third baseman.

Hit: 55/60/65 Power: 40/45/55 Run: 30/30/30 Field: 45/45+/50 Throw: 45/50/55
Overall: 40/50/60

Video courtesy of El Abonado RD
6. Tyler White, 1B/DH
Current Level/Age: AAA/25.4, 5’11/225, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 997th overall (33rd round) in 2013 out of Western Carolina U by HOU for $1,000 bonus
Previous Rank: NA

All White has done is hit. His 2015 season was no different: he put up a monster year in the regular season before winning the MVP award in the Dominican Winter League. By all accounts, he’s a wretched defender with no base-running value, so it’s a good thing his bat looks like it has impact potential. His size and poor defense, along with his status as a former 33rd-round pick, have kept him away from the big-league batter’s box. This is the year when that changes.

He has an excellent hand path and good use of his lower half at the plate. He gets a little big with his stride and loses the ground with his back foot a tick early, but his hip drive is quick and direct. Though his power is more of the doubles variety, he has an above-average power ceiling with the potential for low double-digit homer totals and a bunch of two-baggers. White has gotten on base at over a .400 clip as a professional, and he has the contact skills to avoid strikeouts against major league pitching, with the power to pressure pitchers into being careful with their location. While it’s foolish to expect the same production in the majors, it’s equally foolish to use his defensive issues to write off his potential as an impact hitter.

I get why a player like White has to perform at such a high level before getting a chance in the big leagues, but his defensive liabilities can only hold down his total value so much. He is absolutely a big-league hitter. Even with his defense leaving him a DH in essence, he has the bat to provide value wherever they decide to play him. For offensive production like his should be, the Astros will find a way to get him into the lineup.

Hit: 60/65/70 Power: 45/50/55 Run: 30/30/30 Field: 35/35/35 Throw: 45/45/45
Overall: 40/50/55-60

Video courtesy of farmsystem
7. Joe Musgrove, RHP
Current Level/Age: AA/23.3, 6’5/255, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 46th overall (Supp 1st round) in 2011 out of California HS by TOR for $500,000 bonus, traded to HOU in July 2012
Previous Rank: 22

Musgrove broke out in 2015 after multiple seasons dealing with injuries in the low minors, propelling himself into Double-A to get back on a more age-appropriate development track. It seems that injuries will be a part of his game, as he has missed time every year with some issue or another. As long as his health holds up, he projects as at least a ground ball and control specialist with the upside of a number-three starter.

Mechanical work has been part of his return to form. Prior to 2014 he lost some of his velocity and overall stuff, but now he is back to throwing 91-94 with excellent fastball command. His slider and change are decent, the former showing better command and effectiveness while the latter is a work in progress. On the mound, Musgrove stays tall all the way through his release without a ton of core use. He may rely too much on his arm, but it’s a fairly clean arm action. I have some concerns about his shoulder or elbow having issues in the future, but his game is about command and movement, which hopefully takes pressure off his arm in the long run.

With a fastball that projects to be at least plus and great overall control, he’s already set for some kind of big-league opportunity. His slider is likely an average big-league pitch, though it has plenty of upside in the form of improved command that mirrors his fastball location. The changeup may be an average pitch in the future, but he lacks feel for its location and movement currently, though the arm speed is excellent. The limited ceiling grade here may look conservative if he is reliably healthy and even slightly improves one of his secondary pitches. Either way, he’s already a big win for the player development and scouting staffs in Houston.

Fastball: 55/60/65 Slider: 50/50+/55 Changeup: 40/45/50 Command: 50/55/60
Overall: 45/50/55+

45+ FV Prospects

8. Derek Fisher, OF, VIDEO

Fisher had a good run in A-level Quad Cities before getting a chance to pad his stats in the California League for the rest of last year. His overall stats make it seem he’s ready to be challenged by upper-level pitching, though some concerns about his swing and approach leave him a few adjustments away from being able to handle better competition.

In the field, Fisher has below-average arm strength with good accuracy but a long release. Despite his at least plus running speed, he doesn’t show the range or glove on defense, likely limiting him to left-field duty in the future. They have experimented with playing him in center, but that’s not a likely long-term solution.

Fisher does a number of things at the plate that bode very well for his future. Despite a lower contact rate, he has enough bat speed and athleticism to mostly make up for it with hard-hit balls and free passes. I like how well he uses his rear arm to buy time as his swing starts, rolling his back elbow under his hands to keep from overcommitting early. He does tend to be too choppy with his bat path, stealing a lot of the easy carry his fly balls should have with his plus bat speed. His lower half is decent in terms of direction and quickness, though he can get too rotational and pull his swing across the flight of the ball.

I like his chances of continuing to get on base in the future, but his power isn’t guaranteed for me. He looked a little overmatched in his Arizona at-bats with a tendency to chase out of the zone and quite a few pull-side ground balls. His exposure to a full season of Double-A pitching will be an important developmental step, setting the tone for what kind of player he can be. The offensive grades here could really go up a full grade based on how Fisher adjusts in the next two years, and represent a relative approximation of the middle ground.

Hit: 40/50/55+ Power: 40/45-50/55 Run: 60/60/65 Field: 45/45/50+ Throw: 40/40/45
Overall: 35/45-50/60+

9. Kyle Tucker, OF, VIDEO

I’m a little surprised to find how strong Tucker’s reputation is in the baseball world. Presently his best attribute is his hit tool, produced by a quick bat with a side of funk. His power isn’t a lock to develop, though the bat speed is a worthy piece of evidence that it will. Usually the bat speed darlings with big followings also show the running speed and defensive tools to provide a value safety net, but Tucker is around average in those areas. His value is essentially tied to his bat, which might not be an issue if he reaches his ceiling, though it’s not without sizable risk.

Tucker makes excellent contact, especially for how quick his swing gets and his young age. The quality of that contact may be rough in the early going, as professional pitchers could exploit the holes in his swing until he can adjust. His back elbow tucks under his hands as he strides, and his swing is a one-piece move from there with his hips, hands and bat all accelerating at the same time.

He doesn’t have the sequential efficiency you see with most major league hitters, particularly if you zero in on the power guys. As a result, Tucker has to recognize the pitch very early in its flight to square it up without having much of a mechanism to adjust mid-swing, other than slowing his bat down or diving forward with his upper body to lengthen his path.

There also isn’t a ton of natural lift to his swing, though as his brother Preston can attest, a flat swing path can work if you have the strength to make balls carry on a lower trajectory. So, while I think his hit tool will end up being fine as he gets comfortable in the minor leagues, his power is dependent on one of two things: improving his swing plane (an uncommon and difficult assumption to make) or big raw strength gains.

The rest of his profile is decent but low impact. His arm is fringy for right field and his defense as a whole doesn’t work in center field. He has good instincts on the bases, and should be about an average runner even if he loses some foot speed as he matures. Overall he’s a good upside bet, but the floor is low enough that he will need to optimize his development time to justify his high regard.

Hit: 40/50/60 Power: 35/45/55+ Run: 50/45/50 Field: 45/50/50 Throw: 45/50/50
Overall: 30/45-50/60

10. JD Davis, 3B, VIDEO

Davis is relatively raw for a college draftee, with a year-and-a-half of professional at-bats under his belt, both in the field and at the plate. The potential is excellent, though: he possesses 65 raw power, plus arm strength and big, athletic frame. He will need to improve on both sides of the ball, however.

His swing is built on a foundation of strong legs and efficient hip drive that help him tap into his strength when he hits the ball. His upper body gets stiff early in his swing, leading to a one-piece move that fully commits his hands at the start. Despite that, he has a nice upward path built for fly balls, exactly what he needs to tap into his strength. Unfortunately, his contact rate and quality of contact are below-average to poor, and it’s unlikely he continues putting up .370 BABIPs like has so far in his minor league career.

Davis has some work to do to take his game into a starting role. His defense is fringy for third base despite his strong arm, and he may end up moving across the diamond as he matures. Strikeouts will be a part of his game, but the hope is that he can get on base and hit enough homers to make up for it. The total package falls a little short of a 50 overall grade with his contact being the biggest limiting factor, but his power alone gives him a path to big-league value.

Hit: 45/45+/50 Power: 50/60/65 Run: 40/35/40 Field: 45/50/50 Throw: 60/60/65
Overall: 40/45-50/55

11. Tony Kemp, 2B/OF, VIDEO

Kemp has something to offer in every category besides power. He profiles as at least a utility player that can man second or any of the outfield spots. His only limitation on defense is his arm strength, but he is a good athlete overall that makes the most of it. Kemp has plus running speed, but he may settle in as a 55 runner until he can improve his reads pick good spots to run.

His hit tool will have him pushing for a starting job, with excellent contact ability and a smooth line-drive stroke. An almost complete lack of lower-body usage in his swing leads to him having rare home run power, but he will rack up plenty of doubles and triples in the gaps. His chances of projecting as a starting player hinge on his walk rates continuing to play above average and his defense continuing to reflect his physical tools. The on-base rate may go down in the early going, but I think Kemp is enough of a player to see him get to plus or better average and on-base percentage.

Hit: 55/60/60+ Power: 30/35/35 Run: 60/55/60 Field: 50/50/55+ Throw: 45/45/45
Overall: 40/45-50/55

12. David Paulino, RHP, VIDEO

The Astros did well to gamble on Paulino’s recovery from elbow surgery, netting him as the second piece from the Tigers for Jose Veras, Danry Vasquez being the main return. He has a big fastball with good run that he commands fairly well, flanked by a curve that can flash plus at times. He has a changeup that is a below-average offering, giving him enough stuff to start if he can harness his secondary offerings.

I see him being a more likely relief option, though it’s fair to wonder if he has more development left in the tank after having thrown only 107.1 innings since signing in 2011. He doesn’t get a ton of use out of his lower half, and with a Tommy John adventure in his past, I have to think a bullpen role would be better for protecting his arm. If he can find more consistent release on his curve, he should have the weapons to work out of the rotation.

The extent of his feel leans heavily toward his fastball, so I’m not expecting a ton of gains elsewhere in his arsenal. The Astros love his frame, and see enough upside to keep him in the rotation until he gets more innings under his belt.

Fastball: 55/60/60 Curveball: 45/50/55 Changeup: 35/40/45 Command: 45/45+/50
Overall: 40/45/55

13. Miguelangel Sierra, SS, VIDEO

Sierra is Houston’s best international player who has yet to see full-season ball. Sources say he has more skills and feel for the game than tools, with his hit tool being the most pronounced. At the plate he shows an easy, quick bat with a solid line-drive swing path, and it might not be a stretch to see him add some power to his game as he fills out.

The Astros see him staying at shortstop long term even as he matures physically. He has had some contact issues in the early going, but also has demonstrated good plate discipline for his age that will help him get on base and hopefully reduce the strikeouts against better pitching.

Hit: 35/50/55+ Power: 30/35/40 Run: 55/50/55 Field: 55/55/55 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 35/45/55

14. Michael Feliz, RHP, VIDEO

Feliz made his big-league debut out of the Astros’ bullpen to close out the season in 2015, and showed some good and bad things for his future prospects. He runs his fastball in the low to mid-90s with decent rise and control, and throws two inconsistent complementary pitches, a slider and a changeup. Though he has shown some improvements with his command in the last year or two, it still has below-average potential, though he is able to throw all of his pitches for strikes.

Each of his three offerings is caught in a funny place. The fastball has good rise and thus some pop-up potential, but he doesn’t throw hard enough as a starter to consistently run it up in the zone without getting pulverized for it. His slider and changeup both have flashed plus according to some sources, but the difference between his best and worst of each is vast.

His delivery is much more balanced and athletic than a couple years ago, but it is not without issue. There is some increased reliance on his shoulder due to his hips being tilted forward as he lands his stride, leading to less force coming from his lower half. Not a major problem, particularly for someone with Feliz’ loose, easy arm speed, but enough for a pitcher who is on the fence as a starter versus reliever to project better in the bullpen for me. His control over command quality would be more suitable there, and his fastball and slider would benefit from being thrown at maximum effort without needing to conserve energy.

I’m not completely sold on Feliz needing to pitch out of the pen yet. Small command gains or improvement to his slider or changeup take him out of possible number-five-starter territory and push him closer to the middle of a big-league rotation. For now though, my bet is he ends up in the late-ish inning bullpen crew.

Fastball: 55/55/60 Slider: 45/50/55 Changeup: 40/45/45 Command: 40/45/45+
Overall: 40/45/50-55

15. Riley Ferrell, RHP, VIDEO

Ferrell is a hard-throwing 2015 draftee out of Texas Christian University. He throws into the mid-90s with a great, downward biting slider and a decent changeup. His arsenal is good enough that the Astros believe he could be in the rotation, but he’s likely staying in the pen. He was hampered by a mild abdominal issue and missed some time, which may have had something to do with the high walk totals in his debut. The Astros aren’t concerned, with sources saying he was around the zone regularly. He has big-league stuff and could move very quickly through the minors, but even in the bullpen he will need to harness his command to reach his ceiling as a late-inning reliever.

Fastball: 55/60/65 Slider: 55/55/60 Changeup: 40/50/45 Command: 40/45/45
Overall: 40/45/50-55

16. Jon Kemmer, OF, VIDEO

After getting the Lancaster treatment to end 2014, Kemmer went to the Texas League in 2015. Instead of his offensive numbers coming back to earth in the more pitcher-friendly run environment, he decided to continue right where he left and rake against Double-A pitching, too. He has a little bit too much length to his swing, but shows the easy lift that backs up his breakout numbers.

An Astros source attested to his exceptional work ethic, and with the ability to play both corner spots and first base, they believe he is a solid bench bat with upside. He’ll have to prove last year wasn’t a fluke, but there’s some interesting potential here if he has really figured some things out.

Hit: 50/55/55+ Power: 45/45/50+ Run: 45/45/45 Field: 45/45/45 Throw: 45/45/45
Overall: 40/45/50-55

17. Teoscar Hernandez, OF, VIDEO

Hernandez isn’t far away from being a five-tool outfielder, with pitch recognition and plate discipline representing the only areas of improvement needed to get him there. Granted, those are very difficult skills to improve, especially as you face continuously better competition climbing the minor league ladder. He managed to cut his strikeouts in Double-A last season. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of his quality of contact, a tradeoff that was too much to put up decent numbers.

He will most likely find a happy medium between the two to keep his strikeouts somewhat in check while maintaining his ability to drive the ball. However, that puts him more in the platoon/below-average starter range, especially with his defense being fringy for full-time center-field duty.

Hit: 40/45/45 Power: 40/45/50 Run: 60/60/60 Field: 50/50/55 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 40/45/50

18. Brady Rodgers, RHP, VIDEO

Rodgers doesn’t have big stuff, but is a safe bet for a fifth-starter job, perhaps as soon as this season. Everything in his repertoire is around average, with his fastball working 88-93. He has very good command, which one Astros source emphasized was even better than his walks indicated — an impressive statement given his minuscule 25 walks in 115.2 Triple-A innings last season.

Rodgers is the kind of pitcher who doesn’t excite anybody as a minor leaguer, but could also end up well outperforming his tools with pitchability. I don’t think he has enough movement or deception to blow his tool projection out of the water, but there is some light upside here with a high floor.

Fastball: 50/50/50 Slider: 45/50/50 Curveball: 45/45/50 Changeup: 45/45/45 Command: 55/55/60
Overall: 40/45/50

40+ FV Prospects

19. Andrew Aplin, OF, VIDEO

Aplin is a smart ballplayer who a team source called an old-style Moneyball guy. He has a good eye for the zone and works counts while taking big swings for his smallish 5-foot-10 frame. He has the defensive chops to be more than a capable center fielder, making him an excellent candidate for a fourth-outfielder role if his bat doesn’t fully translate to the big leagues.

While one Astros official pegged his power in the 40-45 range, a choppy swing path and little torque have me settling on no greater than 35 power. Regardless, his contact and on-base skills have continued to be weapons against upper-minors pitching, and if any of his tools take a small step forward he will be a starting outfielder.

Hit: 45/50/55 Power: 30/30/35 Run: 55/55/60 Field: 55/55/60 Throw: 50/50/50
Overall: 40/40-45/55

20. Akeem Bostick, RHP, VIDEO

Bostick threw a ton of strikes in A-Ball before struggling a bit in High-A. At times he showed flashes of excellent stuff and command that would profile easily in a big-league rotation. He can look a little robotic on the mound at times, though he has a much smoother delivery than a year or two ago. All of his pitches would benefit from more physical maturation, with each showing the potential to be average or better pitches but lacking the man strength to make them effective against high-level hitters. Despite finishing in High-A last season, he is still a bit young projection-wise, and his development still could take one of many different routes.

Fastball: 50/55/55 Slider: 40/45/50+ Changeup: 40/45/50 Command: 40/45/50
Overall: 40/40-45/50

21. Reymin Guduan, LHP, VIDEO

Guduan made the switch to the bullpen full time in 2015, and it suits his kit well. He is armed with an upper-90s fastball and a hard slider, but the strike zone is not his friend every outing. If he can find some consistent control or even command of his stuff, he’s a late-innings lefty reliever. He has an athletic arm action, but his whole delivery is a bit stiff and he shows obvious lack of feel for where th ball is going. For now, he’s a middle reliever at best, but the potential is immense if he can put some things together to dominate an inning at a time.

Fastball: 55/60/70 Slider: 40/45/55 Command: 35/40/40+
Overall: 35/40/50

22. Nolan Fontana, IF, VIDEO

Fontana is a perfect utility player in the making. He makes contact at a good rate and controls the strike zone very well. He has enough speed not to hurt you on the bases, and his defense is good enough to man short on a backup basis. He fits better at second or third if he is able to get on base at as often as in the minors, which would make him starter material.

Hit: 45/50/55 Power: 40/40/40 Run: 45/45/45 Field: 50/50/50 Throw: 50/50/50
Overall: 40/40/45-50

23. Chris Devenski, RHP, VIDEO

Devenski was a position player late into his amateur career. Drafted by the White Sox, he joined the Astros in the Brett Myers trade in 2012. He really pitched well in Double-A as a starter with a track record of decent success. The Astros like him most in the bullpen where his competitiveness and strike-throwing profile best. He’s a fairly safe bet to be a swing man in the future despite middling stuff, with an above-average changeup that helps to get hitters off their timing. He has a very outside chance of working into a number-five starter role, but the rest of his arsenal likely won’t give him enough to work with going through a lineup multiple times.

Fastball: 45/45/45 Curveball: 40/45/45 Changeup: 50/55/55+ Command: 50/50/55
Overall: 40/40/45

24. Danry Vasquez, OF, VIDEO

Vasquez has a big frame that the Astros still believe may grow into some power in the future, but it hasn’t materialized yet. He is a natural when it comes to putting the bat on the ball, but with a left field-only defensive skill set, he’s going to need his bat to really develop to be more than a fringe big leaguer. He has too much of a downward path and not enough strength to project better than 40 power, so now we’re talking about all of his value being tied to his hit tool, which isn’t at the level to carry the rest of his profile. He could be a decent pinch hitter type for an NL team.

Hit: 45/50/55-60 Power: 30/35/40 Run: 40/40/40 Field: 40/40/40 Throw: 40/40/40
Overall: 35/40/45

Quick Hits

SS Jonathan Arauz (VIDEO) came over in the Ken Giles trade. He has some contact ability and a quick bat and a chance to stick at short. OF Jason Martin (VIDEO) is a likely left fielder with a compact line-drive stroke who started to show some home run power in 2015. 3B/1B Matt Duffy (VIDEO) made his big-league debut in 2015. He has big raw power and decent contact ability, but his advanced age and lack of a viable defensive home may be too much for his hitting to overcome. C Tyler Heineman (VIDEO) has a solid contact/average approach at the plate with the tools to handle duties behind the plate at a reasonable level. He might get a chance to be a big-league backup.

RHP Jandel Gustave has upper-90s heat and was added to the 40-man roster this offseason, but his secondary stuff, command and mechanics all need work to carve out a role. RHP Albert Abreu showed solid strikeout potential in his first stateside pitching experience, and has a projectable frame and quick arm. Already topping out at 96 with a developing curve and change, he’s a name to watch as he transitions into full-season ball this year or next. LHP Patrick Sandoval (VIDEO ) was an above-slot signing out of the 11th round last year who doesn’t have overpowering stuff or command but is a projectable athlete.

Cistulli’s Guy
Edison Frias, RHP

The right-handed Frias received a sufficiently modest bonus such that reports of it remain wholly absent from the internet. Whatever Houston’s initial investment, the returns appear to be significant already: Frias surpassed the 100-inning threshold for the first time as a professional in 2015, recording strikeout and walk rates of 23.5% and 6.7%, respectively, across 26 appearances (20 starts) at High- and Double-A. At 24, he skewed old for the levels; however, his success doesn’t appear to be the product merely of a polished, more experienced pitcher exploiting younger competition: Frias has both real arm speed (sitting mostly at 93-94 mph with his fastball) and two legitimate secondary pitches.

The video below — excerpted from a late-season start — illustrates some of Frias’s strengths. In the same at-bat, he exhibits (a) a first-pitch curveball for an easy called strike, (b) a fastball at 95 mph, and finally (c) a curveball with greater depth for a swinging strike three.

Dan is Fangraphs Lead Prospect Analyst, living in New York City. He played baseball for four years at Franklin & Marshall College before attending medical school. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @DWFarnsworth.

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Trey Baughn
8 years ago

Another tremendous piece of prospect work. Thanks Dan.

On the White profile, I did not quite follow this sentence: “Though his power is more of the doubles variety, he has an above-average power ceiling with the potential for low single-digit homer totals and a bunch of two-baggers.”

I don’t follow how an above average power ceiling translates to just single digit HR totals?

8 years ago
Reply to  Trey Baughn

I am assuming he means low DOUBLE-digit homer totals, otherwise there is no way his power could be above average. Honestly, I don’t see how his POTENTIAL is for only low DOUBLE-digit HR’s. He has the potential for 25 or so. Maybe 10-15 is the most likely outcome, but he has potential for more. Glad he recognized that White’s great hitting ability makes him a very valuable prospect despite a bad defensive profile, though!

I have read that he is working hard to make himself better defensively, and maximize his body and athleticism (which may not be saying that much)