Houston Astros Top 38 Prospects

D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the Houston Astros. Scouting reports were compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as our own observations. This is the third year we’re delineating between two anticipated relief roles, the abbreviations for which you’ll see in the “position” column below: MIRP for multi-inning relief pitchers, and SIRP for single-inning relief pitchers. The ETAs listed generally correspond to the year a player has to be added to the 40-man roster to avoid being made eligible for the Rule 5 draft. Manual adjustments are made where they seem appropriate, but we use that as a rule of thumb.

A quick overview of what FV (Future Value) means can be found here. A much deeper overview can be found here.

All of the ranked prospects below also appear on The Board, a resource the site offers featuring sortable scouting information for every organization. It has more details (and updated TrackMan data from various sources) than this article and integrates every team’s list so readers can compare prospects across farm systems. It can be found here.

Astros Top Prospects
Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV
1 Hunter Brown 24.8 MLB SP 2023 55
2 Yainer Diaz 24.7 MLB C 2023 50
3 Drew Gilbert 22.7 AA CF 2024 50
4 Korey Lee 24.9 MLB C 2023 50
5 Ryan Clifford 19.9 A+ RF 2026 45
6 Luis Baez 19.4 R RF 2027 40+
7 Camilo Diaz 17.8 R 3B 2029 40+
8 Joey Loperfido 24.1 AA CF 2025 40+
9 Trey Dombroski 22.2 A SP 2025 40+
10 Kenedy Corona 23.2 AA CF 2024 40+
11 Alberto Hernandez 18.8 R SS 2027 40+
12 J.P. France 28.2 MLB SP 2023 40
13 Jacob Melton 22.8 A+ CF 2027 40
14 Kenni Gomez 18.1 R CF 2027 40
15 Colton Gordon 24.5 AA SP 2025 40
16 Spencer Arrighetti 23.4 AA SIRP 2025 40
17 Michael Knorr 23.1 A+ SP 2026 40
18 Corey Julks 27.3 MLB RF 2023 40
19 Colin Barber 22.5 AA RF 2025 40
20 Esmil Valencia 17.6 R LF 2029 40
21 Grae Kessinger 25.8 MLB SS 2023 40
22 Pedro León 25.0 AAA CF 2024 40
23 César Salazar 27.2 MLB C 2023 40
24 Forrest Whitley 25.7 AAA MIRP 2024 40
25 Julio Robaina 22.2 AA SP 2024 35+
26 Jose Fleury 21.3 A SP 2026 35+
27 Andrew Taylor 21.7 A MIRP 2026 35+
28 Miguel Palma 21.4 A+ C 2025 35+
29 Will Wagner 24.9 AA 3B 2025 35+
30 Ronel Blanco 29.8 MLB SIRP 2023 35+
31 Justin Dirden 25.9 AAA RF 2024 35+
32 Nolan DeVos 22.8 A SIRP 2026 35+
33 Zach Dezenzo 23.1 AA 1B 2025 35+
34 Zach Daniels 24.4 AA RF 2024 35+
35 Alimber Santa 20.1 A SIRP 2025 35+
36 Joe Perez 23.8 MLB 3B 2024 35+
37 Misael Tamarez 23.4 AAA MIRP 2024 35+
38 Jairo Solis 23.5 AAA SIRP 2023 35+
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55 FV Prospects

Drafted: 5th Round, 2019 from Wayne State (HOU)
Age 24.8 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 212 Bat / Thr R / R FV 55
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
60/60 60/60 70/70 40/45 40/50 94-96 / 100

This is how Brown was graded during the offseason. He has now thrown enough innings to graduate and, as Grayson Rodriguez and Brandon Pfaadt have struggled, you can make a pretty good case (at this stage anyway) that Brown should have been the second-ranked pitching prospect in baseball this offseason after Eury Pérez. Brown’s fastball control has progressed substantially since last year (hell, just since spring training), enough that no matter how healthy the other Houston starters are come playoff time, this guy isn’t getting squeezed out of their playoff rotation if the Astros make it.

Here is his original report: Brown is the Mewtwo of pitchers, engineered as a facsimile of another powerful entity using science and technology. Drafted out of Wayne State, a Division-II school in Michigan, Brown’s arm strength and velocity have been sculpted to replicate the power-pitching formula in Houston. Readers have probably seen the side-by-side mechanical comparisons of Brown and Justin Verlander, and took notice of Brown’s overpowering stuff during his brief 2022 big league debut. Brown’s stuff was already good at Wayne, and it leveled up pretty quickly after he signed, but it was the strike throwing that took a step forward in 2022 and led to his September call-up. He’s remained at the big league level ever since, and has maintained his ability to throw strikes consistently, improving on both his walk and strikeout rates. Make no mistake, Brown does not suddenly have Verlander’s command. In fact, his fastball locations are still pretty scattered and his delivery remains quite violent. But Brown’s fastball has the sort of action that gives pitchers margin for error in the strike zone, and his stuff is so nasty that he can be imprecise and still beat hitters. Combine that with your standard issue Astros breaking ball complement (a hard, 90-mph cutter/slider and a slower knuckle curveball) and you very likely have an impact big league arm, if a somewhat inefficient one.

50 FV Prospects

2. Yainer Diaz, C

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Dominican Republic (CLE)
Age 24.7 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 225 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
55/55 55/55 40/50 20/20 40/45 60

Traded from Cleveland along with Phil Maton for Myles Straw, Diaz slugged his way from Corpus Christi to Sugar Land in 2022, and is now the best hitting catcher on Houston’s 40-man roster. He began the 2023 season on the big league roster after making his debut last September, and has been the team’s backup catcher and occasional 1B/DH. While he hasn’t accumulated enough at-bats to graduate from rookie status, he has accumulated enough active days on the roster. There’s no change to Diaz’s scouting report from the offseason — things are tracking as expected here and he projects as a primary catcher.

Here’s the text of his original report: Diaz has plus, all-fields power and covers the outer third of the plate especially well. Even while being a relatively free swinger, he’s only struck out at a 15-17% clip since entering full-season ball and has a rare hit/power combination for a catcher, though he has been a little bit older for each level. A stiff, upright hitter, Diaz might have some issues with fastballs running in on his hands at the big league level, as he tended to be late on the ones he saw at Double- and Triple-A, driving them almost exclusively to the opposite field. He’s only been able to pull breaking balls that don’t quite finish. It’s part of why he’s projected with a below-average hit tool here even though he’s performed at an above-average clip in the minors.

Diaz is a viable defensive backstop, but he hasn’t ever had to deal with the grind of a full season back there, peaking at 51 starts at catcher in 2021. He has also seen a lot of time at first base and, more recently, a little bit in the outfield corners. He receives on one knee with the bases empty before utilizing a traditional crouch with runners on, and he’s an acceptable receiver and ball-blocker with a plus arm that plays down due to a slow exchange. Because he’s a bit stiff, it’s possible the grind of a full-season will impact his defensive mobility and even his offense if he has to catch 80-plus games. With Martín Maldonado and Korey Lee around, Diaz will be able to ease into the everyday waters and start some games at 1B/DH to get his bat in the lineup. Big-bodied catchers with potent bats, like Travis d’Arnaud, Tyler Flowers and Diaz, are the sorts who tend to take a leap later in their 20s, which is the expectation here.

3. Drew Gilbert, CF

Drafted: 1st Round, 2022 from Tennessee (HOU)
Age 22.7 Height 5′ 9″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr L / L FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
45/50 50/55 40/50 60/60 45/50 60

Before the 2022 draft, Gilbert was written up here as a top-of-the-order catalyst, a potential 6 bat with 6 speed and table-setting skills, but 4 power. So far in pro ball, Gilbert is performing more like a do-everything player with a balanced hit and power skill set, and he moves into the Top 100 with this update. He’s gotten stronger since signing (he was already yoked) and takes a mighty rip for a 5-foot-9 guy, and while Gilbert shows some hitterish characteristics, he is less of a bat control master than just a twitchy, short-levered player who is tough to beat because of how concise his swing is. His barrel is in the zone for a long time and he tends to find a way to put the ball in play, using his strength to spray balls past infielders. He’s making roughly an average rate of contact so far in 2023 but is also hitting the ball harder than expected. When Gilbert collapses his back side and leans on one, he’ll show you big pull-side lift, and he does most of his extra-base damage by yanking doubles down the right field line.

A plus runner, Gilbert can really go get it in center field and has a great arm. His hands and ball skills aren’t the best, and there are some scouts who think he’ll be plus in a corner rather than stick in center. Gilbert plays with an edge, the kind of guy you love to have on your team but hate to play against, with his on-field persona toeing the line between “fiery” and “excessively abrasive.” He’s a spicy heel with the ability to be a well-rounded regular, and he’s already reached Corpus Christi in his first full season.

4. Korey Lee, C

Drafted: 1st Round, 2019 from Cal (HOU)
Age 24.9 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/30 55/55 30/45 50/50 45/55 70

Here we have a situation where there’s perhaps a difference between scouting Lee in a vacuum versus predicting how his career will pan out. A fine receiver and ball-blocker with a plus-plus arm, Lee just has to get to enough of his above-average raw power in games to profile as a primary catcher. Yainer Diaz’s hit tool will likely make him a much more stable and consistent offensive player than Lee, and it’s tough not to want a catching bat like that in your lineup as often as possible. So while he’ll likely get into the lineup more often than a typical backup catcher while Diaz has a day off or takes a rep at 1B/DH, Lee’s immediate future is probably in a luxury reserve role.

At Triple-A once more to start 2023, Lee is making more contact than in 2022 but hasn’t been hitting for as much power. He hit 25 bombs in 2022 and is still hitting the ball really hard so far in 2023, even if it isn’t showing up in his surface stats. We’re chalking the improved contact up to Lee repeating the level and the weird downtick in surface-level power to a small-sample blip. He’ll be someone’s everyday catcher at some point and profiles similar to Austin Hedges, though hopefully with a more sustained peak.

45 FV Prospects

5. Ryan Clifford, RF

Drafted: 11th Round, 2022 from Pro5 Baseball Academy (NC) (HOU)
Age 19.9 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr L / L FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/40 60/65 35/60 40/30 30/50 60

Clifford was ranked 57th on our 2022 draft board as an advanced, big-framed LF/1B prospect who looked very athletic in the batter’s box and not so much on defense. It took about $1.25 million to keep him from heading to Vanderbilt, and after he struggled with whiffs in his post-draft summer, he lit Low-A on fire to start 2023. Some of Clifford’s TrackMan data from the early portion of the season was so absurd that he merited consideration as a possible Top 100 prospect. His high-end exit velos were near the top of the scale and his contact rates were suddenly above-average.

Hold your horses, though. Since Clifford has been promoted, his strikeout rates have spiked. His visual evaluation as a hitter is one of passivity and a bottom-hand dominant swing that tends to be underneath fastballs in the upper half of the zone. His bat speed and physicality are for real, though, and Clifford shows the ability to move the barrel around the bottom two thirds of the zone, and he cuts his stride with two strikes. He’s a good rotational athlete whose move forward is balanced but explosive. Clifford already has plus power and, even though it looks like the cement is mostly dry on his body, he could end up with 70-grade pop through sheer physical maturity. Because he exists near the bottom of the defensive spectrum (he’s playing first base and both outfield corners) and we still have apprehension around his hit tool, we aren’t running Clifford all the way up into the Top 100, but the amount of power he has is notable and dictates a one-grade bump in his current FV. He projects as the strong side of a right field platoon.

40+ FV Prospects

6. Luis Baez, RF

Signed: International Signing Period, 2022 from Dominican Republic (HOU)
Age 19.4 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/45 50/60 25/60 40/40 30/50 55

Baez was one of Houston’s top 2022 international signees and hit for huge power in that year’s DSL, especially when you dig into the TrackMan data. Baez had an absurd 52% hard-hit rate in the D.R. last summer, and even though some of that can be explained away by his mature physicality relative to most DSL players, he’s continued to impress scouts throughout 2023 extended spring training in West Palm. Baez is very physical, wielding comfortably plus bat speed with minimal effort. He is more wide and broad-shouldered than he is tall, but there’s still physical projection here and Baez should be extremely strong at peak considering how good Houston’s strength and conditioning program seems to be (at least based on how many of the hitters in their system look). He has a chance to grow into titanic power that would make Baez an impact player, even in a corner outfield spot, so long as he hits enough. And on that end, we start to have some question marks, but not yet any red flags. Baez was a little bit chase and whiff prone in 2022 but not so bad that his profile is on thin ice. There’s big ceiling here, but still risk associated with the bat and approach that we’ll learn more about as he accumulates stats on the complex during the summer.

7. Camilo Diaz, 3B

Signed: International Signing Period, 2023 from Dominican Republic (HOU)
Age 17.8 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/40 45/60 25/55 50/45 30/45 70

Originally rumored to be headed to Texas for $3 million, things changed course (likely due to decisions Texas made to divert to Sebastian Walcott) and Diaz, our 14th ranked prospect in the 2023 international class, ended up signing with Houston for $2.25 million. Looking for elite bat speed? Diaz comes close, with his hips and torso turning like the head of an owl in the blink of an eye. While Diaz rotates as fast as anyone in his class, he does so with some mechanical flaws and shortcuts that make his hit tool feel flimsy. Scouts who combine this with a third base projection tend to be lower on him, but if Diaz can refine his barrel feel without sacrificing bat speed, it won’t matter where he ends up playing defense. He worked out in the Dominican Republic during the spring and is starting his career in the DSL.

Drafted: 7th Round, 2021 from Duke (HOU)
Age 24.1 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/40 55/60 40/50 50/50 40/45 40

Camden County’s own Mario Joseph Loperfido was one of my favorite 2021 senior signs, but I didn’t expect he’d be among the minor league hard-hit rate leaders in his second full season. Loperfido is crushing the ball at Double-A right now and playing multiple positions, including center field and second base. Houston has tried all kinds of guys at the keystone before (‘member when J.J. Matijevic was announced as a second baseman during the draft?), but Loperfido had a little bit of amateur experience there. His throws appear tentative right now, but he’s athletic and rangy, and the Astros should let him play second a while longer to see if he can become passable. The 2024 season is his 40-man evaluation year, so they have at least that long to find out.

Loperfido is fine in center field (where he mostly played later in college) and at first base (where he played a lot as a freshman and on Cape Cod), and could be a plus defender at first because of his size and mobility. And as I said, Loperfido’s hard-hit rate is sky high, north of 50% as of list publication. Still, there is room for improvement here. He’s a bit passive at the plate, his swing isn’t actualized to get to all that power in games yet, and he’ll probably always post a higher-than-average K%. But if Loperfido can get to his power and play center field part-time, he’s going to be a high-use role player. We want to take the long view on lefty power hitters built like this and think there’s a chance Loperfido is a meaningful piece.

Drafted: 4th Round, 2022 from Monmouth (HOU)
Age 22.2 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 235 Bat / Thr R / L FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
40/45 45/50 55/55 50/55 35/55 88-91 / 93

Dombroski received Most Outstanding Pitcher honors on the Cape in 2021, where he issued 45 strikeouts and just two walks in 31.2 innings. He carried that strike-throwing tendency into his senior year at Monmouth, where he fanned 120 in 95 innings against 14 free passes, earning him a fourth-round selection in the 2022 amateur draft. He so far boasts a strikeout rate above 30% as a professional, utilizing a simple, mechanically smooth delivery and relying heavily on his ability to hit his spots with all four of his pitches.

Dombrowski’s fastball tops out in the 91-93 mph range, and he’s comfortable throwing it in all parts of the strike zone. He features a slider with late movement along with a curveball that has more depth, and a changeup that he has improved his feel for as he’s increased its usage in pro ball. While none of those pitches is particularly stellar out of context, his control over his arsenal makes for much greater playability throughout. He’s missing bats with the changeup and breaking balls, and we think the delivery portends above-average fastball command. It’s a backend starter’s foundation with a chance to really blow up if the Astros can find a way to help Dombroski throw harder.

10. Kenedy Corona, CF

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2018 from Venezuela (NYM)
Age 23.2 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 184 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/40 45/45 30/40 60/60 60/60 60

Corona is a great athlete who can really go get it in center field. It’s a carrying tool that will enable him to play a modern fifth outfielder role. Like a lot of players in this system, he is in pull-only mode. He covers the outer third of the plate pretty well and will punish hanging breakers, but Corona is a little chase prone and gets worked up around his hands. He’ll likely end up with a 40 bat and 40 power, but his other tools will play in a modest but important role.

Signed: International Signing Period, 2022 from Cuba (HOU)
Age 18.8 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
25/55 40/50 20/45 50/50 40/50 50

Hernandez has a bat-to-ball and infield fit foundation and has begun to layer on pro athlete strength in the weight room. He didn’t have a huge 2022 DSL (.235/.332/.349, a 90 wRC+), but he did make a lot of contact (14% K%) and he’s shown plus bat speed this spring. His barrel accuracy has looked a little short of what you might expect given his statistical performance in 2022 but this is based on a brief extended spring training look. Hernandez is a 2023 FCL breakout candidate if the change in physique pays on-field dividends.

40 FV Prospects

12. J.P. France, SP

Drafted: 14th Round, 2018 from Mississippi State (HOU)
Age 28.2 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 216 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops
50/50 50/50 50/50 40/40 50/50 45/45 92-95 / 97

France looked like a five-pitch backend or spot starter for most of his minor league career, but he’s had a little velo spike in 2023 (going from averaging 92.5 to 94 mph) and now looks like a sure bet to stick in a big league rotation. France attacks with a heavy dose of four-seamers and cutters, with the former riding above the zone while the latter has late action to his glove side. The cadence of France’s delivery tends to catch hitters by surprise, as it is complete almost as soon as it starts, causing his fastball to jump on hitters on first look. The natural cut action on the heater keeps it off barrels and helps France garner a weirdly high groundball rate for a guy with an uphill fastball. His breaking ball shapes run the gamut, with the cutter, slider, and curveball all working with different shape, depth, and velocity. The mid-70s curveball breaks almost straight down, while the slider is between it and the cutter. An inconsistently located changeup rounds out the whole repertoire, which has enabled France to punch out more than a batter per inning for basically his entire career. He’s a plug-and-play fifth starter.

13. Jacob Melton, CF

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2022 from Oregon St (HOU)
Age 22.8 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 208 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/40 55/55 30/45 60/60 40/45 40

Even though he hit .364/.428/.660 throughout his career at Oregon State, Melton was one of the toolsy, enigmatic college outfielders in the 2022 draft whose swing made scouts worried about whether or not they’d actually hit in pro ball. Here at FanGraphs, we took the under and had a late-second/early-third round grade on him. Melton is tooled-up, but his stiff, weird swing created some swing-and-miss issues exacerbated by his propensity to chase breaking balls. There have been some changes in pro ball, not so much to Melton’s mechanics as to his body. His lower half is much stronger now, and Melton looks more athletic in the box than he did when he was in school, but he’s still whiffing a ton against gut-high fastballs. He has pole-to-pole power when he gets a hold of one, and Melton’s rare power/speed combo is certainly enticing from a scouting standpoint. While Melton can really run, at times laying down plus-plus times, he isn’t the most sound center field defender. If he can’t play there, then his arm will limit him to left field. He’s definitely a prospect, but a slow-burning, high-variance one.

14. Kenni Gomez, CF

Signed: International Signing Period, 2022 from Cuba (HOU)
Age 18.1 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/40 45/55 20/45 60/60 40/50 50

The Astros frequently draw from Cuba’s baseball well, with Gomez a $775,000 signee from there in 2022. He’s a buff lefty hitter with a short, uppercut swing. He runs well enough to play center field, and Gomez is pretty likely to stay there because he’s a compact guy unlikely to add a ton of muscle and slow down. Gomez is already really strong for a player his age and is likely to get to in-game power because of his swing’s lift. He struck out a fair bit in the 2022 DSL and it’s important to see how his contact skills translate to the FCL before running him up into an impact FV tier.

15. Colton Gordon, SP

Drafted: 8th Round, 2021 from Central Florida (HOU)
Age 24.5 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 225 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
40/40 50/55 45/45 40/45 50/60 88-92 / 93

Gordon kicked back from Florida to Hillsborough Community College (FL) before bumping back to Division-I ball with Central Florida. He made four starts there before the 2020 shutdown, then his 2021 season for the Knights was cut short by Tommy John. The Astros used a Day Two pick on him in 2021 anyway, and hustled Gordon up the minor league ladder when he was finally back from his TJ rehab in June of 2022. He was assigned straight to Double-A Corpus Christi in 2023. While his smoke and mirrors deception hasn’t played quite as well as it did against A-ball bats, Gordon is still throwing a starter’s level of strikes and showing stuff commensurate with a backend starter, and as he’s barely pitched for the last several years, he might yet get better. Gordon’s low slot is a nightmare for lefty batters. He can land his slider in the zone or bury it for a chase, and even with just these two pitches, Gordon could probably be a lefty specialist reliever. Arm-side changeup command and the ability to change speeds with a second breaking ball give him a solid backend starter’s mix. On the one hand, the Astros are good at developing pitching and Gordon has missed a lot of time. But Gordon also isn’t the sort of athlete we normally project long-term growth for. We have a low-variance 40 on him.

16. Spencer Arrighetti, SIRP

Drafted: 6th Round, 2021 from UL-Lafayette (HOU)
Age 23.4 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 186 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/55 55/60 50/50 30/40 30/40 93-94 / 96

Arrighetti had a nomadic amateur career, going from TCU to Navarro Junior College (TX) before finishing up at Louisiana. His velocity grew throughout the 2021 season, a trend that continued through 2022, as Arrighetti was throwing four ticks harder than he did in college. That has sustained (but plateaued) in 2023, and Arrighetti is once again sitting 93-94 mph with riding life created by his whippy, three-quarters arm action. He has the vertical fastball/breaking ball attack that is typical of this system, and the relief risk, too. The quality of his fastball strikes is pretty reliever-y and his delivery does feature quite a bit of effort (Connor Brogdon is a good delivery comp), so we’re more on Arrighetti as an eventual reliever than a four-pitch starter even though his walk rates are pretty solid. An encouraging development in 2023 is that Arrighetti is still throwing pretty hard even though the piggyback starter leash has mostly been taken off of him; he’s more consistently working five innings or more. It makes sense to continue developing him as a starter for at least the next two seasons just to see if things click.

17. Michael Knorr, SP

Drafted: 3rd Round, 2022 from Coastal Carolina (HOU)
Age 23.1 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 245 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
50/55 45/50 40/45 45/55 35/55 92-95 / 97

Knorr transferred from Fullerton to Coastal prior to his senior year, had a velocity spike, and suddenly looked like one of the college prospects with the best chance to pitch in a big league rotation thanks to his combination of repertoire depth and newfound arm strength. He was ranked 80th on the 2022 draft board and went right around that area, going to Houston in the third round. Knorr’s curveball depth will play nicely with his riding fastball and his glove-side command of a curt little slider will help that pitch to play, but none of his pitches are especially nasty. Knorr is likely to end up in the fifth starter mix down the line, with more of a no. 4/5 look if his slider quality improves under the Houston dev program.

18. Corey Julks, RF

Drafted: 8th Round, 2017 from Houston (HOU)
Age 27.3 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
40/40 55/55 45/50 50/50 40/40 60

Houston really let Julks air out at High-A through about 150 games combined in 2018 and 2019, so when played resumed in 2021, he was an old-for-the-level guy at Double-A who had an over-the-fence power breakout, nearly doubling his career home run total by yanking out 14 bombs. Julks followed that up with a 31-homer campaign with Triple-A Sugar Land in 2022, but his .270/.351/.503 line was only good for a 108 wRC+ in the hitter-friendly PCL. He played his way onto the big league roster during the spring of 2023, and even though the Astros’ right-handed redundancy makes his presence there tenuous, Julks should get to enough power to play a small, short-side platoon role in an outfield corner throughout his career.

His swing is geared to pull in the extreme, and Julks is great at snatching inner third fastballs even though his leg kick is big and elaborate. He’s going to pepper the Crawford Boxes with lots of hard contact — so many of his 2022 homers were tucked into the left field corner. As you might guess because he’s so pull-heavy, Julks tends to swing inside a lot of sliders. He has the athletic ability to bend at the waist, dive to the outer part of the plate and power the ball the other way, but it’s rare for him to stay on sliders long enough to do that. You’ll see oppo pop more often on middle-away fastballs. Though not an especially good defender, Julks has a strong arm. He’s a nice complement to a lefty-hitting platoon partner of some kind, but the Astros don’t really have that on their active roster.

19. Colin Barber, RF

Drafted: 4th Round, 2019 from Pleasant Valley HS (CA) (HOU)
Age 22.5 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 194 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
45/55 45/50 30/40 50/50 40/50 40

We didn’t expect Barber would be here either at the onset of our process, but now that he has a maxed-out corner-only look, this is the role we expect he’ll play. He has above-average feel for contact but isn’t bringing the power typical of a 45-FV or better corner bat. His hit tool is good, but it’s not so special that it will carry him on its own. Still, lefty sticks who hit tend to play. It might take him sliding into a role with a lesser team to get a full-time opportunity, perhaps progressing in a way that mimics Jake Fraley.

20. Esmil Valencia, LF

Signed: International Signing Period, 2023 from Dominican Republic (HOU)
Age 17.6 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
25/60 40/50 20/50 45/45 30/50 40

Valencia was our 25th-ranked international amateur prospect in 2023 and signed with Houston for just shy of $900,000. He’s going to have to rake since it appears his best defensive fit is in left field, but Valencia’s lovely swing might enable that. He is short to the ball, track pitches very well, moves the barrel all over the zone, and is strong enough to do damage. Simply one of the most polished hitters in the class, Valencia’s pro career is just underway in the DSL.

21. Grae Kessinger, SS

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2019 from Ole Miss (HOU)
Age 25.8 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 204 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
45/50 45/45 30/35 50/50 50/50 55

Kessinger was a classic low-variance SEC utility guy with elite baseball instincts and makeup who started the year at Triple-A and made his major league debut just prior to list publication. After two down offensive years with Corpus Christi, Kessinger is again doing enough on both sides of the ball to play a low-end infield utility role. He isn’t explosive or rangy on defense, but his hands and feel for the position are plus, especially his arm accuracy, which shines from all kinds of weird throwing platforms. This season, Kessinger is again playing all four infield positions. He’s not ideal at short because he lacks range, but he can play there in a pinch because of his feel. Kessinger’s approach on offense is about plate coverage and pull-side contact. He keeps things super simple to stay on time and tries to rip contact through the 5/6 hole. Almost all his extra-base damage is done by hooking balls into the left field corner. He’s a 1-WAR bench infielder type.

22. Pedro León, CF

Signed: International Signing Period, 2021 from Cuba (HOU)
Age 25.0 Height 5′ 9″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/30 55/55 40/45 55/55 40/45 60

León was a fun, late-market Cuban prospect who homered 15 times in 30 games during the 18-19 Cuban National Series before an oblique injury shelved him. After he defected, further injury issues delayed his stateside workout, and when it was finally held, teams got a text on the way there saying that Leon had a deal with Houston already done. The Astros sent him straight to Double-A in 2021, where León hit .249/.359/.443 in a season shortened by a thumb injury. He has now spent parts of the last several seasons at Triple-A, showing a pull-heavy, power-over-hit offensive skill set while sliding down the defensive spectrum a little bit.

León’s approach has one note: He’s trying to pull everything as hard as he can. His contact quality is very mixed because of this, though when he does run into one, it’s very impressive. León isn’t playing shortstop anymore and he’s a below-average second baseman, while being about average in center field. Playing those positions and having as much power as León does ordinarly allows for a robust up-the-middle role. In León’s case, it’s probably one more of the 40-grade, situational variety, where we expect he’ll produce like Rodolfo Castro on offense. Because León’s 40-man evaluation year isn’t until 2024, he has time to perhaps get experience in both outfield corners and become more versatile. He also has nearly another season and a half of acting as viable upper-level depth without occupying a 40-man roster spot.

Drafted: 7th Round, 2018 from Arizona (HOU)
Age 27.2 Height 5′ 9″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
50/50 30/30 30/30 30/30 55/55 60

Salazar was a well-regarded high school prospect in Tucson who, along with teammate Javier Medina, was ruled ineligible for varsity play multiple times because, according to area scouts, parents of other players on their own high school team raised questions about their eligibility paperwork to the AIA. Medina signed with the Rockies straight out of high school, while Salazar went to the University of Arizona and was a defensive wizard there for three years before he became a late Day Two pick of Houston.

The lack of strength in Salazar’s hands can sometimes cost him strikes, but otherwise he is a complete defensive catcher. The epitome of an athletic catch-and-throw guy, he has a lightning quick transfer and produces plus pop times on regularly accurate throws to the bag. He’s a dynamic receiver who is sometimes on a knee, sometimes in a traditional crouch, and sometimes transitioning from one to the other depending on pitch location. He also has a little bit of experience at first and second base and in left field, which gives Dusty Baker an emergency option at those positions if he needs it. A simple toe tap highlights an extremely conservative swing for Salazar on the offensive end, where he is all about putting balls in play. He doesn’t have the power to be an impact player, but Salazar is at least going to be a solid backup catcher with a garnish of seldom-needed defensive versatility.

Drafted: 1st Round, 2016 from Alamo Heights HS (TX) (HOU)
Age 25.7 Height 6′ 7″ Weight 238 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
50/50 50/50 50/55 50/55 35/35 93-97 / 99

As enigmatic as any pitcher in the minors, Whitley has had a consistently inconsistent career dating back to high school. He transformed from a soft-bodied pitchability prepster to a svelte, five-pitch, fire-breathing dragon in the span of about 18 months, and for a while, he looked like one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. Then he had a 2018 stimulant suspension, plus lat and oblique issues, before 2019 brought shoulder fatigue, control problems, and what looked like a conditioning regression. Elbow issues plagued his 2020 and culminated in a 2021 Tommy John, from which Whitley returned last year. He’s still starting at Triple-A Sugar Land, but Whitley’s control has been comfortably below-average for a while and he now projects as a kitchen sink long reliever. None of his pitches are garnering a better-than-average swinging strike rate as of list publication and his spin rates have regressed by a couple hundred rpms since his prospect peak, which we collectively learned on a huge lag because of all of Whitley’s injuries. With his options running dry, a move to the bullpen feels like it’s looming.

35+ FV Prospects

25. Julio Robaina, SP

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Cuba (HOU)
Age 22.2 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr L / L FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
40/40 50/55 50/50 55/55 40/45 87-92 / 94

Robaina had a rough 2022 from a control standpoint and ended up with a 6.81 BB/9 and a 6.81 ERA in his first taste of Double-A, but he seems to have righted the ship in 2023 and continues to project as a good no. 6 or 7 starter. Robaina’s best pitches are his secondaries. Both of his breaking balls have big, arcing length, and his changeup has heavy sink and tail. Robaina sits 87-92 mph with uphill angle but not a lot of movement, and his command (though it’s been better this year) still isn’t good enough for it or the rest of his repertoire to really sing. He profiles as a spot starter.

26. Jose Fleury, SP

Signed: International Signing Period, 2021 from Dominican Republic (HOU)
Age 21.3 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
40/55 40/50 40/55 50/55 30/55 87-91 / 92

Fleury leveled the 2022 DSL with 60 strikeouts and just four walks in 38 innings. The Astros skipped him over the domestic Complex League in 2023 and sent him straight to Fayetteville, where he struggled on the surface early on but still shows an interesting combination of stuff and athleticism, if not physical projection. Fleury’s fastball only sits about 90 mph, but his short, vertical arm stroke imparts huge vertical action on the ball. The rest of Fleury’s game is projection. Normally you expect there to be a quality breaking ball from a vertical arm slot like this, but Fleury doesn’t have consistent feel for finishing either of his just yet, and his sinking changeup is actually his best secondary pitch. Mostly, we just like Fleury’s delivery and think he’ll figure things out. He’s athletic and balanced over his front side, and he has a short, repeatable arm action that should help him get over top of his breaking balls more frequently as he matures. We’re still talking about a shorter pitcher who’s only throwing 90, so let’s not go crazy thinking Fleury has huge upside or anything, but he has a shot to pitch at the back of a rotation.

27. Andrew Taylor, MIRP

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2022 from Central Michigan (HOU)
Age 21.7 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
60/60 40/45 40/45 40/45 30/50 90-93 / 94

Taylor’s fastball shape is the key component to his profile, and as such, it’s the offering he relies on most heavily. While its velocity tops out in the mid-90s, he spins the hell out of it, giving it upper-zone life that exaggerates the extension he creates with his 6-foot-5 stature and over-the-top release point. His mid-70s curveball and mid-80s slider both clock in around 18% in terms of usage, and he’ll mix in a mid-80s changeup on somewhat rare occasion. He tends to favor his secondaries when he’s ahead in the count, letting their respective vertical shapes play off the life of the heater, though he’s had limited success with them, and instead has mostly garnered upper-zone swing-and-miss with the fastball. He’s working in the standard Astros piggyback role and struggling with walks. We like him as a reliever long-term. No present bat-missing secondary keeps him in the same FV tier as at last year’s draft.

28. Miguel Palma, C

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2018 from Venezuela (HOU)
Age 21.4 Height 5′ 8″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/40 45/45 30/35 30/30 40/50 45

Palma is a squat little C/1B who’s been a super consistent pro offensive performer. His numbers have routinely been above league average since he entered pro ball in 2019, often comfortably so, and that’s continued early on in 2023, as Palma has hit for a blend of contact and power at High-A Asheville. Palma’s 2022 TrackMan data was really good for a 21-year-old catcher, basically above average across the board for a hitter his age. Visually, though, Palma is a backup catching prospect. He has breaking ball recognition issues that haven’t been exposed yet and is a pretty stiff-legged swinger who struggles to dip and connect with lower pitches. Palma’s short levers do put him in position to contact high fastballs and he does have impressive pop for a catcher his age, with 45-grade measurable raw right now.

Another thing to note here is that Palma hasn’t caught a ton — he is ether starting at first base or DH more often than he is donning the tools of ignorance, and especially at his size, we expect his offense would take a dive if he had to catch more frequently. Palma’s not bad back there. His receiving and arm strength are both in the 45/50 range, which is pretty good at this age. He catches on one knee, often very low to the ground, which gives him a shot to frame pitches at the bottom of the zone. We like him as a third catcher on the 40-man with a shot to be a career backup.

29. Will Wagner, 3B

Drafted: 18th Round, 2021 from Liberty (HOU)
Age 24.9 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr L / R FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
50/55 40/40 30/35 45/45 30/40 40

I would really like to be heavier on Wagner because he’s so much fun to watch hit, but he doesn’t really have a position. Mostly a second baseman until 2023, we wrote on last year’s list that he seemed more comfortable throwing on the move from right to left and that he might be a better fit at third base, and Wagner is taking the lion’s share of his reps at the hot corner now. He doesn’t have the range for second and is definitely a better fit at third, but he’s still rough around the edges there. His guile and effort are admirable, but Wagner makes a lot of fairly routine plays look difficult. He isn’t totally new to the position, this is just the first time he’s playing it most of the time, and at age 25, the cement is probably pretty dry here. Wagner’s got quick hitting hands and is great at spraying fastballs into the opposite field gap. He’s a good enough hitter to be considered high-priority upper-level depth.

30. Ronel Blanco, SIRP

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Cuba (HOU)
Age 29.8 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops
50/50 40/40 30/30 60/60 30/30 94-97 / 98

This is a memo to whoever’s in charge of playing entrance music at Minute Maid: this guy needs to come in from the bullpen to “Mr. White” by funk/psychedelic trio, and Houston’s own, Khruangbin. There seems to have been a change to Blanco’s slider, which now has more lateral action and less drop. I guess you could call it a cutter now. Blanco pitches off this offering a ton and it’s easily his best way to miss a bat, while his fastball plays below its velocity. He’s an older up/down relief piece with two option years left.

31. Justin Dirden, RF

Undrafted Free Agent, 2020 (HOU)
Age 25.9 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 209 Bat / Thr L / R FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/35 50/50 45/50 50/50 50/50 55

Dirden had a breakout 2022 as he hit .324/.411/.616 with 20 bombs at Corpus Christi and ended the year with Sugar Land. He’s been exposed by changeups in the early part of 2023 and his strikeout rates have climbed to near 30%. He’s going to have to make an adjustment now, but Dirden is a pretty interesting late-bloomer candidate. He hopped around to many different schools as an amateur and was an undrafted free agent in 2020. He produced at a 150 wRC+ level until he reached Triple-A, where things have kind of gone sideways, but there are big league tools here. Dirden has about average big league power from the left side, his swing is pretty short, and he generates consistent lift. He’s not a good center fielder, but he runs well enough to be above-average in a corner. This is an interesting older sleeper who could get an opportunity to prove it’s real on a rebuilding club.

32. Nolan DeVos, SIRP

Drafted: 5th Round, 2022 from Davidson (HOU)
Age 22.8 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Command Sits/Tops
50/60 40/50 40/50 30/50 89-92 / 93

DeVos has a fastball with huge vertical break at about 20 inches of induced movement. He is another of the Astros’ vertical arm slot clan who does most of their damage with letter-high heaters. He’s only sitting 89-93 mph so far in 2023, but that’s actually a few ticks above where DeVos was at Davidson. His fastball has a shot to play at lower velocities because of its movement, but he still needs to tune up his breaking balls (at least one) to project as a reliever. For now, he’s a lower-level arm with a magical pitch who needs dev in other areas.

33. Zach Dezenzo, 1B

Drafted: 12th Round, 2022 from Ohio State (HOU)
Age 23.1 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 220 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/35 60/65 40/55 40/40 30/40 50

For a team with a reputation for leaning on data, the Astros sure do end up drafting a lot of giant guys who jump out at you as soon as they get off the bus, and Dezenzo is one of them. A monstrous 6-foot-4, 220-pound SS/1B at Ohio State, Dezenzo has played all three infield positions except short in pro ball. Progression there, especially at third base where he has the best shot to play, is going to be key to his big league future because while Dezenzo has plus power, he also has a comfortably below-average hit tool and is really only able to make flush contact with pitches in a narrow part of the zone, out away from him. There isn’t enough all-around bat for a first base-only fit here. Dezenzo’s combination of strength and flexibility is incredible. His swing is so obviously powerful as soon as you see him take a comfortable hack that it’s a wonder this guy fell to the 12th round. Even though he’s a flawed, older hitter, there is overt big league physicality and in-the-box athleticism here. Don’t confuse Dezenzo for a quick-riser even though he’s already been promoted to Corpus Christi. He’ll only progress as quickly as his defense allows him to between now and his 40-man evaluation year, which is 2025. He’s power-driven, older sleeper.

34. Zach Daniels, RF

Drafted: 4th Round, 2020 from Tennessee (HOU)
Age 24.4 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 211 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/30 70/70 45/50 60/60 40/50 45

It’s not as if hitting prospects with huge power and severe strikeout issues are rare, but what is rare is that Daniels barely performed in college but is still seen as a guy with huge power potential. In part due to injuries and then the pandemic, Daniels never played more than 35 games in a college season and never homered more than five times in a single campaign. He struck out roughly 40% of the time combined between his underclass seasons at Tennessee and the wood bat summer ball he played amid them, then exploded during non-conference play in 2020, walking as much as he struck out while slashing .357/.478/.750 for four short weeks.

He draws some Giancarlo Stanton swing comps because of his closed stance/stride and tucked hands, and Daniels’ raw power is only a grade shy of Stanton’s. Daniels can also really run and has the Michael Vick, sportscar forward tilt and posture as he does. He’ll run some plus times straight through the bag and some 70-grade times with the turn on his way to second base. The bust probability here is high because the track record for college hitters striking out this much and succeeding is very sparse, but guys with this kind of power/speed combo don’t exactly grow on trees.

35. Alimber Santa, SIRP

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2019 from Dominican Republic (HOU)
Age 20.1 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 165 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/60 40/50 45/55 30/40 30/40 93-95 / 97

If there was anything we could do to head off all the horrible chimney-scaling puns we’ll be subjected to as a result of having Alimber Santa around, we would, but alas. Not only is he one of the youngest pitchers on Fayetteville’s roster, but Santa is also the hardest-throwing, sitting 93-95 mph and touching 96 on the regular. He’s a little, athletic guy with a vertical arm slot, but Santa doesn’t have command of anything right now and it impacts the quality of his two breaking balls and how hittable his heater tends to be. For now, he’s an athletic dev project with plus arm strength.

36. Joe Perez, 3B

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2017 from Archbishop McCarthy HS (FL) (HOU)
Age 23.8 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 198 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/35 60/60 45/50 40/40 40/40 50

Perez has begun to play both outfield corners in addition to his usual third base, he’s on pace to see more action at first than ever before, and he’s even played a couple of games at second. Perez is a 40-grade defender at third and has some arm accuracy issues there. It’s important that his third base defense tighten up, and also pretty important that a couple of these other positions end up panning out. He has enough playable power to be a 40 FV four-corners guy if they do. Remember that Perez missed a ton of early-career reps due to a TJ and shoulder surgery. He is as svelte and mobile now as he ever has been (much more so than when he was in high school) and has really only begun to branch out on defense. There’s a chance he breaks a little late as a useful bench piece.

37. Misael Tamarez, MIRP

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2018 from Dominican Republic (HOU)
Age 23.4 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 206 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
50/55 45/50 50/55 30/40 92-94 / 94

Tamarez’s control has regressed badly in 2023, but we’re still on his arm strength and overall athleticism, and think he and the Astros will get things to a place that will allow him to work in relief over time. He generated above-average whiff rates on all three of his pitches in 2022, but the slider and changeup weren’t often chased; too many of them were non-competitive. Tamarez’s delivery is extremely upright, and his release point is so high that the riding life on his fastball tends to finish well above the zone, making it difficult to harness the heater as a whiff weapon. His habit of missing above the zone isn’t limited to his fastball, though, with his slider and changeup finishing up there quite often as well, resulting in a ballooning walk rate that outpaces his strikeouts at the moment. He is Rule 5 eligible this year, and without a drastic reversal of his downward-trending command, it’s hard to see him earning protection from it. Still, we don’t want to quit on a guy with this much arm strength, especially since it might spike if he moves to the bullpen.

38. Jairo Solis, SIRP

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Venezuela (HOU)
Age 23.5 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 205 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/55 55/55 45/45 40/40 30/30 92-95 / 97

Solis has been in the Astros system since 2017, but due to two Tommy John surgeries (one before and one right after missing the 2020 season due to the pandemic), 2023 marked his first taste of affiliated ball since 2018. Once on a starter track, the prolonged delay to his development over the past several years has caused him to veer into a relief-only outlook, and even that one is rather murky. He still features a four-pitch mix, but his slider usage is more than triple that of either his curveball or changeup, and he’s exclusively fastball/slider against right-handed hitters. In his return to the mound this season, he’s thus far walking more batters than he’s striking out, and with his runway shorter than ever, it’s becoming a question of whether he’ll ever come close to actualizing the potential that once earned him Picks to Click recognition. If you think his walk issues are being caused by literally a half decade of rust, perhaps he’s got some bounce back left in him.

Other Prospects of Note

Grouped by type and listed in order of preference within each category.

Young, High-Variance Guys
German Ramirez, SS
Carlos Espinosa, RHP
Waner Luciano, 3B
Tyler Whitaker, 3B/OF
Alejandro Nunez, SS

Ramirez signed for $1.2 million in January. He’s a sleek and agile shortstop who needs to get stronger in order to have a functional swing and viable shortstop arm strength. He’s in the DSL and doesn’t turn 17 until the end of July, so that’s not surprising. Espinosa is an athletic 21-year-old Cuban who is a relatively projectable 6-foot-2. He’s working in the 94-95 mph range and has touched 97 this year. His slider is closer to average and his changeup is way below. Luciano is a thicker rookie-level bat who hit for power in the 2022 DSL. He has reverse physical projection, a good arm, and made a lot of in-zone contact last year. Whitaker was a low-probability power-over-hit high school prospect who is off to a good start repeating Low-A. Nunez is a teenage lefty-hitting shortstop from Mexico who is a skills-over-tools type at the moment. He also made a ton of DSL contact in 2022. Luciano, Espinosa, and Nunez are all on the Complex League roster.

Athletes and Frames
Jordan Brewer, OF/1B
Cristian Gonzalez, SS
Quincy Hamilton, OF
Narbe Cruz, INF
Collin Price, C
Zachary Cole, CF
Tim Borden II, 3B

This entire group looks the part in the uniform. Brewer, now 25, recently got into rehab games after he had a second surgery on his hand; he had hamate surgery last year. A late-bloomer backwards guy from Michigan, it looked like things might be clicking for Brewer in 2021, but he hasn’t played much of the last two years due to injury. Gonzalez had knee surgery and is on the 60-day IL. He’s a fair shortstop with a good baseball frame, above-average bat speed, and zero feel for contact. Hamilton was another older college draft pick in the same year as Loperfido. He’s a slash-and-dash all-fields type who doesn’t have the feel for center field. Cruz is very projectable and has pretty good feel for the barrel, but he isn’t a good defensive infielder. He’s playing all over the infield at Fayetteville and is worth keeping tabs on. Price is a slow-twitch 6-foot-6 catching prospect from Mercer. His receiving has been rough in our looks, but so far he’s hitting okay. Cole, also at Fayetteville, was Houston’s 2022 10th rounder out of Ball State. He’s a power/speed prospect with a 20-grade bat. Borden is a power-over-hit infielder currently hacking away at Asheville.

More Riding Fastball Guys
A.J. Blubaugh, RHP
Parker Mushinski, LHP
Miguel Ullola, RHP
Joey Mancini, RHP
Deylen Miley, RHP
Jaime Melendez, RHP
Cole McDonald, RHP

All of these guys have fastballs that play at the top of the strike zone. Blubaugh, a 2022 seventh rounder from UW Milwaukee, sits 92 mph and fills the zone with a riding fastball. Mushinski is a perfectly fine upper-level depth lefty who mixes four 40/45-grade pitches very evenly, and usually throws strikes. Ullola’s velo has backed up a couple of ticks; he’s sitting closer to 92 than his 2022 mid-90s heat. He’s never really thrown strikes and needs all that velo. Mancini (a 2022 15th rounder from Boston College) and Miley (2021 undrafted out of Bellarmine) each sit 92 with plus rise (Mancini’s is arguably plus-plus). Melendez is a 5-foot-8 human trebuchet with mid-90s heat that isn’t missing as many bats this year. McDonald had a fastball/slider combo and his overhand arm slot creates big depth on the slider. He’s actually among the org’s swinging strike leaders, but scouts don’t think it will hold up.

System Overview

After years of churning out impact pitcher after impact pitcher (including Hunter Brown), there is suddenly a dearth of them here. There isn’t a shortage of interesting dudes, but there are basically no near-ready impact arms aside from Brown. Once other teams started competing for the same underlying characteristics that the Astros coveted, it became harder to find undervalued guys. As much of the rest of the industry has pivoted to caring about release height and fastball angles, even when that means targeting pitchers whose lower slots impart tailing action (but still uphill angle) on their heaters, the Astros have mostly stayed true to their vertical slot pitching prospects, and they are much more common in this system than anyone who looks like Kyle Harrison or Cooper Hjerpe.

Cuba remains a big part of what the Astros do internationally. Any time you hear about Cuban workouts taking place during this part of the signing calendar, you can count on the Astros (and Cardinals, Marlins, White Sox and A’s), who tend to have pool space left for players like this, kicking the tires. Several of the last few years’ Cuban signees in this system look really interesting.

Without much pitching to speak of, the strength of this system is now its physical, toolsy outfielders. For a team that the world believes is obsessed with analytics and only analytics, Houston’s system sure does have a lot of underwear models. Big, fast athletes with power and questionable hit tools are up and down this system. Some of them arrived with those physiques, while others are clearly benefitting from an effective strength program. Both Drew Gilbert and Jacob Melton were impressive college athletes who, in less than a year, look markedly stronger than they did before they signed.

With Dana Brown now running the show, will any of Houston’s approach to scouting change? Remember that Atlanta has DNA from Houston’s front office. Like Houston, the Braves have significantly altered how they do pro scouting, so it’s fair to expect relatively few boots-on-the-ground Astros scouts even as we’re further and further removed from the Luhnow era. Brown was Atlanta’s amateur director, and obviously the Braves have been excellent at amateur scouting, using a more balanced eyeball/data combo that targets arrow-up guys and two-way athletes.

Overall, this system is average; as Brown and Diaz graduate, it falls below. It’s a little imbalanced due to the lack of pitching, but it’s close to the middle of the league in terms of depth.

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10 months ago

As an Astros fan, this really isn’t as bad as it could be considering the draft picks that were lost and the years of competing and trading away talent, even with the graduations at the top. Click did an admirable job restocking this system under difficult circumstances and his fingerprints are all over this list. There is ammunition here to make trades over the next couple years, and guys like Brown/Diaz/Gilbert seem primed to fill holes at the ML level and hopefully be part of the next wave of talent. There are a few high probability types peppered lower on the list (some are already contributing at the ML level) but the longer term future will depend in large part on some of the J2 lottery tickets on here it feels like

Last edited 10 months ago by smb11488