Top 40 Prospects: Houston Astros by Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel January 7, 2020 Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the Houston Astros. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from our own (both Eric Longenhagen’s and Kiley McDaniel’s) observations. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of our prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this. All of the numbered prospects here also appear on The Board, a new feature at the site that offers sortable scouting information for every organization. That can be found here. Editor’s Note: Brandon Bailey has been added to this list at No. 30 following his return from the Baltimore Orioles subsequent to the Rule 5 Draft. Cal Stevenson has been removed following a trade to the Tampa Bay Rays. Top Prospects Team Lists 2020 2019 ALBALCHWHOUBOSCLELAANYYDETOAKTBRKCRSEATORMINTEX NLATLCHCARIMIACINCOLNYMMILLADPHIPITSDPWSNSTLSFG ALBALCHWHOUBOSCLELAANYYDETOAKTBRKCRSEATORMINTEX NLATLCHCARIMIACINCOLNYMMILLADPHIPITSDPWSNSTLSFG Astros Top Prospects Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV 1 Forrest Whitley 22.5 AAA RHP 2020 60 2 Jose Urquidy 24.9 MLB RHP 2020 50 3 Abraham Toro 23.2 MLB 3B 2020 45+ 4 Freudis Nova 20.2 A 3B 2022 45 5 Bryan Abreu 22.9 MLB RHP 2020 45 6 Cristian Javier 23.0 AAA RHP 2020 45 7 Brandon Bielak 23.9 AAA RHP 2021 45 8 Korey Lee 21.6 A- C 2023 40+ 9 Hunter Brown 21.5 A- RHP 2023 40+ 10 Jairo Solis 20.2 A RHP 2021 40+ 11 Jeremy Pena 22.5 A+ SS 2022 40+ 12 Jose Alberto Rivera 23.1 A RHP 2021 40+ 13 Enoli Paredes 24.5 AA RHP 2020 40+ 14 Tyler Ivey 23.8 AA RHP 2020 40+ 15 Angel Macuare 20.0 A- RHP 2022 40+ 16 Jordan Brewer 22.6 A- CF 2023 40 17 Colin Barber 19.3 R CF 2024 40 18 Grae Kessinger 22.5 A SS 2022 40 19 Luis Garcia 23.2 A+ RHP 2021 40 20 Luis Santana 20.6 AA 2B 2022 40 21 Jojanse Torres 24.6 A+ RHP 2022 40 22 Carlos Sanabria 23.1 AA RHP 2020 40 23 Cionel Perez 23.9 MLB LHP 2020 40 24 Ronnie Dawson 24.8 AAA CF 2020 40 25 Dauri Lorenzo 17.4 R SS 2025 40 26 Manny Ramirez 20.3 A RHP 2023 40 27 Rogelio Armenteros 25.7 MLB RHP 2020 40 28 Nivaldo Rodriguez 22.9 A+ RHP 2021 40 29 Garrett Stubbs 26.8 MLB C 2020 40 30 Brandon Bailey 25.4 AA RHP 2020 40 31 Chas McCormick 24.9 AAA RF 2020 40 32 Blake Taylor 24.6 AAA LHP 2020 35+ 33 Shawn Dubin 24.5 A+ RHP 2022 35+ 34 Peter Solomon 23.6 A+ RHP 2021 35+ 35 Jairo Lopez 19.3 A- RHP 2022 35+ 36 Brett Conine 23.4 AA RHP 2021 35+ 37 Juan Pablo Lopez 21.1 A LHP 2022 35+ 38 Julio Robaina 19.0 A LHP 2022 35+ 39 Bryan De La Cruz 23.2 AA RF 2021 35+ 40 Diosmerky Taveras 20.5 R RHP 2023 35+ Reading Options Detail Level Data Only Full Position Filter All All C 1B 2B SS 3B OF LF CF RF LHP RHP 60 FV Prospects 1. Forrest Whitley, RHP Video Drafted: 1st Round, 2016 from Alamo Heights HS (TX) (HOU) Age 22.5 Height 6′ 7″ Weight 225 Bat / Thr R / R FV 60 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops 60/60 55/55 60/60 60/60 55/55 35/45 93-97 / 99 Two consecutive tumultuous seasons — a 2018 stimulant suspension, lat and oblique issues, then 2019 shoulder fatigue, control problems, and what looked like a conditioning regression — have us a little down on Whitley, but not too much, because his stuff is still quite good. He wields one of the deepest repertoires in all of the minors and, though the elite-looking changeup he showed during the 2018 Fall League was not present in 2019, all of his stuff is still above-average or better, both visually and on paper. The strike-throwing hiccup isn’t great, but Whitley clearly knows where his stuff plays best (fastballs up, the cutter and slider to his glove side, and the curveball beneath the zone — a well-designed mix nearly ubiquitous in this system) and he works in those locations pretty loosely. Inefficiency might limit Whitley’s inning totals, but it’s unlikely to prevent him from starting. Ideally, Whitley shows up to camp in better shape than he appeared to be in during the Fall League; he underwent a much more drastic athletic metamorphosis in high school (which coincided with his pre-draft velo spike), so it seems very possible. The top of a rotation ceiling that seemed possible a year ago would now require a bit of a bounce back in stuff and a quantum control/command leap. That seems unlikely, but a mid-rotation/All-Star ceiling still exists. 50 FV Prospects 2. Jose Urquidy, RHP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Mexico (HOU) Age 24.9 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 55/55 50/50 50/50 60/60 60/60 92-95 / 97 Urquidy made last year’s Astros list as an Other of Note, projecting as a spot starter because of his plus changeup and command. He sat 89-93 in 2018, then found a few more ticks of velo and a second breaking ball in 2019, all while retaining the command and change. Both breaking balls will play because of where Urquidy locates them (the slider, especially, needs to miss away from hitters), and his changeup action works against both handed hitters, so he’s a promising rotation piece who we project as a 2.5 WAR-ish starter. 45+ FV Prospects 3. Abraham Toro, 3B Video Drafted: 5th Round, 2016 from Seminole State JC (OK) (HOU) Age 23.2 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr S / R FV 45+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 50/55 55/55 45/50 60/60 40/45 60/60 It’s rare for evaluations of a player as seasoned as Toro to be as divisive as his are, all the way down to the bones of his tool grades. Running is simple to evaluate using home to first times, but there’s even disagreement over Toro in this area. But let’s start with the most important stuff: the offense. Toro is short-levered and tightly-wound, not the loose, rotational athlete most scouts like. But he muscles balls into both gaps and has solid barrel control, enough to spoil tough pitches and grind out tough at-bats. It’s a pretty well-rounded contact/doubles power/OBP profile even though Toro presents an atypical look. The same is true of Toro’s defense. When he has the time to really step into a throw, he uncorks rockets, but he’s not the kind of athlete who can make strong throws in tough situations. He’s okay at third base, but there are teams and individual scouts who prefer him at either first or in the outfield corners, and some are really intrigued by the latter possibility because of Toro’s long speed. He’s not a graceful runner, but he can really move once he gets going and his swing has a natural jailbreak, so he’s fast to first. A diverse defensive role seems logical considering how crowded Houston’s 1B/3B situation is, unless Toro gets traded. He has a shot to be an average everyday player if he gets an opportunity, but otherwise should play a valuable, switch-hitting corner role. 45 FV Prospects 4. Freudis Nova, 3B Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Dominican Republic (HOU) Age 20.2 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/50 50/60 35/55 50/45 40/50 70/70 There are several higher-probability prospects in this system (most of them pitchers) but Nova remains one of the few with everyday upside (or better) because of his bat speed. He takes questionable at-bats, but the frame/power projection and likelihood that Nova stay on the dirt, probably on the left side of the infield, give him a shot to be an impact regular. Despite an Epicurean approach, Nova has a three-year track record of statistical success, including a nearly average line as a 19-year-old in the Midwest League last year, which featured 25 extra-base hits in just 75 games. 5. Bryan Abreu, RHP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2013 from Dominican Republic (HOU) Age 22.9 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 60/60 60/60 70/70 40/45 35/40 93-96 / 97 Because he has premium arm strength and both of his breaking balls are nasty benders from hell — they’re roughly the same velocity but have clearly different shapes — Abreu has elite reliever ceiling. His complete lack of fastball control forces him to work with those breaking balls early in counts, which impacts hitters’ willingness to offer at them later in at-bats as they’ve already seen a couple. Because he has options left, a wild spring from Abreu might mean he spends 2020 up and down from Round Rock, but he might also be Houston’s closer by the end of the summer. 6. Cristian Javier, RHP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Dominican Republic (HOU) Age 23.0 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops 55/55 50/50 60/60 45/50 45/45 35/40 89-94 / 95 It’s odd to consider someone with such lowly control a “pitchability” arm, but Javier is exactly that. He manipulates the shape of his breaking balls, pitches backward, and will double and triple up on his changeup when he’s behind in the count, all in an attempt to get to two strikes so he can try to sneak his fastball past hitters. And he does. Javier has fringe velocity but his fastball garners swings and misses more than 17% of the time. Even though he struggles with walks, his career WHIP is just a shade over 1.00 because hitters can’t touch his stuff. It may be in a 90 or 100 inning bullpen role, but Javier projects to be a core piece of Houston’s staff. 7. Brandon Bielak, RHP Video Drafted: 11th Round, 2017 from Notre Dame (HOU) Age 23.9 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 50/50 50/55 55/60 45/50 50/60 92-94 / 95 Bielak’s 2019 ERA was inflated by a bad three-start stretch in June, including a nine-run spanking in Vegas, where that kind of thing is fairly common. He had some rashes of wildness early in the year, but over the final two months of the summer, Bielak was his characteristic, strike-throwing self. He can pitch backwards and consistently locates both of his breaking balls to his glove side; Bielak often sets up one with the other. There’s a starter’s repertoire depth and pitch quality here, along with a starter’s command and good raw spin, and he performed against Triple-A hitters late in the season. He’s a high-probability No. 4/5 starter. 40+ FV Prospects 8. Korey Lee, C Drafted: 1st Round, 2019 from Cal (HOU) Age 21.6 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 205 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/45 55/55 30/50 45/40 40/50 55/55 A stocky, athletic catcher with a good arm and surprising bat speed and power, Lee hit .320/.420/.626 as a junior at Cal and emerged as a Day 1 talent. Teams with draft models that more evenly weight multiple seasons weren’t on Lee as much before the draft because he didn’t perform like that as an underclassman. Lee didn’t catch much pro-quality stuff at Cal, so that part of his skillset remains somewhat unclear, but we think he’s athletic enough to improve if it’s an issue initially. He looked ground down last summer after he signed, and was less balanced at the plate. He has everyday tools, but catchers are high risk and this one has a relatively short track record of performance. 9. Hunter Brown, RHP Drafted: 5th Round, 2019 from Wayne State (HOU) Age 21.5 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 203 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops 55/60 45/55 40/50 35/45 92-95 / 97 Brown was a late-rising arm for Division-II Wayne State in Michigan, with high level scouts running in for looks after a breakout outing at a Florida tournament in early March. He had buzz as high as the second round, but ended up slipping to the fifth on draft day, with some buzz that a rookie agent (since fired) vetoed what would’ve been a higher bonus in the third. Early returns are very positive on Brown in pro ball: up to 97, mixing in an above average slider and a usable changeup, with a workhorse frame with starter traits. 10. Jairo Solis, RHP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Venezuela (HOU) Age 20.2 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 160 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 55/60 55/65 45/55 35/45 92-95 / 97 Solis had Tommy John late in the summer of 2018, meaning he didn’t pitch at all last year, so his FV and scouting report are the same as they were in 2019. Among the non-Top 100 types of arms in this system, he not only has one of the better chances of remaining a starter but also has the best stuff among those who do, led by a plus-flashing curveball that he has great feel for locating. Solis also has a great arm for a 19-year-old, and may still throw harder as he matures, with his fastball already sitting in the viable low-to-mid 90s. There’s some changeup feel here, too, and teams think Solis has mid-rotation ceiling so long as his command continues to progress. The Astros will need to make a Rule 5 protection 40-man decision on him after the 2020 season, a decision that will be made easier if Solis hits the ground running after rehab. 11. Jeremy Pena, SS Video Drafted: 3rd Round, 2018 from Maine (HOU) Age 22.5 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/45 45/45 30/40 55/55 55/60 50/50 We tabbed Pena as a potential breakout candidate last season (he had added about 20 pounds of muscle during the winter) and he did have a pretty good 2019 split between Low- and Hi-A, levels too low for us to really buy in based on stats alone. We think he’ll continue to hit for doubles power while playing a terrific shortstop. Some clubs have him evaluated as a low-end regular, others as a utility player (he’s played some second and third), which we think is more likely. 12. Jose Alberto Rivera, RHP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Dominican Republic (HOU) Age 23.1 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Splitter Command Sits/Tops 70/70 55/55 50/55 40/45 93-97 / 99 Perhaps the loosest, most fluid on-mound athlete in the system, Rivera struck out just shy of 30% of opposing hitters for the second straight year in 2019. He began the season in Extended before joining Low-A Quad Cities in a piggyback role, usually working three or four innings per outing, mostly with his monster fastball and power breaking ball, from which he adds and subtracts when he’s trying to get back into counts. The longer arm action, mostly two-pitch mix, fringe control and age/level/40-man timeline funnel Rivera toward the bullpen, and he might be very scary if his heater has another gear in single innings. 13. Enoli Paredes, RHP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Dominican Republic (HOU) Age 24.5 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 165 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops 65/65 50/50 60/70 45/55 50/50 35/40 93-97 / 99 Any of the several, hard-throwing relievers you’re about to read about could end up pitching at the back of a bullpen one day, and Paredes might have the best shot. He is arguably the best athlete in this system, and it’s incredible that he’s able to stay balanced over his landing leg despite taking a gargantuan, max-effort stride toward home. So deep is the bend in Paredes’ landing leg, so low to the ground is he at release, that his fastballs approach hitters at a very flat angle that they seem to struggle with. He throws really hard, up to 99 with explosive life, and mixes in several semi-consistent secondary offerings of varying shape and quality. He’s worked as a starter or in three-inning jaunts out of the bullpen, and the pitch mix supports continued usage of this sort. 14. Tyler Ivey, RHP Drafted: 3rd Round, 2017 from Grayson County JC (TX) (HOU) Age 23.8 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops 55/55 45/50 60/60 45/50 40/45 45/50 90-92 / 95 Ivey’s violent head whack, some minor injury stuff, and the lack of innings foundation — caused partially by a 2019 suspension, the official reason for which was undisclosed, though it came out after he was caught using a foreign substance — push him toward the bullpen, but he has starter’s stuff. His fastball plays well at the top of the zone. Even last year, when he wasn’t throwing quite as hard as the year before, Ivey’s fastball hummed past upper-level hitters. His curveball is the headliner, though. It’s a gorgeous, old-school, 12-to-6 yakker that freezes hitters. He also has a cutter/slider and a changeup, the latter of which shows flashes of bat-missing movement. Unless the mid-90s heat comes back, we prefer Ivey in a multi-inning relief role, but he’ll probably be given at least one more year of starts just to see what happens since he doesn’t have to be on the 40 until next winter. 15. Angel Macuare, RHP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Venezuela (HOU) Age 20.0 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 188 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 50/60 45/50 55/60 40/45 45/55 89-91 / 94 He’s not as lanky and projectable as most teenage arms, but Macuare has very advanced feel for pitching (toss out his two, walk-happy starts before Houston shut him down for a few weeks) and his fastball has monster vertical movement. He’ll flash a plus curveball, which he can dot on the corners, but the changeup feel is a little behind. It looks like a potential backend starter on the surface but the fastball might play way better than that, enabling Macuare to be closer to a true No. 4. 40 FV Prospects 16. Jordan Brewer, CF Drafted: 3rd Round, 2019 from Michigan (HOU) Age 22.6 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr R / L FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 20/40 55/55 20/45 70/70 40/50 60/60 In the 2019 draft, Brewer was an outfielder for College World Series finalist Michigan and arguably had the best raw tools in the draft. But he lasted until the back of the third round due to his rawness at the plate, underlined by his 56 strikeouts to 24 walks. He was draft eligible in 2018 at Lincoln Trail JC in Illinois and went undrafted, but emerged in his season at Michigan due to his huge tools: solid average raw power, plus-plus speed, plus arm strength and good instincts on the bases. At the plate, Brewer’s pitch selection is below average and his swing can get long, so the prototypical profile of the below average contact platoon center fielder, like a Jake Marisnick, is the reasonable upside since Brewer is already 22. 17. Colin Barber, CF Drafted: 4th Round, 2019 from Pleasant Valley HS (CA) (HOU) Age 19.3 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 20/45 45/50 20/40 60/60 40/50 50/50 The late-rising NorCal prep center fielder grew on us (and, it seems, teams) as the draft approached. Barber has plus speed, so he should stay in center, and we think he has the athleticism to project his hitting ability to progress. He’s a high-effort player, somewhat stiff, but his bat is quick, and the swing is compact. There are some tweener bench outfield traits, but a good contact/up-the-middle foundation. 18. Grae Kessinger, SS Drafted: 2nd Round, 2019 from Ole Miss (HOU) Age 22.5 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 25/45 50/50 20/40 50/50 45/50 55/55 Kessinger is the next in a line of prep shortstops who are raw enough at the plate to get to college, but who have the instincts to potentially turn into everyday big leaguers if the right offensive adjustments are made in their early 20s. Brandon Crawford and Dansby Swanson are some of the more notable successes, Jordy Mercer is a middle tier outcome, and Connor Kaiser (Pirates) along with Connor Walsh (Ole Miss) are two in-progress candidates along with Kessinger. Kessinger also has big league bloodlines: his grandfather (Don) played 16 seasons in the big leagues in the 1960s and 70s, his father (Kevin) played a summer of pro ball in 1992, and his uncle (Keith) got a big league cup of coffee in 1993. Grae stood out on the summer showcase circuit in high school as a glove-first athlete with the tools to succeed offensively but middling performance against top pitching; that mostly held through his three years at Ole Miss, though he made solid progress. Kessinger’s approach steadily improved and he got to more of his power, leading to a pro debut at age 21 spent mostly in Low-A, where he performed almost as well as he did in college. His swing complexity and effort were reduced in college to make more contact, and he’s a swing change candidate in pro ball, as this type of hitter can benefit from mechanics that free up his athleticism. Kessinger was an above average defender in high school but bulked up a bit in college and lost a bit of quickness. Any kind of step forward offensively would give him a big league role of some consequence. 19. Luis Garcia, RHP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Venezuela (HOU) Age 23.2 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 216 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 60/60 60/60 45/45 40/45 40/40 92-94 / 97 This guy is built like a tank, he has an ample and enviable lower half and electric arm that generates mid-90s velo (one source saw Garcia crest 100 but we can’t find another who’s seen over 98), and a plus slurve. We’d like to see a third pitch before bumping Garcia into a late-inning relief FV tier. 20. Luis Santana, 2B Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Venezuela (NYM) Age 20.6 Height 5′ 8″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 35/60 40/45 30/35 40/40 40/45 50/50 Santana had a fine year in the Penn League as a 20-year-old, and we still really like his feel for contact, but for a thick, projectionless guy his exit velos are concerningly low. He needs to be a 60 or 70 bat to profile as a second baseman because he’s unlikely to hit for power or be a very good defensive player. 21. Jojanse Torres, RHP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Dominican Republic (HOU) Age 24.6 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Command Sits/Tops 70/70 55/55 35/35 94-97 / 99 Torres signed with Milwaukee back in 2015 but his deal was voided due to identity falsification. He re-emerged in 2018 with Houston and had a breakout 2019. While he has one of the harder fastballs in this entire system, Torres throws his slider about 60% of the time because he can put it in the zone more consistently than his heater. His command will limit him to a bullpen role, and he has an outside shot to pitch in high-leverage innings. 22. Carlos Sanabria, RHP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2013 from Venezuela (HOU) Age 23.1 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 165 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 60/60 45/45 50/50 50/55 30/35 92-96 / 99 We still have some sources who think Sanabria can start, but he’s been wild two of the last three years and his body has backed up a bit. His arm strength has not. Sanabria was up to 99 last year, sitting 94-96 much of the time. He has a four-pitch mix (the slider is 84-87, the curveball is in the low-80s) that he doesn’t control, so we have him in relief. 23. Cionel Perez, LHP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Cuba (HOU) Age 23.9 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops 60/60 55/55 40/45 40/40 92-96 / 98 The Astros stuck Perez in the bullpen after he returned from a six-week IL stint brought on by a forearm issue. This, combined with his regressed strike throwing, makes it likely he just ends up in Houston’s bullpen long-term, even though they arguably have some rotation spots up for grabs. While his starter pedigree makes Perez more likely to assume a multi-inning role than some similarly talented arms a little further down the list, we saw a more scant repertoire from him in his 2019 big league outings, which perhaps means that kind of role has become less likely. 24. Ronnie Dawson, CF Video Drafted: 2nd Round, 2016 from Ohio State (HOU) Age 24.8 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 225 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 30/35 55/55 45/50 55/55 50/50 40/40 Dawson had a disappointing 2019 if you look at his surface-level stats, but a putrid-looking .212/.320/.403 line was actually good for a 105 wRC+ in the Texas League. Dawson’s arm strength limits him to left and center (where he’s willed himself into becoming a passable defender) but he has sizable raw thump, he walks at an above-average clip, he lifts the ball, has good makeup and is an above-average athlete. He looks like a viable fourth outfielder or platoon option. 25. Dauri Lorenzo, SS Video Signed: July 2nd Period, 2019 from Dominican Republic (HOU) Age 17.4 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 165 Bat / Thr S / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 25/55 40/50 25/45 50/50 45/50 50/50 Switch-hitting middle infielders are hard to come by, and Lorenzo is short to the ball and his swing has lift, which is also rare. He’s somewhat projectable and his arm might push him to second base, but the bat may carry him. 26. Manny Ramirez, RHP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Dominican Republic (HOU) Age 20.3 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 55/60 50/60 40/50 35/50 92-95 / 97 Ramirez was so wild early in the year that the Astros had to send him back to Extended Spring Training to be re-deployed at a short season affiliate later in the summer. He still ended up walking more than a batter per inning, and he’s likely a bullpen piece long-term, but his velo and breaking ball give him considerable ceiling. He’s arguably the riskiest player on this list. 27. Rogelio Armenteros, RHP Video Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Cuba (HOU) Age 25.7 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops 40/45 45/50 60/60 50/55 87-90 / 92 Armenteros struck out a batter per inning at Triple-A last year but his stuff was actually down, the fastball living in the 87-91 range more so than the 91-94 we’d grown accustomed to. If his fastball bounces back, we like him as a No. 4/5 starter thanks to his command and plus changeup. If it doesn’t, he might struggle to stay on the roster. 28. Nivaldo Rodriguez, RHP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Venezuela (HOU) Age 22.9 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 45/45 50/50 55/55 45/50 50/55 89-92 / 94 Added to the Houston 40-man this offseason, Rodriguez doesn’t have the kind of arm strength found throughout most of the rest of this system, but his fastball has traits that help it play (spin axis, vertical movement) and he’s a more reliable strike-thrower than his upper-level peers with sexier stuff. He’s going to work in on the hands of lefties with his stuff, even the breaking ball, which he has above-average command of. 29. Garrett Stubbs, C Drafted: 8th Round, 2015 from USC (HOU) Age 26.8 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 50/55 40/40 30/30 50/50 55/55 55/55 Stubbs finally began to see time at other positions in 2019 (the outfield and some second base) and he projects in an interesting 26th man role, which may help keep him healthy and more productive at the plate than he would be if asked to catch everyday. 30. Brandon Bailey, RHP Drafted: 6th Round, 2016 from Gonzaga (HOU) Age 25.4 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops 50/50 45/50 55/55 60/60 50/50 40/40 89-93 / 94 One of the earlier pitch design guinea pigs, Bailey’s arsenal is robust for a reliever. Houston traded Ramon Laureano to Oakland for Bailey, then lost him to Baltimore for nothing in the 2019 Rule 5 draft. Now, he’s very likely to stick on the Orioles’ 25-man next year. Like most pitchers who’ve been touched by Astros player development, Bailey’s fastball plays at the top of the strike zone, and it helps set up an above-average, 12-to-6 curveball. His changeup will flash plus and he can vary his breaking ball shape to look like a slider or cutter to give hitters different looks. All of these components allow Bailey to strike out lots of batters without big velocity (91-94, touch 96), but his approach to pitching is not conducive to efficient strike-throwing, so he’s likely a multi-inning relief piece or swing man. 31. Chas McCormick, RF Drafted: 21th Round, 2017 from Millersville (HOU) Age 24.9 Height 5′ 0″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / L FV 40 Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 50/50 55/55 45/50 50/50 55/55 50/50 McCormick is a potential small school late bloomer. The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference’s all-time hits leader has tweaked his swing over the course of two full seasons (his stance and stride direction have changed), and he now only hits the ball on the ground about a third of the time, instead of half. He’s now performed statistically up through Triple-A amid some pretty aggressive promotions. Scouts have some trepidation about it working at the big league level, but McCormick has at least become an intriguing, tradable prospect. 35+ FV Prospects 32. Blake Taylor, LHP Drafted: 2nd Round, 2013 from Dana Hills HS (CA) (NYM) Age 24.6 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 220 Bat / Thr L / L FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 55/55 55/55 50/50 40/40 90-95 / 96 Taylor is a vertical arm slot, fastball/curveball reliever. Houston acquired him as part of the Jake Marisnick deal with the Mets. 33. Shawn Dubin, RHP Drafted: 13th Round, 2018 from Georgetown College (HOU) Age 24.5 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 55/55 60/60 50/50 45/45 40/45 92-95 / 97 Dubin enjoyed a velo spike in 2019 and dominated low-level competition with mid-90s heat and a good slider. He’s a wispy 155 pounds, which has caused some consternation among scouts about his ability to hold the velo spike over multiple seasons (one source put a Mike Stutes comp on him), but it’s middle relief stuff now. 34. Peter Solomon, RHP Drafted: 4th Round, 2017 from Notre Dame (HOU) Age 23.6 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops 55/55 50/50 55/55 40/45 40/45 40/45 90-94 / 95 Solomon missed almost all of 2019 due to Tommy John surgery. He projects as a multi-pitch reliever. 35. Jairo Lopez, RHP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Venezuela (HOU) Age 19.3 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 150 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 50/55 55/60 50/55 45/50 40/50 91-94 / 95 Lopez has a long, somewhat violent arm action and he’s small, but he’s a plus athlete with a really quick arm and advanced pitchability for his age. He has a shot to be a No. 4/5 starter and has a realistic bullpen fallback due to the arm strength. 36. Brett Conine, RHP Drafted: 11th Round, 2018 from Fullerton (HOU) Age 23.4 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 50/50 55/55 45/50 40/45 45/55 90-93 / 96 Conine spent 2019 carving up low-level hitters with a well-located breaking ball and a sneaky, low-90s heater. His could pitch his way into a backend rotation role, but he’s more likely a spot start, up and down type. 37. Juan Pablo Lopez, LHP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Mexico (HOU) Age 21.1 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr L / L FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops 45/50 45/50 45/55 40/55 90-93 / 94 A pitchability lefty with more physical projection than most pitchers this age, Lopez has backend starter ceiling. 38. Julio Robaina, LHP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Cuba (HOU) Age 19.0 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr L / L FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 40/45 50/55 45/50 40/55 89-92 / 94 Another potential backend starter, Robaina has the vertical arm slot and accompanying spin axis, but he’s less projetable than Lopez even though he’s two years younger. 39. Bryan De La Cruz, RF Drafted: null Round, 2013 from Dominican Republic (HOU) Age 23.2 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw 45/50 50/50 35/40 50/50 55/55 50/50 We think De La Cruz has a shot to be in someone’s outfield mix eventually, just probably not Houston’s. He mashes lefties and plays an above-average corner, but he could use a swing change to get to more of his average raw power. 40. Diosmerky Taveras, RHP Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Dominican Republic (HOU) Age 20.5 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+ Tool Grades (Present/Future) Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops 60/65 45/50 40/45 40/50 20/40 94-97 / 98 Taveras is an arm strength lottery ticket who walked more than a batter per inning in the AZL last year. Other Prospects of Note Grouped by type and listed in order of preference within each category. Younger, Higher Variance Types Enmanuel Valdez, 2B Roilan Machandy, CF Nathan Perry, C Deury Carrasco, SS Yohander Martinez, 3B Alfredi Jimenez, RHP Luis Vega, RHP Valdez, 21, is a stocky, slower twitch infielder with limited range. He has good hands and actions and some feel to hit. He performed with the bat until a mid-year promotion to Hi-A. He could be a bat-first infield role player. Machandy, 18, is a speedy DSL center fielder from Cuba who needs a long-term look because of his tools. Perry is a 20-year-old, well-built catcher with an athletic lefty swing, and his defense is improving. The exit velos are in the 40/45-grade area right now, but he’s still pretty young. Carrasco barely played in 2019 and was bad when he did, but he only turned 20 in September. We liked him as a speed/glove/versatility bench piece last year. Yohander Martinez was a DSL All-Star. He’s well-built and has a plus arm; his swing has some length but it also has lift. Jimenez is a 20-year-old lower slot guy up to 95. Vega is an 18-year-old pitchability righty with a bunch of average pitches. Older, Potential Role Players Matthew Barefoot, OF Ralph Garza, RHP Leovanny Rodriguez, RHP Alex McKenna, OF Tommy DeJuneas, RHP Ross Adolph, OF Osvaldo Duarte, INF Ronel Blanco, RHP Barefoot is a swing change candidate with present speed and defense. He hit really well with wood on Cape Cod but flopped in a short Penn-League run last summer. He’ll be 22 all next year. Leovanny Rodriguez, 23, is a three-quarters slot righty who sits 91-95 in relief. He has good numbers up through Hi-A. McKenna, Adolph, and Barefoot are all tier two or three college center fielders who performed as amateurs. They have tweener traits and had down statistical seasons in 2019. De Juneas is up to 97, Blanco up to 96. They’re both well into their mid-20s and have control problems. Duarte has bench utility ceiling. Mashers Taylor Jones, 1B Joe Perez, 3B J.J. Matijevic, 1B Rainier Rivas, 1B This is pretty self-explanatory. Jones, 26, is on the 40-man, he averaged 91 mph off the bat last year, and hit 48% of his balls in play 95 mph or above. He might be a corner bench piece because of the power. Perez has big raw power and also has huge arm strength, so we wonder if he might be moved to the mound if he doesn’t hit again in 2020. Rivas was acquired from the Angels for Max Stassi. He is only 18 but still averaged exit velos above 92 mph last year. He’s wholly unprojectable and positionless, but there’s real power. Matijevic whiffs too much to be a 40 FV first base fit. Unique Looks Willy Collado, RHP Kent Emanuel, LHP Kit Scheetz, LHP Brayan De Paula, LHP Dean Deetz, RHP Collado was close to being on the list even though he only touches 92 on occasion. He’s a side arm sinker/slider relief prospect with bat-missing tail on an upper-80s fastball. He’s 21 and has reached Double-A. Emanuel is 27, he’s now on the 40-man, and has been maximized for sink. Scheetz was undrafted out of Virginia Tech and is now 25, but he doesn’t have to be on the 40-man until next winter. He’s a funky, junk-balling lefty who has performed up through Triple-A. He’s great bullpen injury insurance for 2020. De Paula is 20, he’s pretty projectable, and has real arm strength (up to 95) but poor control. We’ve written about Deetz the last few seasons, but his control regressed last year. System Overview As always, this system is loaded with homegrown pitching, some of which has come out of nowhere during the last 12 months. This list is a Rule 5 draft and a Greinke trade away from being a half dozen names longer, and while part of Houston’s draft strategy as it pertains to hitters (targeting measurable power) has seemed cookie cutter-ish, they’ve either been able to flip some of those types in deals or turn them into viable pieces. Some of this may be caused by the vacuum created in the upper minors by Houston’s lack of minor league free agent signings. While GM Jeff Lunhow was in St. Louis, the Cardinals began de-emphasizing the signing of minor league free agents, and in Houston, that’s been taken to an extreme. The upper-level players other teams bring in are replaced by overachieving recent draftees who the org pushes up the ladder quickly as a way of stress-testing their skills; once in a while, you end up with Josh Rojas because of this. And rival teams who use a model-heavy approach to pro scouting can be misled by this strategy. Player promotion rate is almost certainly a variable in some models, and if not, is a way to flag players for re-evaluation. Houston promotes an artificially high number of their prospects to fill spots unoccupied by the minor league free agents they don’t sign, so this can be more noise than signal at times. And depending on how MLB decides to discipline the org, fallout from the big league club’s trash can whacking might impact next year’s draft pick situation in a class that looks a little deeper than usual.