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Houston Astros Top 20 prospects for 2017

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Francis Martes
Francis Martes
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Astros Top 20 Prospects for 2017

The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. All of these grades are subject to change as the winter progresses. The final grades will be finished sometime in February when all 30 teams are complete.

QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS

Grade A prospects are the elite. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don’t intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.

Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.

Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don’t make it at all.

Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.

1) Francis Martes, RHP, Grade B+: Age 21, Dominican right-hander acquired from Marlins in Jarred Cosart trade; 3.30 ERA in 125 innings in Double-A with 131/47 K/BB, just 104 hits; fastball up to 99 and consistently at 94-95; has developed a plus curveball to go with it; change-up still inconsistent but has progressed well enough to project him as a starter; control is fine for a young power arm with this kind of stuff although command within zone still needs a bit of work; needs time in Triple-A but has upside of a number two starter. ETA late 2017.

2) Kyle Tucker, OF, Grade B+
: Age 19, first round pick in 2015; hit .276/.348/.402 in 373 at-bats in Low-A then .339/.435/.661 in 59 at-bats after moving up to High-A; combined for 32 steals, 50 walks, 81 strikeouts; pure hitter with above-average power and very good strike zone judgment; should provide high OBP with at least solid batting averages and could well be a .300+ hitter; power will depend on how much he fills out 6-4, 190 pound frame; could be something like John Olerud as a hitter; that is, John Olerud with 15 steals a year and good defense in right field, or perhaps Shawn Green if home run power maximizes. ETA: 2019.

3) David Paulino, RHP, Grade B+:
Age 22, signed by Tigers back in 2010 from Dominican Republic; acquired in 2013 trade; posted 2.00 ERA in 90 innings with 106/19 K/BB, 72 hits allowed, pitching in Double-A/Triple-A plus 12 innings of rookie ball rehab due to sore elbow; already has Tommy John on resume; stuff similar to Martes with fastball up to 97, plus curveball, improved change-up, excellent control; much different physically however as Martes is 6-1 and Paulino is 6-7; given injury history he may be more likely than Martes to end up in bullpen but ceiling is very high. ETA 2017.

4) Yulieski Gurriel, 3B-1B-OF, Grade B/B+:
Age 32, former Cuban superstar signed five year contract; difficult to know where to rank him given age and background; hit a rather disappointing .262/.292/.385 in 130 major league at-bats but he was working off rust; still a technical rookie entering 2017; has long been viewed as a premium hitter for both average and power with solid defense at corners; would have been a Grade A prospect 10 years ago. Guestimate for 2017 assuming full-time play: .282/.318/.444. ETA 2017.

5) Franklin Perez, RHP, Grade B/B+:
Age 19; signed out of Venezuela in 2014 for $1,000,000; outstanding 2016 breakthrough season with 2.84 ERA in 67 innings in Low-A, 75/19 K/BB, pitching at age 18 in a full-season league; fastball at 90-96 MPH with more possible; already has good curveball and a much better changeup than typical for his experience level; athletic, throws strikes, strong mound presence; made highly positive impression on Midwest League observers; main question now is workload/durability; often viewed as potential number three starter but that may be under-selling him. Could be among the best pitching prospects in baseball nine months from now. ETA: late 2019.

6) Forrest Whitley, RHP, Grade B/B+:
Age 19, first round pick from high school in Texas in 2016; posted 4.82 ERA with 26/6 K/BB in 19 innings in rookie ball; 6-7, 240 frame generates 91-96 MPH heat; both curveball and slider project as plus and has a change-up, too; keeps mechanics in gear despite his size; like Perez, we need to see how he handles a workload but he projects very well as a starter and could leap up ’17 prospect lists very rapidly. ETA: 2020.

7) Ramon Laureano, OF, Grade B-/B:
Age 22, originally from Dominican Republic, drafted in 16th round in 2014 from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Junior College; hit combined .319/.428/.528 with 15 homers, 70 walks, 43 steals in 417 at-bats between High-A and Double-A; he continued to mash after his promotion so this cannot be written off as a Cal League illusion, especially given his excellent strike zone judgment; combines OBP ability with 60-grade speed and gap power; also a very good defensive outfielder; not as well-known as Derek Fisher and Teoscar Hernandez, but is younger, has outperformed them, and has no lack of tools himself. ETA 2018.

8) Derek Fisher, OF, Grade B-/B
: Age 23, compensation pick in 2014 from University of Virginia; hit .255/.367/.448 with 21 homers, 28 steals, 83 walks, 154 strikeouts in 478 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A; 60-grade raw power and speed, will take a walk but has significant strikeout issues and has never quite lived up to the expectations of scouts; defense is mediocre despite his physical tools; higher pure ceiling than Laureano but has larger holes in his game; perhaps a faster Jeromy Burnitz. ETA 2017.

9) Teoscar Hernandez, OF, Grade B-/B:
Age 24, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2011; hit .307/.377/.459 between Double-A and Triple-A with 34 steals, 10 homers; hit .230/.304/.420 in 100 major league at-bats, 11 walks, 28 strikeouts; fun player to watch due to speed, arm strength, flashes of impressive power; track record is very erratic as his feel for the game comes and goes; very good glove; makes a nice matched set with Fisher and Laureano. ETA 2017.

10) Daz Cameron, OF, Grade B-/C+
: Age 19, compensation round pick in 2015; hit disappointing .143/.221/.221 with 33 strikeouts in 77 at-bats in Low-A; sent down to New York-Penn League and hit .278/.352/.418 in 79 at-bats until season ended early with broken finger right when he was heating up; combined for 12 steals; best tool is speed, has some power, too; opinions on hitting approach are very mixed and the early results aren’t enough to tell us either way given sample size; will try again in Low-A in ’17; way too soon to give up on. ETA: 2020.

11) Garrett Stubbs, C, Grade B-/C+
: Age 23, eighth round pick in 2015 from Southern Cal; hit .291/.385/.442 in High-A then .325/.401/.517 after moving up to Double-A, implying that this wasn’t a Lancaster illusion; undersized 5-10 160 pounder with lefty bat, impressive feel for hitting with good plate discipline and contact hitting ability plus enough pop to keep the respect of pitchers; threw out 51% of runners and is a very good receiver. Deserves more attention thatn he gets. ETA 2018.

12) A.J. Reed, 1B, Grade B-/C+: Age 23, hit .291/.368/.556 with 15 homers, 32 walks, 67 strikeouts in 261 at-bats in Triple-A; hit .164/.270/.262 in 122 major league at-bats with 18 walks but 48 strikeouts; over rookie limit on service time but not at-bats; won’t be eligible for 2017 ROY; no problems mashing minor league pitching with combination of plate discipline and power; MLB pitchers were able to exploit his aggressiveness; has to find a way to bring his minor league hitting feel forward the majors; too soon to give up on him given entirety of his record; could turn into Anthony Rizzo if he makes adjustments, Jon Singleton if he doesn’t; ETA 2017.

13) Jandel Gustave, RHP, Grade C+/B-:
Age 24, posted 3.79 ERA in 57 Triple-A innings, 55/23 K/BB; posted 3.52 ERA in 15 major league innings with 16/4 K/BB; fastball can hit 99, slider is erratic, doesn’t have a change-up, limited to relief; control was problematic in the minors but he kept his command in gear during major league exposure; if that remains true, can be a bullpen force. ETA 2017.

14) Anibal Sierra, SS, Grade C+/B-:
Age 22, Cuban defector signed for $1,500,000 last summer, hit .316/.465/.506 in 79 at-bats in Dominican Summer League, too old for the level but needed at-bats; made just one error in 170 defensive innings; obviously we need to see him at higher levels but he got off to a good start and could become a strong defensive shortstop who hits for average and moderate power. ETA: no idea.

15) Jason Martin, OF, Grade C+
: Age 21, eighth round pick in 2013; hit .270/.357/.533 with 23 homers, 20 steals, 55 walks, 108 strikeouts in 400 at-bats in High-A; substantial Lancaster split, .294/.385/.592 at home, .246/.330/.472 on the road; speed and athleticism best attributes, but we need to see if he can keep his power outside the Cal League. May be a tweener/fourth outfielder down the line. ETA 2019.

16) Stephen Wrenn, OF, Grade C+: Age 22, sixth round pick in 2016 from University of Georgia; hit .282/.365/.544 in 149 at-bats in NY-P then .236/.277/.393 in 140 at-bats in Midwest League; 70-grade speed with surprising pop but strike zone got away from him in full-season ball; defense is ahead of hitting at this point but there is upside here, may be a late bloomer. ETA: late 2019.

17) Cionel Perez, LHP, Grade C+: Age 20, another Cuban talent, originally signed for $5,150,000 but this was cut back to $2,000,000 after physical exam revealed potential arm problems; fastball reported as high as 95 despite 5-11 frame, shows potential for plus breaking ball and is said to already have good control; we need to see what kind of workload he can manage before going higher with the rating. ETA no idea.

18) J.D. Davis, 3B, Grade C+: Age 23, hit .268/.334/.485 with 23 homers, 45 walks, 143 strikeouts in 485 at-bats in Double-A; third round pick in 2014 from Cal State Fullerton; has made progress at third base but may ultimately fit best as 1B/DH type; power his best attribute but there are concerns that his swing gets too long and contact is obviously an issue; ETA 2018.

19) Colin Moran, 3B, Grade C+:
Age 24, hit .259/.329/.368 with 10 homers, 47 walks, 124 strikeouts in 459 at-bats in Triple-A; went 3-for-23 in the majors; has the opposite problem to J.D. Davis: good past reputation as pure hitter bur with questionable power; he tried to add more power in ’16, resulting in a much higher strikeout rate but no boost in performance; defense has turned out to be very good at third base but he has to hit more than this. Perhaps he should forget about power and just concentrate on OBP and batting average. ETA 2017.

20) Miguelangel Sierra, SS, Grade C+:
Age 19, signed for $1,000,000 out of Venezuela in 2014; hit .289/.386/.620 (!) with 11 homers, 12 walks, 40 strikeouts in 121 at-bats in Appalachian League; slumped to .140/.216/.183 with 34 strikeouts in 93 at-bats in NY-P; has tools to remain at shortstop and is more reliable on routine plays than many youngsters; good pop in the bat despite 5-11, 165 build but has to get a grip on the strike zone; high ceiling. ETA 2021.

OTHER GRADE C+ (more or less interchangeable with spots 15-20): Yordan Alvarez, 1B; Rogerlio Armenteros, RHP; Gilberto Celestino, OF; Ronnie Dawson, OF; Jacob Dorris, RHP; Dean Deetz, RHP; Drew Ferguson, OF; Reymin Guduan, LHP; Jose Hernandez, RHP; Nick Hernandez, RHP; James Hoyt, RHP; Jordan Jankowski, RHP; Cristian Javier, RHP; Jon Kemmer, OF; Brendan McCurry, RHP; Freudys Nova, SS; Hector Perez, RHP; Brady Rogers, RHP; Abdiel Saldana, RHP

GRADE C (some of these guys have high ceilings): Brett Adcock, LHP; Jorge Alcala, RHP; Andrew Aplin, OF; Jonathan Arauz, INF; Tyler Britton, LHP; Guadalupe Chavez, RHP; Ryan Deemes, RHP; Riley Ferrell, RHP; Elieser Hernandez, RHP; Joshua James, RHP; Eric Peterson, RHP; Jake Rogers, C; Cy Sneed, RHP; Max Stassi, C; Miles Straw, OF; Trent Thornton, RHP; Ashur Tolliver, LHP; Framber Valdez, LHP

Tremendous depth in C+ and C+/B- types in this system, plus several of the Grade C guys have high upside but are just a long way off. I will answer any questions about any of these players in the comments thread. The guys I wrote up in spots 15 through 20 I selected because people have asked about them but you could make a good case for almost all of the "Other C+" guys in that range.

A year from now some of those C+ and C guys could rank much higher.