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Houston Astros Top 20 prospects for 2018

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Looking ahead for the World Champions. . .

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-All Star Game Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Astros Top 20 Prospects for 2018

(this list was updated December 18, 2017 and again on January 31st, 2018)

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) Forrest Whitley, RHP, Grade A/A-: Age 20, first round pick in 2016 from high school in Texas, outstanding 2017 season at three levels with combined 2.83 ERA, 143/34 K/BB in 92 innings, 78 hits; Texas League observers at end of season were full of praise, noting excellent command of mid-90s fastball and better secondary stuff than most pitchers his age, with slider, curve, and change-up all looking very good; mature mound presence as well; main issue now is building up workload and proving durability; possible top-of-the-rotation arm, may go with a straight Grade A when all the lists and rankings are complete. ETA 2019.

2) Kyle Tucker, OF, Grade A-/A: Age 20, first round pick in 2015; hit combined .274/.346/.528 with 25 homers, 33 doubles, 21 steals, 46 walks, 109 strikeouts in 464 at-bats between High-A and Double-A; I doubt he’ll be a true stolen base threat at physical maturity but he could show even more power than he currently does; swing is a tad unconventional to the naked eye but it works; may go with a straight Grade A when all the lists are done and the rankings are complete, right now I like Whitley just a hair better because it is harder to find ace pitchers. ETA late 2018 or 2019.

3) J.B. Bukauskas, RHP, Grade B+: Age 21, first round pick in 2017 from University of North Carolina; threw 10 innings in pro debut; strong spring with 9-1, 2.53 record with Tar Heels, 116/37 K/BB, just 62 hits; plus fastball in mid-90s, good slider, threw strikes in college; main question is 6-0 size and change-up development impacting ability to remain a starter but most seem optimistic that those issues will resolve in his favor; ETA 2019.

4) Yordan Alvarez, OF-1B, Grade B+: Age 20, signed by Los Angeles Dodgers out of Cuba in 2015, then traded to Astros; hit .360/.468/.658 in 111 at-bats in Low-A then .277/.329/.393 in 224 at-bats after moving up to High-A; looks like a pure hitter to me, one who makes adjustments well and should provide high batting averages and OBPs; with 6-5, 225 frame more power should come too; doesn’t run well enough to play center field and arm fits best in left but he should be a competent outfield defender and played errorless ball in 26 games at first base; grade assumes more power will come. ETA late 2019.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros
David Paulino
Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

5) David Paulino, RHP, Grade B: Age 23; lost most of the season due to elbow problems and PED suspension; posted 4.50 ERA in 14 innings in Triple-A, 13/9 K/BB; 6.52 ERA in six major league starts, 34/7 K/BB in 29 innings before suspension; still has one of the highest ceilings in the system, fastball can hit 98 and secondary pitches (curve, change) have improved, usually throws strikes; questions about durability and role remain in play. ETA 2018.

6) Cionel Perez, LHP, Grade B: Age 21, signed out of Cuba in 2016, posted combined 4.13 ERA with 83/27 K/BB in 94 innings between Low-A, High-A, and Double-A; scouting reports are better than the numbers, focusing on low-90s fastball, both curveball and change-up flash plus; I think his general “throw strikes” control is ahead of his “hit spots” specific command but a breakthrough in 2018 seems plausible; durability the main concern. ETA 2019.

7) Rogelio Armenteros, RHP, Grade B: Age 23, signed out of Cuba in 2014; posted 2.04 ERA in 124 innings between Double-A and Triple-A with 146/38 K/BB, 91 hits combined; usually not rated this highly on other lists but I think he is under-estimated by many since he doesn’t throw a zillion MPH; fastball in low-90s this year but plays up due to excellent change-up, two different breaking balls, sharp control; looks like he has a strong, durable physical build; he’s a pitcher. ETA 2018.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Houston Astros Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports


8) J.D. Davis, 3B, Grade B: Age 24, third round pick in 2014 from Cal State Fullerton; hit .282/.345/.527 with 26 homers, 40 walks, 108 strikeouts in 412 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A, then .226/.279/.484 with four homers, four walks, 20 strikeouts in 62 major league at-bats; also pitched 1.2 shutout innings of relief in major league bullpen with three strikeouts; that’s legit, he would be a good prospect as a reliever too; power and strong throwing arm are his best tools, solid glove at third base; not sure how he fits onto the roster for 2018 but he’s ready; batting average/OBP may be erratic but other skills seem consistent. ETA 2018.

9) Hector Perez, RHP, Grade B-: Age 21, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2014; combined for 3.44 ERA with 128/78 K/BB in 107 innings between Low-A and High-A, just 78 hits; walks need to come down as he moves up but the stuff is quality, with mid-90s fastball and a breaking ball that draws 70-grades; change-up and overall command need work; has the hard stuff to close if the softer pitches don’t progress enough for him to start; the Ks and low Hs aren’t lying about his potential. ETA 2020.

10) Gilberto Celestino, OF, Grade B-: Age 18, signed for $2,500,000 out of Dominican Republic in 2015; hit .268/.331/.379 with 10 steals, 22 walks, 59 strikeouts in 235 at-bats in Appalachian League; athleticism and defense overcome any scout resistance to his hits-right/throws-left profile; glove is excellent and he uses speed well on the bases; main question is power development but he should be good to the gaps at least; Midwest League in 2018 will be most illuminating. ETA 2021.

11) Corbin Martin, RHP, Grade B-: Age 21, second round pick in 2017 from Texas A&M; posted 2.20 ERA with 43/9 K/BB in 33 innings in pro debut in New York/Penn League; posted 3.80 ERA with 95/38 K/BB in 88 innings with the Aggies; fastball velocity can be erratic, as high as 98 and as low as 89, but with good sink; plus curveball; like many young pitchers his change-up needs more work but he’s athletic and could be a durable starting workhorse down the line. ETA 2020.

12) Brett Adcock, LHP, Grade C+/B-: Age 22, fourth round pick in 2016 from the University of Michigan; posted 3.93 ERA with 117/39 K/BB in 108 innings between Low-A and High-A, 93 hits; throws hard for a lefty up to 94 MPH, mixing in impressive curveball and erratic change-up; needs more work with his command but has made progress after struggling to throw strikes in college; if that comes around further he could be a number four starter with a slight chance for more. ETA 2020.

13) Garrett Stubbs, C, Grade C+/B-: Age 24, eighth round pick in 2015 from USC; hit .232/.328/.321 with four homers, 43 walks, 59 strikeouts in 340 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A; grade is generous on the surface but he hit better in 2016 and is well-respected defensively; very athletic, threw out 32% but was over 50% in ’16; lefty hitter with good strike zone judgment could still do something interesting offensively. ETA 2019.

14) Cristian Javier, RHP, Grade C+/B-: Age 20, signed out of Dominican in 2015; posted 2.25 ERA with 80/27 K/BB in 60 innings between NY-P, Low-A, and High-A, only 38 hits allowed; fastball report was right around 90-91 from Quad Cities but plays up due to strong curve, slider, and change-up; has the component ratios of a power pitcher and should not be under-rated despite the radar readings; like Armenteros, he knows how to pitch. ETA 2020.

15) Abraham Toro-Hernandez, 3B, Grade C+: Age, 20, born in Canada, fifth round pick in 2015 from Seminole State Junior College in Oklahoma; hit .292/.414/.538 with six homers, 19 walks, 21 strikeouts in 106 at-bats in NY-P, .209/.323/.463 with nine homers, 21 walks, 30 strikeouts in 134 at-bats in Low-A; don’t be deceived by the low batting average, Midwest League observers liked his power, strike zone judgment, and defense at third base; intriguing breakthrough prospect for 2018. ETA late 2020.

16) Framber Valdez, LHP, Grade C+: Age 24, signed out of Dominican in 2015 at the old age of 21; posted 2.79 ERA with 73/29 K/BB in 61 innings in High-A but 5.88 ERA, 53/23 K/BB in 49 innings in Double-A; fastball up to 95-96 but curveball and change-up were less effective in Double-A, though K/rate remained solid; some disagreement about whether he starts or relieves in long run, but he’s a lefty who throws hard, he’ll land somewhere. ETA 2019.

17) Joe Perez, 3B-RHP, Grade C+: Age 17, second round pick in 2017 from high school in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; had Tommy John surgery and could have been a first-rounder otherwise as either a pitcher or hitter though Astros reportedly prefer his bat; plenty of bat speed and young for the draft class; I’m highlighting him here among the large group of C+ guys because he has considerable upside but is easy to overlook.

18) Brandon Bailey, RHP, Grade C+: Age 23, drafted by Oakland Athletics in sixth round in 2016 from Gonzaga; traded to Astros on November 20th for Ramon Laureano; nice 2017 season with 3.26 ERA, 120/31 K/BB in 91 innings between Low-A and High-A, just 68 hits; metrics were impressive; undersized for right-hander at 5-10, 175, but can get to 93-94 MPH with a good slider; probably a middle man in the long run but I wanted to mention him because of the trade. ETA 2020.

19) Jorge Alcala, RHP, Grade C+: Age 22, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2014, posted 3.05 ERA in 109 innings between Low-A and High-A with 95/45 K/BB, 71 hits allowed; mid-90s fastball with reliable reports of 98-100 MPH peaks; good slider, change-up coming along, needs to lower walks but tough for hitters to square up; breakthrough candidate although it remains to be seen if he starts or relieves in the long run; ETA late 2020.

20) Ronnie Dawson, OF, Grade C+: Age 22, second round pick in 2016 from The Ohio State University; hit .278/.363/.437 with 14 homers, 18 steals, 59 walks, 110 strikeouts in 490 at-bats between Low-A and High-A; lefty hitter with broad tools including above-average power, speed, and some feel for the strike zone; has some contact problems and batting average may be problematic at higher levels, but could be a strong secondary average player; easy to overlook in a deep system; ETA late 2020.

Most of the following guys in the C+ range could slot in the 17-20 range. I will give you a write-up in the comments section if you ask.

OTHER GRADE C+: Dean Deetz, RHP; Jacob Dorris, RHP; Riley Ferrell, RHP; Carlos Machado, OF; J.J. Matijevic, OF; Freudis Nova, SS; Mike Papierski, C; Nathan Perry, C; Yoanys Quiala, RHP; Lorenzo Quintana, C; Chuckie Robinson, C; Elian Rodriguez, RHP; Leovanny Rodriguez, RHP; Patrick Sandoval, LHP; Carlos Sierra, RHP; Miguelangel Sierra, SS; Jairo Solis, RHP; Peter Solomon, RHP; Myles Straw, OF: Alex Winkelman, LHP

OTHERS OF NOTE: Jonathan Arauz, SS; Jesus Balaguer, RHP; Carmen Benedetti, OF Brandon Bielak, RHP; Ryne Birk, 2B; Deury Carrasco, INF; Humberto Castellanos, RHP Randy Cesar, INF; Lupe Chavez, RHP; Chad Donato, RHP; Drew Ferguson, OF; Reymin Guduan, LHP; Jandel Gustave, RHP; Nick Hernandez, RHP; Tyler Ivey, RHP; Jon Kemmer, OF; Carson LaRue, RHP; Jack Mayfield, INF; Brendan McCurry, RHP; Parker Mushinski, LHP; Brady Rodgers, RHP; Josh Rojas, INF; Abdiel Saldana, RHP; Kit Scheetz, LHP; Kyle Serrano, RHP; Troy Sieber, 1B; Anibal Sierra, INF; Max Stassi, C; Sean Stutzman, LHP; Trent Thornton, RHP; Stephen Wrenn, OF

This is still a deep system although graduations have thinned the top level to some extent. Most of the rankings seem pretty straightforward to me, with Armenteros being the main exception. I like him more than most people do. Your mileage may vary. As usual the C+ and B- types could be ranked in any number of ways with validity, so look at it like tiers or groups.

I will answer questions in the comments section.