The Houston Astros aren’t far removed from having one of the best farm systems in baseball. As more and more of its prospects get a taste of the bigs, one would think the farm is becoming barren.
That’s not the case, however.
The Astros have some nice depth who made some strides this season. Forrest Whitley showed he was worthy of first-round stock and Derek Fisher made his big league debut. But they were highly-acclaimed prospects.
Despite losing two bigger prospects — Jake Rogers and Franklin Perez — in the Justin Verlander deal, there is plenty to like. The Astros may no longer be a Top 5 farm system, but they have prospects. Let’s take a look at three guys that should be on your radar after a strong 2017.
Yordan Alvarez, LF/ 1B
How much has Alvarez’s stock risen this season? He didn’t even crack John Sickels preseason Top 20. While some trades and promotions have certainly helped his rise, an improved bat also now makes Alvarez a Top 5 Astros prospect.
Alvarez was actually signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Cuba, but sent to the Astros in a deal for Josh Fields before he ever suited up in Dodger blue. His 2016 debut in the Dominican Summer League was strong (.341/.474/.500) but it was short (just 16 games). Albeit a small sample size, he showed what was expected of him: solid contact and an advanced feel for the strike zone, walking 12 times and striking out seven. There was no power, however, with just one home run and two doubles.
The Astros skipped Alvarez over Rookie ball and Short Season and sent him right to the Midwest League of full-season ball. He finished the season in High-A in the Carolina League, where despite struggling a bit, still showed a nice feel at the plate.
Alvarez slashed .304/.379/.481 across both levels. He found some power, ripping 17 doubles and 12 home runs. He could find some more power with an increased fly ball rate, as he continues to hit a lot of ground balls. He’s smart on the bases, stealing eight of nine attempts, because most reports indicate he isn’t fast. Alvarez still exhibits patience at the plate, striking out 77 times and walking 44, lowering his strike out percentage in High-A.
The 20-year-old lefty won’t be rushed, and is limited to a left field/ first base thanks to average (if not below) speed. But he is a beast (6’5”, 225) and if he can continue to develop power and control the strike zone, he could provide a future big league bat.
Myles Straw, OF
Straw is much more Juan Pierre than Curtis Granderson in centerfield, but he still shows some tools to make him an effective fourth outfielder one day.
The 22-year-old, right-handed hitting outfielder was drafted in the 12th round of the 2015 MLB Draft out of St. Johns River State College. He has since shown a ridiculous feel for the strike zone and top-notch speed as he has climbed the ladder.
He spent the majority of 2017 in the Carolina League before a late-season, 16-game promotion to Corpus Christi. While in Buies Creek he slashed .295/.412/.373 with 17 doubles, seven triples, and one home runs. He swiped 36 of 45 stolen base attempts and walked 87 time and struck out 70 in 533 plates appearances. Despite a complete lack of power, Straw still put up a 131 wRC+, well above league average.
Straw uses his speed to his advantage, and an extreme ground ball rate never lower than 55 percent in his career plays to his skill set. At 22, there’s no reason to expect a power surge, but his speed and arm (14 assists this season) should stick in center but give him the chance to roam the outfield and play anywhere.
Cionel Perez, LHP
Perez is quite the conundrum. He’s small for a starter, standing at 5’11”, but fires a mean fastball constantly in the low-90s but reaching 95 often and easily. Here’s what John Sickels said preseason when he ranked him the 17th-best prospect in the Astros system:
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.
The lefty put the issues of his physical behind him, hurling 93.2 innings over three levels of ball without any DL stints along the way. Though he reached Double-A in his first full-season stateside, he struggled more at each level becoming more hittable, and more wild.
Perez made 21 appearances, 16 as a starter. He picked up two four-inning saves along the way as well. Overall, split between Quad Cities, Buies Creek and Corpus Christi, Perez went 6-4 with a 4.13 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. Opponents hit .266 against him, and he struck out eight batters-per-nine, while walking a respectable 2.60-per-nine.
Perez showed some flaws in Year 1, but he also showed potential. The Astros clearly believe in his pitchability, aggressively moving him up the ladder despite a modest four-pitch arsenal. His progress will certainly be worth watching in 2018.