MLB 2020 Farm System Overview: Houston Astros

While we wait for the 2020 MLB season to get underway, it’s time to take a closer look at players who could one day be on opening day rosters. For the next month or two, we’ll be examining each team’s farm system, which will contain several prospects that will either one day be contributors for them, or could be used to acquire impact major leaguers. 

Since we’ll be going in alphabetical order by city, our eleventh farm system overview will be of the Houston Astros. We’ll rank their top ten prospects, discuss some of their other notable minor leaguers, and then analyze the overall state of the farm system.

#1: RHP Forrest Whitley

whitley
Photo Cred: Houston Chronicle

Age: 22

Height: 6’7″ Weight: 195 lbs

Drafted: 17th Overall- 2016

Fastball: 70 Breaking Ball: 62.5 Third Pitch: 65 Command: 50

Overall Grade: 58.375

Ever since he was drafted out of high school with the 17th overall pick in the draft, Forrest Whitley has been regarded as one of the premier pitching prospects in the sport. However, since dominating in 2017, he’s dealt with several roadblocks, and because of that, his major-league trajectory has been slightly deterred. In 2018, he only pitched in 26.1 innings, as he served a 50-game suspension for violating the Minor League drug program, and also dealt with multiple injuries. Then, in 2019, he dealt with shoulder fatigue, and also suffered major regression with his command. Usually known as an adequate strike-thrower, the 22-year-old was a free-pass machine last year, and even worse, saw a downtick with the quality of his pitching arsenal. Now, when your fastball sits in the upper 90s with plenty of life, and you can pair it with multiple elite-spin power breaking balls and a deadly changeup, then your chances of being a high-end starting pitcher are extremely high. Therefore, despite a rough past couple of seasons, I’m still high on Whitley’s prospects, as he still has time to develop, and is a true power pitcher. He may not be ready for the majors this year, which was the initial expectation, but Houston can still bank on him being a front-line starter in the future.

#2: SS Freudis Nova

nova
Photo Cred: The Crawfish Boxes

Age: 20

Height: 6’1″ Weight: 180 lbs

Signed: July 2, 2016

Hit: 50 Power: 55 Field: 50 Arm: 60 Speed: 60

Overall Grade: 53

After testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), Freudis Nova ended up not signing with the Marlins in the 2016 international period for $2.5 million, and instead, received a much smaller $1.2 million from Houston. With the way the 20-year-old is developing right now, that may turn out to be an absolute blessing for the Astros. Nova’s offensive upside is tremendous, as per MLB Pipeline, “grades very well in Houston’s strength, speed, and conditioning”, in addition to exit velocity; he should hit for plenty of power as he continues to mature. Now, his plate discipline remains a work in progress, so his on-base skills leave a lot to be desired, but nevertheless, he’s got time to refine his approach. Defensively, his athleticism and elite arm strength project well at either shortstop or third base, so in the future, I could see him performing well in that area. Right now, Nova remains a project with a very unpolished skillset, but in the future, I believe he can be an all-around contributor for the Astros.

#3: RHP Jairo Solis

jairosolis
Photo Cred: The Runner Sports

Age: 20

Height: 6’2″ Weight: 160 lbs

Signed: July 2, 2016

Fastball: 60 Breaking Ball: 60 Third Pitch: 50 Command: 47.5

Overall Grade: 52.75

The 2016 international signing period was a critical one for the Astros, as they not only signed Nova, but Venezuelan right-hander Jairo Solis as well. Solis missed the entire 2019 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery during the end of the 2018 season, but still has a strong outlook moving forward. Despite the fact that his body hasn’t filled out yet (only 160 pounds), his fastball already sits in the mid-90s, and could peak near 100 MPH if his recovery goes as planned. As for the rest of his arsenal, his breaking ball and changeup both have a great chance to be wipeout pitches in the future, and if that’s the class, he’ll have the three-pitch mix needed to be a starting pitcher at the next level.  If there’s one major concern with Solis, it’s his command, as he hasn’t posted great walk rates and needs to develop more of a feel for pitching, but like Nova, he has plenty of time to develop.

#4: RHP Tyler Ivey

tylerivey
Photo Cred: The Runner Sports

Age: 23

Height: 6’4″ Weight: 195 lbs

Drafted: 3rd Round- 2017

Fastball: 55 Breaking Ball: 57.5 Third Pitch: 50 Command: 50

Overall Grade: 52.375

Tyler Ivey’s violent mechanics will concern some scouts, but still, there’s a lot to like with the former third-round pick. His fastball works well up in the zone, and he’s done well to improve his curveball, which would explain his strong strikeout rates; his slider and changeup also should be at least average pitches. Therefore, he isn’t your prototypical prospect in terms of delivery, but does every pitcher have to be? After all, he’s got a solid frame and displayed command and durability so far in the minors, so he isn’t guaranteed to be a reliever. Even if he does, his ability to miss bats will allow him to be a high-leverage option, but still, I have faith he can remain in the rotation, even if he initially comes up as a reliever. For the Astros, that could be as soon as this season, though he’ll look to prove himself once again in Double-A and/or Triple-A.

#5: RHP Brandon Bielak

bielak
Photo Cred: MiLB.com

Age: 23

Height: 6’1″ Weight: 210 lbs

Drafted: 11th Round- 2017

Fastball: 55 Breaking Ball: 55 Third Pitch: 52.5 Command: 50

Overall Grade: 52.25

The Astros’ previous regime, led by former general manager Jeff Luhnow, was notorious for finding value in the draft where others couldn’t. Ivey was a third-round pick, and in that same 2017 draft, they got an absolute steal by drafting Brandon Bielak in the 11th round. He isn’t the type of pitcher that will blow you away, but he generates great spin rates with his fastball, and he complements it tremendously with a circle-changeup and two solid breaking balls. That fastball is perhaps his most intriguing pitch, as it allows him to miss more bats than it should since it only sits in the low 90s, and that should definitely work well at the big-league level. Plus, although his command slightly regressed in 2019, it’s at least average, so at the very least, he has average to above-average tools across the board. Similar to Ivey, I expect Bielak to contribute for the Astros at some point in this season, as even if he doesn’t have the highest ceiling, he looks destined to be a serviceable #3 or #4 starting pitcher in the near future.

#6: C Korey Lee

koreylee
Photo Cred: MiLB.com

Age: 21

Height: 6’2″ Weight: 205 lbs

Drafted: 32nd Overall- 2019

Hit: 45 Power: 55 Field: 50 Arm: 60 Speed: 42.5

Overall Grade: 51.25

When the Astros selected catcher Korey Lee with the 32nd overall pick in the 2019 draft, it was slightly shocking, as he had been considered a fringe top 100 prospect in that draft class by most outlets. Still, catchers are always critical assets to have, and it’s not as though Lee is a poor prospect by any means. The University of California product has terrific raw power, which plays up to his strength, leverage, and bat speed. Plus, he’s got a strong arm, and with more experience behind the plate, he should be able to finetune his defense enough to be at least average there. The main wildcard with the 21-year-old has to be his on-base skills, as he’s shown the ability to draw walks, but still, his overall pure hitting ability is in question. I’d like to see more consistency on both sides of the ball before I anoint Lee as the Astros’ catcher of the future, but still, he’s got lots of potential, and at the very least, he should be a low-end everyday player at the position.

#7: LHP Cionel Perez

cionelperez
Photo Cred: Climbing Tal’s Halls

Age: 23

Height: 5’11” Weight: 170 lbs

Signed: July 2, 2016

Fastball: 57.5 Breaking Ball: 60 Third Pitch: 45 Command: 45

Overall Grade: 50.375

With two good breaking balls and a mid-90s fastball, there’s a reason why Cionel Perez has been a well-known prospect for the Astros since he was signed by the team in 2016. However, since being signed, the 23-year-old hasn’t shown enough glimpses of potential, which is very concerning. Not only has his changeup feel and command not developed at all, but he doesn’t even generate strikeouts at the consistent rate that you’d expect; with that lack of command and a notable injury history, he’s probably a reliever in the Astros’ eyes. However, he doesn’t have the “blow you away” pitching arsenal to dominate in that role, and for that reason, I’d still prefer for him to be a starter, as he actually has fared better starting out games than coming out of the bullpen. His past pedigree was too strong for me to completely dismiss, but this will certainly be a huge season for the Cuban left-hander.

#8: RHP Rogelio Armenteros

armenteros
Photo Cred: Houston Chronicle

Age: 25

Height: 6’1″ Weight: 215 lbs

Signed: September 15th, 2014

Fastball: 47.5 Breaking Ball: 50 Third Pitch: 60 Command: 50

Overall Grade: 50.375

With a fastball that barely reaches 90 MPH, Rogelio Armenteros won’t blow any opposing hitters away, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be effective. The 25-year-old has managed to strike out opposing batters at all levels, and that speaks to his elite changeup and deception. In 18 innings pitched in the majors last season (two starts, three relief appearances), he fared well with a 4.04 xFIP and 9.00 K/9, so he definitely showed he can at least be somewhat reliable at the big-league level. It’s hard to rest easy when he’s pitching given his very minuscule margin for effort, but it hasn’t come back to bite him yet, and because of that, he should be at least a decent back-of-the-rotation starter/swingman pitcher for the Astros this season, and in the future.

#9: RHP Bryan Abreu

bryanabreu
Photo Cred: Houston Chronicle

Age: 22

Height: 6’1″ Weight: 204 lbs

Drafted: November 11, 2013

Fastball: 55 Breaking Ball: 65 Third Pitch: 42.5 Command: 45

Overall Grade: 50.25

After signing with the Astros in 2013, Bryan Abreu spent four years in Rookie Ball, but has quickly ascended through the minor leagues since then, and even made his major league debut out of the bullpen last season. With two deadly breaking balls and a mid 90s fastball, the 22-year-old has the ability to generate whiffs with ease, which is his clear strength. After all, he doesn’t have any sort of changeup or command refinement, so he’s going to be a reliever, which isn’t as valuable. Yet, when you’re projected to strike out batters at a 10.81 K/9 clip from STEAMER, it’s clear that you’ll have a spot in a major-league bullpen for several years; I expect Abreu to be a critical part of the Astros’ bullpen this season.

#10: RHP Christian Javier

christianjavier
Photo Cred: MiLB.com

Age: 22

Height: 6’1″ Weight: 204 lbs

Signed: June 8, 2015

Fastball: 55 Breaking Ball: 55 Third Pitch: 47.5 Command: 45

Overall Grade: 49.25

The Astros clearly have a type when it comes to international pitchers; they love to target prospects who possess strikeout ability, but have major work to do in terms of developing their command. Christian Javier fits that bill; the 22-year-old generates tremendous spin rates with his fastball and breaking ball, but at the moment, that’s all he brings to the table. He’s posted great strikeout rates in the minors, but that has come with poor walk rates, and when it’s all said and done, he’ll most likely be a reliever. After appearing in Triple-A last season, that means he’s knocking on the door of a major-league call-up, so he may be more of an instant contributor than a long-term building block, but still, there’s a lot to like about his outlook as a full-time reliever. He and Abreu will be critical for a team that has seen their reliever depth dwindle this offseason.

Best of the Rest

  • Ronnie Dawson is an intriguing outfield prospect with a good build, strong raw power, and decent walk rates, but currently, that’s all he brings to the table in terms of his tools.
  • Luis Santana is an old-school type of second baseman, standing at 5’8″ with a stocky frame and terrific pure hitting ability, but he’s very limited besides that

Farm System Overview

The Astros’ farm system isn’t where it once was, but that’s not entirely their fault; they’ve seen prospects like Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker graduate recently. However, they did trade much of their prospect depth to acquire Zack Greinke and most of his large contract, and with the team without their top-two picks for the next two years due to the sign-stealing scandal, they’re not likely to bring in many more prospects here. That is, unless the new regime, led by James Click, manuevers their way around it, which he’s already doing; they’ve reached an agreement with Cuban outfield prospect Pedro Leon. Plus, they also have plenty of young stars already on the roster, so their future is still bright, even if they don’t have the ammunition to make any more win-now trades, and are a little more reliant on their high-end prospects to contribute.

 

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