2017 Houston Astros Top 10 Prospects

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1. Francis Martes, rhp
2. Kyle Tucker, of
3. David Paulino, rhp
4. Franklin Perez, rhp
5. A.J. Reed, 1b
6. Forrest Whitley, rhp
7. Teoscar Hernandez, of
8. Yulieski Gurriel, 3b/1b
9. Derek Fisher, of
10. Garrett Stubbs, c

In the past two seasons, trusting the process and being patient has paid off for two long-suffering fan bases. Dayton Moore and Royals, the doorstop of the American League since the 1994 strike, finished off a seven-year rebuild with a World Series title in 2015. A year later, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the Cubs guided the Cubs to their first World Series victory in more than a century.

And that leaves the Astros. Like the Cubs, the Astros have a title drought that is better described in decades than years. Houston's 55 years in baseball without a title now counts as the third-longest in the game, behind only the Indians and Rangers.

And like the Cubs and the Royals, the Astros are now bearing the fruits from a complete teardown. General manager Jeff Luhnow and his staff took over the same offseason as Epstein took over the Cubs. Houston had further to go because of a thinner farm system and less big league talent. But like Chicago, Houston signaled that the long rebuild had reached a new stage with a playoff appearance in 2015.

But while Chicago took a further step forward in 2016, leaping from wild card team to the best record in baseball, the Astros took a step back. After winning 86 games in 2015, Houston slid back to 84 wins. A full season from shortstop Carlos Correa and an outstanding year by second baseman Jose Altuve was not enough to make up for a nearly complete collapse by Astros outfielders, a revolving door of ineffective first basemen and a rotation that regressed dramatically.

That leaves the Astros with opportunities but also a significant challenge heading into 2017. The strength of the organization's system is its pitching, even after graduating righties Chris Devenski, Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz in 2016. Houston used that pitching depth to trade Albert Abreu (who would have ranked No. 10 on this list) and Jorge Guzman to acquire Yankees catcher Brian McCann in mid-November.

That pitching depth means that even after acquiring McCann and signing outfielder Josh Reddick, the Astros could make further moves. Martes, Paulino and fellow righties Forrest Whitley, the club's first-round pick in 2016, and Franklin Perez, a breakout prospect at low Class A Quad Cities, would be in high demand if offered in the right deal.

Houston's window to contend still is wide open. Altuve is under contract through 2019. Correa and righthander Lance McCullers Jr. won't even reach arbitration until after the 2019 season. But the time to rely on building from within is over.

The Astros did not spend significantly on the free agent market coming into 2016, and they were relatively quiet at the trade deadline, too. That shouldn't be the case as Houston looks to win in 2017. After acquiring McCann and Reddick, Houston has signalled that it's going to be aggressive this winter.

The time to win is now.

1. Francis Martes, rhp | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Nov. 24, 1995. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 232. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2012. Signed by: Albert Gonzalez/Sandy Nin/Domingo Ortega (Marlins).

Fastball: 70.
Curveball: 70.
Changeup: 55.
Control: 55.
Based on 20-80 scouting scale—where 50 represents major league average—and future projection rather than present tools.

Background: The Marlins don't spend much money internationally, but they have done a great job of finding bargains on the international market. Miami signed Martes for just $78,000 in 2012 and watched him quickly develop from a pitcher with a high-80s fastball and some feel into a low- to mid-90s fireballer. He stood out in the Dominican Summer League in 2013 before he ever pitched in the U.S. Impressed with Martes' ability to mix a plus fastball and plus curveball in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2014, the Astros ensured he was included in the Jarred Cosart trade that July, even though Martes was struggling to get outs and throw strikes in a complex league. He has made further developmental leaps since then as he has filled out and developed a changeup. Once considered a likely power reliever, Martes has developed into one of the fastest-moving starting pitchers in the minors. For example, he was the youngest pitcher in Double-A when the 2016 season began. Martes started slowly at Corpus Christi and had a 5.03 ERA in early June, but he went 5-4, 2.67 in the second half with 81 strikeouts and 20 walks in 71 innings.

Scouting Report: Martes' stuff has few peers in the minors or majors. He has touched 100 mph with his fastball and generally sits 93-97. His plus-plus four-seamer doesn't have exceptional run, but it still generates plenty of swings and misses thanks to its extreme velocity and his ability to work in and out and up and down. Scouts do debate whether Martes' ability to work all four quadrants is by design or by good fortune, because he sometimes misses his target significantly but still manages to be around the strike zone. Even though he's short for a righthander—he is officially listed at 6-foot-1 but probably is closer to 6 feet—Martes gets some downhill plane when he works down in the zone. His hard downer curveball at 85-87 mph gives him a second potential 70-grade pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale. Its power and downward break is reminiscent of that of fellow Astros righthander Lance McCullers Jr. Martes' curve comes in at slider speed, but it has true 12-to-6 or 11-to-5 break rather than the sweep of a slider. Unlike McCullers, Martes uses his fastball as his main weapon, which sets up his curve. His changeup is less consistent, but it generates plus grades from some and it improved as the year wore on. He throws it harder than most changeups, but it generates whiffs thanks to its late drop. It will show some late fade at times, though more by accident than design. The fade generally happens when he spins out of his delivery instead of staying direct to the plate. Martes has also toyed with using a cutter against lefthanders.

The Future: Martes has the raw profile of an ace with two pitches that grade near the top of the scale, a changeup that is at least average and at least average control. He has filled out into a thick-chested, meaty righthander who evokes comparisons with Johnny Cueto because of his short stature and big stuff. Martes is ready for Triple-A Frenso as a 21-year-old and could reach the big leagues at some point in 2017.

Corpus Christi (AA) 9 6 3.33 25 22 0 125 104 4 47 131 .222

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