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

2. Kyle Tucker, of | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Jan. 17, 1997. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 189. Drafted: HS—Tampa, 2015 (1st round). Signed by: John Martin.

Background: The younger brother of Astros big league outfielder Preston Tucker, Kyle won the BA High School Player of the Year award in 2015, when he hit .484 with 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases. The fifth overall pick that year, he stood out in a pair of Rookie-level stops in his pro debut then jumped to low Class A Quad Cities in 2016.

Scouting Report: Tucker’s advanced bat gives him a shot to be a plus hitter with plus power. Even though he is lean with long levers, he actually prefers hitting balls on the inner half, which helps explains why he’s handled lefthanders well. He’s able to pull his hands in, and his hands and wrists work well to make his pull-oriented approach work. His swing generates excellent loft. But that projected power won’t arrive until Tucker adds some more good weight to add strength in his trunk and legs. The Astros have worked him in all three outfield spots, but he projects as an above-average right fielder with an above-average arm. He’s an average runner but does a great job reading pitchers and timing his jumps.

The Future: Tucker handled a late-season cameo at high Class A Lancaster with no issues. He will return to high Class A in 2017—at the Astros’ new Carolina League affiliate—and could reach Double-A before he turns 21.

Quad Cities (Lo A) .276 .348 .402 373 43 103 19 5 6 56 40 75 31
Lancaster (Hi A) .339 .435 .661 59 13 20 6 2 3 13 10 6 1

3. David Paulino, rhp

Born: Feb. 6, 1994. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-7. Wt.: 214. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2010. Signed by: Carlos Santana/Ramon Perez/Miguel Garcia (Tigers).

Background: As well as Francis Martes has panned out, Paulino has a better frame and equal stuff. The Astros acquired him from the Tigers for reliever Jose Veras in July 2013. Paulino had Tommy John surgery in 2014 and never has pitched 100 innings in a season.

Scouting Report: Paulino is 6-foot-7 but unlike many young, long-limbed pitchers he has a knack for duplicating his simple, low-effort delivery. He already has above-average control, and he walked two or fewer in each 2016 outing. Paulino’s plus fastball sits 91-96 mph with good downhill plane and adequate run and life, though it sometimes takes a while to build velocity. In some starts he’ll pitch at 90-92 mph early, then touch 98 a couple of innings later. He uses both a plus 78-81 mph curveball with 12-to-6 action and depth and a fringe-average slider. His mid-80s changeup flashes plus as well.

The Future: Paulino missed time in 2016 both for elbow tendinitis and a minor disciplinary issue. He should contend for a big league role—either starting or relieving—at some point in 2017, and he has frontline potential if he can prove his durability.

Corpus Christi (AA) 5 2 1.83 14 9 0 64 47 3 11 17 .204
Fresno (AAA) 0 2 3.86 3 3 0 14 16 1 6 20 .267
Houston (MLB) 0 1 5.14 3 1 0 7 6 0 3 2 .240

4. Franklin Perez, rhp

Born: Dec. 6, 1997. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 222. Signed: Venezuela, 2014. Signed by: Oz Ocampo/Oscar Alvarado.

Background: Perez was a big, reasonably athletic third baseman in Carlos Guillen’s program in Venezuela, but it was his throwing arm that stood out more than his power, so he wisely moved to the mound and signed for $1 million. He was one of the younger players in the low Class A Midwest League in 2016. The Astros saw Perez as one of the best arms in the 2014 international class (which included Anderson Espinoza) and so far he’s lived up to those expectations.

Scouting Report: Perez’s present size and stuff give him an excellent chance to develop as a starter. He pitched at 87-91 mph when he signed, but he’s now sitting 92-94 and touching 96 with a plus fastball, and he does it with little effort. Perez’s high-70s curveball has good shape and bite and his changeup has fade and late sink along with good deception. He also toys with a low-80s slider that has potential as a right-on-right weapon. His control is advanced for his age, and 66 percent of his pitches he threw in Quad Cities were strikes.

The Future: With a strong 2017, Perez could leap into the top tier of minor league pitching prospects. With his feel and control he’s ready to pitch in high Class A as a 19-year-old. He has a chance to have three plus pitches with at least average control and he has the frame and ease of delivery that indicates he could be durable.

Quad Cities (Lo A) 3 3 2.84 15 10 0 67 63 1 19 75 .250

5. A.J. Reed, 1b | bba_video_icon_red

Born: May 10, 1993. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 275. Drafted: Kentucky, 2014 (2nd round). Signed by: Nick Venuto.

Background: One of the best hitters in the minors in 2015 and the BA College Player of the Year in 2014, Reed produced at Triple-A Fresno in 2016, hitting .291/.368/.556 in 70 games. But in 45 games with the big league club, he looked helpless against good breaking balls, showing very little of the power that had been his calling card.

Scouting Report: For the first time in years, Reed failed in 2016. He still showed patience and plus power in the Pacific Coast League, but with Houston he was too pull-happy and must prove he can lay off sliders out of the strike zone. Reed has adequate but not exceptional bat speed, so he has to show he can make adjustments to translate his exceptional minor league performance to the big leagues. For a second straight season, Reed reported to camp about 20-30 pounds beyond his ideal weight, which did not help his bat speed or his nimbleness at first base. Reed scoops balls well at first and, as a former pitcher, has a plus arm.

The Future: Slow-footed, slugging first basemen face plenty of skepticism until they hit at the big league level. The Astros aren’t in a position to give Reed an extended trial, so he’ll have to fight for an opportunity. His ceiling is still that of a plus hitter with plus power, but there’s a significant amount of skepticism.

Fresno (AAA) .291 .368 .556 261 42 76 22 1 15 50 32 67 0
Houston (MLB) .164 .270 .262 122 11 20 3 0 3 8 18 48 0

6. Forrest Whitley, rhp | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Sept. 15, 1997. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-7. Wt.: 240. Drafted: HS–San Antonio, 2016 (1st round). Signed by: Noel Gonzales

Background: Like many top high school pitching prospects, Whitley went from nothing to something after a growth spurt. A sub-six-feet freshman, he gained six inches and 15 mph before his sophomore year, but it wasn’t until he shed baby fat that he emerged as a potential first-rounder. Whitley went to the Astros 17th overall in the draft.

Scouting Report: Whitley has the plus-plus fastball you expect from a first-round high school pitching prospect. He sits 92-94 mph and touches 97, and his fastball generates swings and misses due to its excellent life. But unlike many young power pitches, Whitley has three secondary pitches that he has confidence in. His curveball is a plus downer and was the pitch Whitley focused on in his pro debut, but some scouts believe his high-80s power slider could end up being even better. He threw it only once or twice a game as a pro, but it was his go-to weapon in high school. It lacks massive depth, but Whitley makes up for it with velocity and late movement. His changeup is advanced for a power pitcher his age.

The Future: The path from the draft to the big leagues for high school righthanders is rarely a straight road, but Whitley’s plus stuff and advanced control give him the building blocks to be a front-of-the-rotation starter. He should pitch at low Class A Quad Cities in 2017.

GCL Astros (R) 1 1 7.36 4 2 0 7 8 0 3 13 .267
Greeneville (R) 0 1 3.18 4 4 0 11 11 0 3 13 .244

7. Teoscar Hernandez, of | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Oct. 15, 1992. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 198. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2011. Signed by: Felix Francisco/Rafael Belen/Francis Mojica.

Background: The Astros signed Hernandez to a bargain $20,000 bonus in 2011 and saw him quickly climb on the prospect radar. He regressed with a disastrous 2015 season. The Astros left him off the 40-man roster that offseason, but he went unselected in the Rule 5 draft. So Hernandez focused on tracking breaking-ball spin. He found better pitches to hit in 2016 and slashed his strikeout rate from 25 percent to 17 percent.

Scouting Report: Hernandez went from being an easy out to an above-average hitter because he adopted a two-strike approach. He now takes or spoils tough, two-strike pitches he chased in the past. The improved approach did dilute his power slightly, but he still has above-average power to go with his much-improved hit tool. He is an above-average defender in center field and plus in the corners with an above-average arm, though he needs to improve his accuracy.

The Future: With Houston aiming to win the American League West, they probably won’t hand Hernandez a full-time job out of spring training. But with his ability to play all three outfield spots, he could fit as a useful fourth outfielder who plays his way into a larger role.

Corpus Christi (AA) .305 .384 .437 279 53 85 19 0 6 30 32 55 29
Fresno (AAA) .313 .365 .500 144 20 45 9 3 4 23 13 25 5
Houston (MLB) .230 .304 .420 100 15 23 7 0 4 11 11 28 0

8. Yulieski Gurriel, 3b/1b

Born: June 9, 1984. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 190. Signed: Cuba, 2016. Signed by: Charlie Gonzalez.

Background: A teammate of Kendrys Morales on dominant Cuban junior national teams, Gurriel was long considered one of the best players in the world to not play in the U.S. majors. Gurriel bolted Cuba at the Caribbean Series in February 2016 and signed a five-year, $47.5 million deal with the Astros.

Scouting Report: Wherever Gurriel ends up on the diamond, the Astros paid him to hit. He looked rusty in his big league debut and has to adjust to seeing better breaking balls, but scouts see an above-average hitter with above-average power. Gurriel understandably isn’t as nimble as he once was, but he’s still capable of playing average or better defense at first and third base, and he’s fringe-average in left field. He has quick hands and good body control with a plus arm. He is a fringe-average runner.

The Future: The future is now with Gurriel because he turns 33 during the 2017 season. His versatility gives him a chance to play multiple positions for Houston, but his most logical everyday spot for now appears to be first base, where rookies A.J. Reed and Tyler White failed to hit in 2016. Gurriel plays on a front-loaded contract that will earn him $14 million in 2017.

Lancaster (HiA) .429 .375 .786 14 2 6 2 0 1 9 0 3 0
Corpus Christi (AA) .118 .158 .118 17 0 2 0 0 0 3 1 6 0
Fresno (AAA) .222 .263 .444 18 3 4 1 0 1 2 1 4 0
Houston (MLB) .262 .292 .385 130 13 34 7 0 3 15 5 12 1

9. Derek Fisher, of

Born: Aug. 21, 1993. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205. Drafted: Virginia, 2014 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Tim Bittner.

Background: Scouts have been dreaming on Fisher’s combination of speed and power for years. Out of high school he fell to the sixth round after a poor senior season where he struggled at the plate. He largely continued to struggle in three years at Virginia. The Astros have seen him blossom as a pro after making him a 2014 sandwich pick. Fisher is the only minor league player to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases in both 2015 and 2016.

Scouting Report: Fisher’s impressive athleticism helps him maximize his tools. He has plus-plus raw power and has developed the ability to draw walks and get on base at a high rate. His swing is smooth, and he has plenty of bat speed, but he unleashes it with a significant load that emphasizes power over contact. He’s always going to swing and miss a lot, making him more of a .240-type hitter, but his above-average power will produce plenty of extra-base hits. Defensively, Fisher has improved to the point where he’s a fringe-average left fielder and a below-average center fielder with a below-average arm. His power, speed and on-base ability make him a potentially valuable regular even with a below-average hit tool.

The Future: The Astros’ lineup leans heavily toward the right side, which opens an opportunity for the lefthanded-hitting Fisher. He heads back to Triple-A Fresno in 2017.

Corpus Christi (AA) .245 .373 .431 371 54 91 13 4 16 59 74 128 23
Fresno (AAA) .290 .347 .505 107 17 31 8 0 5 17 9 26 5

10. Garrett Stubbs, c

Born: May 26, 1993. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 161. Drafted: Southern California, 2015 (8th round). Signed by: Tim Costic.

Background: Stubbs played center field, left field, second base and catcher at Southern California before he became too valuable behind the plate to play elsewhere. A first-team All-American as a senior, he still slid to the eighth round because of his size.

Scouting Report: Stubbs’ skinny, 5-foot-10 frame raises durability questions but also is one of his greatest assets. He is an outstanding pitch-framer in part because he can get lower than most catchers, allowing him to get his hand under balls other catchers have to flip their glove to snag. His agility also pays off in blocking balls in the dirt and helps his above-average arm play up thanks to excellent footwork. He threw out 51 percent of basestealers in 2016. Though he called pitches in college, it remains the weakest part of his catching. At the plate, Stubbs has a pretty straightforward lefthanded stroke geared more for contact than power. He can square up a good fastball and has some pull power. He projects as a near-average hitter with well below-average power. He runs well for a catcher and is an average runner.

The Future: Stubbs’ size is the biggest impediment to him becoming a big league regular. No regular backstop today weighs as little as Stubbs, but he could be a solid contributor even if limited to a part-time role behind the plate.

Lancaster (Hi A) .291 .385 .442 206 35 60 13 0 6 38 29 37 10
Corpus Christi (AA) .325 .401 .517 120 23 39 9 1 4 16 14 11 5

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