2018-19 International Reviews: Houston Astros
This is part of Ben Badler's 2018-19 International Reviews series chronicling all the moves made by teams on the international market over the prior year. To see all 30 teams, click here.
Total 2018 (Jan. 1 - Dec. 31, 2018) signings: 21
The Astros went over their international bonus pool in the 2016-17 signing period, which means they weren't able to sign anyone for more than $300,000 in 2017-18 or last year, when the 2018-19 signing period opened on July 2. One of their $300,000 signings last year was Dominican shortstop Ricardo Balogh, who signed when he turned 16 on July 9. At 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, Balogh isn't toolsy, but he has a smooth, simple and level stroke from both sides of the plate, leading to a high contact rate in games. He has a good hitting approach for his age, with a swing geared toward line drives and occasional doubles pop. Balogh is a smart, instinctive player, but he doesn't have the usual quick-twitch athleticism teams often look for in shortstops, so he could fit better at either second or third base. He trained with Chiqui Mejia.
The Astros also gave $300,000 to 17-year-old Dominican shortstop Cristian Gonzalez, who trained with Amauris Nina. Gonzalez stood out for his overall athleticism and chance to stick at shortstop. He's a slightly below-average runner with a projectable frame (6-foot-3, 180 pounds) and an above-average arm that could end up even stronger once he puts on weight and refines his arm stroke. He's a righthanded hitter who gets into his front side well with doubles power that should tick up with strength gains.
Frank Perez is a 17-year-old Cuban outfielder the Astros signed for $275,000 on July 2, and he has some of the best tools in the team's signing class. He performed well when he played for Ciego de Avila in Cuba's national 15U league in 2016, batting .374/.528/.549 with 15 walks and nine strikeouts in 129 plate appearances, ranking seventh in the league in OBP. Perez is an athletic center fielder at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds with above-average speed and a solid-average arm with a chance to tick up. At the plate, Perez has a mechanically sound, efficient swing from the right side with gap power.
Jesus Liranzo is another 17-year-old outfielder the Astros signed for $270,000 with an intriguing toolset, though his game skills aren't as refined compared to Perez. Liranzo, who is from the Dominican Republilc and trained with the Mejia Top 10 program, is 6-foot-1, 185 pounds with above-average speed and the ability to make hard, loud contact when he squares it up from the right side. Liranzo has promising power/speed potential if he can better translate those tools in games, both at the plate and with his outfield instincts.
Dominican outfielder Tomas Ramirez, 17, signed with the Astros for $250,000 on July 2 after training with Cacha. A righthanded hitter, Ramirez has a simple, direct swing geared toward line drives, though he has a live, athletic body (6-foot-1, 175 pounds) with more strength potential to develop power later on. He's an average runner with a below-average arm and a chance to stick in center field.
Ayendy Ortiz, who trained with Carlos Guzman, is a 17-year-old, switch-hitting shortstop from the Dominican Republic who the Astros signed for $240,000 on July 2. He's a 6-foot-1, 170-pound switch-hitter who is more advanced from the left side of the plate, where he has shown solid contact skills with a chance for more power once he learns to get his legs more into his swing. He's an above-average runner with a strong arm and a chance to stick at shortstop with improvement to his footwork.
Yohander Martinez is a 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop the Astros signed last year on July 2. He's an athletic middle infielder (5-foot-10, 175 pounds) who has a chance to stick at shortstop, where he has an average arm and the ability to make throws from different angles, with the versatility to move around the field as a utility player. He's a righthanded hitter who showed a high contact bat with occasional doubles as an amateur. Martinez trained with Javier Mendoza.
Catcher Miguel Palma was one of the Astros' top Venezuelan signings when he joined the club on July 2 from Henderson Martinez's program, the same academy that produced fellow Venezuelan catchers Willson Contreras and Keibert Ruiz. Palma projects to stick at catcher with a chance to develop into an above-average defender. He has a plus arm and moves well for a catcher, both in terms of his speed underway and with his agility behind the plate. Palma has a compact swing, solid bat speed and contact skills, with a hit-over-power profile.
The Astros also signed 17-year-old Venezuelan righthander Johangel Ramirez on July 2 out of the same program as Yohander Martinez. Ramirez is 6-foot-2, 195 pounds with an 86-88 mph fastball and a curveball with good spin, shape and depth to miss bats.
Venezuelan righthander Danny Subero signed with the Astros on July 2 after training with Ramon Hernandez. While Ramirez has a more filled out frame, Subero has a tall, long-limbed frame (6-foot-4, 195 pounds) that he's still learning to keep in sync in his delivery and a lot of space to fill out. His build suggests more velocity is coming, though right now he's throwing in the mid-80s. His fastball has late life and his sharp-breaking curveball has good shape and spin to help him miss barrels.
Prior to the close of the 2017-18 signing period, the Astros also signed Dominican righthander Jojanse Torres for $150,000 in April. Torres is unusual, as he signed at 22 years old, turning 23 last August, so he's older than Forrest Whitley, J.B. Bukauskas and Corbin Martin. He pitched in the Dominican Summer League after signing, recording a 2.20 ERA in 41 innings with 48 strikeouts and eight walks. Given his age and lack of experience, Torres could end up in the bullpen and will need to be tested against better competition, but he has a power arm, sitting at 93-95 mph and reaching 98 mph. His changeup flashes above-average and is ahead of his slider.
Three Up, Three Down: Anthony Rendon Makes MVP Push
Does Anthony Rendon have a legit MVP candidacy? Plus, looks at Yordan Alvarez, Sonny Gray and more.
See also: 2017-18 Astros International Review
See also: 2016-17 Astros International Review (Notable prospects Cionel Perez, Freudis Nova)
See also: 2015-16 Astros International Review (Notable prospect Gilberto Celestino)
See also: 2014-15 Astros International Review (Notable prospect Franklin Perez)
See also: 2013-14 Astros International Review
See also: 2012-13 Astros International Review