2018 Houston Astros Top 10 Prospects Chat
Gary (Dallas, TX): Hey thanks for chatting. What's the word on Garrett Stubbs? Is he average or better behind the dish?
J.J. Cooper: Hey everyone. Thanks for coming out. Little different for me, as we're snowed in for a second day here in Durham thanks to seven inches of snow. Stubbs is an above-average defender. A little undersized, but he moves really well back there and when fully healthy his arm works well too.
Chris (Texas): Does Nova and Solis' appearance in the top 6 speak have more to do with glowing reports on the two of them, or a lack of talent in the system that would push them further down the list? J.J. Cooper: How about both. Nova and Solis are high-ceiling prospects, but also once you get past the first few prospects in this system, there are not the sure-fire prospects as their have been in past years. You can choose closer to the big league prospects who have less impact or high-impact prospects who are further away. I see Solis/Nova as being more valuable than some of the lower-ceiling but closer to the majors prospects.
J (Sacramento): How close were Moran and JD Davis? (IE if Davis had gone in the Cole trade instead would the value have been dramatically different?)
J.J. Cooper: Not really. Moran's breakout season in 2017 might give him a little higher ceiling because he has a better hit tool than Davis, but Davis has just as much power and a little better defensive versatility.
Chase (Iowa): Is Tucker and Whitley the best hitting/pitching duo in the minors currently? If not the top, where would they rank? Thanks!
J.J. Cooper: Going to be hard to top them because Whitley is one of the best pitching prospects in the game and Tucker is one of the best hitting prospects in the game. Honeywell/Adames with the Rays would be in contention for that title.
Randy (Dallas): Gleyber Torres and Justus Sheffield or Tucker and Whitley?
J.J. Cooper: Tucker/Whitley. Torres is better than Tucker, but I'm a big, big believer in Whitley and would say the gap between him and Sheffield is bigger.
J.P. (Springfield, IL): Thanks for chatting, JJ. How close to the top 10 was Rogelio Armenteros, and do you see him as a mid-rotation SP, or something else?
J.J. Cooper: He's currently 11th. Very, very close. I don't see him being a No. 3 or No. 4 for them, and he's going to have to be a spot starter or reliever. But if he's traded I think he can be a No. 4 or 5 somewhere else. He really knows how to pitch.
Paul (Houston, TX): What are your thoughts on Matijevic, specifically his ceiling?
J.J. Cooper: His lack of a clear defensive position limits it somewhat. There's always been the hope that he can play a tougher position defensively, but in the end, he ends up playing at the low-end of the defensive spectrum. He can hit, but I'm not real confident he can play anywhere other than left field or first base long-term.
Rick (Portland, ME): Between rhps Serrano, Martin and Bielak, how would you rank them based on ceiling and likelihood of reaching it?
J.J. Cooper: Martin is a pretty clear top of this group both in ceiling and in likelihood. Bielak has less stuff and ceiling (but is really good at getting the most of out of his stuff) while Serrano is a big arm but has a long ways to go to refine it.
Michael (CenTex): Alvarez the best athlete in the system? How did you reach this conclusion?
J.J. Cooper: Athleticism is not something that the Astros really hunt for in the draft, and Alvarez is a much better athlete with much better feet than you would expect for his size.
Jonathan Vega (Houston TX): How good do you think the Astros will be this year thanks.
J.J. Cooper: World Series or bust. No reason to think they won't be the class of the division for several years to come.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): 2017 the Handbook was in the mailbox early February, and in 2016 before the end of January it had arrived. Will 2018 be a January or February year?
J.J. Cooper: If you have ordered from us you should be receiving it the first few days of February. We always wrap it up around Dec. 24, so the variance has as much to do with the mail as anything. Thanks for buying it. We're excited about some additions we made to the book for 2018.
Jon (Philadelphia): Ronnie Dawson caught fire in the middle of the season following a sluggish start. What kind of feedback did you get on him?
J.J. Cooper: As you said, what he looked like in the second half of the season was much more what the Astros saw when they drafted him out of Ohio State. He's a power-first left fielder, so the bat has to be impressive, but he showed signs that it can be with some adjustments.
Andrew R (Rosenberg, TX): What do you think the plan is for Francis Martes and David Paulino?
J.J. Cooper: With the acquisition of Cole, I can't see either pitching in the rotation any time soon barring a spell of injuries. Both have the stuff to fit into Joe Musgrove (and Michael Feliz)'s bullpen roles in 2018, which is yet another reason that trade was such a good one for the Astros.
Ryan (DC): Very curious where Joe Perez ranks in the system. If he never pitched in high school, where would he have been taken in the draft?
J.J. Cooper: I don't think he would have gone any higher by not pitching at all. Most teams weren't on him as a hitter/third baseman where he went to the Astros. Most teams saw him as a great arm on the mound. Houston clearly thinks differently, but I don't see how focusing on hitting would have bumped him up in the draft at all. The TJ is a minor setback, but considering he's going to be a position player, it's not as much of a worry since he can DH while he builds back his arm health.
Ben (Dallas): Just how good is Kyle Tucker? Is he more likely to be similar to Bellinger or someone like Yelich?
J.J. Cooper: I would say Yelich more than Bellinger.
Kaz Miller (Seychelles): Does BA get any exit velo data on prospects? Some of the numbers on MiLB broadcasts I heard called out for Yordan Alvarez made my jaw drop.
J.J. Cooper: Officially? No. But yes, we've also heard that Alvarez's exit velos are really, really, really impressive. Especially early last year before he battled some injuries.
Paul (Jacksonville): How would you compare a guy like Whitley to M. Baez?
J.J. Cooper: As good as Baez is, I'd rather have Whitley. Equal stuff, more varied assortment of pitches, success at higher levels and he's doing it at a younger age.
JJ (Atlanta): Not technically a prospect anymore, but what does the future hold for AJ Reed? Where would he rank on this list?
J.J. Cooper: We don't use service time as a factor, so Reed is still in the Prospect Handbook. He's part of what's still a pretty large group of prospects the Astros have who will likely need changes of scenery to get a chance. You can't help but notice that he wasn't a September callup even though he was on the 40-man roster. Barring injuries, Reed doesn't fit in the Astros' 2018 plans. The same can be said for J.D. Davis, potentially Tony Kemp, Jon Kemmer and a few others. This is a pretty locked-in big league lineup where you have to be quite special to force someone else out.
Nick (Texas): If Yordan Alvarez is the system's best athlete why is he limited to first or corner outfield?
J.J. Cooper: He throws lefthanded, so you've wiped out second, third and shortstop right there (well and catcher too, but that's more a tradition than a sure-fire lefties can't catch thing). He's not a burner to play center, so pretty much that limits him to corner outfield and first base. A righthy who plays corner outfield or first base has likely proven at some point he can't play second-third-short. A lefty out there is forced to be the rules of the game.
Kaz Miller (Seychelles): Any off the radar international pitchers below A ball who could jump into the top 10 next year?
J.J. Cooper: Luis Garcia and Elian Rodriguez are unlikely to crack the Top 10 next year, but they are two names to watch.
Brad (Arlington): Derek Fisher was a graduate (barely) from this list - where would he have slotted in amongst these players?
J.J. Cooper: He would be behind the top three, but probably fourth on this list.
David F (Miami): What about ELOY and KOPECH to answer the previous question.
J.J. Cooper: Other very good answer....prefer Eloy to Tucker, prefer Whitley to Kopech. But yeah, that's a closer one....brain fart earlier. I would probablky take the Eloy-Kopech combo over Tucker-Whitley and over Acuna-pick your Braves pitcher....
Bob (Boston): Is Francis Martes a bullpen arm moving forward or does he still have a chance to start?
J.J. Cooper: Is he being traded? Because right now cracking a rotation that has Verlander-McCullers-Keuchel-Cole-Morton-Peacock-McHugh is really, really tough. Even if the Astros traded away a little of their depth (say McHugh) and injuries cropped up, I could see them keeping Martes in the pen and calling of someone like Armenteros for a spot start because at that point Martes will not likely be stretched out to go 5+. Could he start in 2019 or 2020? Definite possibility. But in 2018, hard to see the opportunity.
Kevin (The Woodlands): Obviously, Tucker has always been the higher rated prospect. But why is everyone so much higher on him than Fisher? It seems to me that Fisher has 5-tool potential, other than his arm. How comparable or better is Fisher's ceiling to Tucker's ceiling?
J.J. Cooper: A lot of it has to do with track record and age. Tucker will head to Double-A or Triple-A as a 21-year-old this year, having hit 27 HRs between HiA and AA last year. In the year Fisher turned 21, he was playing in the New-York/Penn League. Fisher is a better athlete than Tucker overall, but Tucker has been a better hitter at younger ages with similar power.
Jose (Louisville): Is Whitley jumping over Tucker a reflection of how much Whitley's stock has gone up, or are there more warts in Tucker's game now than there were a year ago?
J.J. Cooper: Whitley's stock keeps rising. Great stuff and he's having success at levels that teenagers don't have success at.
Dan (Augusta, ME): Rogelio Armenteros didn't get much of a prospect grade in the BA handbook last year. He still didn't crack the top 10, but are you guys higher on him after his brilliant 2017?
J.J. Cooper: The stuff keeps getting better, which has turned him from crafty pitcher who does it a lot with smoke and mirrors to crafty pitcher who can blow a hitter away if needed as well.
Frank (Indianapolis IN): How many of these guys are likely to make the BA 100 list?
J.J. Cooper: The top three are slam dunks. Bukauskas was one of the better college pichers in last year's draft, so he's got a chance. I'd say four candidates.
Keith (Farmington, CT): Thanks JJ. I'd love to see Forrest Whitley in the majors at some point in 2018, but he only threw 92 innings across 3 levels last year. Do you think he stays in the minors all year to build up innings?
J.J. Cooper: The Cole trade changes my thought process some, but guys like Whitley can sometimes be too good to keep in the minors. And besides that, no one has any real understanding of what's the best way to keep a young arm that's so talented healthy. No one could have been kept to tighter innings limits than Julio Urias was and he blew out. The Mariners let King Feliz throw 150 innings in the minors as an 18-year-old and 172 as a 19-year-old and he went on to throw 190+ innings each of the next 10 seasons. We have no real proof that keeping a teenage arm to 100 or less innings does a lot to keep them healthy.
Steve (Talahassee): I have always enjoyed the Top Ten Lists, but this year has been the best ever. Do you agree? And, are you going to be the first guy this year who does not answer the Top 100 question?
J.J. Cooper: Thanks for saying that, and I did answer the Top 100 question. Speaking of which, we'll be rolling out the Top 100 real, real soon.
Steve (77030): Where does AJ Reid fit in the mix?
J.J. Cooper: Hard to see how he does. His two spots he can play are 1B and DH. He's not moving Gurriel or Marwin Gonzalez at 1B this year and both are better defensively at 1B as well. DH seems well handled by a rotation of Gattis/Gurriel/McCann and whichever OF needs a day of rest on his legs. If there's an injury needing a callup, he's less versatile to come up than Tyler White or Tony Kemp or J.D. Davis and Kyle Tucker, Yordan Alvarez and Myles Straw aren't that far away either. To get to Houston he'd have to really mash, but a change of scenery trade seems more likely.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): Was ranked 19th as an Astors prospect in 2016 but missed out on any ranking last year - what are the thoughts on Max Stassi regaining prospect status?
J.J. Cooper: At this point Stassi has four years of Triple-A time, has been outrighted off the 40-man once then added back. He has a lot of the profile of a third catcher, which is not a bad gig. It involves a lot of Triple-A time, but promotions to the big leagues in most seasons and every now and then one of those guys has a Manny Pina breakout year. He's unlikely to ever be a regular, but in the right situation, he could be a big league backup.
Chris (Long Beach, CA): With the impending free agency of Keuchel, a strong foundation at the big league level that is set for the forseeable future, and a strong farm system, what are the chances that the Astros go after another big arm like Chris Archer and/or a corner outfield bat like Yelich. Either, or both,would essentally guarantee AL West dominance for at least he next 3-5 years. If they decide to do so, what would a potential deal look like?
J.J. Cooper: They still have the ammo to do so if they want, since Whitley would be the perfect start for pretty much any trade, but I don't think they need to add Archer. They have Verlander, McCullers, Cole (and in 18 Keuchel) for the playoff rotation this year. Whitley should be ready by 2019, and if he's as good as scouts believe he could be, he could easily be a playoff starter by 2019 or 2020.
Norm Chouinard (Connecticut): Corbin Martin and Brandon Bielak has almost identical stat lines in the NY Penn League. Is Martin a much prospect?
J.J. Cooper: Martin made the Astros Top 30 in the Prospect Handbook, Bielak did not.
Warren (Texas): Not that he is a "prospect" anymore, though pitching-wise I suppose he is, but what chance does Anthony Gose have to stick? I know he can almost hit triple digits with the fastball, but does he have any other quality MLB pitch? I just can't see a team with WS aspirations keeping him. Thanks for the chat!
J.J. Cooper: Hard to see it, but the stuff is absolutely legit. Yes, he has a breaking ball too, but he also has a very miniscule number of innings since high school.
Fred (Detroit): He was traded to DET for Verlander but just curious where Perez might rank if still in the system?
J.J. Cooper: Fourth. Behind Whitley but ahead of Bukauskas and the other pitchers in the system. Rogers and Cameron would have likely made the Top 10 as well.
Jose Urquidy Takes A Giant Step Forward
A post-Tommy John surgery velocity boost had helped push Urquidy toward the top of the Astros' depth chart.
J.J. Cooper: Thanks everyone. Got to get back to working on our college preview. We'll wrap up the Top 10s and the Top 10 chats tomorrow with the Mariners.