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Houston Astros Midseason Top 10 Prospects

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Forrest Whitley (Photo by Tom DiPace)

Even with the Mariners winning one-run game after one-run game, the Astros maintain in control of the American League West.

The defending champs are on pace to top 100 wins again this year. They have a starting rotation that no one will want to face come the postseason. And they are second in baseball in runs scored despite the fact that Alex Bregman is the only regular position player who is having a career year.

The Astros’ problems are ones that most teams would love to have. They have a stacked lineup, the best starting rotation in baseball and a team with plenty of postseason experience. And they have the entire second half of the season to prepare for October, as making the postseason is almost a formality at this point.

While Seattle is still pushing them for the AL West crown, Houston has very little to worry about when it comes to making the playoffs. If they play anywhere close to .500 ball the rest of the season, they will easily top 90 wins.

More than halfway through the season, the Astros have used only five starting pitchers. The bullpen has been equally stable. Even with injuries to Carlos Correa and Brian McCann, the Astros have barely tested their impressive Triple-A depth.

Clearly, the Astros will be buyers at the trade deadline, but they don’t really need to make massive adjustments. The bullpen could always use an additional power arm or two even if Chris DevenskiHector RondonCollin McHugh and Brad Peacock have been excellent.

Houston could also add some outfield help as Jake Marisnick and utilityman Marwin Gonzalez have struggled, but top prospects Kyle Tucker has more than 600 at-bats of Double-A and Triple-A time, so he’s potentially a better option than a short-term trade. Tucker is now being given an opportunity to win the job in the big leagues. Similarly, lefthander Cionel Perez is getting a chance to provide a homegrown boost to the bullpen.

The Astros don’t really have holes as much as they have opportunities to further improve.

Whether they make any major moves or just some minor tweaks, Houston is rolling. After acquiring Justin Verlander at the Aug. 31 waiver deadline and Gerrit Cole in the offseason, Houston could be set even if they sat out the trade deadline.

And come October the Astros have a legitimate chance to be the first repeat World Series champs since the Yankees won three straight from 1998-2000.

1. Forrest Whitley, RHP
Double-A Corpus Christi
Age: 20

Whitley’s 2018 season has been notable more for all the time he’s missed than for the six brief appearances he’s made. He was suspended 50 games for a positive drug test (MLB never specified the drug) at the beginning of the season. Then, when his suspension ended, Whitley missed further time with a lat injury. He finally made his 2018 debut on June 6 and was named to the Futures Game, but he left his July 6 start with an oblique injury that will cost him further time. He’s been just as dominant when he’s been on the mound as he was in years past, but the suspensions and injuries make it less likely he can help the big league club in any way this year, something that seemed a possibility coming out of the 2017 season.


2. Kyle Tucker, OF
Houston
Age: 21

Kyle "Ted” Tucker isn’t going to be Ted Williams (even if he mimics the Splendid Splinter’s swing in a new PBS documentary), but the sweet-swinging outfielder is being asked to play a large role in the Astros’ second half. The club’s left field job is his if he can hit well enough to hold onto it. Tucker has plus power potential, but it’s not clear yet if he wants to be a .300 hitter with modest power or if he’s willing to sacrifice 40-50 points off his average to get to that power more consistently. After a slow start in his first two weeks in Houston, he needs to hit for average first to show he’s ready to hold onto the job.


3. Yordan Alvarez, 1B/OF
Triple-A Fresno
Age: 21

Evan Gattis and Marwin Gonzalez are free agents at the end of this season while Brian McCann has one club option remaining on his contract. So the Astros may have an opening for a first base/DH/left fielder in the near future and Alvarez looks ready to fill the job. Alvarez has battled minor wrist and hand injuries that have kept him off the field, but when he’s on the field and healthy he’s posted .600-plus slugging percentages at two different levels. He uses the whole field with a high-average approach, but his plus-plus raw power means that sometimes those line drives clear the fence.


4. Corbin Martin, RHP
Double-A Corpus Christi
Age: 22

After just four appearances, Martin pitched his way out of high Class A Buies Creek as his combination of solid stuff and advanced feel and control allowed the Astros to aggressively push him to Double-A Corpus Christi in his first full pro season. Martin doesn’t have any one pitch that he can simply blow away hitters with, but his fastball and secondary offerings work well enough because he commands all of them. He’s a future No. 4/5 starter who isn’t far away from being ready to help.


5. Jairo Solis, RHP
Low Class A Quad Cities
Age: 18

In his 2018 debut, Solis faced seven batters and recorded only one out. It was a reminder  that the young Venezuelan pitcher is far from a finished product. He’s been very wild at times and he’s rarely been pitch efficient this year, which explains why he has made it out of the fifth inning only once in eight starts. But Solis’ clean delivery, athleticism and impressive physicality should allow him to have above-average control one day. His stuff is already some of the best in the system, which is why scouts preach patience.


6. Freudis Nova, SS
Rookie-level GCL Astros
Age: 18

Nova has made it to the States this year as he continues to show the hands, bat speed and potential power to be an above-average offensive contributor at an up-the-middle position. His ETA is likely not until after Carlos Correa is eligible for free agency in 2022, but Nova has more than handled his own in the Gulf Coast League so far and he continues to improve defensively. His hands and athleticism give him a solid shot of sticking at the position.


7. Hector Perez, RHP
Double-A Corpus Christi
Age: 22

Perez was spraying the ball all around (but rarely in) the strike zone early in the season, but after some work to simplify and clean up his delivery, he’s throwing many more strikes and seeing the results that come with improved control. With a mid-90s fastball, an improving splitter and a hard 88-91 mph slider, Perez has the stuff to dominate if he can get ahead in counts.


8. J.B. Bukauskas, RHP
Low Class A Quad Cities
Age: 21

It’s been a lost season for Bukauskas, as a spring training car accident led to an eventual diagnosis of a back injury, which led to a three-month stint on the disabled list. He’s back on the mound now and has slowly rounded into form with rehab appearances in the Gulf Coast League and the New York-Penn League. He’s now back in Quad Cities where he began the season.



9. Seth Beer, 1B/OF

Low Class A Quad Cities
Age: 21

When he was in college, Beer struggled when he was asked to hit with wood in the Cape Cod League and with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. Now, he’s proving he doesn’t need a metal bat in his hands, as he has had no problems so far as a pro. He hit four home runs in 11 games to play his way out of Tri-City and he’s immediately become Quad Cities’ best hitter upon his promotion. Beer is too advanced a hitter for the lower rungs of the minors, but his defense has plenty of work to do as he splits his time between first base and the corner outfield spots.


10. Cionel Perez, LHP
Houston Astros
Age: 22

The first time Perez was promoted to Houston this year, he was sent back to Double-A Corpus Christi without ever throwing a pitch. He’s been brought back up for a second stint in the Astros bullpen and now has a chance to play a useful role in helping the Astros try to repeat as world champions. Perez has the stuff to be a big league starter one day, as his changeup has improved to the point where it is a viable fringe-average third pitch. His 93-97 mph fastball and hard-slider combo can eat up lefties, as Double-A lefties managed just one extra-base hit against him in 44 at-bats.

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Cionel Perez Offers Astros Options In 2019 And Beyond

Perez made his major league debut as a reliever in 2018, but the Astros aren't shutting the door on his future as a starter.

RISING

  • Garrett Stubbs has put an injury-ruined 2017 season behind him to show the same high-average, low-power, solid-defense toolset that should make him at least a very useful backup catcher. The Astros have only played him behind the plate this year, but he has the athleticism and versatility to play second and third base as well, something he did in college.
  • LHP Brandon Bielak has impressed and earned a promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi. He has a heavy low- to mid-90s fastball and a solid-average curveball and changeup.
  • RHP Josh James has been one of the breakout stars of 2018. After being diagnosed and treated for sleep apnea, his fastball is a grade better than it used to be. His control and sluvry breaking balls may limit him to a relief role, but his ability to miss bats against upper-level minor league hitters should earn him a big league shot.
  • OF Gilberto Celestino is the Astros’ best defensive center fielder in the minors and he can swipe bases (14 in 14 tries), but the fact that he’s hitting for some power as well with short-season Tri-City is a very encouraging development.
  • OF Myles Straw has 50 steals and should be in consideration for a playoff roster spot as a pinch-runner extraordinaire, but he also hits for average, gets on base and can play all three outfield positions, giving him a shot to be at least a useful fourth outfielder.
  • RHP Jojanse Torres is way too old for the Dominican Summer League, but a 95-99 mph fastball and a potentially plus slider are worth paying attention to no matter what roster you find it on.

FALLING

  • RHP David Paulino has eight seasons as a pro. He also has eight stints on the disabled list (and one PED suspension). This year, he’s missed time with a shoulder injury, coming on the heels of the bone chips in his elbow that sent him to the DL last year. Paulino still has plenty of potential, but this is his third season on the 40-man roster for a club contending for World Series rings. His best avenue at this point may be to be dealt to a rebuilding team that can be patient with him and see if he can stay healthy.

HURTING

  • RHP Dean Deetz missed most of the first half serving a PED suspension.
  • RHP Forrest Whitley has missed time with a lat injury and now with an oblique injury in addition to his 50-game suspension for violating MLB’s drug policy.
  • RHP David Paulino has spent two stints on the disabled list with shoulder soreness, while 1B/OF Yordan Alvarez missed time with a hand injury.

GRADUATING

  • With a veteran team that is defending its World Series title, not one Astros prospect has graduated from rookie status this season. 3B/1B J.D. Davis is back up and could exhaust his eligibility before long.

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