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2021 Houston Astros Midseason Top 30 Prospects Update

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At the major league level, the Astros look poised to contend for another World Series title. Houston has managed to rebuild its rotation thanks in part to the emergence of rookie Luis Garcia, and the lineup is one of the best in baseball.

But the combination of trades, graduations and the bill for the penalties incurred during the sign-stealing scandal have led to a thinned farm system.

This year was the second consecutive one where Houston was penalized by losing its first- and second-round draft picks. Because of that, remarkably the Astros only have one of their first-round picks playing in the minors (No. 1 prospect Korey Lee, their 2019 first-round pick).

The Astros other active first-round picks have either been traded to other teams (Seth Beer and J.B. Bukauskas), are on the injured list (Forrest Whitley) or are playing in the majors (Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Kyle Tucker).

The penalties have left a mark. The Astros prospect depth is not what it was a few years ago. There are not many position players who project as future MLB regulars. In recent years, the Astros have seemed to also churn out wave after wave of hard-throwing pitching prospects who knew how to spin a breaking ball. Many of them are now part of the Astros big league bullpen/rotation.

Now the Class A levels do not have the same number of fireballers, although there are some crafty reliever types.

1. Korey Lee, C
Age: 23. Team: Double-A Corpus Christi.

Lee’s first full pro season began with an unaggressive High-A assignment, but that was the last speed bump he faced in an impressive 2021. He’s embraced the switch to a one-knee setup, and is relatively quiet with his hands and body behind the plate. He has a plus-plus arm. At the plate, he’s simplified his stance as well. It’s all paying off in a big year, as he’s showing the ability to work counts while being just aggressive enough to get to his above-average power. Lee has shown some defensive versatility—he’s played a little first and third, and he has a shot to be an everyday catcher.

2. Jeremy Peña, SS
Age: 23. Team: On Injured List

Peña could have had a breakout season in 2021. He’s continued to get stronger and drive the ball with more authority as he’s matured, and he continues to be an excellent defender at shortstop, but he will miss the entire season as he recovers from left wrist surgery. He still could fit into the Astros’ 2022 MLB plans as either a regular or a versatile infield backup, and the trade of Abraham Toro makes that possibility even more likely.

3. Pedro Leon, SS/OF
Age: 23. Team: Triple-A Sugar Land.

A finger injury has cut Leon’s debut season in the U.S. short, but before he went down to injury Leon was showing plenty of signs of being a dynamic up-the-middle player. Making his U.S. debut after a long layoff since coming to the States from Cuba, he struggled in May, but from June on, he looked much more comfortable at the plate while also learning shortstop. Leon looks more comfortable in center field, but there are signs he may be able to play in the dirt. His footwork and actions at shortstop are understandably works in progress, but he did show improvement.

4. Hunter Brown, RHP
Age: 22. Team: Double-A Corpus Christi

Brown can be baffling. At times, he can dot the black with a mid-90s fastball that doesn’t force the catcher to move his mitt. At other times, he’ll bounce a 3-1 pitch in front of the plate. His consistency isn’t always there yet, but his fastball and breaking ball give him a pair of potential big league weapons.

5. Forrest Whitley, RHP
Age: 23. Team: Injured list

This is a lost season for Whitley as he’s rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. But the surgery can also potentially serve as a reset for the righthander. Whitley’s last string of extended success was back in 2018. Since then, he’s struggled with control issues, ineffectiveness and injuries. If his arm strength and velocity return to his pre-injury levels, he still has to refine the control that was giving him issues in order to regain the form that once made him one of the game’s best pitching prospects.

6. Joe Perez, 3B
Age: 23. Team: Double-A Corpus Christi

Perez has been playing catch-up ever since he was drafted. A righthander/third baseman in high school, Perez missed all of his 2017 debut season and almost all of the 2018 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. He then looked utterly lost in 2019 in short-season ball. The Astros started him off slowly, letting him get comfortable in Low-A before promoting him to High-A. He torched the High-A East—hitting better away from the short fences of his home Asheville park—before being promoted again to Double-A. Perez has a similar profile to that of former Astros prospect J.D. Davis. He’s a third baseman with limited range but has a plus-plus arm, and he hits for power but will struggle to hit for average.

7. Alex Santos, RHP
Age: 19. Team: Low-A Fayetteville

Santos’ consistency has a long way to go, but his low-90s fastball has been tweaked to generate life up above hitters’ bats and he’s working on a hard, short low-80s slider to go with his more advanced changeup. He has the makings of three pitches, but he has battled his control.

8. Jake Meyers, OF
Age: 25 Team: Triple-A Sugar Land.

Meyers has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season for the Astros. The further he gets away from splitting his college time between hitting and pitching, the more comfortable he looks at the plate. Meyers had never slugged over .500 in a season, but now he’s traded ground balls for more stinging line drives and the results are average and power. An above-average defender in center field, Meyers has a plausible path to at least a fourth outfielder role, with a shot to be a regular.

9. Jaime Melendez, RHP
Age: 19. Team: High-A Asheville.

NEW Signed out of Mexico in 2019, Melendez is a short (5-foot-8), but filled-out (190 pounds) righthander with the ability to mix four average to above-average pitches. His 91-94 mph fastball has life at the top of the zone and he can also make hitters swing and miss with a mid-80s slider. He also mixes in a hard change and a curve. He’s taken well to the Astros tandem-starter approach, earning a promotion to Asheville.

10. Tyler Ivey, RHP
Age: 25. Team: Double-A Sugar Land.

Ivey has barely pitched this year because of a sore arm. If he can return to health, he has more starter traits than most of the Astros’ current pitching prospects thanks to his control of his fastball and his ability to work it in and out, up and down. He doesn’t overpower with his fastball but the combination of it and his above-average breaking ball work well together.

11. Tyler Whitaker, OF

NEW The Astros were thrilled to see Whitaker last until their first pick in the 2021 draft—their punishment for illegal sign-stealing meant they didn’t pick until pick 87. They saved money later in the draft to be able to pay Whitaker, an athletic right fielder with plus power, a plus arm and plus speed.

12. Grae Kessinger, SS

13. Shawn Dubin, RHP

14. Jairo Solis, RHP

15. Jordan Brewer, OF

16. Matthew Barefoot, OF

NEW Barefoot has hit for average and power at two Class A stops this year. He projects most likely as a platoon/fourth outfielder who could be an everyday left fielder if his power continues to improve. Most likely he’s a tweener of sorts because his arm and defense in center are iffy and his gap power will be stretched in left. He does have a solid approach, though, and should hit for average.

17. Alex McKenna, OF

NEW Like Barefoot, McKenna is a fourth-outfielder candidate, but their approaches are somewhat different. McKenna is looking to do damage with every swing, seeing plenty of strikeouts as the price of admission for making an impact. He has a better shot of being playable in center field than Barefoot.

18. Chayce McDermott, RHP

NEW McDermott has bounced back nicely from Tommy John surgery. He has plenty of stuff, with a 92-96 mph fastball to go with a slider and curveball. Now he needs to improve his control and command.

19. Peter Solomon, RHP

20. Colin Barber, OF

21. Dauri Lorenzo, SS

22. Zach Daniels, OF

23. Jojanse Torres, RHP

24. Brett Conine, RHP

25. Spencer Arrighetti, RHP

NEW If the Astros can help Arrighetti, a crafty righthander with four pitches, find some additional velocity in pro ball, he could fly up this list.

26. Jimmy Endersby, RHP

NEW Endersby has the kind of back spinning, up-in-the-zone fastball carry that the Astros love, and his repertoire is even more enticing now that he’s added a usable slider.

27. Freudis Nova, SS

28. Brayan De Paula, LHP

NEW A sinker/slider reliever, De Paula antagonizes hitters by throwing slider after slider. He can manipulate it, making it harder or more slurvy depending on the situation.

29. Tyler Brown, RHP

30. Michael Horrell, RHP

NEW Horrell was a late-round (30th) find out of Campbell. The Astros shared Campbell’s stadium in Buies Creek, N.C., while waiting for their Fayetteville stadium to be built. Out of that, they ended up drafting Matthew Barefoot (16th on this list) and Horrell. A senior sign, Horrell has moved quickly because of one above-average pitch. Horrell’s cutter has enough movement that he can throw it again and again. He’s a pure reliever profile, but one who is moving quickly, having just gotten a promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi.

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Jeremy Peña Looks To Make The Most Of September

The 23-year-old shortstop returned from wrist surgery to see September time with Triple-A Sugar Land as he auditions for 2022.

RISING

OF Jake Meyers has turned ground balls into line drives, which has helped him both hit for a higher average and more power. He could prove a useful MLB outfielder before long.

RHP Jaime Melendez has shown a combination of feel and solid stuff that earned him a promotion from Low-A Fayetteville to High-A Asheville.

3B Joe Perez has taken a step forward, getting to his impressive power more consistently.

OF Matthew Barefoot has been one of the Astros most productive Class A hitters. He has shown he has a plausible path to a big league role as a left fielder/backup outfielder.

FALLING

SS Grae Kessinger has shown he can play shortstop and second base, but it won’t matter if he doesn’t improve his ability to do damage with the bat. He doesn’t drive the ball with authority right now.

SS Freudis Nova has gotten much thicker, raising questions about whether he will be able to stick at shortstop long term. A concussion early in the season has added to his struggles.

GRADUATED

RHP Luis Garcia has been one of the best rookies in baseball. He’s arguably been Houston’s best pitcher.

OF Chas McCormick has served as a useful backup outfielder thanks to solid power production. He has 10 home runs in just 177 plate appearances.

RHP Brandon Bielak has served as a lower-leverage reliever in the Astros bullpen.

LHP Blake Taylor has carved out a useful role as a lefty reliever.

RHP Enoli Paredes has barely gotten to pitch after suffering an oblique injury followed by a shoulder injury. But he has gotten into enough games to graduate from prospect status.

RHP Andre Scrubb managed to succeed despite his wildness in 2020. This year, his inability to throw strikes has caught up to him.

HURTING

SS Jeremy Pena is expected to miss the entire season because of surgery on his left wrist.

OF Pedro Leon is expected to miss six weeks after fracturing a finger while sliding into a base in late July. Since the season only had seven weeks remaining at the time of his injury, it is unclear whether he will return to action before the season’s end.

OF Colin Barber suffered a season-ending shoulder injury less than a month into the season.

RHP Forrest Whitley is missing the entire season recovering from Tommy John surgery.

RHP Jojanse Torres had elbow surgery to remove bone chips.

RHP Jairo Solis had Tommy John surgery in June.

RHP Tyler Ivey is sidelined with an elbow injury. He told the Houston Chronicle that it had been bothering him for a while before he told the team.

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