2022 Houston Astros Top 10 Prospects Chat
Following today's updated Astros ranking, Chandler Rome answered your questions below at 3 pm ET.
- Last year the Leon reports mentioned excellent exit velocity data and implied good potential power. What happened? The Astros didn’t spend all that money for a quick moving utility guy.
Chandler Rome: Most scouts and talent evaluators I spoke with were not impressed with León’s first season stateside. Attaching the $4 million bonus to him creates huge expectations. León did not come close to meeting them. Most view him as a utilityman. It’s fair to mention two things, though: the Astros were aggressive in assigning him to Double-A and most Cuban-born players require an adjustment period. León rebounded from a miserable start at Double-A to finish with an .803 OPS before his brief stint at Triple-A Sugar Land. A fractured pinkie cost him six weeks, too. Scouts did note that Leon made adjustments throughout the season and seemed encouraged about his makeup. Few of the plus tools the Astros advertised translated onto the field. León didn’t make enough contact and showed a swing that got too long. He struggled with velocity in affiliated ball and was flummoxed by breaking pitches in the Arizona Fall League. León is nowhere near a finished product.
- Thoughts on the future of Bryan Abreu? I’ve always liked his stuff. Do you think he can pitch in back end of bullpen or is he a long guy?
Chandler Rome: Abreu won a spot in Houston’s opening day bullpen last spring training. He’ll have the same opportunity this season. Abreu has the sort of stuff that prompted former pitching coach Brent Strom to once surmise he could be a 200-inning starter, but it’s pretty clear he’s now a reliever. The Astros would like for him to develop into a high-leverage option, but his wild inconsistency and bouts of bad command prevent it. Abreu walked 18 guys, hit three more and threw four wild pitches last season in 36 major league innings. He has to command his fastball better and, at times, be more in control of his emotions.
KB (New York):
- Korey Lee appears to be as ready as Cal Raleigh was when Seattle called him up last year. Andrew Vaughn, Lee's team mate at California already has over 400 major league at bats in Chicago. If you were Houston's GM would you maybe trade Castro and give Korey Lee the opportunity to learn backing up Maldonado?
Chandler Rome: There’s a lot here. First, it’s important to differentiate the two comps you made. Seattle is/was not in the same competitive window as Houston and, therefore, had more leeway to promote some prospects without the fear of jeopardizing the major league team’s standing. Andrew Vaughn was the third pick in the draft and always considered a fast-riser. Lee was somewhat of a surprise first rounder who, without a doubt, has still put himself on the precipice of a major league debut. Lee is Rule 5 eligible this coming December, making it pretty easy to envision a scenario where the Astros add him to their 40-man during the regular season and bring him to the big league club. The question is: will there be any playing time? Dusty Baker clearly values Martín Maldonado’s game-calling and presence. Maldonado, he of a 58 OPS+, started 118 games last season, relegating Jason Castro to nothing more than a once-a-week backup. Both men return in 2022, another season in which the Astros have World Series aspirations. If we assume Baker will still be reliant on Maldonado, is it worth bringing Lee up for scarce playing time?
- Is Freudis Nova still relevant?
Chandler Rome: Nova’s only 22. Saying there’s absolutely no hope is drastic, but he’s certainly been a disappointment. He showed up noticeably bigger and slower in 2021 and struck out 91 times in 254 at-bats with High-A Asheville before tearing the ACL in his left knee. Houston outrighted him off the 40-man roster in December. Nova underwent surgery in September to repair his knee. ACL tears aren’t common in baseball, so I guess we should use the football timeframe and assume he’ll need 9-12 months of recovery.
- Missing the top 10 in a poor system is quite a shocking fall for Whitley. What’s the status of his rehab? When might we expect him back on the mound?
Chandler Rome: Forrest Whitley is a hot topic of conversation in the queue, so I’ll try to answer all the questions here. He is in the Top 30, just not in the Top 10. That he remains on Houston’s 40-man roster should signal at least some faith the Astros maintain in him. Whitley had his Tommy John surgery in March 2021, so a return around May or June seems feasible. At last check, Whitley was throwing off flat ground, but I’m unsure how much he’s progressed since or how he’s feeling. Whitley really is an enigma. It’s difficult to project anything and speak in absolutes. Prior to his Tommy John surgery, Whitley always seemed to change something: delivery, mechanics, training regimen, trainers, even living arrangements. He reported to spring training in 2020 out of shape — he said it was by design — much to the surprise of the Astros staff. There never seemed to be any continuity in Whitley’s routine or pitching. Getting something resembling a consistent routine may be the first step. Perhaps this time away will allow it. Whitley’s talent is undeniable and the Astros still feel he can contribute, but at some point, you are what the numbers say you are.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- Name a position player sleeper from down deep in the minors - low A or Florida Complex.
Chandler Rome: I will give you two: Dauri Lorenzo (not necessarily a sleeper, he was highly sought after in 2019, but still) and Roilan Machandy.
- The Astros system seems like a hard one to rank. Where did Yainer Diaz fall? He was scorching after the Astros acquired him, and his contact tool seems excellent. What does he need to work on?
Chandler Rome: The system is very hard to rank. It’s buoyed by two great position players and not much else. Diaz is No. 16 in the rankings. His hit tool is real (I called him the system’s best hitter for a reason). The Astros are really encouraged by him. There are questions whether he can get on base enough to take pressure off of his lack of slug, but the team believes he will continue to hit and point to his league-average exit velocities. He’s got a good arm behind the plate, but still needs improvement with his receiving and defense. The Astros exposed him to first base, too, and it’s easy to see a path in which he ends up there should he continue to hit.
Mark Andrews (Houston):
- Alex McKenna and Matthew Barefoot seem like two outfielders that are well rounded. What do they need to do to get to Minute Maid?
Chandler Rome: McKenna needs to cut down on his swing-and-miss and improve his pitch selection. Barefoot could stand to show more power against advanced pitching. Barefoot profiles as a corner outfielder, but if he wants to stick in center, should improve his routes and reads to make that possible. I’m curious to see the development of McKenna, Barefoot, Jordan Brewer and Colin Barber this season. All four have interesting tools.
- Chances Hunter Brown sticks as a starter versus ends up in the 'pen?
Chandler Rome: The Astros view Brown as a starter. They want him to stick as a starter. Most scouts view him as a starter. Whether he makes his major league debut as a starter is another matter. If Brown pitches well enough to force the team’s hand this season, you could see him in a bullpen role on a team with seven established major league starters. Brown is still just 23 and made two major leaps this season at Double-A and Triple-A. Command is a big issue. One scout called it “frustrating” because they would see Brown dominant in one outing and have no feel the next. The stuff is good enough that it will play somewhere. Harnessing more consistency would make him a sure-fire starter.
Chevy (Coral Springs):
- How close was Shay Whitcomb? The bat seems solid and I would have seen him ahead of some guys in the back five of a not terribly deep system.
Chandler Rome: You can’t argue with production and Whitcomb produced. His .893 OPS across Low-A and High-A opened some eyes. He’s on the Top 30 list. Whitcomb registered some of the organization’s highest exit velocities and has above-average raw power. It’s fair to question whether he can maintain it against upper-level pitching — especially given his strikeout propensity. Whitcomb’s defense at shortstop drew negative reviews from most scouts. Most think he’d be better on a corner.
- Solomon was AAA West Pitcher of the Year and has 17-2 record in minors. Plus 14 IP in MLB, small sample size understood, a 1.29 ERA. Seems he just delivers at every level, so #10 seems very low. Is it possible to see him as mid-rotation starter for a portion of the season to keep other starters fresh with lower innings counts? Possibly a tandem with Verlander to start season as JV builds up? On many MLB teams he would easily be part of regular rotation but is blocked in Houston.
Chandler Rome: Without knowing the Astros’ plans for Verlander — or, maybe more importantly, Verlander’s plans for himself — it’s difficult to answer that part of the question. Solomon fared well in his brief major league cameo last season and should be one of the first depth starters summoned if injury occurs. Problem is, Houston is entering the season with seven established major league starters. Solomon would probably factor in the rotation of a non-contending team, but in Houston, it’s difficult to see him making a bid for the sort of innings load laid out here.
Marwin (Drum Circle):
- Is this a bottom 5 system? Feels like a bottom 5 system.
Chandler Rome: Yes. Pretty much every talent evaluator or scout I talk to echo the same sentiments: it is a bad system. It's not the worst, but it is not good.
- How close was Shawn Dubin? Seems like he would make a filthy reliever, or still possibly an effective starter.
Chandler Rome: He missed by one spot — No. 11. Dubin is now on the 40-man roster, putting him on track to make his major league debut pretty soon. The stuff screams reliever and, if he makes his debut this season, I'd be shocked if it isn't out of the bullpen.
- What are your thoughts on Luke Berryhill? Did he make the top 30? He’s obviously blocked at catcher, do you see him finding a place?
Chandler Rome: The Astros obviously like him. They named him their organization's Minor League Player of the Year. Heard he can really sing, too. Baseball-wise, the power is the draw, but some scouts wonder whether he'll hit enough. Scouts didn't love his defense behind the plate and, as you said, there are more adept catching defenders in the pipeline.