Houston Astros 2020 Top 10 MLB Prospects Chat

Image credit: Korey Lee (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)



Francisco (Connecticut):

     Do you still see Forrest Whitley’s future as an ace or at least a number 2?

J.J. Cooper: There’s absolutely the potential to be an ace. But the to-do list to reach that level is larger now than it was a couple of years ago. Whitley was awful at times in 2019–there were games where his command was poor, his stuff was poor and hitters hit some truly epic home runs off of him (ones where he also showed his dismay on the mound before the ball ever landed). But he also showed at times that the stuff is still there. The Astros have tweaked some parts of his delivery from what I have been able to tell (story coming eventually) and it has not worked so far.

Dan (Out West):

     Thanks for the chat. I read that Whitley needs to improve his command and control. What is the difference between these two?

J.J. Cooper: I love answering this question because the distinction is often missed. Control is throwing strikes. If the pitch is supposed to be up and in on a hitter and it ends of down and away in the strike zone but is still a strike, for the purposes of measuring control, the pitch was a good pitch. Control can be determined statistically–3.0 BB/9 is the normal measure of 50 control in the majors. Command is the ability to throw to desired spots. It has nothing really to do with strike-throwing. Tom Glavine would throw a 3-2 changeup just off the plate intentionally. He had plus-plus command but only average control because he was hitting his spots but his spots weren’t always in the strike zone.

Mark (Flower Mound):

     Could you provide a Jairo Solis update, please?

J.J. Cooper: Normal recovery so far. Expect to see him on the mound for most of 2020 having missed a year and a half. If he is back fully healthy I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in the 2021 Top 10.

Kyle H. (Norfolk, VA (ODU)):

     Does 2B Luis Santana figure in the Astros’ future plans? Know he’s a few years away for sure. Thanks.

J.J. Cooper: He’s definitely a few years away and will be hitting Rule 5 eligibility at a point where he’s still pretty far away–two years in the DSL, a year in the Appy League and a year in the NY-P means he’ll be Rule 5 eligible at the end of the 2020 season if not added to the 40-man roster. He’s not in our Top 30 that will be in the Prospect Handbook (which will be shipping before long). There’s some potential there and he has a pretty solid understanding of the strike zone, but there’s not much impact with the bat.

State of the System (Bottom 10?):

     Thanks for chatting with us today JJ. The Astros have graduated an obscene amount of future stars within their system the past 5-7 years. Outside of Whitley, the system now looks dry with major draft punishments on the horizon. Is it now a bottom 10 system in baseball that will only get worse come 2021?

J.J. Cooper: The Astros ability to help pitchers find velocity gives them a chance to keep producing intriguing pitchers, but the position player crop is quite thin–the good news for Houston is Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker should give the MLB team an infusion a youth as some of the team’s current stars get older and reach free agency. This system should get worse in 2021 and 2022. But the number of high-velocity arms gives the teams a ton of potential MLB relievers (and some have starting potential). It’s still better than a significant number of farm systems because of that.

Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):

     Let’s assume Brandon Bailey was not taken by the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft – might he have made the Astro’s top 30 prospects in the Prospect Handbook? Think he has any chance of making the Orioles starting rotation?

J.J. Cooper: I was not planning to put him in the Top 30, but I had considered it. The Astros have so many pitchers with a plus fastball and a plus breaking ball that it’s hard to sort them all out. Bailey is closer to the majors than many of them, but I opted to go with a little higher upside when lining up the 30 (pre-Rule 5 draft). That said, I think he has a very good chance to make the O’s roster and to get 10 or so starts. Bailey fits many of the traits the Os/Astros (and some other teams) like: short RHP with a fastball that can play at the top of the zone.

Seanto (St. Paul):

     Surprised to see guys like Kessinger and Pena ranked here over guys like Jordan Brewer and even Dauri Lorenzo. What makes you lean towards guys that have a more defined baseball future over guys that are more toolsy? Thanks for all your hard work!

J.J. Cooper: Interesting question. I think Pena actually is quite toolsy. Defense is a tool and he’s an excellent defender. And now he’s remade his body and has some power potential as too. Jordan Brewer may be more athletic, but I don’t know if I would say he’s any toolsier than Pena. Kessinger has a significantly longer track record than Brewer, has a chance to have more defensive impact (infield vs. outfield) and was considered a better prospect heading into the draft–there is a reason he went a round earlier in the draft. That said, Brewer didn’t miss the Top 10 by much. He has a little higher upside than Kessinger if it all clicks, but there’s the acknowledgment that there is some risk here–a year ago, Brewer wasn’t a draftable prospect. He’s come a long way in a very short time. I think we have to make allowances for risk. For every player with Lorenzo’s profile who turns into a useful MLB team there are 3-4 who don’t. He made the Top 30, but I’ll feel a lot better about running him up with a little more track record.

Michael Stern (Rochester NY):

     Do you see Abreu starting the year in Hou? With their need for starting pitching is there any chance he moves in to the rotation, especially if there is improvement in his command? Can you see him as a possible closer of the future as another option? Thanks for the chat!

J.J. Cooper: I think he stays in the bullpen, but there is the potential there to be a 8th-9th inning reliever if, as you note, he improves his command.

George (Houston):

     Do you think Toro’s athleticism could translate to an above average COF? Does the bat profile there?

J.J. Cooper: His bat profiles there, but the hope is that he can be a 45-50 defender in a corner OF spot. There’s no clear spot where he projects as an above-average defender. His bat is what it’s about and it may be good enough to allow the Astros to live with fringy defense wherever he plays.

Nate (Charlotte):

     Luis Santana had a bit of a rough 2019, but the stint he had as an injury fill-in at AA at the start of the year seems to indicate how high the organization is on him. What do you make of Santana, and do you expect him to be promoted aggressively going forward?

J.J. Cooper: I wouldn’t read all that much into him getting a little bit of AA time. After an excellent season in the Appy League he was sent to the New York-Penn League instead of the Midwest League. He’s more on the slow track than a fast track. At some point his development will have to speed up as he’ll be Rule 5 eligible after 2020 and he’d be a MiLB free agent if not added to the 40-man roster after 2022.

Tim (SLC):

     Small suggestion, can we go West to East, AL to NL next year?

J.J. Cooper: Can’t promise it, but it will be considered.

Shelby (Austin, TX):

     Without any top 2 Round draft picks, I’m going to assume the Astros will focus on the International market and perhaps overbid on a few players they shouldn’t? What type of knee-jerk reactions are coming our way to make up for our lack of future Draft picks?

J.J. Cooper: There are limits on what can be done internationally as well as spending is strictly controlled, so they can’t take money they can’t spend in the draft and shift it to the international market. The Astros are going to have to rely even heavier on player development. Their hope is to sign guys who they develop into better players than what was their perceived value at the time of the draft. The limits on what they can spend and the limits on when they will draft create a hard-to-circumvent limit on what they can acquire on the amateur market over the next two years. The Astros may get some extra comp picks because they have some big soon-to-be free agents, but then you’re having to replace significant MLB talent, so that’s not a win-win.

Dave (Mpls):

     Luis Garcia had some pretty crazy good #’s last year (other than walks). In a relatively weak system, what keeps him from cracking the list?

J.J. Cooper: He is in the very low teens. The 2019 season saw Garcia make a massive step forward–he looked like just an org arm the year before. He needs to show he can sustain his massive jump in velocity, but there are some starter traits there.

Andrew (Cedar Lake IN):

     What is Freudis Nova’s pure ceiling? Has it changed following the down year?

J.J. Cooper: The ceiling remains the same, but the likelihood that he’s going to figure out how to lay off enough bad pitches to get to it is lower now than it was a year ago. Still hopes for star potential, but some significant reasons to be concerned about whether he’ll get anywhere close to that ceiling.

Tim (New York, NY):

     Let’s get this out of the way – On a scale of 1 to 10 how bad is this kind of blatant cheating compared with the other stuff? Please compare with: 1) Rose betting on his own team; 2) Bonds and Clemons trying to sustain their peak w/ PEDs; 3) Sosa corking his bat; 4) Using foreign substances to grease a ball.

J.J. Cooper: I’ll take one cheating question (there actually have been more prospect questions than cheating questions). I would say betting in baseball is a red line with zero wiggle room–has been clear since the Black Sox scandal. The PED scandal is arguably worse as well, but it is worth noting that most of that occured at a time when it sure seemed like MLB was turning a blind eye to it–there was no testing. If you want to argue this is worse, it would revolve around the fact that MLB sent a clear message after the Apple Watch investigation in 2017 that any further use of tech for sign stealing would be dealt with very harshly. There was no such warnings during much of the PED scandal. Corking a bat doesn’t really do much to help a hitter. So would say this is worse. Foreign substances also have been given almost a free pass by MLB in some cases–hello pine tar and sunscreen.

J.J. Cooper: Thanks everyone for all the questions. We’re down to the final 3 teams to have all Top 10s posted. The Rangers will be posted tomorrow.

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