Houston Astros 2021 Top MLB Prospects Chat
Ben Badler: Hey everyone, thanks for spending your Friday with us at BA. Let's get started.
J.P. (Springfield, IL):
- What is Zach Daniels' projection? I see he leads a few categories in the Best Tools. Is he more ceiling than anything else at this point?
Ben Badler: The most exciting package of athleticism, explosiveness and tools in the system, but with a ton of risk attached, especially relative to other college draft picks. He’s an elite runner (I saw him run under a 6.4), big raw power with some of the best exit velos in the system, pretty good arm from the outfield. But, obviously, his numbers in college were rough, both his first two years at Tennessee and when he was in the Cape. Then he hit .357/.478/.750 through 17 games his junior year, but then the season shut down right before SEC play started. That at least gives some hope that he was starting to make the right adjustments at the plate, but there are still things with his swing you would like to see him clean up.
- Thanks for taking questions, Ben. I was curious why Freudis Nova was left off the top 10. I see the Astros even added him to the 40 man roster so I imagine the organization is still high on him. Wasn't sure what your take was on him
Ben Badler: Nova was at instructional league and the reports we had from scouts there were not encouraging. I liked Nova a lot when he signed, but there is a lot of risk with his bat, especially with his pitch recognition issues and being a big free-swinger. That was evident again this year. Adding to the risk were the reports that the athleticism and quick-twitch actions he was known for seemed to have regressed. He does have a strong arm, but between his size and his defensive actions, it looks like he could end up at third base or move to the outfield. Obviously 2020 was an unusual year, we’re in a pandemic, so there a lot of contextual caveats here that apply, and he’s young enough to turn it around. But there are more red flags with Nova than we had coming into the year.
Seanto (Santo Domingo):
- Dauri Lorenzo was drawing raves in 2019, and there's a lot of folks who are excited to see what he can do. What do you think about his ceiling and where do you think he needs the most growth?
Ben Badler: His strengths are on the offensive side, especially with his maturity at the plate in terms of his plan, approach and bat-to-ball skills for his age. He did get stronger in 2020, but I don't expect him to develop into a big power threat, probably someone who relies more on his contact skills and plate discipline to get on base. Defensively, he doesn't have the quick-twitch actions and explosion you typically want in a shortstop, so he more than likely ends up flipping over to second base long term.
- What is going on with Pedro Leon's signing. It was reported last spring that he was expected to sign with the Astros in July. Then, it was early this year, which hasn't happened yet. Is it known why he delayed the signing? Are other teams now wooing him? Are the Astros backing off? What's happening?
Ben Badler: MLB moved the start of the 2020-21 international signing period back from July 2, 2020 to Jan. 15, 2021. So they can sign him on Friday.
Melvin Perez (New York):
- What are your thoughts on Alex Santos RHP out of Bronx, NY? Heard he did great at Instructs this past fall. When do you predict him to make it to the big show ?
Ben Badler: Yeah I liked that pick a lot for where he went, he would have been one of my target arms in that range of the draft. A lot of risk with any high school pitcher, but it's a good fastball now with the projection to throw harder (and given the Astros' track record of squeezing velo gains out of their pitchers, I would bet on that happening), the makings of a potential plus curveball and feel for a changeup. Throw in his athleticism and feel for the zone and you have a lot of arrows pointing in the right direction as far as his ability to stick in the rotation and upside. Still at least a few years away though as far as ETA.
- I know it was an odd year, but have you picked up on any changes in player development mindset or strategy since Luhnow's firing?
Ben Badler: Seems relatively consistent. More or less the same people in place and same philosophies, though obviously it hasn’t been that long and, like you said, it wasn’t a normal year for minor league player development anywhere.
- We've been hearing a lot of talk about Colin Barber and now Zach Daniels in terms of outfield prospects. What about Jordan Brewer? There seemed to be a lot of potential and talk about him after the College World Series, but it has seemingly died down.
Ben Badler: He's one of the few players in the Astros top 30 who we don't have much new information on from 2020, because he had knee surgery in April. So he was pretty much shut down last year, although he should be good to go for spring training. When healthy, it was some of the better tools in the system (not Zach Daniels level, but plus speed and raw power), but the pure hitting ability and swing itself will need to come along to translate against better pitching.
- Ignoring the fact that there's a better SS prospect in the org by the name of Jeremy Pena, do Grae Kessinger and Freudis Nova both stick at that position long term?
Ben Badler: I wouldn't push either of them off the position yet, but I think more than likely Kessinger end up at second base with some chance to play third base too. He's an instinctive, fundamentally sound defender in the infield, so sometimes those guys can surprise you and stay at shortstop, but his range and first-step quickness doesn't match what you see in most major league shortstops.
Ben Badler: Nova has plenty of arm for shortstop, but his instincts lag behind and he doesn't have the most secure hands either. The 2021 season will be huge for him, obviously offensively but also on the defensive side to see if he can stay at shortstop or if he has to go to third base or possibly the outfield.
Ben Badler: And no questions about Jeremy Peña's ability to handle shortstop. He looks like a future plus defender there.
- Thanks for your time Ben! Whitley - still a top 100 prospect? Don’t know he is anymore unfortunately. Any other Astros in consideration? Thanks as always Ben 🙏🏼
Ben Badler: He's borderline at this point. Obviously we have to be realistic that this year's Top 100 has more uncertainty than usual given what happened with 2020, but you can magnify that uncertainty even more with Whitley given his history and how his 2020 went. I don't know that anyone can comfortably project Whitley's future or even his 2021 season with a ton of certitude. I do like Luis Garcia, but I suspect he ends up outside of the Top 100.
Forrest Whitley (Purgatory):
- Ben, I can't help but wonder if it's a bad sign that I'm still the No. 1 ranked prospect? Are there other top-ranked arms who spent this much time in the minors who panned out?
Ben Badler: For sure, we've had pitchers in the Prospect Handbook for more years than Whitley. He's still only going into his age-23 season. Carlos Carrasco was in like seven Prospect Handbooks and the Indians No. 1 prospect multiple years, Dellin Betances was in eight although his prospect status yo-yoed throughout his time in the minors. If we're looking at pitchers who ranked as the No. 1-2 prospect in their system for 3-4+ years, you have pitchers like Lucas Giolito and Dylan Bundy, Alex Reyes, or going back a few years Adam Miller or Ryan Anderson. So some successes, but a lot of cautionary tales, though with a lot of those players you're looking at pitchers with major injury histories. And Roy Halladay wasn't a prospect at the time, but he was the Blue Jays No. 1 prospect for three straight years before he got to the majors, graduated, struggled and got sent back to High-A to re-build his career, and he was older than Whitley at the time that happened.
Ben Badler: All of which is to say, I don't know what to expect from Whitley, other than that it's reasonable to be skeptical but also recognize he could quickly turn everything around, so there's a wide, wide range of outcomes here that's just tricky to project with much confidence.
- Hello Ben, Can you tell us more about Chas McCormick? He's the projected 2024 RF, yet he wasn't even on the Top 30 last summer. Does he have any realistic shot at actually becoming a regular, or is that almost certainly a position they will need to fill with a trade or FA?
Ben Badler: I think that's more about the current outfield situation in the organization, but I do think McCormick has a chance to sneak up on people in a Jake Cronenworth type way, an older prospect who has good strike-zone discipline, solid contact skills and a track record of performing well through the upper minors, with a chance to give you good OBPs, then add value with his glove in the outfield as well.
- Is Luis Garcia really likely to be a Closer, or was that mostly just to fit him in the 2024 team somewhere? Seems like Hunter Brown or some other crazy flame-thrower would be more likely, with Garcia in the rotation or as a swingman. Then again, Trevor Hoffman made it work OK with a killer change...
Ben Badler: The future lineups are more of a fun toy exercise, using only players currently in the organization, more than anything else. There is some chance Garcia ends up in the bullpen, and the Astros do have a crowded rotation right now, but I think he ends up a starter long term. Whereas Brown I think has a lot more reliever risk.
- I wondered if you had an update and/or opinion on Jairo Solis? I think 2020 was his first year coming back from TJ, and he was previously described as having best stuff in org after Whitley. Do you know if his stuff seemed to be back after surgery, or how Houston treated him in this weird year? Thanks!
Ben Badler: He looked back on the right track in 2020. He pitched at instructs and was sitting in the low-90s, touching mid-90s with good life on his fastball. He’s a good athlete who doesn’t have quite the pure stuff of some of the other flame-throwing, erratic control guys in the system, but he sticks out because he has more starter attributes than a lot of those other pitchers. I think we’ll see him crack the upper levels of the minors at some point this year.
- Where would Pedro Leon fit on this list when signed?
Ben Badler: We'll get updated reports after he signs and enters their academy, but right now he would be outside their top 10.
- The Astros invested nearly $10MM (including tax) on Elian Rodriguez, Yorbin Cueta, Anibal Sierra and Deury Carrasco nearly 5 years ago. Are all these guys clearly busts at this point?
Ben Badler: Mostly org types. None of them in their top 40-50 minor leaguers in the system.
Mike S (Delaware):
- Any thoughts on the new adds to the 40-man? Some interesting choices, what did Astros see to make those decisions?
Ben Badler: The five they added were Whitley, Nova, Tyler Ivey, Solis and Peter Solomon. I talked about Whitley, Nova and Solis already, and from the report on Ivey we posted today, I think adding him was an easy call. Solomon had TJ in 2019, so he's barely pitched above Low-A, but he came back in 2020 and showed the same stuff he had before surgery. Low-to-mid 90s fastball with that late, hoppy life you see the Astros targeting and developing throughout the organization, a curveball with good depth that flashes above-average as his second pitch. Not sure if it's SP or RP long term, but if they didn't protect him, someone would have popped him in the Rule 5.
Ben Badler: I did like the Angels picking Jose Alberto Rivera from the Astros in the Rule 5, and I know a lot of teams had interest in him there. But the Astros also have a bundle of guys who throw 98+ with control issues and reliever profiles in their system, so I get why they left him unprotected and might end up getting him back anyway.
Ben Badler: Thanks for all the questions, it's been fun. Have a great weekend!