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When Reed arrived at Kentucky as a freshman, he'd been drafted by the Mets, who didn't sign him in part because they couldn't decide if he was a better prospect as a pitcher or a hitter. Kentucky's coaching staff saw him as a potential ace who as a bonus would be able to hit as well. He lived up to every expectation as a pitcher--he went 19-13, 2.83 in three seasons at Kentucky--but was an even better hitter. Reed was Baseball America's College Player of the Year in 2014 after hitting .336/.476/.735 with an NCAA-best 23 home runs. Reed's 23 home runs was more than 185 NCAA Division I teams hit that year. Reed also joined David Price and Dave Magadan as the only unanimous Southeastern Conference Player of the Year honorees. Reed was Kentucky's Friday starter and served as the DH all weekend to keep his body fresh. Reed was a legitimate draft prospect as a pitcher with an 88-92 mph fastball, but he was a much better prospect as a hitter. Reed followed up his excellent 2014 college season by finishing as runner-up for Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year award in 2015. Reed led the minors in home runs (34), RBIs (127), slugging percentage (.612) and OPS (1.044). He dominated the minors despite coming into the season out of shape by his own account--he showed up at 285 pounds, at least 25 pounds heavier than he hopes to play at in 2016. He finished his season with 11 middling games in the Arizona Fall League. Reed has outstanding power and pairs it with an excellent batting eye. That selectivity allows him to hit for average and get on base as well. Reed's swing has some length and he has long arms that can get tied up. His above-average bat speed combined with his natural strength gives him 70-grade raw power. Reed's selectivity is exceptional. He doesn't just differentiate between balls and strikes, he also takes strikes he can't drive. He's comfortable hitting behind in the count and has an advanced two-strike approach. His ability to spoil pitches explains his surprisingly modest strikeout rate (20 percent) considering how much power he hits for in games. He uses the entire field, something that improved even more after he moved up Double-A Corpus Christi-the wind at the Hooks home park' usually blows directly in from right field, punishing lefthanded hitters for a dead-pull approach. The biggest knock on Reed offensively is he is much more comfortable facing righthanded pitchers. He hit .238/.320/.397 against lefthanders after his promotion to Double-A. Reed is adequate at best defensively at first base. If he shows up in better shape in 2016, it should improve his agility. His hands and arm are fine but he doesn't have much range or speed. Reed's upside is significant. He has a chance to become one of the rare players who can produce above-average on-base and slugging percentages thanks to selectivity and excellent power. He hasn't shown he can do the same damage against lefthanders and he still can be induced to chase a good breaking ball, so the Astros have some incentive to be patient and let him head to Triple-A to start the 2016 season. But he will get a chance to compete for a big league job in spring training.
The Astros make it a point of emphasis to scout the complex leagues in search of young, high-ceiling talent. The best payback so far from that approach is Martes, a hard-throwing, raw righthander for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Marlins when he was acquired in the 2014 Jarred Cosart-Colin Moran trade. A year later, he's one of the better pitching prospects in the minors. Martes jumped from complex ball to Double-A Corpus Christi in one year because he has two present plusplus pitches. He can manipulate his 93-95 mph fastball like a vet as he adds and subtracts velocity and generates plenty of life. His fastball sets up a power curveball that's 81-85 mph with depth and excellent spin. The combo of a fastball and hard curve can't help but remind scouts of Lance McCullers Jr.'s arsenal. As one scout put it: "At two strikes, you're dead." Martes could succeed as a reliever with his current two offerings, but he needs to improve his changeup to develop as a starter. His change shows some sink and has average potential because he maintains the arm speed and slot of his fastball, but he uses it infrequently. His control is average already, but he still loses the feel for his delivery for stretches. Scouts love how Martes always seems in charge on the mound. He shows no expression whether he's struck out the last three or given up three straight hits--but he has much more experience with recording three straight strikeouts. Martes will return to Corpus Christi, but he's not far from the big leagues and he has the potential to be a front-line starter.
Bregman has been one of the best players everywhere he's ever played. A USA Baseball veteran since early in his high school days, he was the BA Freshman of the Year in 2013, a two-time first-team All-American for Louisiana State and, ultimately, the second overall pick in the 2015 draft. His $5.9 million signing bonus ranks second in Astros' history. Blessed with excellent hand-eye coordination and a simple, level swing, Bregman has plenty of bat speed and is equally comfortable yanking the ball down the left-field line or staying back and stinging a ball to the right-field wall. He should be at least a plus hitter who racks up walks as well. Defensively, Bregman is the kind of player who grows on evaluators the longer they see him. His range is average at best and his arm is only average as well, but he anticipates exceptionally well and plays with a smooth unruffled grace. Nothing surprises him and the ball never seems to eat him up. He's an above-average runner who runs the bases well. Bregman has the power to hit 10-15 home runs a year at the expense to his average, but he's at his best when he's spraying line drives. He is one of the safer college picks in recent years with a long track record of success and a Carlos Correa-like drive to succeed, but without Correa's physical gifts. At worst, Bregman should be an everyday second baseman who hits for average with occasional power. He's blocked with the Astros by Correa and second baseman Jose Altuve, but if traded he could be an above-average offensive shortstop with reliable defense. He's on the fast track and should spend much of 2016 at Double-A Corpus Christi.
Kyle's older brother Preston made his big league debut in May 2015, a month before Kyle joined him in the Astros organization. Kyle has his brother's power potential, but he brings with it more bat speed, a better body and more athleticism. Tucker broke his brother's Plant City High career home run record and was thee Baseball America High School Player of the Year in 2015. After signing for $4 million, he hit three home runs in the regular season and three more in the Rookie-level Appalachian League playoffs. Tucker is athletic and somewhat slender, but he is expected to fill out into a profile corner outfielder's frame. He generates 60 hit and 60 power grades from scouts who are sold on his bat. Tucker's swing starts with low hands and an arm bar, but his swing gets more fluid as he brings the bat head through the zone and the bat stays in the zone a long time. He has excellent bat speed and has present pull power, although opposite-field power will have to wait until he adds strength. Tucker is an average runner who runs the bases well. He played a little center field in 2015, but long-term, he's a corner outfielder who has a chance to be above-average defensively. His average arm means he'll slide to left on a team with a true right fielder. Tucker's unconventional swing causes slight concern, but he has a chance to be a middle-of-the-order hitter. He's ready for low Class A Quad Cities.
Cameron was born into a big league lifestyle. The year he was born his father Mike became a big league regular for the first time. For the next 15 years the elder Cameron stood out as an exceptional defensive center fielder with plenty of power (278 career home runs). Just as Mike's career ended, Daz stepped on to the scene, impressing scouts with his performance at the 2012 World Wood Bat Championship. Cameron fell in the draft because of his asking price. The Astros signed Cameron for the same $4 million they gave to Kyle Tucker, the No. 5 pick. Daz isn't the top-of-the-scale defender his father was in center, but he's a plus defender with good routes, anticipation and above-average speed once underway. He has plus bat speed and solid bat-to-ball skills, but he doesn't have as much explosiveness in his bat or athletically as scouts once hoped. He projects more as a fringe-average hitter with average power. His speed plays better underway than out of the box but he has demonstrated solid basestealing ability. Cameron's feel for the game and his excellent body control is more notable than any one loud tool. Cameron has a slightly lower ceiling than Kyle Tucker because of his lesser power potential but he has a higher floor because of his ability to roam center field. He'll join Tucker in low Class A Quad Cities in a loaded lineup.
Musgrove was part of the 10-player Blue Jays-Astros trade that sent J.A. Happ to Toronto. It took Musgrove a long time to blossom. A sprained rotator cuff cost him almost all of the 2012 season, and he missed time in 2013 with a sprained UCL elbow ligament. Finally healthy, Musgrove broke out in 2015, dominating three levels. He has plus command/control already--at one point he had a 66-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He owns the inner half of the plate with boring life on his 90-93 mph fastball that reaches 95 whenever he needs it. Musgrove's fastball is a plus pitch thanks to its movement and his command. His 80-85 mph slider is an average offering but it also plays up because he can spot it so well--he'll backdoor it, make it a chase pitch and generally make hitters defend both sides of the plate at all times. His 80-85 mph changeup is an average offering as well. Musgrove has a strong body and clean delivery, and his injury issues are now several years in the past. He was shut down in August just to limit his innings. With his combination of stuff and command he could eventually be a No. 3 starter and he could reach Houston in 2016.
Paulino was a Rookie-level acquisition who had barely pitched when the Astros acquired him as the player to be named in the 2013 Jose Veras-Danry Vasquez trade. Paulino battled elbow problems as a Tiger and he missed all of 2014 with Tommy John surgery, but he returned to show two plus-plus offerings in his fullseason debut. He generates swings and misses with a 91-95 mph fastball and can sporadically reach back for 97-98. His fastball has angle as he works down in the zone consistently, occasionally elevating with a four-seamer up. Both his fastball and his high-70s, 11-to-5 curveball have excellent spin. He'll still bounce his curveball too much but when he gets it right it freezes hitters. Scouts who have seen him well grade both as at least 60s and both generate some plus-plus grades. His average changeup has sporadic sink and he maintains his arm speed, but he seems hesitant to throw it. Paulino repeats his delivery well. He projects to have at least average control and command. The biggest knock on Paulino is his lack of innings--he's a 21-yearold who's thrown 106 innings in five pro seasons. Paulino's elbow has been fine post-surgery but he needs to show he can handle a heavier workload. If he can he has No. 2 starter potential.
In a year when Lance McCullers, Michael Feliz and Vince Velasquez all pitched important innings for the Astros' playoff push, it was notable who didn't reach Houston. Appel, the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft, was not called on to help the big league roster although he was on the mound for Fresno's win to clinch the Pacific Coast League title. Grading out Appel pitch by pitch, he appears to have the makings of a frontline starter, but the sum of those parts rarely adds up. His fastball's velocity appears to make it a plus-plus offering because he sits 93-95 mph and will touch 96-98. His mid-80s slider is a plus pitch as well and his changeup will flash average on a regular basis, with scouts giving it plus grades on its best days. That said, his fastball plays average (if not below) because it is too flat and hitters pick it up too easily. Hitters get very comfortable at-bats against Appel. In 12 of his 53 (23 percent) pro starts, he's given up more runs than innings pitched. Appel still has the potential to be a frontline starter if he can add command, feel and deception. But it's more likely that he will be a durable No. 4 starter and even that requires him to take a step forward.
Moran has a long history of success. He was Baseball America's Freshman of the Year in 2011 and was a key member of North Carolina's 2011 and 2013 College World Series teams. The sixth pick in the 2013 draft, Moran's lack of productive power and low-energy approach quickly turned off the Marlins, who traded him the next season in a deal that sent Jarred Cosart to Miami and netted Francis Martes as well for the Astros. Moran missed a month this year with a broken jaw thanks to an errant throw, but he showed no ill effects upon his return. Moran can really hit. He starts from a very open stance but squares up with his timing step. He will occasionally connect on a long home run, but his approach is geared to stay back, avoid getting fooled and use the whole field with a small load to his swing. He draws walks as well. But what makes Moran such a divisive prospect for scouts is what he can't do. He's a near bottom-of-the-scale runner and a below-average defender at third base because of a lack of first-step quickness and limited athleticism. His plus arm is very accurate, which is key because without the arm, he'd already be playing first base. If Moran stays at third base, his potential to hit .290 with above-average on-base percentages, and the 25-30 doubles may make the 10-15 home runs he'll hit seem adequate. But if a team is unwilling to live with below-average defense at third, he becomes a much less interesting first baseman. He's ready for Triple-A and isn't far away.
Dating back to his prep days in Pennsylvania, when he was an unsigned sixthrounder by the Rangers, Fisher has teased scouts with his body and lively tools. He's an excellent athlete and runner, but he played left field at Virginia. He shows a sweet swing at times, but he never hit .300 as a Cavalier, and a hamate injury as a junior caused him to fall into the supplemental first round. If Fisher could play center field, he would be a nearly perfect profile prospect. But he's never shown any aptitude for the position. He's a plus runner, has a great, athletic frame and will show plus-plus raw power in batting practice. Fisher's power doesn't show up in games as often as one would expect. His swing generates raves from some scouts with his bat speed, fluidity and a good all-field approach. At times he's demonstrated a tenacious two-strike approach, but his pitch recognition needs work. Fisher has always struggled with reads and routes. While he has played some center field for the Astros, he looks more comfortable in left where his below-average arm plays better. Fisher runs the bases well and has 20-20 potential if he does a better job of tapping into his power. But he's still a very high variance prospect who has a chance to be a star along the lines of Jason Bay, and a chance to struggle to have a big league career. He'll take on Double-A in 2016.
Houston signed nine players to six-figure bonuses or larger in 2010. Most have never panned out but Feliz, who only signed with Houston for $400,000 after his contract with the A's was voided for a positive steroid test, has made up for the rest of the misses. He made the 2014 Futures Game, was added to the 40-man roster last winter and made it to the majors as a fill-in reliever in 2015. Feliz's combination of exceptional fastball velocity, less-impressive secondary offerings and fringe-average control have long led some scouts to believe his longterm future lies in the bullpen. Feliz can touch 98-99 mph out of the bullpen and he sits 93-94 with his plus fastball as a starter. If he's going to start, Feliz needs to improve the consistency of his slider and changeup. Both flash average or better, though not nearly consistently enough. He rips off a good slider roughly two out of every five times he throws it, the changeup a little less than that, and too many of the poor ones catch the plate. The Astros' starting pitching depth may push Feliz to the bullpen, where he has closer potential, but there's no reason to move him there yet. Feliz has made strides the past two years, especially with his fastball control, but he's far from a finished product.
When the Astros signed Abreu for $185,000 in 2013, he was an intriguing, athletic pitcher with a clean delivery and an 87-91 mph fastball. Two years later Abreu can touch 99 mph and has turned into yet another Astros starter who has front-line potential, although in Abreu's case, he's a long way from reaching it. Not only does Abreu have a 93-96 mph fastball but he also has quickly developed an aboveaverage changeup. It doesn't have much tumble, but the high-80s offering generates deception from good arm speed and a little late fade. Abreu also breaks off an average slider on a regular basis although it's less consistent than the changeup. He's experimented with a slower curve too. Abreu's control is below-average and he needs to do a better job of repeating his delivery and maintaining his stuff deep into games, but he has present stuff and future frontline starter potential.
Kemmer is one of a number of Astros' late-round analytics/scouting finds. He always has hit, from .727 as a senior at Clarion (Pa.) High to .445 at Allegheny (Md.) JC to .387 at Division II Clarion (Pa.) to .366 at NAIA Brewton-Parker (Ga.) in 2013. Because all his numbers were put up at smaller schools and he moved around, he never gathered much notice. Kemmer kept hitting as pro and forced evaluators to take notice. He has above-average bat speed and natural strength. He combines 20-home run power potential with a chance to have an above-average hit tool as well. Kemmer takes a furious rip with a flat swing plane that stings the ball but keeps the bat in the zone. He is a below-average runner, and he's playable but below-average in left or right field. His average arm is just enough to handle right field, and he can slide over to first base in a pinch, though he's inexperienced there. As a lefthanded-hitting corner outfielder with legitimate power, Kemmer has a solid shot of being an everyday regular, but he should at least be a solid backup. He's headed for Triple-A Fresno.
After playing first base, right field and DH at Cal State Fullerton, the Astros decided to make Davis a full-time third baseman with the hopes it would increase his value and take advantage of his arm. His plus arm is his best attribute at third because it buys him some extra time and allows him to make some highlight plays. He was a closer in college whose fastball touched 94-95 mph. His size and lack of mobility limit his range, which scouts worry will only get worse as he ages. He's a below-average runner without a quick first step. He's a fringe-average defender at best, but he's shown a strong work ethic. Davis' real calling card is his power. He can clear the fence to left, center and right and is most comfortable driving the ball the other way. Davis has 20-plus home run potential, but how much he gets to will depend on how his bat holds up against more advanced pitching. He has average bat speed. Although his swing is a little long he should make enough hard contact to be a fringe-average hitter as well. Headed to Double-A in 2016, Davis projects as a second-division everyday third baseman with power and fringy defense.
Kemp led off the 2015 Futures Game by drawing a walk. It was a fitting example of what he does best-- get on base, serve as a top-of-the-lineup spark plug and score runs. The 2013 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, Kemp has some strength in his frame despite his small stature. He not only draws walks thanks in part to a small strike zone but has enough bat speed to spray line drives. Kemp has 30-grade power at best, which begs the question of whether his plummeting walk rate at Triple-A is foreshadowing of a hitter who doesn't provide enough thump to force pitchers to respect him. But many scouts believe he has at least a plus hit tool to go with his patience. He's a fringe-average defender at second, relying on quick-twitch athleticism more than fluidity--a below-average arm doesn't help. In the outfield, he's well below-average in center and fringe-average in left thanks to poor routes and reads. Kemp's glove may need more time to catch up to the bat. He has time to try to become playable in center, which would dramatically help his chances of a roster spot. Long term, his glove will determine his big league impact.
While low Class A Midwest League managers and scouts were impressed with White's bat in 2014, they also said there weren't big league hitters with physiques like his. White slimmed down significantly in 2015, losing some of the gut that hung over his belt. He responded with one of the best offensive seasons in the minors. White is an excellent hitter with at least a plus hit tool and a sophisticated understanding of the strike zone--as a pro White has walked more than he's struck out. He has a short stroke and the hand-eye to generate excellent contact. He'll run into a home run every now and then, but he projects to hit 12-15 home runs a season in the big leagues. It's that lack of elite power that keeps scouts from believing. Evaluators who like White see him as a Matt Adams-type first baseman whose hit tool forces his way into the lineup. Without the range to play third base in more than an emergency, he's likely to be a backup bat whose lack of a clear defensive position and average power keeps him from an everyday role.
A teammate of fellow Astros prospect J.D. Davis at Cal State Fullerton, Eshleman had the best command and control college baseball has ever seen. He walked 18 batters in three seasons and led Division I in walk rate all three years. He's the rare draftee who earns present plus command grades. There's nothing sexy about Eshelman's stuff. His fastball will touch 92-93 mph on occasion but he pitches at 87-91 with decent life. He gained a tick in 2015 after incorporating a hip turn into his delivery. His curve, slider and change are all fringe-average but play up because he locates them so well. Eshelman lacks any swing-andmiss pitch, but his command gives him a chance to hop on the fast track and to have a solid career as a back-end starter, similar to ex-Twins like Kevin Slowey or, on the high end, Brad Radke.
Left unprotected in the 2014 Rule 5 draft, Gustave was picked by the Royals, but Kansas City decided that as much as it loved his fastball, they couldn't keep him on the roster with his well below-average control. Sometimes prospects struggle in their return to the minors after a taste of the big league life as a Rule 5 pick. To Gustave's credit, he had no problems handling a return to the minors and a jump to Double-A. Upon returning to the Astros, Gustave allowed only one run in six April appearances. At his best, he was dominant, and the high-90s fastball is a double-plus offering--he touched 102 mph. Gustave's control is still below-average, but it's the lack of feel for his slider that is keeping him from being big league ready. Thanks to his exceptional arm speed he can flash a double-plus slider but it's too often a hittable, belowaverage offering. Gustave took a step forward in 2015. The Astros added him to the 40-man roster to avoid exposing him to the Rule 5 draft again. He has closer potential if it all comes together, but his hope for now is to become a usable big league reliever at some point in 2016.
Stassi has finally the injuries that once threatened to ruin his career behind him. After joining the Astros in the 2013 Jed Lowrie trade, Stassi was diagnosed with a sports hernia that appears to have played a part in the shoulder and ankle injuries that had limited him previously. He also had a concussion in 2013. Unfortunately Stassi's bat has gotten sicker as he's gotten healthier. He has struggled to make enough contact to hit for any sort of acceptable average in two seasons at Triple-A (and he struck out 13 times in his 42 MLB at-bats as well). His swing is geared for power, so when he runs into one, he can drive it a long way, but he shows little feel for adjusting to a pitcher's game plan and rarely employs a two-strike approach. Stassi has plus raw power and should be good for 10-12 home runs with regular playing time, below-average or worse batting averages. Stassi is a solid-average defender most notable for his lack of significant weaknesses behind the plate. His arm is average and he's an average pitch presenter. The trade of Hank Conger may open up an opportunity for Stassi to be an inexpensive backup catcher.
Part of a loaded 2013 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, Ferrell dominated Cuba's national team as a freshman with a 95-98 mph fastball and followed it with a dominant 2014 season at Texas Christian. His body has gotten worse and his effort level has picked up since then, culminating with an awful final two weeks before the draft. In the NCAA regionals and super regionals, Ferrell allowed seven earned runs (and walked five) in his five appearances after giving up just six runs in his previous 56 appearances. The Astros still gave him $1 million and saw him respond with a mixture of dominance and wildness. When he's rested, he will sit 93-96 and touch 98 mph, and the plus-plus fastball sets up a hard, short slider that also generates plus grades. Ferrell's overhand delivery generates angle on his fastball and helps his slider dive downward more than most sliders with a little late tilt. Ferrell has a strong frame and had a relatively clean delivery. He's demonstrated close to average control for most of his college career but struggled to repeat in 2015. He has toyed with a promising changeup in bullpens but he hasn't needed it much in his short stints. Ferrell has closer stuff, but he'll have to throw more strikes than he did last year.
A pitcher turned third baseman who moved back to the mound as a 15-year-old, Perez impressed the Astros with his success against advanced competition in Venezuela's Parallel League, a winter league for younger players. Since signing for $1 million, he has shown an advanced approach to go with excellent athleticism in his quick acclimation to pro ball. Perez's fastball sits at 90-94 mph with downhill plane. He has room to add more strength (and possibly more velocity) as he matures. His big-breaking curveball is a trusty out pitch and he's shown feel for a changeup. Considering he has just made it to the States, it's hard to project what Perez could be down the road. But with two present quality pitches and an ability to throw strikes, he has all the makings of a mid-rotation starter with the chance to be even more than that.
Wander Franco has an older brother who is a solid prospect in his own right in the Royals organization named . . .Wander Franco. The Francos are the nephews of Braves shortstop Erick Aybar and former big leaguer Willy Aybar. Signed as a shortstop, the younger Franco lacks the athleticism of his uncle Erick and he quickly moved to third base, something his large lower half foreshadowed. But he can really hit, which is why the Astros spent $575,000. They also have been willing to push Franco quickly--he made it to low Class A Quad Cities as an 18-year-old. The switch-hitting Franco has a chance to have an average hit tool with average power. Now that he's moved to third, he's also an average defender with soft, quick hands and a quick exchange. His tick above-average arm is accurate as well. He is a long way from Houston, but he could end up as an everyday third baseman. He's ready to take a full shot at low Class A Quad Cities.
With Carlos Gomez and Colby Rasmus heading into the final year before free agency, Aplin may need to bide his time, but his combination of above-average defense in center field and his contact-oriented approach should get him to Houston before too long. Aplin could fall into a starting position on a lesser team, but for a playoff club he fits best as a fourth or fifth outfielder who can play all three outfield spots thanks to an above-average, accurate arm that plays in right. An average runner, his range and defense play up thanks to good routes and reads. Aplin has very little power with a line-drive swing--his hits usually fall in front of the outfielders-but he works counts, rarely strikes out and takes his walks. Aplin has walked more than he's struck out in his pro career. Added to the 40-man roster in November, he heads back to Triple-A Fresno.
Unlike many Latin American teenage prospects, scouts had gotten a chance to see Celestino in international play for years, stretching back to seeing him as a 12-year-old in the Cal Ripken World Series and including time as a 15-year-old playing in the COPABE 15U Pan American games. That track record made the Astros comfortable spending $2.5 million on him. Celestino has always impressed with his feel for covering ground in center field. Much like Cubs outfielder Albert Almora, Celestino is a potentially plus defender in center field despite just average speed. He reads swings, gets great jumps and then uncorks accurate throws with a quick release and an average arm. At the plate Celestino's swing isn't mechanically perfect, as he has a big leg kick and his swing has some length, but he has a long track record of hitting in international tournaments and has a more advanced approach than most young Latin American prospects. He shows some raw power already, and has the size to add size and strength. Celestino will make his pro debut in 2016 starting in the Dominican Summer League.
Given a choice between paying for loud tools and unimpressive production and lesser tools but better feel for the game when scouting Latin America, the Astros have focused on players with baseball savvy. Signed for $1 million in 2014, Sierra is an intelligent shortstop who positions himself well, takes a quick first step and always seems to know how much time he has to throw. He has average range and his arm has improved from below-average when he signed to slightly above-average now. He's light on his feet with quality hands and should stay at short as he moves up through the minors and matures. The questions about Sierra revolve around his bat. Sierra has very little power and he knows that. His swing is geared to hitting line drives to all fields, something that was apparent when he hit .302 in the Dominican Summer League. He needs to get stronger, which would help his bat speed and ability to control the barrel. If Sierra gets stronger and keeps hitting, he could be an everyday shortstop, but there are a lot of days in the weight room ahead for him to get there. He's ready for his first full season in the States, starting with a trip to extended spring training before an assignment to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
With a choice of which of two Double-A catchers to protect, the Astros chose to add Gonzalez to the 40-man roster, leaving Roberto Pena, another fine defender, exposed in the Rule 5 draft. Gonzalez has an even stronger arm than Pena. He can rattle off top-of-the-scale pop times when he keeps his mechanics in check, but they remain inconsistent, costing him throwing accuracy. He still threw out 47 percent of baserunners. Gonzalez has present strength but took off in 2015 when he focused on simply making solid contact. Beginning in low Class A, Gonzalez hit .300 at three different levels. He still never has played 75 games in a season and hadn't played 50 games before 2015, so he must show more durability behind the plate. He has the tools to be a solid backup thanks to his strong arm and excellent ability to present pitches. Spring training could determine whether he returns to Corpus Christi or moves up to Triple-A Fresno.
After posting an 18.82 ERA as a senior at Centenary (La.), Hoyt wasn't surprised when he wasn't drafted, but he wasn't willing to give up. His arm strength got him a spot in the now-defunct independent North American League. Steadily sharpening his control, he spent some time in the independent American Association and dominated in the Mexican League before the Braves took notice and signed him. Hoyt's fastball/slider combo got him signed and it's what enticed the Astros to pick him up in the Evan Gattis-Mike Foltynewicz trade. Hoyt's plus 93-96 mph fastball and plus slider took a step forward in the second half of 2015. He had five saves and a 0.64 ERA with 32 strikeouts and four walks in 28 innings after July 1. He carried that dominance into an excellent stint as a closer for Lara in the Venezuelan League. Impossibly wild in college, Hoyt now has average control. He will mix in a splitter, but he's best off focusing on his fastball/slider combo. He'll head to spring training with a chance to earn a spot in the Astros' bullpen.
Is baseball ready for another sleeper prospect named Matt Duffy? The Astros' version is limited to the infield corners, primarily playing third base, though he did play shortstop at Vermont before transferring to Tennessee when the Catamounts program was shuttered. But like the Giants' breakout star, the Astros' Duffy has forced teams to take notice by producing, and he earned his first big league callup in September. Duffy is a fringe-average defender at third base with solid range. He's especially adept coming in on balls and has an average arm. He could hit 15 home runs a season if he got everyday at-bats in the big leagues, and he has a long track record of hitting lefties. Scouts worry his pull-heavy approach would make him a below-average hitter with regular big league time. He's a below-average runner. The 2015 Pacific Coast League MVP fits into the Astros' current plans most as a potential platoon partner on the infield corners for lefthanded hitters A.J. Reed, Jon Singleton and Luis Valbuena. If he doesn't seize that role, he should return to Fresno.
A three-year starter at shortstop at Florida, Fontana's pro career has followed an expected progression as he's transitioned from everyday shortstop to versatile utility infielder with some strengths and some very clear weaknesses. His best attribute at the plate, his ability to draw walks, is diminishing as he climbs the ladder because pitchers with better control are willing to challenge him. He lacks the power to punish them for pitches in the zone. But Fontana's excellent feel for the strike zone ensures he'll always draw his walks. He likes to work deep counts and is comfortable hitting with two strikes--he just strikes out more now. Fontana has near bottom-of-the-scale power. He isn't an everyday shortstop because of limited range and an average arm but he has a shot to be a utility infielder because he's a reliable defender at second and playable on the left side of the infield. Protected on the 40-man roster, he's set to go back to Fresno.
For most of his baseball career, Freeman was considered a non-prospect. But Oklahoma State pitching coach Rob Walton convinced Freeman to drop down to a low three-quarters arm slot and Freeman turned into one of the most surprising aces in college baseball. After posting a 6.28 ERA in 14 innings as a junior, he went 10-3, 1.31 as a senior. A $100,000 senior sign, Freeman made it to Double-A in his first half-season as a pro. Freeman has no pitch that grades as average when you consider he's tossing up fastball after 85-89 mph fastball. Lefties find it almost impossible to hit him because he gets otherworldly movement on the fastball and then drops in a surprise slider. In his pro debut, Freeman held lefties to a .043 average (2-for-45). Both the hits were singles. He manipulates the baseball and has average control. Freeman is much more hittable when he faces righthanders because his below-average changeup doesn't get them off of his fastball, and because he's a low-slot lefty they get a good look at the ball. Freeman's future is as a lefty specialist, but he's should be ready to fill that role in the big leagues quickly, possibly at some point in 2016.
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