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The Marlins don't spend much money internationally, but they have done a great job of finding bargains on the international market. Miami signed Martes for just $78,000 in 2012 and watched him quickly develop from a pitcher with a high-80s fastball and some feel into a low- to mid-90s fireballer. He stood out in the Dominican Summer League in 2013 before he ever pitched in the U.S. Impressed with Martes' ability to mix a plus fastball and plus curveball in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2014, the Astros ensured he was included in the Jarred Cosart trade that July, even though Martes was struggling to get outs and throw strikes in a complex league. He has made dramatic leaps since then as he has filled out and developed a changeup. Once considered a likely power reliever, Martes has developed into one of the fastest-moving starting pitchers in the minors. For example, he was the youngest pitcher in Double-A when the 2016 season began. Martes started slowly at Corpus Christi and had a 5.03 ERA in early June, but he went 5-4, 2.67 in the second half with 81 strikeouts and 20 walks in 71 innings. Few minor league pitchers can match Martes in terms of raw stuff, and the same is true for major leaguers. He has touched 100 mph with his fastball and generally sits 93-97. His plus-plus four-seamer doesn't have exceptional run, but it still generates plenty of swings and misses thanks to its extreme velocity and his ability to work in and out and up and down. Scouts debate whether Martes' ability to work all four quadrants is by design or by good fortune, because he sometimes misses his target significantly but still manages to be around the strike zone. Even though he's short for a righthander--he is officially listed at 6-foot-1 but probably is closer to 6 feet--Martes gets some downhill plane when he works down in the zone. His hard downer curveball at 85-87 mph gives him a second potential 70-grade pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale. It has power and downward break reminiscent of that of fellow Astros righthander Lance McCullers Jr. Martes' curve comes in at slider speed, but it has true 12-to-6 or 11-to-5 break rather than the sweep of a slider. Unlike McCullers, Martes uses his fastball as his main weapon, which sets up his curve. His changeup is less consistent, but it generates plus grades from some and it improved as 2016 wore on. He throws it harder than most changeups, but it generates whiffs thanks to its late drop. It will show some late fade at times, though more by accident than design. The fade generally happens when he spins out of his delivery instead of staying direct to the plate. Martes has also toyed with using a cutter against lefthanders. Martes has the raw profile of an ace with two pitches that grade near the top of the scale, a changeup that is at least average and at least average control. He has filled out into a thick-chested, meaty righthander who evokes comparisons with Johnny Cueto because of his short stature and big stuff. After six starts in the Arizona Fall League, Martes is ready for Triple-A Frenso and could reach the big leagues at some point in 2017.
The younger brother of Astros big league outfielder Preston Tucker, Kyle was the BA High School Player of the Year in 2015, when he hit .484 with 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases. The fifth overall pick that year, he stood out in a pair of Rookie-level stops in his pro debut then jumped to low Class A Quad Cities in 2016. Tucker's advanced bat gives him a shot to be a plus hitter with plus power. Even though he is lean with long levers, he actually prefers hitting balls on the inner half, which helps explain why he has handled lefthanders well. He can pull his hands in on the inside pitch, and his hands and wrists work well to make his pull-oriented approach work. His swing generates excellent loft. But that projected power won't arrive until Tucker adds some more good weight to add strength in his trunk and legs. The Astros have worked him in all three outfield spots, but he projects as an above-average right fielder with an above-average arm. He's an average runner but does a great job reading pitchers and timing his jumps. Tucker handled a late-season cameo at high Class A Lancaster with no issues. He will return to high Class A in 2017--at the Astros' new Carolina League affiliate--and could reach Double-A before he turns 21.
As well as Francis Martes has panned out, Paulino has a better frame and equal stuff. The Astros acquired him from the Tigers for reliever Jose Veras in July 2013. Paulino had Tommy John surgery in 2014 and never has pitched 100 innings in a season. Paulino is 6-foot-7 but unlike many young, long-limbed pitchers he has a knack for duplicating his simple, low-effort delivery. He already has above-average control, and he walked two batters or fewer in each 2016 outing. Paulino's plus fastball sits 91-96 mph with good downhill plane and adequate run and life, though it sometimes takes a while to build velocity. In some starts he'll pitch at 90-92 mph early, then touch 98 a couple of innings later. He uses both a plus 78-81 mph curveball with 12-to-6 action and depth and a fringe-average slider. His mid-80s changeup flashes plus as well. Paulino missed time in 2016 both for elbow tendinitis and a minor disciplinary issue. He should contend for a big league role--either starting or relieving--at some point in 2017, and he has frontline potential if he can prove his durability.
Perez was a big, reasonably athletic third baseman in Carlos Guillen's program in Venezuela, but it was his throwing arm that stood out more than his power, so he wisely moved to the mound and signed for $1 million. He was one of the younger players in the low Class A Midwest League in 2016. The Astros saw Perez as one of the best arms in the 2014 international class (which included Anderson Espinoza), and so far he's lived up to those expectations. Perez's present size and stuff give him an excellent chance to develop as a starter. He pitched at 87-91 mph when he signed, but he's now sitting 92-94 and touching 96 with a plus fastball, and he does it with little effort. Perez's high-70s curveball has good shape and bite, and his changeup has fade and late sink along with good deception. He also toys with a low-80s slider that has potential as a right-on-right weapon. His control is advanced for his age, and 66 percent of his pitches he threw in Quad Cities were strikes. With a strong 2017, Perez could leap into the top tier of pitching prospects. With his feel and control he's ready to pitch in high Class A as a 19-year-old. He has a chance to have three plus pitches with at least average control, and he has the frame and ease of delivery that indicates he could be durable.
One of the best hitters in the minors in 2015 and the BA College Player of the Year in 2014, Reed produced at Triple-A Fresno in 2016, hitting .291/.368/.556 in 70 games. But in 45 games with the big league club, he looked helpless against good breaking balls, showing very little of his trademark power. Reed failed in 2016 for the first time in years. He still showed patience and plus power in the Pacific Coast League, but with Houston he was too pull-happy and must prove he can lay off sliders out of the strike zone. Reed has adequate but not exceptional bat speed, so he has to show he can make adjustments to translate his exceptional minor league performance to the big leagues. For a second straight season, he reported to camp about 20-30 pounds beyond his ideal weight, which did not help his bat speed or his nimbleness at first base. Reed scoops balls well at first and, as a former pitcher, has a plus arm. Slow-footed, slugging first basemen face plenty of skepticism until they hit at the big league level. Because they are aiming to win, the Astros aren't in a position to give Reed an extended trial, so he'll have to fight for an opportunity. His ceiling is still that of a plus hitter with plus power, but he now faces healthy skepticism in the industry.
Like many top high school pitching prospects, Whitley went from nothing to something after a growth spurt. A sub-six-feet freshman, he gained six inches and 15 mph before his sophomore year, but it wasn't until he shed baby fat that he emerged as a potential first-rounder. Whitley went to the Astros 17th overall in the 2016 draft. Whitley has the plus-plus fastball you expect from a first-round prep pitching prospect. He sits 92-94 mph and touches 97, and his fastball generates swings and misses due to its excellent life. But unlike many young power pitches, Whitley has three secondary pitches that he has confidence in. His curveball is a plus downer and was the pitch he focused on in his pro debut, but some scouts believe his high-80s power slider could end up being even better. He threw it only once or twice a game as a pro, but it was his go-to weapon in high school. It lacks massive depth, but Whitley makes up for it with velocity and late movement. His changeup is advanced for a power pitcher his age. The path from the draft to the big leagues for high school righthanders is rarely a straight road, but Whitley's plus stuff and advanced control give him the building blocks to be a front-of-the-rotation starter. He should pitch at low Class A Quad Cities in 2017.
The Astros signed Hernandez for a bargain $20,000 in 2011 and saw him quickly climb on the prospect radar. He regressed with a disastrous 2015 season, after which the Astros left him off the 40-man roster--but he went unselected in the Rule 5 draft. Hernandez went to the Astros' Dominican complex to focus on tracking breaking-ball spin and it paid off in 2016, when he slashed his strikeout rate from 25 percent to 17 percent. Hernandez went from being an easy out to an above-average hitter because he adopted a two-strike approach. He now takes or spoils tough, two-strike pitches he chased in the past. The improved approach did dilute his power slightly, but he still has above-average power to go with his much-improved hit tool. He is an above-average defender in center field and plus in the corners with an above-average arm, though he needs to improve his accuracy. With Houston aiming to win the American League West, it probably won't hand Hernandez a full-time job out of spring training. But with his ability to play all three outfield spots, he could fit as a useful extra outfielder who plays his way into a larger role.
A teammate of Kendrys Morales on dominant Cuban junior national teams, Gurriel was long considered one of the best players in the world to not play in the U.S. majors. He bolted Cuba at the Caribbean Series in February 2016 and signed a five-year, $47.5 million deal with the Astros. Wherever Gurriel ends up on the diamond, the Astros paid him to hit. He looked rusty in his big league debut and has to adjust to seeing better breaking balls, but scouts see an above-average hitter with above-average power. Gurriel understandably isn't as nimble as he once was, but he's still capable of playing average or better defense at first and third base, and he's fringe-average in left field. He has quick hands and good body control with a plus arm. He is a fringe-average runner. The future is now with Gurriel because he turns 33 during the 2017 season. His versatility gives him a chance to play multiple positions for Houston, but his most logical everyday spot for now appears to be first base, where rookies A.J. Reed and Tyler White failed to hit in 2016. Gurriel plays on a front-loaded contract that will earn him $14 million in 2017.
Scouts have been dreaming on Fisher's combination of speed and power for years. Out of high school he fell to the sixth round after a poor senior season where he struggled at the plate. He largely continued to struggle in three years at Virginia. The Astros have seen him blossom as a pro after making him a 2014 sandwich pick. Fisher is the only minor league player to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases in both 2015 and 2016. Fisher's impressive athleticism helps him maximize his tools. He has plus-plus raw power and has developed the ability to draw walks and get on base at a high rate. His swing is smooth, and he has plenty of bat speed, but he unleashes it with a significant load that emphasizes power over contact. He's always going to swing and miss a lot, making him more of a .240-type hitter, but his above-average power will produce plenty of extra-base hits. Defensively, Fisher has improved to the point where he's a fringe-average left fielder and a below-average center fielder with a below-average arm. His power, speed and on-base ability make him a potentially valuable regular even with a below-average hit tool. The Astros' lineup leans heavily toward the right side, which opens an opportunity for the lefthanded-hitting Fisher. He heads back to Triple-A Fresno in 2017.
Stubbs played center field, left field, second base and catcher at Southern California before he became too valuable behind the plate to play elsewhere. A first-team All-American as a senior, he still slid to the eighth round because of his size. Stubbs' skinny, 5-foot-10 frame raises durability questions but also is one of his greatest assets. He is an outstanding pitch-framer in part because he can get lower than most catchers, allowing him to get his hand under balls other catchers have to flip their mitts to snag. His agility also pays off in blocking balls in the dirt and helps his above-average arm play up thanks to excellent footwork. He threw out 51 percent of basestealers in 2016. Though he called pitches in college, it remains the weakest part of his catching. At the plate, Stubbs has a pretty straightforward lefthanded stroke geared more for contact than power. He can square up a good fastball and has some pull power. He projects as a near-average hitter with well below-average power. He runs well for a catcher and is an average runner. Stubbs' size is the biggest impediment to him becoming a big league regular. No regular backstop today weighs as little as Stubbs, but he could be a solid contributor even if limited to a part-time role behind the plate.
When the Astros signed Sierra on the first day of the 2014 international signing period they knew they were getting a polished shortstop for the $1 million they were spending. What they didn't expect was he would turn into a top slugger in the Rookie-level Appalachian League in 2016. Scouts see Sierra as having fringe-average power potential, but he hit 11 home runs in 31 games at Greeneville while posting an unfathomable .331 isolated slugging percentage. As might have been expected, the power spike led to some bad habits as he morphed his swing from line drive-oriented to pull-heavy with a load-and-lift approach. Those poor habits were exposed in a late-season stint at short-season Tri-City. Power won't be what gets Sierra to the big leagues, but he has the bat speed to be an average hitter. Shortstop defense is his calling card. Sierra has gotten significantly bigger since signing, but he still shows plus hands and an above-average arm with excellent body control and feel for the position. He's not particularly quick-twitch and is an average runner. Sierra has the tools to be an everyday shortstop, but he'll need to go back to lining balls all over the field at low Class A Quad Cities in 2017.
No college team of recent memory had a better collection of position-player arms than Cal State Fullerton in 2013 and 2014. Davis has a 70 arm on the 20-80 scouting scale that is one of the better throwing arms in the minors, but it ranked third-best on his college team because he shared the field with a pair of 80 throwers: third baseman Matt Chapman (now in the Athletics system) and center fielder Michael Lorenzen (now a Reds righthander). Davis played mostly DH and right field in college because of Chapman, but the Astros have focused on developing him at third base. His arm compensates for a lack of speed and agility, but scouts don't see him developing into better than a below-average defender because of limited range and below-average footwork, though his hands work well. He's a well below-average runner, which limits him to first base if he changes positions. Davis' plus-plus raw power is as impressive as his arm, but is more strength-based than generated from bat speed, and he strikes out frequently. That and his pull-heavy approach make it hard for scouts to project him as more than a fringe-average hitter. Davis is blocked by Alex Bregman and Yulieski Gurriel, so he will head to Triple-A Fresno in 2017 to wait for an opportunity somewhere.
The Astros consistently turn late-round draft picks into productive minor league players, and every now and then they find a Tyler White, who was a 33rd-round pick in 2013 who reached the majors. Laureano, a Dominican Republic native who played high school ball on Long Island and junior college ball in Oklahoma, has the hitting ability the Astros covet in later-round college players, but he also has impressive athleticism. He has baseball intelligence, effort level and desire to learn and marries that with plus speed and solid defense. Laureano can play all three outfield spots. He's an above-average defender in either corner-outfield spot and average in center, with a plus arm and knack for making highlight-reel catches. He has a quiet setup at the plate and a simple, line-drive stroke, but he has the strength to produce average power in addition to his above-average hitting ability. He improved his pitch selection dramatically in 2016, which helped him lead the minors with a .428 on-base percentage.
Though he fell to 37th overall in the 2015 draft, the son of former All-Star Mike Cameron landed a $4 million bonus that tied with fellow Astros pick Kyle Tucker for fifth-highest in his class. While Tucker sped to the high Class A California League, Cameron hit just .143 during his full-season debut at low Class A Quad Cities in 2016. The Astros demoted him to short-season Tri-City, where his struggles continued initially. Just when Cameron appeared to turn a corner, he broke his left index finger and missed the final two months.. He has well-rounded, but not plus, tools. Cameron is a solid-average defender in center field with above-average speed that plays better underway, but none of that will matter if he doesn't hit, and so far he looks like a below-average hitter. Cameron's worked on retooling his swing in extended spring training to improve his bat path and use his lower half better. Still, he struck out 33 percent of the time in 2016 and has just average power. Cameron will get a second chance at low A in 2017.
Dawson wrapped his career at Ohio State with a bang by winning the MVP award at the Big Ten Conference tournament, where he hit .577 with six doubles, a home run and four steals to lead the Buckeyes to victory. He became the highest drafted OSU position player since the Tigers made Ronnie Bourquin a second-round pick in 2006. Dawson's introduction to pro ball at short-season Tri-City did not go smoothly. He projects as a power-speed left fielder with the chance to hit 15-20 home runs and steal 15-20 bags, but for that to happen, he has to be an average hitter, and that remains in question. Dawson starred in football as well as baseball in high school, so the Astros believe he still is catching up with pitchers as he focuses on baseball exclusively. He is an average runner out of the batter's box but an above-average runner underway. Defensively he is limited to left field. Dawson will join a prospect-laden outfield at low Class A Quad Cities in 2017.
Perez spent most of 2015 in the Dominican Summer League but finished 2016 with seven starts at low Class A Quad Cities. When he takes the mound, hitters know what to expect. They better gear up for velocity, because almost everything he throws is hard. They can't get too comfortable in the batter's box, either, because he often misses out of the strike zone. Perez can dominate with a plus 92-94 mph fastball that touches 96. His fastball sets up a wipeout slider that also earns plus grades at its best. He will mix in a bigger, slower high-70s curveball with 11-to-5 action early in counts, and he's working on a split-finger fastball in lieu of a changeup. It flashes average. Perez's control is below-average, and he will struggle to find the strike zone at some point in most every outing. His delivery, though, has no glaring long-term issues to suggest he can't find the strike zone. Perez's all-power approach would work as a high-leverage reliever, but he will be given plenty of opportunities to work through his control issues.
The Phillies signed Arauz for $600,000, then bundled him with closer Ken Giles after the 2015 season in a trade with the Astros that sent Vince Velasquez, Mark Appel and three others to Philadelphia. Arauz held his own at Rookie-level Greeneville in 2016 as one of the younger players in the Appalachian League. He lacks a clear plus tool, though his arm is above-average, but his well-rounded skill set gives him a chance to be an average hitter with gap power and a solid if unspectacular up-the-middle defender. There's nothing flashy about Arauz, and he is not as quick-twitch as many shortstops. That said, he shows good instincts, a solid internal clock and good hands at shortstop, giving him a chance to be an average defender. At the plate his lefthanded swing is a little better than his righthanded swing, but both are similar and straightforward. He's an average runner. Arauz will play most of the 2017 season as an 18-year-old, possibly at short-season Tri-City if the Astros don't want him to double up with Miguelangel Sierra.
When the Astros signed Gustave, they knew they were getting a great arm with a near complete lack of control. It took him five seasons to make it to full-season ball, at a point where he was just becoming Rule 5 draft eligible. In the two seasons since, he's made massive strides with his control, which now grades as fringe-average, and he reached the majors as a reliever in 2016. He has scrapped the full windup he used to use, replacing it with a much-simplified motion. Gustave's 97.1 mph average fastball velocity ranked 13th among all major league pitchers in 2016. He throws from a low three-quarters arm slot, which helps generate excellent sink on his fastball. His high-80s slider is also a plus pitch with cutter action and late, tight movement. Those two pitches give Gustave a chance to be an impact reliever if he can throw enough strikes.
Unlike many signees from the Dominican Republic who are first spotted at workouts, Celestino had a long history of playing internationally, which gave scouts multiple chances to see him against top-level competition. He played in the Cal Ripken World Series as a 12-year-old, the COPABE 15U tournament and with an international team at the National High School Invitational. The Astros liked what they saw in all their different looks and signed him for $2.25 million during the 2015 international signing period. Celestino's hard-earned baseball savvy was apparent in his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2016. He walked more than he struck out, demonstrated a knack for contact and showed more pop than the average 17-year-old in the DSL. He has solid bat speed and reads pitches well for his age, but whatever he does offensively pales in comparison with his defense in center field. Celestino is an average runner, but he reads the ball off the bat exceptionally well and takes outstanding routes. He's at least a plus defender with an above-average, accurate arm. Scouts can't help but compare Celestino with Cubs outfielder Albert Almora, another hit-over-power center fielder with exceptional defense despite modest speed.
From the moment Rogers arrived at Tulane, he was the team's anchor behind the plate. His catch-and-throw skills quickly taught Green Wave opponents to stay put at first base and he ultimately threw out 57 percent of basestealers in his college career. Scouts regularly gave his arm 70 grades on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. That reputation is why the Astros in 2016 made Rogers the highest-drafted player out of Tulane since 2008 sandwich pick Shooter Hunt. Rogers is athletic, loose and limber behind the plate with a soft left hand that should make him an excellent framer. He picked off seven baserunners in just 43 games behind the plate in his pro debut, which he finished at low Class A Quad Cities. Rogers has work to do offensively. Since high school, he has had a very power-oriented swing with an exaggerated leg kick and weight transfer, but it's never really worked for him. Rogers has shown average power, but the tradeoff is a struggle to regularly make solid contact. A career .233 hitter at Tulane, he matched that average exactly in his pro debut, so his ability to hit will determine whether he profiles as a big league starter or backup.
After two outstanding seasons at North Carolina--he went 12-1, 1.37 as a freshman--Thornton inopportunely fell apart as a junior. His first two pro seasons have been more reminiscent of his first two years as a Tar Heel, however. Thornton reached Double-A Corpus Christi in the second half of 2016 while impressing with a solid four-pitch mix. His 6-foot stature and delivery have led some scouts to project him to the bullpen. His windup involves a deep plunge with both hands, followed by an exaggerated two-handed windup that ends up with a hand break above and behind his right ear and a stab in the back. While his delivery features a lot of moving parts, Thornton has shown plus control as a pro with a walk rate of 1.5 per nine innings--and he maintains the quality of his stuff through the entire outing. Thornton can touch 95 mph at his peak, but he generally sits 90-91 with a fastball that grades as average thanks in part to its riding action. His 12-to-6 curveball is an above-average offering at its best, and he mixes in a fringe-average slider and below-average changeup. Thornton projects as a back-end starter.
High school teammates with Cardinals outfielder Randal Grichuk and one of the most successful pitchers in Arizona State history, Rodgers had a breakthrough minor league season in 2016 and a dud of a big league debut. He changed the grip on his slider with help from Astros reliever Luke Gregerson, which helped him make a big step forward in his second try at Triple-A Fresno. Houston had left Rodgers unprotected for 2015 Rule 5 draft, but by the end of the 2016 season, he had earned a spot on the 40-man roster and the pitcher-of-the-year award in the Pacific Coast League. Unfortunately for him, his season didn't end on Sept. 1. He allowed 10 earned runs in 1.2 innings in his first two major league appearances. When Rodgers is effective it is because his average across-the-board stuff plays up because of plus control and command, but he has very little margin for error. He can overwhelm hitters by throwing five different pitches--a fastball, cutter, slider, curveball and changeup--but his above-average slider is the only one that grades out as better than average. For now, Rodgers projects as a Triple-A depth starter.
Centenary College in Shreveport, La., went out with a bang. In its second-to-last year in Division I before moving to D-III, the program had a pair of future big league pitchers on its roster. Seth Lugo, now with the Mets, was a solid swingman, while Hoyt battled a knee injury and posted an 18.82 ERA in nine appearances. Hoyt pitched in the independent (and now-defunct) North American Baseball League, graduated to the American Association and eventually the Mexican League. Along the way his stuff just kept getting better. Hoyt's once high-80s fastball became a 93-96 mph heater, and his fastball now earns at least plus grades and has earned 70s on the 20-to-80 scale from some scouts. It sets up a plus mid-80s slider that is a true out pitch. His fringe-average control is the only thing keeping him from a being a high-leverage reliever. Hoyt's stuff wasn't as firm in the second half of 2016 as it was in the first, which was poor timing for a pitcher who made his big league debut in July. Already 30, he'll compete for a job in the Houston bullpen in 2017.
Armenteros posted a 9.45 ERA as a 17-year-old in his lone year in Cuba's top league, Serie Nacional, and he was not a significant name on the showcase circuit as a Cuban looking for a contract. But he pitched well enough in workouts facing Rusney Castillo and other notable names that the Astros signed him for $40,000. In the two seasons since, he has impressed the Astros with feel, deception and better-than-expected stuff. Armenteros gets swings-and-misses up in the zone with an 88-93 mph fastball, and he can sink a heavy fastball down in the zone that is hard to lift. But hitters struggle to sit on his fastball because he likes to mix in his cutter, curveball, changeup and slider. None is plus, but all are fringe-average to average. Armenteros' 76-78 mph curve is a deep 12-to-6 breaker. His 80-81 mph slider is a little sweepy, while his 81-83 mph changeup has good deception and angle. Armenteros finished 2016 as a starter at Double-A Corpus Christi, and he should open there in 2017.
Chavez has changed organizations frequently at a young age. The Blue Jays purchased his rights from the Quintana Roo of the Mexican League, and then the Astros acquired him for Scott Feldman at the 2016 trade deadline. Chavez actually grew up playing the outfield, but he pitches like a veteran with years of experience on the mound. He has a plus changeup right now, but his ceiling depends on projecting strength and velocity gains. He's got a sturdy lower half already, but his shoulders, chest and arms haven't filled out yet. If he adds some upper-body strength, his present 88-92 mph fastball could tick up a grade. He already locates it well and does a good job of adding and subtracting velocity with it. Similarly, his curveball already has good shape, but it needs more power. If he can find a way to throw it harder, it can be a plus pitch. Chavez's understanding of how to set up hitters means he could make a case to jump to low Class A Quad Cities in 2017.
Nova was expected to land one of the top bonuses in the 2016 international signing class, but his rumored $2.6 million deal to the Marlins fell apart after he tested positive in February for a performance-enhancing substance. He passed multiple drug tests since then and landed on his feet when the Astros swept in to sign him for $1.2 million in July 2016. Arguably the best athlete available in his signing class, Nova is a twitchy, rangy athlete with fast hands, plenty of bat speed, a plus arm and plus speed. He has even flashed above-average raw power in workouts. With a long and lean frame, Nova isn't much of a risk to thicken and outgrow shortstop. He can play a little too fast defensively at times, rushing throws and struggling with accuracy when he doesn't set his feet, but his defensive issues are ones that usually are rectified by repetition. Nova is a long way from Houston, but his raw tools stand above the other talented shortstops in the system.
Astros second baseman Jose Altuve has proven that a 5-foot-6 hitter can be a star. Now the 5-foot-6 Kemp, the 2013 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year while at Vanderbilt, is trying to follow in his footsteps. Altuve looms over any chance Kemp has to be a regular. That's because Kemp's best bet for regular play would be as a fringy defensive second baseman who hits enough for a team to live with his defense. In the outfield, his below-average range in center field and his below-average arm in right limits him to left field. Because of that, Kemp served largely as a pinch-hitter, pinch-runner and occasional left fielder in Houston. He has the short stroke from the left side and bat control to be an above-average or even plus hitter, albeit with well below-average power. He is a plus runner, though he's not fast enough to be an elite basestealer. Kemp is likely to begin 2017 at Triple-A Fresno.
The Astros were one of the teams intrigued by Alvarez after he emigrated with the Cuban government's assent, but it's hard to compete with the Dodgers' checkbook. Los Angeles signed Alvarez for $2 million in June 2016 on a deal that included a $2 million penalty for exceeding its international bonus pool. The Dodgers then traded Alvarez to the Astros just a month and a half later for reliever Josh Fields. Alvarez never played a game in the Dodgers system. He first demonstrated his advanced understanding of hitting when he batted .351/.402/.387 as a 17-year-old in Cuba's top league, Serie Nacional, in 2014. Alvarez's calling card is his bat control and picturesque lefthanded swing. He has a discerning batting eye and a knack for contact. If the plus raw power he has demonstrated in workouts translates to games--he's working on elevating the ball more--he checks the boxes teams look for in a first baseman. He is below-average defensively and played left field sporadically in Cuba. Alvarez is ready for full-season ball.
The Hangar, home field for high Class A Lancaster, can destroy the psyche of even the best young pitcher. The degree of difficulty, however, barely raised Hernandez's blood pressure. In seven California League starts in 2016 he recorded a 3.48 ERA, which ranked significantly above league average once park-adjusted. Much like teammate Rogelio Armenteros, Hernandez stands out more for the consistency of his stuff. A thick-bodied, 6-foot righthander with a simple delivery, Hernandez can locate to the arm side or glove side with above-average control. He has outstanding feel for his secondary stuff, of which he has many offerings for hitters to consider. He throws cutters, curveballs, changeups and splitters to go with a fringe-average 88-92 mph fastball. Hernandez's plus changeup is his best pitch, but both his curveball and slider earn fringe-average to average grades. Hernandez will start at high Class A Buies Creek in 2017.
Moran was one of the most productive college hitters in the 2013 draft coming out of North Carolina, but the Marlins soured on their first-round pick after only a year. Miami traded him to the Astros after they decided his low-energy approach and below-average power didn't fit their plans at third base. Houston focused on what Moran could do: hit for average, make plenty of contact and throw. He has made defensive improvements at third base, where he now grades as fringe-average with a plus arm, but that won't matter if he is as punchless as he was at Triple-A Fresno in 2016. He hit .259 with 10 home runs and a below-average .697 OPS for the Pacific Coast League, and his strikeout rate jumped without a corresponding bump in his power. At his best, Moran has shown himself to be an above-average hitter with the power to hit 10-12 home runs. He still is young enough to bounce back, but the Astros' days of playing a second-division caliber player at third base are over, so Moran will head back to Triple-A.
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