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As a thick-bodied tall righthander, Whitley was considered one of the better prep prospects in the 2016 draft class. But during his senior season, he wowed scouts after he melted away 20-to-30 pounds, turning himself into a more athletic righthander with still excellent stuff. By the end of his senior year, he was touching 97 and breaking off 90 mph sliders. In his first full pro season, Whitley dominated three levels in 2017 and became only the fifth high school first round pick to pitch in Double-A in his first full season this century. The previous four were Chad Billingsley, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Dylan Bundy. There are few young pitchers as advanced as Whitley and few who can match the quality of his stuff. Whitley came into 2017 with four quality pitches and left it with five. All his pitches are at least average and a trio are already plus. Pitching from an over-the-top arm slot that emphasizes the downhill plane on his fastball, Whitley can blow hitters away with a 92-97 mph fastball. But he actually is even more comfortable toying with batters with his varied assortment of other pitches as he commands his breaking balls better than his fastball at this point in his career. His 84-87 mph plus slider has modest depth, but good tilt as it dances away from the bat-head as it nears the plate. His 78-82 mph curveball is also plus with a big 12-to-6 break. At times his changeup will also show otherworldly movement, as it dives down and away from lefthanders bats. And in 2017 he refined a 90-92 mph cutter that some scouts throw a plus grade on. With so many pitches, Whitley can stick one or two in his back pocket early in the game, then break them out the second time through the order. One of the few complaints raised is that he's a slow worker. Scouts are understandably reticent to project almost anyone as a future No. 1 starter. But Whitley has a chance to be an ace with dominant stuff and advanced feel and control. It would surprise no one to see Whitley make his MLB debut later this season. Whitley doesn't require much projection. He's yet to throw even 100 innings in a season yet, so the Astros will likely be conservative in how much he's allowed to throw in 2018.
Baseball America's High School Player of the Year in 2015, Tucker broke his own brother (and ex-Astros outfielder) Preston's school home run record. In pro ball, he'd impressed with an advanced approach and hit tool in his first season and a half, but his power production took off in 2017, as he traded some additional strikeouts for a significant power increase. Tucker's 25 home runs more than doubled his career total coming into the season. He wore down at the end of the season, hitting .196 in August and only .214 with no home runs in the Arizona Fall League. Tucker's swing has never been picture perfect. He begins his swing with the bat laid back over his shoulder, leading to a little bit of a sweepy beginning. He also has a tendency to drop his back knee in his swing at times, a la Adrian Beltre. But it's hard to argue with the results, as his excellent hand-eye coordination leads to ton of contact and as he's gotten stronger he's turned doubles into home runs. He makes consistently hard contact. Most young lefthanded hitters torch righties and struggle when they don't have the platoon advantages. Tucker is actually a better hitter against lefthanders, and a little too aggressive against righthanders who stay off the outer half. Tucker has played all three outfield spots for the Astros. Tucker isn't a true center fielder, but he has a chance to be fringe-average there while being above-average in the corners with an average arm that works in either spot. He's an average runner who has shown a knack for stealing bases, although it won't be a significant part of his game at the big league level. Tucker's even-keeled approach turns off some scouts, who describe him as low energy. He has a half-season of Double-A experience under his belt before his 21st birthday so he may need a little more Double-A time, but a big league arrival by age 22 is a likelihood.
The Dodgers and Astros battled to sign Alvarez when he came to the States out of Cuba. The Dodgers won that battle, signing Alvarez on the last day of the 2015-2016 signing period for $2 million (which came with a penalty that doubled the total outlay for the team). But just 45 days later the Astros acquired Alvarez before he ever played a game for the Dodgers. Alvarez earned a spot in the Futures Game in his first full pro season in the U.S. A wrist injury sapped his power in the second half of the season, but when healthy Alvarez showed some of the best power in the organization. He produces excellent exit velocities and has 25-plus home run potential. His swing is not really geared to power, but the ball carries thanks to leverage and bat speed. He's actually more of a pure hitter than a slugger. Alvarez uses a whole-field approach, and hit more home runs to left field than right last season. He has a big strike zone, but his ability to recognize breaking balls and lay off pitches out of the zone helps him cover the entire plate. Alvarez is an excellent athlete for his size. He is an above-average runner underway and is actually a better left fielder than first baseman, although he needs more reps at both positions. His fringe-average arm is his worst attribute. Alvarez needs to continue to refine his game offensively and defensively, but he has an exceptionally high ceiling as a pure hitter with still developing plus power. He will be ready for Double-A Corpus Christi with a strong spring.
A number of scouts saw Lance McCullers Jr. as a reliever when they watched the short righthander's breaking ball heavy-approach in high school. The Astros believed he could start and were rewarded when he helped pitch the Astros to a World Series title. Like McCullers, Bukauskas is a hard-throwing short righthander with an exceptional breaking ball whom some scouts see as a reliever, but whom the Astros believe can start. Bukauskas went 9-1, 2.53 with 116 strikeouts in 92.2 innings as North Carolina's ace as a junior. Bukauskas had the best slider in the 2017 draft class. It's a 70 pitch on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. He relied on it too often in college--in some outings he threw more sliders than fastballs--but it's a pitch that requires no projection as it's already hard (85-87 mph) with sharp late bite and comes out of his hand looking like his 91-95 mph fastball. Bukauskas can touch 96 mph, but his velocity usually dips into the lower registers of his range as the game wears on. He has average command and control of that fastball and he has excellent command of his slider, and often succeeds with a largely two-pitch approach. His 84-86 mph changeup flashes average, but he didn't use it much in college with a few notable exceptions. Its development will be one of the keys to him remaining as a starter. Bukauskas graduated a year early to get to North Carolina, so he's a year younger than his draft contemporaries which leads some scouts to believe he has further refinement ahead of him. Bukauskas has a very comfortable fall-back option as a closer-level reliever, but he also has a chance to be a Sonny Gray-esque starter. He could move quickly in his first full season.
Nova was expected to be the centerpiece of the Marlins' 2016 international signing class. A positive steroid test pushed the Marlins away. The Astros then signed him for $1.5 million. His bonus was then reduced further to $1.2 million after the medical report showed an issue with his elbow. That's a lot of dings before Nova ever got into a game professionally, but Nova has not had any other positive tests since, has stayed healthy so far and has shown the same athleticism and twitchiness he showed as an amateur. Nova's earliest Houston ETA is sometime in the 2020s, but there are few prospects with more potential. He has a chance to be an impact bat who can stick at a middle-infield position. He's athletic with above-average bat speed, plus speed and a plus arm. Nova shows surprising power for a speedy teenager. Like your normal 17-year-old, he has to make strides in pitch recognition, but with his bat speed and bat-to-ball skills he has a chance to be an above-average hitter with average power. Defensively, everything is there for Nova to be a shortstop. His hands work well, he has the twitchiness for a quick first step and the arm to make plays in the hole. But he has to learn to slow the game down--he posted sub-.900 fielding percentages at both shortstop and third base in his pro debut and had one game where he made a trio of throwing errors. Right now he can get too quick and try to do too much, but his defensive issues are ones that usually go away with repetition. Nova is ready to head to the States. As a teenager there's plenty of work ahead, but he has a chance to be an impact everyday shortstop.
Solis was considered one of the better players in the Astros' 2016 international class and landed a $450,000 bonus that reflected it. The Astros liked how his arm worked and thought he had room to fill out. But since then, he's exceeded expectations. Solis has put in a lot of work, improved his body and has seen his stuff jump up as well. When the Astros' signed him, Solis could touch 91 mph. Just a year later, he's touching 96 and sitting 90-94 mph and his fastball has late life. He's advanced for his age and has the makings of a big league starter with three promising pitches. Once Solis made his pro debut, it was hard to hold him back. He sped from the Dominican Summer League to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League to the rookie-level Appalachian League in the span of two months. He misses bats and shows advanced control for a teenager. Solis has a hard 76-78 mph slurvy slider that shows plenty of promise. He's also quickly picked up an 83-85 mph changeup that shows some late tumble. As much as the quality of his pitches stands out, the Astros are even more encouraged by his intelligence and aptitude. The Astros have never been shy about moving pitchers quickly--Franklin Perez and Forrest Whitley reached Double-A as 19-year-olds. Solis could make it to low Class A Quad Cities in 2018 and with his feel, he may continue to move quickly.
When Hector Perez throws strikes, he dominates. Perez wasn't all that dominant in 2017 because he simply didn't throw enough strikes. Perez is a fast-mover who has gone from the complex leagues to high Class A in two years, but his control problems have forced him to develop survival skills. There's nothing particularly ugly or problematic about Perez's delivery, but he has trouble keeping the timing of it in sync. His wildness has few patterns--he'll spike a ball into the ground after 55 feet and the next ball will be up and out of the zone--but Perez's arm is special. He sits 92-97 mph and touched 99 last season. When he can keep the fastball around the strike zone, it sets up his low-80s plus split-changeup that leaves hitters flailing. He can locate a potentially average slider at times but it and his 78-80 mph curveball can sometimes blend together. Perez's control troubles lead some scouts to already say that the righthander would be better off moving to the bullpen, where he would likely touch 100 mph or better and his split-change would give him a second weapon. But Perez has a good frame and his delivery isn't awful so there's no reason to give up on starting just yet.
Astros signed Alcala as a late-blooming 18-year-old. He sat 90-92 at that point, but since then his velocity has improved by leaps and bounds, He's still making up for lost development time as the 22-year-old has less than 200 pro innings. Alcala's fastball ranges from 93-99 mph. He generally sits in the mid-90s and has touched 100-102. His slider and changeup are both much less refined, but the quality of his fastball allows them to play up. His slurvy slider will flash average mainly because it's 88-90 mph and it has some modest late break. His below-average changeup doesn't move much, but when he maintains arm speed and throws it with conviction, hitters have a hard time gearing down from 100 to 87-88. Right now he just doesn't always maintain his arm speed. If Alcala could refine one of the two offspeed pitches into a two-strike weapon, he'd shorten his innings significantly, as right now he can't finish hitters off if they can foul off his fastball. Alcala's control needs to improve, but he did show strides improvement with that in 2017, especially when working out of the stretch. Alcala is another flame-thrower in the Jorge Guzman/Albert Abreu mold--the Astros had success developing and then trading Guzman and Abreu in recent years. It's easy to see Alacala eventually ending up in the bullpen, but with physicality, athleticism and a delivery with no glaring issues, he'll keep trying to stick as a starter.
Moran made it to the majors, but he and the team realized his lack of power may keep him from sticking around. He completely retooled his swing in 2017, focusing on hitting the ball in the air more. From 2016 to 2017 he halved his ground ball rate, doubled his fly ball rate and nearly doubled his number of home runs. Moran is as much a success story of the fly ball revolution as more celebrated big league examples like Justin Turner. Moran is more upright at the plate now with the bat laid on his shoulder at the start of his swing. He finishes his swing with more of an uppercut. He's long had the ability to make solid contact, but too often he drove the ball into the ground, where his below-average speed meant it was a single at best. Now he has a chance to be a 20-plus home run threat and he did so without doing anything to diminish his above-average hitting ability. Moran has to hit, as he's fringe-average at third base at best although his plus arm is an asset. His lack of range is less noticeable at first base. Moran would have likely stuck around Houston in 2017 if not for a freak injury. He was hit in the face by his own foul ball and suffered facial fractures. He should be fully recovered for spring training. He may have to head back to Fresno because of the Astros' crowded roster, but he should contribute to the big league club at some point in 2018.
Paulino only added to concerns about his durability in 2017. He missed the start of the season with a sore elbow and returned in May. But just a month later, he was suspended for 80 games after testing positive for a steroid. Paulino came off the suspension on the final day of the season, but was immediately put on the 60-day disabled list (partly to clear roster space) because of surgery to remove bone chips in his pitching elbow. Paulino will be 24 when the 2018 season begins, but he's yet to prove he can hold up over a full season. Between Tommy John surgery and suspensions, he's yet to throw 100 innings in a season. When he's healthy, Paulino has a 91-94 mph fastball and a devastating, 82-84 mph plus curveball. The fastball wasn't as hard in 2017 as it's been in the past, but the curve retains its sharp 12-to-6 break and Paulino has the feel to manipulate it depending on the situation. He can make it bigger and slower or harder and sharper. His changeup also flashes plus. Paulino still has the makings of a mid-rotation starter, but he is now one positive test away from a full-season ban and he has yet to demonstrate the durability to handle a full-season starting role.
The Astros' depth at first and third base meant that Davis faced a tough-to-swallow assignment in 2017. Coming off of a productive full season at Double-A Corpus Christi and a strong spring training, he was sent back to the Hooks because Houston had Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel set in the majors and Colin Moran and A.J. Reed above him in Triple-A. To Davis' credit, he didn't pout and was a little more productive in a second stay with the Hooks. He eventually made it to Triple-A and made his big league debut. Davis has some of the best raw power in the organization and one of the strongest arms. It will always come with a significant number of strikeouts and he's unlikely to hit better than .230-.240 albeit with decent on-base percentages because he draws some walks. While many Astros have embraced hitting more fly balls, Davis' swing leads to a lot of screaming ground balls. If he could get the ball into the air more he could hit 30+ home runs. Davis is a fringe-average defender at third and is the same at first with limited range but good hands. He's also tried left field, where his arm is an asset, but his below-average speed is a detriment. Davis is an injury fill-in for the Astros for now, which may make him a trade asset eventually.
As a crafty righthander, Armenteros was asked to throw for a Rusney Castillo workout but he impressed enough that the Astros signed him for a modest $40,000. That's proven to be a bargain. Armenteros is still crafty, but now he's crafty while throwing 90-93 mph and touching 95. He will mix four-seamers up and away and two-seamers down in the zone. Even with increased velocity, he's still more sneaky than overpowering as hitters do not know what pitch is coming at any point in the count and he locates well with above-average control. Armenteros' plus changeup is his best pitch as he'll use it at any time and, thanks to its deception, trusts it enough to throw it back-to-back. His slider, curve and cutter are all more of fringe-average pitches, but all three can be effective. Armenteros is ready to compete for a big league job and is a viable starting option if the Astros need a mid-season call-up. He's a durable back-of-the-rotation starter.
Perez was one of the most productive young pitchers in Cuba, pitching well for the 18U team and posted a Serie Nacional-best 2.08 ERA as an 18-year-old. The Astros originally signed him at $5.15 million, but reduced the bonus to $2 million after the team was concerned with an issue with his elbow. Perez's fastball has gotten stronger and stronger. He touched 95 early on, but sits more in the 90-93 mph range generally. His slider has sharpened since he signed. Its depth and tilt is only average but he locates it well. He also throws a slow fringy curveball and a promising changeup that has above-average potential. Perez's stuff all plays up because he has above-average command and control. He had a rough, brief intro to Double-A at the end of the season but will return there in 2018. Perez had to be added to the Astros' 40-man roster because of his voided contract--he would have been Rule 5 eligible otherwise. Perez's fastball/slider combo would work as a reliever, but he'll try to improve the changeup enough to stick as a starter.
When the Astros signed Valdez in 2015, he was the same age as many of the college draftees taken that year. That's positively ancient for a player signing his first contract out of the Dominican Republic, but Valdez has quickly made up for lost time and reached Double-A a little over two years after he signed. Valdez's fastball actually took a step back last season as 92-95 mph downshifted to 92-93 on a consistent basis. But the improvement in his changeup and command made it a fair trade, as the overall quality of his stuff improved. He's relying more on his two-seam fastball, which shows quality sink. His four-seamer has excellent life as well. Valdez's breaking ball is an easy plus pitch. He trusts it no matter the situation. His changeup is still below-average, but it's a good bit further along than it was a year ago. If Valdez isn't going to be forced to move to the bullpen he's going to have to tighten his command and control. He'll head back to Corpus Christi for a second try at Double-A.
For most of his high school career, Perez was a well-regarded third baseman with excellent power. But Perez quickly turned into one of the must-see pitching prospects in Florida thanks to a 95-98 mph fastball. Most teams quickly came to prefer Perez as a pitcher, but the Astros (and Perez) believed in his bat. Perez hit a home run to finish hitting for the cycle in a playoff win, then was shut down with an elbow injury that eventually required Tommy John surgery. The Astros drafted him knowing that he would need to rehab the elbow injury. Perez has easy plus power to all fields although there's more debate over how much he's going to hit. The Astros are confident that he's going to hit for average as well as power while other scouts saw less bat-to-ball skills. When Perez does get back into the dirt, he has a plus-plus arm that makes up for some of his limitations in foot speed and range. He will have to work hard on his lateral agility to stay at third base. Perez will be able to hit again during spring training, although he'll need significantly more time before his arm is ready to handle playing third base again. Perez always has a fallback option of going back to the mound if hitting doesn't work out, but the Astros are confident he's a slugging third baseman.
Martin was a reliever in the Texas A&M bullpen for two and a half seasons, but in his junior year he moved into the rotation. He became the team's Saturday starter and while his fastball velocity dipped a little, the command and the quality of his breaking balls improved with more work. The Astros signed Martin for $1 million as a second-round pick and used him in their tandem-starter system, something not all that unusual for Martin because of his multi-role background. Martin's 90-94 mph fastball has excellent glove-side life. He also throws an average slider that has bigger shape than most, with its break coming earlier than other sliders. His curve is a little behind the slider, and his changeup is generally below-average but it will flash above-average at times and could develop into a better weapon. Martin may end up back in the pen in the long run--he has a quick arm but his delivery has some effort and a high back elbow. But he has the makings of four pitches and potentially average control, so there's no reason to not let him try to start.
When he was graduating high school, Straw didn't have many options to play college baseball. But St. John's River (Fla.) JC took a chance on him and once he was there Straw impressed Astros scout John Martin with his speed and bat control. He then went out and led the minors in batting (.358) in 2016. Straw's approach is unique to say the least. A righthanded hitter, he peppers right field with an inside-out swing that leads to plenty of contact. Encouragingly, Straw showed a developing ability to yank the occasional pitch in 2017. In the outfield, Straw can be above-average at any of the three spots with a plus arm that fits in right field. His jumps and reads could use further refinement but his plus-plus speed helps him outrun any mistakes he makes. He has an excellent work ethic. Straw is likely a useful backup outfielder in the big leagues, but his on-base ability, speed and defense give him a shot for a slightly larger role.
Statistically, 2017 was the worst season Stubbs has had as a pro. A hamstring injury that sidelined him early in the season played a part, but his main issue is that his swing got a little bigger as he seemed to be trying to hit more home runs. That's not his game. At his best, he's an above-average line-drive hitter with very modest power. Stubbs has always faced skepticism from scouts because of his small size. His frame is skinnier than almost any other pro catcher, which brings both advantages and disadvantages. He is extremely flexible and moves like a middle infielder in catcher's gear. He's an excellent pitch framer. But he battled nagging injuries while catching a career-high 83 games and showed signs of wearing down as the season dragged on, even with that modest workload. Stubbs' normally above-average arm didn't seem as strong in the second half of 2017 and he threw out only three of his final 19 base stealers. With the trade of Jake Rogers, Stubbs is the Astros' most viable big league catching option in the minors. His size may limit him to a backup role, but as he heads back to Triple-A Fresno, he knows he'll have to hit to handle even that role.
Martin hit 23 home runs in Lancaster in 2016, but his 18 home runs in 2017 were more significant, as he showed that he could hit for power outside of the launching pad of Lancaster (18 of those 23 home runs in 2016 came at Lancaster or High Desert). A 20-20 man in 2016, Martin has surprising pop for his size. He gets excellent weight transfer and uses his lower half well, starting off his swing with a significant leg kick. It does leave him vulnerable to getting caught out front on offspeed pitches, but his hands work well enough to flick some of them to the opposite field. Ideally he'd be an everyday center fielder, but scouts don't see him as more than fringe-average there at best thanks to poor routes that negate his above-average speed. He primarily played left field at Double-A Corpus Christi. Martin runs a risk of ending up as a tweener without enough power or on-base ability to play in left field or enough defense to play in center. The Astros left Martin unprotected in the Rule 5 draft and he went unpicked, so it's a fear other teams have as well. He is in position to move to Triple-A Fresno in 2018.
When the 2017 season began, Celestino had a massive number of center fielders ahead of him on the team's depth chart. But as 2018 begins, the Astros have traded away Teoscar Hernandez, Daz Cameron and Ramon Laureano, which cleared the long-term path ahead of him. Celestino is the organization's best minor league center fielder defensively. He's already plus in center with great instincts and good reads and routes to go with above-average speed and an above-average arm. Offensively, he shortened his swing, reducing his load. He has plenty of bat speed, but he can get too noisy in his setup leading to a longer swing than he needs. A veteran of international baseball tournaments as an amateur, he has a pretty good understanding of the strike zone. He has a chance to end up as an average hitter with average power. Celestino has the tools to eventually turn into an everyday regular, but he'll play all of the 2018 season as a 19-year-old, so that refinement may be a few years away. He's ready for low Class A Quad Cities.
When Dawson was in high school, he served as a bat boy for the Columbus Clippers, working with future Indians stars like Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. A football/baseball star at Licking Heights High in Pataskala, Ohio, Dawson went on to be a three-year starter at Ohio State. Dawson's introduction to pro ball in 2016 was a difficult one and he showed similar struggles in the first half of 2017. As of early June, he was struggling to stay above the Mendoza Line, but improved plate discipline and a tweaked swing path helped him take off. Dawson's strong enough that he can drive the ball even when he doesn't completely square pitches up. He hit over .330 in the second half of the season, but it's his power that has a chance to be plus. Like many lefthanded hitters, he's yet to figure out how to consistently stay in against lefties (he hit .210 against them). Dawson is an average runner who is a little better than that underway and he's shown some knack for basestealing, although it's unlikely he'll be a significant threat at the big league level. Defensively he's limited to left field and will return to Buies Creek in 2018 and attempt to build on an excellent second half of the 2017 season.
The Astros have let Deetz work as one of their tandem starters since they drafted him out of Northeast Oklahoma JC, but a late-season move to an exclusively relief role showed his brighter future. Pitching in shorter stints, Deetz's fastball jumped up to 95-98 mph and his slider improved as well. It's a dominating plus to plus-plus pitch at its best, with movement that seems almost like a Wiffle-ball. It's the big reason he struck out 23 in only 11 innings in the Arizona Fall League. His walk rate was almost as frightening as his slider in Fresno. Deetz has below-average control, but it's not as bad as his nearly walk per inning rate in Fresno would indicate. Deetz is more effective in shorter stints and his slider explains why he's much better against righthanded hitters. Deetz was added to the 40-man roster in the offseason and will compete to pitch in the Astros' bullpen at some point in 2018.
Understandably it was not the headline portion of the Ken Giles trade, but the Phillies and Astros pulled off an Arauz for Arauz swap, as the Phillies sent Jonathan Arauz, a shortstop, to Houston for Harold Arauz, a righthander. The Astros' Arauz acquisition has been a fast-mover, but he hit a pothole in 2017 as he was suspended 50 games after testing positive for a methamphetamine. The Astros had him posted to their low Class A Quad Cities roster at the time of the suspension, which allowed him to get back into action in June instead of August. After posting low averages but generally holding his own with Quad Cities, he went down to short-season Tri-City, a better fit considering his age. The switch-hitter has a very good understanding of how to work counts for his age and draws his walks with excellent ability to make contact. There's some nascent power potential in the bat as well, which gives him a shot to hit for average with 10-15 home run power one day. Arauz is primarily a shortstop for now, but his limited range could eventually lead to a move to second or third base. He has a good understanding of game situations and a well-calibrated internal clock. He's an average runner with an average arm. Arauz is ready for full-season ball. He's more solid than spectacular, but there's enough there to be a offensive middle infielder.
For the second time in three seasons, Reed led the minors with 34 home runs. But this home run title isn't as encouraging as the last one. In 2015, Reed was a first baseman on his way up who was set to compete for the Astros' big league job in 2016. In 2017, he remained in Fresno for all but a two-game cameo and was not among the team's September callups, even though he is on the team's 40-man roster. Reed's power has never been in doubt, and when he's locked in, he drives the ball to all fields, capably using left field. He adjusted his stance, moving up his hands and laying his bat over his shoulder in his setup, and it paid off as he slugged over .600 in July and August. But he's yet to show he can avoid chasing sliders off the plate and he's been an easy mark for lefthanders. Scouts have long thought Reed would be more nimble if he were 20-30 pounds lighter. His near bottom-of-the-scale speed limits him both on the basepaths and at first, although his plus arm is an asset. It's hard to see Reed pushing aside Yuli Gurriel, and Colin Moran has passed him as a backup plan. He might need a change of scenery. Slugging first basemen/DH's don't land much in trade unless they've produced at the big league level, so for now, he's headed back to Triple-A.
Javier's strengths as a pitcher weren't all that apparent when he was an amateur. At your typical amateur showcase event in the Dominican Republic, radar gun readings and an ability to spin a breaking ball are much more apparent than reading swings and mixing pitches. Javier signed for only $10,000, but getting a chance to face hitters in games has allowed him to demonstrate how well he can work with four average pitches. Javier has gotten stronger as expected, and his fastball now sits at 88-92 mph. Hitters don't seem to get good swings against it, as it has some late life. Javier has always believed in his big, slow curveball and he's mastering a high-70s slider that is effective against same-side hitters. His changeup has developed over the past year into a fringe-average pitch. Javier has already climbed through five levels in just three seasons--his high Class A appearances were a pair of spot starts because the Astros felt comfortable he could handle the jump. He'll likely return to Buies Creek to start the 2018 season. Without a plus pitch, Javier faces the challenge of proving he can continue to outthink more advanced hitters, but he's yet to find a challenge he can't handle.
In high school, Matijevic battled with Brendan McKay for the title of most promising prospect in the Pittsburgh area. Matijevic's first two seasons at Arizona were not particularly notable. He failed to hit .300 in either season and he showed little power. But after tweaking his approach and swing--changing a leg kick to a toe tap and finishing more uphill--Matijevic hit .387 as a junior while leading Division I with 30 doubles. Matijevic is a pretty pure hitter, but he's long been comped to John Jaso as a first baseman with modest power. When the Astros drafted Matijevic, they announced him as a second baseman, a position he had practiced in the Cape Cod League. But Matijevic, a high school shortstop, played only left field and first base in his pro debut, and he's likely to focus on left field for now. He's unlikely to be more than a fringe-average defender in left thanks to below-average speed and slow feet, but if he hits like the Astros expect, that would be sufficient. Matijevic let too many hittable pitches go early in counts in his pro debut, but his feel for the barrel should allow him to hit for average and get on base. He has enough strength and explosive bat speed to hit for at least average power as well.
Ferrell also impressed in three years as Texas Christian's closer, but the success of the Horned Frogs meant he only logged 31.2 innings as a junior--the team didn't have many games close enough for Ferrell to finish out. As a pro, Ferrell has put control troubles behind him, but his more frightening obstacle was an aneurysm in his shoulder. Doctors noticed it after a couple of Ferrell's fingers went numb early in the 2016 season. He missed the rest of the season. When he returned, he was much of the same guy as he had been before the surgery. He runs his fastball into the mid-90s, and while a plus pitch, it's more of a setup offering, as most of Ferrell's strikeouts come off of his monstrous slider that earns 70 grades on the 20-to-80 scale. It breaks enough that it rarely finishes in the strike zone, but that's yet to be a problem. Ferrell profiles as a seventh/eighth-inning reliever because he has a swing-and-miss secondary. Time will tell if he has to figure out how to throw it for a strike or if it's just good enough that hitters can't lay off of it consistently.
When the Astros signed Gustave, they knew they were getting a special arm, and a long-term project. In his first two seasons, Gustave walked 67 batters in only 45 innings. But he started to figure out how to repeat his delivery and get in the vicinity of the strike zone. Gustave had finally gotten to the point where he could help the Astros' big league bullpen--he'd earned a spot during the second half of 2016 and broke camp with the team in 2017. But only five outings into the season he was shut down with elbow soreness that led to Tommy John surgery in June 2017. He will likely not pitch significant innings again until 2019. If he comes back to his pre-injury form, his 95-100 mph plus-plus fastball with run and hard, cutting slider give him a pair of plus pitches. The slider is more of a weak-contact offering. Gustave's control and command are still below-average, but his stuff is good enough that he has the ability to pitch in high leverage situations.
Signed for $2 million in 2017, Rodriguez has about everything a team could look for in a young pitcher as far as pure stuff. He's strong, athletic and has long arms. Rodriguez's fastball sits 92-95 and touches 97 and he pairs it with a hard mid-80s slider that has a chance to develop into a plus pitch. Generally, he's attacked hitters with power stuff, but he also has a slower mid-70s curveball and the beginnings of a potentially average changeup. What Rodriguez has not shown yet is the ability to throw strikes. In his first stint in the Dominican Summer League, he walked 10.6 batters per nine innings. It was a consistent problem--he walked more than a batter an inning in six of his nine outings. Rodriguez has plenty of upside, but as he heads to the States in 2018, he's facing a lot of work and a lot of reps to tame his bottom-of-the-scale control.
There were few hotter hitters in baseball in 2016 than Sierra was during a month with rookie-level Greeneville. A $1 million signee in 2014, Sierra hit 11 home runs in only 31 games, which may have been the worst thing possible for his development. That surprising power surge led Sierra to believe he was a power hitter, which led to bad habits. He hit .140 in a promotion to Tri-City, then hit an equally frightening .178 in his return there in 2017. The Astros have to hope that Sierra can shorten up his swing. Offensively, he has some bat-to-ball aptitude when he stays shorter to the ball. While he's unlikely to become an impact defender, Sierra has a chance to stay at the position as at least an average shortstop, with an average arm and fringe-average speed. Sierra may eventually fill out to have 10-12 home run power, but only if he stays focused on being a contact hitter with gap power.