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TRACK RECORD: After being one of the fastest-moving prep pitchers in recent history in his first full pro season in 2017, Whitley’s climb to the majors slowed to a crawl in 2018. A 50-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug held him out until June. Upon returning to Double-A Corpus Christi, he was pulled from an early July start with an oblique injury that forced him to miss the Futures Game. He missed more than a month and then was shut down again in late August with a lat muscle injury. He made an impressive return in the Arizona Fall League (in one outing, he struck out eight of the first nine batters he faced) but his injuries meant he threw fewer than 60 innings all year.
SCOUTING REPORT: It’s hard to remember that Whitley once raised concerns from scouts because of his poor conditioning. He slimmed down as a high school senior and continues to be long, lean, athletic and limber. Whitley gets plenty of angle on his fastball thanks to his height and an over-the-top release point. His delivery is relatively clean, but his arm is so fast that his delivery has recoil even though he has a long deceleration into his finish. Whitley’s stuff is as good or better than any other minor league pitcher because he has so many quality offerings. He has a chance to be the ultimate rarity—a pitcher with five plus or better offerings. It all begins with a 93-97 mph fastball he can run and cut. It has touched 100 mph in shorter outings, but the movement he gets on it makes it a plus-plus pitch. He also throws a plus 90-92 mph cutter that is a distinctly separate pitch with enough late movement to shatter bats and sometimes miss them. Whitley uses both a high-spin curveball and high-spin slider, both of which are plus pitches with power and depth, but his best secondary pitch is a plus-plus 83-85 mph changeup with separation and outstanding late drop. He can throw it either for strikes or as a chase pitch and should be equally effective against righties and lefties. The fact that hitters have to gear up for his fastball makes it even more effective.
THE FUTURE: Like any outstanding young pitcher, Whitley has to stay healthy, but if he does, he has true No. 1 starter potential. He’s the best pitching prospect in the minors and one who some scouts say is the most promising pitching prospect they have ever seen.
TRACK RECORD: Nicknamed “Ted” for his resemblance to a young Ted Williams, Tucker even took swings as Williams for a PBS documentary on the Splendid Splinter. With a need in left field, the Astros called Tucker up in early July. But when he went 7-for-55 (.141), the Astros ended the experiment and demoted him at the end of July.
SCOUTING REPORT: Tucker finally found a level that he wasn’t ready for when he reached Houston. He had dominated every level of the minors with plus, all-fields power and excellent hand-eye coordination that allows his swing to work. In the big leagues, he proved an easier-than-expected mark for quality breaking balls. Tucker projects as a middle-of-the-order bat who can be a plus hitter with plus power. He has already started to slow down and scouts were not always impressed with Tucker’s effort level, noting that he often jogged down the line. His once-average speed slid to below-average in 2018. That limits him in the outfield, but he should be average in either corner. His average arm is playable in right field.
THE FUTURE: Tucker should get another shot to be the Astros’ everyday left fielder as a 22-year-old in 2019.
TRACK RECORD: The Astros acquired Alvarez in the 2016 Josh Fields trade before he had ever played a pro game. In the two seasons since, he has established himself as one of the better slugging prospects. Alvarez’s biggest issue has been staying healthy. He had wrist injuries each of the past two seasons that have slowed him down and has also battled a knee injury.
SCOUTING REPORT: Alvarez is big, strong and surprisingly athletic, though his speed burst is more apparent on the basepaths than in left field, where he is a below-average defender thanks to poor routes and reads. Most scouts say that he fits better at first base. Alvarez is at his best in the batter’s box. He has the strength to clear the fence to all parts of the park—nine of his 20 home runs in 2018 were hit between center and left field. For a tall, long-limbed hitter, Alvarez has excellent plate coverage, in large part because of strikezone knowledge and an all-fields approach. He has a chance to be an above-average hitter in addition to having plus power, which could lead to 30-homer seasons.
THE FUTURE: Alvarez will return to Triple-A Round Rock, but his combination of power and plate discipline could help Houston at some point in 2019.
TRACK RECORD: James didn’t strike out a batter an inning in junior college, but scout Jim Stevenson liked his arm. After four pro seasons, a sleep apnea diagnosis changed his life. Once James started getting restful sleep, his fastball jumped three grades in 2018, when he ranked fourth in the minors in strikeouts (171) and seventh in opponent average (.191).
SCOUTING REPORT: James pitched at 88-92 mph in 2017 but now sits 95-97 and can ramp up to 103 mph, even working as a starter. When he had to learn survival skills with a fringy fastball, he developed a plus changeup. Now that he can blow hitters away, his change is a double-plus 87-90 mph offering with deception. He can drop it off the table or run it away from lefties. The development of James’ inconsistent slider will be key. He has shown an 87-89 mph Frisbee at times, but he lacks confidence in the pitch because he tends to hang it. James has fringe-average control but worse command and his delivery doesn’t lend itself to precise control.
THE FUTURE: James will have to prove he can hold the gains he made in 2018, but his stuff is good enough to work as a mid-rotation starter.
TRACK RECORD: As Martin prepared for his junior season at Texas A&M, he was penciled in as the club’s closer. He had worked as a reliever in two years with the Aggies and also in the Cape Cod League, but A&M moved him to the rotation. He quickly became the club’s ace. As a pro, he’s been one of the fastest-moving pitchers from the 2017 draft, reaching Double-A by early May.
SCOUTING REPORT: It’s hard to believe now that Martin was ever viewed as a reliever or that he battled control issues. Now he is a starter with excellent feel for pitching, plenty of polish and a mastery of the details like holding runners and fielding his position. Martin sits 93-95 mph and touches 97. His plus fastball earns those grades for his above-average command and control as much as the pitch’s velocity. He locates well to all four corners of the zone. Martin mixes in a slider and curve. Both earn above-average grades on his best days, with his slider being a little more consistent. His changeup improved this year to a potentially average pitch.
THE FUTURE: Martin combines stuff and refinement like no other Astros pitching prospect and is a future mid-rotation starter. He could work his way into the Astros’ big league plans at some point in 2019.
TRACK RECORD: Bukauskas’ 2018 season was derailed from the start. He was in a spring training car accident, though nothing seemed to be wrong at the time. But Bukauskas started to feel pain when he went to low Class A Quad Cities. Eventually he was diagnosed with a bulging disk in his back and was sidelined for two months.
SCOUTING REPORT: Bukauskas’ fastball/slider combo is still his calling card, but the cutter he has developed as a pro has helped give him better survival skills as a starter. Bukauskas’ 93-96 mph fastball has gained life as a pro, helping him develop it into a plus pitch. His plus-plus slider has sharp, late tilt that makes it one of the best in the minors. But Bukauskas’ slider is mainly an out-ofzone chase pitch and he struggles to control his fastball. When he’s not throwing his fastball for strikes, his cutter gives him another pitch he can locate in the zone. His changeup is a fringe-average pitch that he doesn’t seem to throw with much confidence or conviction.
THE FUTURE: Bukauskas’ repertoire has invited bullpen projections, but he has shown better than expected starter traits as a pro. He’s a potential mid-rotation starter who likely will swing from dominating to surviving based on how well he’s locating his fastball.
TRACK RECORD: Valdez didn’t sign his first pro contract until he was 21. Teams had shied away because of concerns about his elbow. Healthy since signing, he has shot from the Dominican Summer League to the majors in a little over three years.
SCOUTING REPORT: Valdez is largely a two-pitch lefthander. His plus curveball is good enough to allow him to succeed despite his lack of confidence in his below-average changeup. Valdez attacks hitters with two- and four-seam fastballs at 92-95 mph. His two-seamer has good sink down in the zone, but his above-average fastballs are mainly setting up his 78-82 mph curveball. Valdez’s curve has plenty of depth, and he can sweep it across the strike zone thanks to his three-quarters arm slot. He can tighten it or loosen it and throw it in or out of the zone. Valdez nibbled against big league righthanders and will need to either improve his changeup or develop a cutter. His delivery is relatively clean and his control is average.
THE FUTURE: Valdez’s solid work as a starter late in the 2018 season gives him the opportunity to battle for a job in the 2019 rotation.
TRACK RECORD: Nova was supposed to be the Marlins’ big splash on the international market in 2016, but a positive test for a performance- enhancing drug quashed that deal and led to the Astros signing him for less than half of Miami’s offer. Nova made his U.S. debut in 2018 as one of the more productive hitters in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast league.
SCOUTING REPORT: Nova showed bat speed, above-average bat-to-ball skills and above-average raw power in the GCL, but he needs plenty of refinement. He has enough power to get himself in trouble, and he spent too many at-bats looking for a pitch he could yank down the line, rarely working advantageous counts. He had as many home runs (six) as walks (six). Nova’s hand-eye coordination made it work, but he’s going to have to improve his selectivity and patience. Defensively, Nova has all the tools to be an above-average shortstop. He’s athletic, with soft hands and an improved first step, though he’s working on his reliability. His plus arm helps him make plays to his back hand.
THE FUTURE: Nova has the tools to be a shortstop who can hit enough to be an everyday regular, but he has years of work ahead of him to put it all together.
TRACK RECORD: Beer is the rare player who was never draft-eligible in high school. That’s because he had enrolled at Clemson six months early, so when his high school class was graduating, Beer was wrapping up an outstanding freshman season in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Beer finished his college career with 56 home runs and nearly twice as many walks (180) as strikeouts (98).
SCOUTING REPORT: Beer has an excellent batting eye to go with the plus power to hit 25-30 home runs, which he showed in his first two stops. Once he reached high Class A, Beer got too aggressive and chased too many pitches, but he should draw plenty of walks. His batting average will suffer from bottom-of-the-scale speed and a lefthanded power profile that makes shifting him an easy call. What kept Beer from going higher in the draft was his lack of a clear defensive position. He is a heavy-footed, well below-average left fielder with a below-average arm and is worse at first base because of poor footwork. The Astros have to hope he can become a below-average defender, but he fits best as a DH.
THE FUTURE: Beer moved quickly in his pro debut and should make it to Double-A in 2019. His bat could be ready for Houston before too long.
TRACK RECORD: The Astros excel at finding low-cost pitchers on the international market. Abreu is another prime example. He sat 84-86 mph before he signed, but he showed an ability to spin a breaking ball. The Astros have watched him fill out and blossom. He jumped to the Midwest League in 2018 and finished with 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings.
SCOUTING REPORT: Abreu is now a broad-shouldered, athletic righthander. He can run his plus four-seam fastball up to 96 mph and he sits 93-94. He is generally around the zone with his fastball, but his command needs refinement. He falls off the mound to the first base side, which affects his fringe-average control. Abreu’s curveball is already the best in the organization. It has 12-to-6 shape, excellent depth and elite rotation at more than 3,000 revolutions per minute. He throws his curve for strikes, and it eludes bats even in the strike zone. Abreu also mixes in a slider and changeup, but both are below-average pitches.
THE FUTURE: Abreu’s two-pitch combo could allow him to move quickly as a reliever, but he has the frame, intelligence and aptitude to start. He’s ready for high Class A Fayetteville.
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