The moment you’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived. Sorry I lied, it’s not Opening Day yet, but at least you get to read about your favorite organization’s top 10 prospects for 2017, as ranked by TCB staff. If you missed the first two installments of this series, check them out:
2017 Top Prospects: 21-30 (includes grading guidelines/descriptions)
Without further ado, let the final countdown begin!
10. Derek Fisher, OF [5.98, B Prospect]
2016 (AA): .245/.373/.431 (132 wRC+) in 102 games
2016 (AAA): .290/.347/.505 (124 wRC+) in 27 games
Good swing, plus speed, average speed- all these great tools project Fisher to be an above average regular. Taken by the Astros in the late first round of 2014 out of Virginia, the Pennsylvania native can play all three outfield positions.
His biggest concern on defense is his arm, which makes it look like he'll play in left. The thing I love about him though is his approach at the plate. He strikes out a lot, but he can make up for it with a patient approach (83 walks across AA and AAA). I think this will play in the majors too, as he has progressively hit at every level in the minors.
He could be a guy that will consistently hit .270+, have around 20 home runs, and steal 20+ bases.
9. Garrett Stubbs, C [6.02, B Prospect]
2016 (Rookie League): .171/.280/.271 (60 wRC+) in 20 games
2016 (A+): .291/.385/.442 (126 wRC+) in 55 games
2016 (AA): .325/.401/.517 (165 wRC+) in 31 games
A member of the strong 2015 Astros Draft class, Stubbs slid all the way to the 8th round despite being a sleeper favorite for many. At 5'10", 175, he is on the small side for a backstop, but he displays terrific athleticism.
A 50 runner, Stubbs stole 15 bags last year between High-A and Double-A as part of an outstanding offensive season in which he hit .293 and reached base at a .391 clip. In addition to his speed which is essentially plus when adjusting for position, Stubbs brings two more potential above-average tools to the table in his receiving and hit.
He is a unique prospect who doesn't have many natural comps, but has performed extremely well throughout both his college and professional careers with the bat. If he can continue to draw walks and put the ball in play at similar rates to last year, he has a good chance to figure into the team's long-term plans.
8. Ramon Laureano, OF [6.40, B/B+ Prospect]
2016 (Rookie League): .295/.340/.477 (119 wRC+) in 12 games
2016 (A+): .317/.426/.519 (155 wRC+) in 80 games
2016 (AA): .323/.432/.548 (184 wRC+) in 36 games
While not quite as "out of nowhere" as Tyler White, Laureano's ascension to notoriety has been no less impressive and speedy.
Just 12 months ago, he was a 16th-round pick coming off of a modest wRC+ 114 in A-ball. Then, suddenly, he tears up Lancaster (155 wRC+), and is promoted to Double-A, where he stunningly hits even better (184 wRC+). He capped off his remarkable breakout campaign with a short but strong showing in the Arizona Fall League (119 wRC+).
With a legitimate double-digit home run pop, the wheels to play average center field and steal 30+ bases, and the eye and willingness to draw walks, Laureano has gone from a nobody to a legit potential future everyday player almost overnight. Score one more for the Astros' scouting department.
7. David Paulino, RHP [6.83, B+ Prospect]
2016 (Rookie League): 17 IP, 0.53 ERA (2.22 FIP), 5.00 K/BB
2016 (AA): 64 IP, 1.83 ERA (2.20 FIP), 6.55 K/BB
2016 (AAA): 14 IP, 3.86 ERA (3.08 FIP), 3.33 K/BB
2016 (MLB): 7 IP, 5.14 ERA (4.29 FIP), 0.67 K/BB
Signed out of the Dominican Republic by Detroit in 2010, Paulino is yet another win for the current Houston scouting department. Included as a PTBNL in the Jose Veras trade back in 2013, Paulino went through Tommy John recovery and strength training to emerge as a powerful, raw arm with a high-90s fastball and a plus breaking pitch.
Paulino only threw 95 minor league innings in 2016, culminating in a shaky emergency start in Cleveland in his MLB debut, though that was made worse by the infamous “wild pitch” call that allowed 2 runners to score on a foul ball. Though many are hopeful he will be a starter with his imposing 6’7’’ frame, he still needs to develop his third pitch, a changeup, a little more. Even so, he could be a high-velocity bullpen piece in Houston this season if the need arises.
6. Yulieski Gurriel, 3B/1B [7.00, B+ Prospect]
2016 (All Minors): .250/.262/.429 in 15 games
2016 (MLB): .262/.292/.385 (82 wRC+) in 36 games
After mashing in Cuba, Yulieski Gurriel signed with the Astros for $47.5 million over five years. This money was well deserved since Gurriel was hitting at a pace that would make Ted Williams smile. After signing, the Astros quickly pushed the infielder and his quick bat through the minors, allowing him to play 36 games in the majors. In those games, he didn't blow anybody away, but many expect his plus bat to translate well in the near future. He can be very versatile on defense, playing games at third, first, and left last year. He can also play second base. It will be interesting to see how he responds to a full major league season.
5. Franklin Perez, RHP [7.08, B+ Prospect]
2016 (A): 66.2 IP, 2.84 ERA (2.36 FIP), 3.95 K/BB
The Astros signed Perez in 2014 at just 16 years old. He made his Astros system debut in 2015, pitching between the DSL and the Gulf Coast League Astros striking out 61 batters in 50 innings at just 17 years old.
In 2016, at just 18 years old, Perez made his full season debut with Quad Cities proving why the Astros signed him. He had a 2.84 ERA with 19 BB/75 K in 66.2 IP.
While Perez doesn't have the high 90s fastball, he works around 92-94 MPH (touching 95) while mixing in plus offspeed pitches (curveball, changeup) with the changeup being the best. He has very advanced pitchability and command for his age. He is also very athletic and has a good build for a starter as well. Another good season from him and he will fly up the rankings.
4. A.J. Reed, 1B [7.08, B+ Prospect]
2016 (AAA): .291/.368/.556 (142 wRC+) in 70 games
2016 (MLB): .164/.270/.262 (50 wRC+) in 45 games
How the mighty have fallen...a little bit. Reed bashed his way through the minors with relative ease, posting no worse than a 141 wRC+ at any of his stops prior to his promotion in 2016. He looked over-matched against Major League pitching, however, seeing his strike out rate spike by 11.4% and posting a pathetic 50 wRC+ in 45 games.
But many struggle at first and Reed's talent is real. He still carries the upside of a walk-machine who can slug 30 homers in a season from the left side of the plate. His drop in the rankings this year was a minor one, but continued struggles will cast more serious doubts on his future. He'll likely start the year in Triple-A again, barring an insane offensive explosion during Spring Training.
3. Forrest Whitley, RHP [7.13, B+ Prospect]
2016 (Rookie League): 18.2 IP, 4.82 ERA (1.71 FIP), 4.33 K/BB
In a 2016 draft loaded with prep pitchers, the Astros made Whitley the sixth high school arm taken at the 17th pick in the draft. Houston viewed Whitley as the best player available at their slot, forcing a change in previous draft strategies of manipulating large bonus pools with multiple high picks. Even so, Whitley received a shiny $3+ million bonus and performed well across 19 innings in the GCL and Appy league.
Whitley has a prototypical frontline starter’s build at 6’7’’, 240 lbs. with a fastball consistently in the low to mid 90s, topping out around 97. He complements that with a slurvy breaking pitch that varies in movement and shape consistently, and is working on a changeup to round out his arsenal.
Many would not fault the Astros for slow-playing Whitley this season and starting him in short-season ball, but all signs point to a full-season debut in Quad Cities.
2. Kyle Tucker, OF [8.22, A- Prospect]
2016 (A): .276/.348/.402 (119 wRC+) in 101 games
2016 (A+): .339/.435/.661 (188 wRC+) in 16 games
Selected 5th overall in the 2015 draft class that has already produced Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker was seen by many as the best pure prep bat in the entire class. Considering that first round included players like Brendan Rodgers and Garrett Whitley, this was high praise, and Tucker has delivered on expectations so far.
Though his power has not yet shown in games, he has potential for plus pop in his frame and will be a huge offensive threat once he adds some strength to a profile that already includes contact skills and an advanced approach. On the defensive side he is less exciting, but has an above average arm and runs well for a player his size.
He should be able to handle right field and could grade out better than average there. Kyle projects as a #3 hitter and sat atop my list in the grading process, and was top 2 on virtually every ballot.
1. Francis Martes, RHP [8.57, A-/A Prospect]
2016 (Rookie League): 22.1 IP, 3.22 ERA (3.33 FIP), 2.78 K/BB
2016 (AA): 125.1 IP, 3.30 ERA (2.73 FIP), 2.79 K/BB
Among a host of shrewd acquisitions since his tenure began, perhaps none shine as bright a light on Jeff Luhnow as does Martes. A virtual afterthought in the Jarred Cosart trade, the tacked-on lottery ticket has become the prize of the whole deal, the gem of the whole farm system, and one of the great trade heists in recent memory.
Of course, all that continuing to hold true depends on Martes reaching his potential. Martes utilizes two plus pitches (a consistent mid-90's heater and a power curveball) to attack hitters, and he generally has a strong feel for using and locating them. His changeup has lagged behind, and the Astros brought Roy Oswalt to spring camp to work on it with him. A hot start to the year in Triple-A could see him in Houston by mid-season.