For the first time in quite awhile, the Astros probably have a bottom ten farm system in the league. On FanGraphs’ THE BOARD, Houston currently only has one player, Forrest Whitley, who comes in at 50 FV or more. Whitley is currently listed as a 60 FV, though the Astros’ list has not been updated especially recently. Coming into the 2019 season, there seven such players, but graduations, trades and weaker performance have thinned the herd considerably. That said, the Astros do have some new and returning talent that could help move the team in the right direction in the farm rankings, and there are a few players in particular I think carry the potential to move onto the national radar as soon as 2020.
Colin Barber, OF (19)
My favorite player in the Astros 2019 draft class, Barber was considered likely to honor his commitment to the University of Oregon but ended up agreeing to an overslot, $1 million bonus in the 4th round. Coming from the Norcal prep ranks, Barber is a 6’0” outfielder with plus wheels and a fairly advanced build. His current swing is more line drive oriented, and his actions in the box are a bit stiff, but he whips the barrel through the zone with excellent bat speed, producing lots of hard contact to all fields.
In his professional debut with GCL Astros, Barber performed quite well, posting a .263/.387/394 slash line in 119 plate appearances, tallying two home runs and two steals and a whopping 19 walks. There was some swing and miss present as Barber posted a 24.4% K rate, but with some tweaks to his swing I think it’s reasonable to expect he can bring that number down. In my view Barber has the potential to be at least average with all five tools, and he’ll have at least a chance to stick in center, though I’d expect his eventual home to be left. Barber will play the entire 2020 season at age 19, and Quad Cities and Tri-City are both possibilities for him.
Jairo Solis, RHSP (20)
During the 2018 season, Solis was a looking like one of the more exciting young arms in a system full of them with Quad Cities, striking out 51 in 50 and 2⁄3 innings with a 3.55 ERA against much older competition. Showing a fastball that was generally in the 91-94 range and devastating curveball as well as a solid changeup, the 6’2” righty looked like a potential mid-rotation arm, but ended up requiring midseason Tommy John, which also cost him the entire 2019 campaign.
The injury and long layoff has evaluators taking a cautious approach with Solis, which is understandable as he already had some command questions prior to surgery. However, he still has time on his side, as he’ll be a young 20 at the 2020 season’s outset. If he comes out with the same stuff he had when he last pitched, I’d imagine he’ll be moved up lists very quickly, resuming the track he was on before the injury.
Grae Kessinger, IF (22)
Entering conference play last season, Kessinger was looking like a mid day two selection- his MLB bloodlines and polished infield defense had intrigued teams going back to his high school days, but his bat appeared to have taken a step back early in his junior campaign after a rock solid .300/.389/.473 slash with eight homers as a sophomore. Then, Kessinger exploded to the tune of a .405 batting average in SEC play, raising his season line to a clean .330/.430/.474 slash with 41 walks against just 35 strikeouts, adding seven more bombs and 16 steals in 19 attempts. The jump in performance improved his stock considerably, as the Astros ended up liking him enough to take him in round 2.
At 6’2” 200, Kessinger doesn’t have a typical shortstop’s build, but his excellent hands and actions on the dirt allowed him to hold down the position admirably as a collegiate. He may end up moving as a pro, but he has the skills to play either second or third base in my opinion. That frame also portends power that hasn’t really shown up to date, and tweaks to his swing plane could allow him to get more of his raw power into games. If that happens, his stock stands to rise considerably, as his heady play gives him positive value in the field and on the basepaths, and he already shows and advanced hit tool. There are a lot of potential avenues to success for Kessinger, and if the pop develops as hoped he has a chance to play a lot at the big league level. Most seem to agree the Astros likely plan to make this a focus for Kessinger, and with his great makeup, I think he’s likely to be up to the challenge of making significant adjustments without sacrificing too much of his contact ability.
Shawn Dubin, RHP (24)
A 13th round selection in 2018 out of the NAIA ranks, Dubin erupted down the stretch in Fayetteville this past season, stiking out 57 in his last 7 starts, including three double digit totals. This turned some heads, and the reports backed up his statistical performance. While he’s listed at just 154 pounds, Dubin is nonetheless able to bring mid-to-high 90s heat, and he also packs two breaking balls that have drawn high marks, according to Baseball America. Dubin is an older prospect (he’ll pitch the entire 2020 season at age 24), but his outstanding performance should earn him a trip to Double-A to start next year. With his slight frame, it’s unlikely Dubin can handle a traditional starter’s workload, but his arsenal is good enough to warrant multi-inning usage if he continues his torrid pace, as he has multiple plus pitches and hasn’t had an issue with free passes thus far. He hasn’t appeared on Astros list yet as he got most of his attention late in the season, despite strong performance throughout, but I’d currently rank him as a 40 FV with room for a bit more and I expect him to pop up on updated lists this winter.