Now that 2019 is here, it is time to start looking at the top three prospects at each position as we lead up to the Astros top 30 prospect list. This week I will look at the pitchers in the system.
Top 3 Prospects By Position:
1. Forrest Whitley (AA)
Whitley was the Astros first round pick in 2016 and he has steadily made his way up the prospect boards. Whitley was dominant in 2017 but had an interesting 2018 season. He missed the first part of it serving a suspension for violating drug policy. He pitched in five games in June and July before leaving a start after 0.2 innings due to an oblique injury. He came back in August but only pitched twice before being put on the DL again with a lat injury. He only tossed a combined 26.1 innings this year but is still the top pitching prospect in baseball. Whitley has five above average pitches with a plus fastball and changeup. Fangraphs noted Whitley as having the best collection of pitches in the minor leagues. He will most likely start back at AA this season but I doubt he lasts there long.
2018 Stats: 8 G, 3.76 ERA, 26.1 IP, 15 H, 11 BB, 34 K, 11.6 K/9
2. Josh James (MLB)
James was drafted in the 34th round of the 2014 draft and steadily made his way through the Astros system. James’ sleep issues are well documented, and getting this figured out, along with some mechanical adjustments, helped him gain elite velocity. This season in the minors he struck out 171 in 114.1 innings with a 3.23 ERA earning him his call up to Houston. James showed why he was getting a lot of buzz striking out 9 in 5 innings in his major league debut and showed off his 101.1 MPH fastball in the first inning. He led the Astros minor league system in strikeouts, and it wasn’t close. He ended up striking out 29 in 23 innings for the Astros this year. James was a late bloomer but has the tools to be a successful starter or reliever in the big leagues.
2018 Stats: 23 G, 3.23 ERA, 114.1 IP, 79 H, 49 BB, 171 K, 13.5 K/9
3. Corbin Martin (AA)
Another potential steal for the Astros. Martin was a polarizing prospect in the draft with some seeing him as a first round talent and others seeing him as a mid round pick due to concerns as a starter. The Astros selected him in the second round and he has been great. He started the 2018 season in Buies Creek and struck out 26 batters in 19 scoreless innings while allowing just 4 hits, earning him a quick promotion to AA. Martin’s first start in Double-A was rough but he got rolling after that one. He pitched in 20 games after that first outing and he had a 2.45 ERA (3.26 FIP) with 96 K in 102.2 innings. Overall he had a 2.51 ERA (3.07 FIP) and struck out 122 in 122 innings. Martin has a mid 90s fastball, a plus slider, and an above average changeup. He had a great first full season in the minors and is on the custp of a callup after just being drafted two years ago.
2018 Stats: 25 G, 2.51 ERA, 122.0 IP, 88 H, 35 BB, 122 K, 9.0 K/9
4. J.B. Bukauskas (AA)
Bukauskas was the Astros first round pick in 2017. Bukauskas was involved in a car accident in spring training which pushed him timeline back a bit. He pitched a couple times in April before going back on the DL. He started his rehab Tri-City striking out 9 in 8.1 scoreless innings. He went back to Quad Cities and struck out 21 over 15 innings. JB was then promoted to Buies Creek where he really got rolling. He started five games for Buies Creek and posted a 1.61 ERA while striking out 31 over 28 innings. He earned a final promotion to Corpus Christi where he struck out 8 over 6 scoreless innings in his one start. He also made one start in the playoffs allowing 1 run in 6 innings. Overall he had a 2.14 ERA with 71 K in 59 innings. Scouts still question his size but he has a hard fastball, and a 70 grade slider. He mixes in a nice changeup as well. The 2017 draft is looking really strong for pitchers right now.
2018 Stats: 14 G, 2.14 ERA, 59.0 IP, 42 H, 24 BB, 71 K, 10.8 K.9
5. Cionel Perez (MLB)
Perez originally agreed to a deal with the Astros worth $5.15 million but the deal was voided due to a physical. Perez was later signed for $2 million. Perez put together a great 2018 season. He started the year in AA and posted a 1.83 ERA with 83 K in 68.1 innings while flashing a 98 MPH heater. He pitched in 5 games in relief for the Grizzlies before being promoted to Houston. With the Astros, he had a 3.97 ERA in 11.1 innings. While he is smaller in stature, he has a solid mix of pitches with a mid 90s fastball and an improving slider and changeup. He also has the advantage of being a left handed pitcher and might be able to carve out a role in the bullpen this year, even though he still projects as a starter.
2018 Stats: 20 G, 2.08 ERA, 73.2 IP, 59 H, 28 BB, 89 K, 10.9 K/9