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Spencer’s Astros Top 40 Minor League Prospects

With roughly half of the games in the books for full season minor leagues and a fresh batch of draftees now in the mix, it’s high time to take a fresh look at how players stack up on the farm.

Atlanta Braves v Houston Astros
Seth Beer’s big offensive year has turned heads and bolstered his stock
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Since collaborating on the preseason top 30 for Crawfish Boxes, there has been a lot of movement in the Astros system to my eyes. In this updated ranking, I am excluding all players who have appeared in the majors this year, as I find it a bit messy to place players who may soon exhaust their prospect status. This excluded the following players:

  • Corbin Martin
  • Yordan Alvarez
  • Cionel Perez
  • Rogelio Armenteros
  • Myles Straw
  • Garrett Stubbs

With that in mind, here is my ranking of what I see as the best players currently in the system.

1. Forrest Whitley, RHP (21), AAA

It has been a season to forget so far for Whitley, who has logged just 24.1 innings to this point, walking 15 batters and allowing 9 home runs in the new, extreme-offense Triple-A environment. Clearly not himself, the Astros shut Whitley down and sent him to extended spring training to rehab, where he remains currently. One June 8th, Jeff Luhnow said of Whitley: “He looks good. He feels good. We’re going to give him a little more time before he starts throwing again. Once he does, we’ll come up with a plan.” This is likely to end up being a lost season for Whitley, who was suffering from shoulder fatigue when he was deactivated, but there remains a chance he could come back strong over the summer and become a major league factor by August. While Whitley has had a couple of setbacks now on his meteoric rise, including an adderall suspension in 2018, but he remains among the first tier of pitching prospects in all of baseball, has four pitches that can all show plus, and carries #1 starter upside. He should be a major factor for the Astros by 2020 at the latest.

2. Kyle Tucker, RF (22), AAA

Tucker made his major league debut in 2018 to great fanfare, but struggled to find a groove and was sent back down to Triple-A after 28 games, where he has remained since. He opened very poorly in 2019, hitting just .165/.211/.388 during the month of April, but has been nails since and currently sits at .288/.357/.514, a line which still really doesn’t do his recent performance justice. With 23 homers so far this year, Tucker is demonstrating his rare offensive ability, and he carries the potential to be a plus hitter with plus power. An athletic 6’4”, Tucker carries massive upside in right field and projects as the long-term answer at the position.

3. J.B. Bukauskas, RHP (22), AA

Much like Tucker, Bukauskas got off to a brutal start in 2019 but has righted the ship since. An explosive righty with upper-90s velocity and a plus-plus slider, Bukauskas struggles with walks but has been very difficult for minor leaguers to hit, and could have enough command to fill a traditional starting role, even if he is unlikely to be a 200-inning kind of arm with his frame. If he can throw a few more strikes, Bukauskas has a chance to look a lot like Lance McCullers Jr. at the big league level, and profiles extremely well in a late-inning relief role as well. There’s no rush to get JBB to the big league bullpen, so the Astros should continue to work with him in a starter’s role for the foreseeable future. I’m bullish on Bukauskas and think he’ll be good enough to warrant a big league usage pattern similar to McCullers.

4. Freudis Nova, SS (19), A

Nova has been rated highly on Astros list for about a year now despite little to go on, but he popped up in Quad Cities in early June, giving us our first look at the phenom in full season ball. An infielder with an explosive bat, Nova has potential for plus hit and power tools, but has a lot of development in front of him to achieve either. 20 games in for the River Bandits, Nova is hitting .269/.296/.372 with 20 strikeouts and just a pair of walks. It’s not a terrific start by any stretch, but he had a run of three straight multi-hit games, including a four hit effort, earlier this month and is facing much older competition on average. He’s played shortstop to this point and has the athletic profile to play the position, though many evaluators do think it is likely he moves off of the position at some point. The range of outcomes is extremely wide for Nova, but his upside is that of a 55-60 FV player if it all comes together, and I believe that warrants a ranking this high despite the significant risk factor.

5. Bryan Abreu, RHP (22), AA

One of the system’s biggest risers in the last couple of years, Abreu oozes potential on the mound and has been improving rapidly. A very athletic 6’1”, Abreu works in the 92-95 range with his heater, and gets tremendous run on it. He shows a four pitch arsenal, working with two different breaking balls and a change, with the latter lagging behind the rest of his package to this point. Abreu has struggled with walks, but should be able to approach average command with his delivery and athleticism, with 45 future command being a very reasonable projection in my eyes. With three above average big league pitches and potential for a plus or two, Abreu could be a #3 starter or multi-inning relief weapon depending on where the command ends up. Personally, I think he will have enough to start long term.

6. Seth Beer, LF/1B/DH (22), AA

The club’s 2018 first rounder has been dynamite thus far as a pro, carrying a sterling .305/.403/.545 combined slash line across two levels in 2019. Beer is defensively limited and has poor speed, but can really handle the bat and brings big raw power. Beer’s approach is advanced, and he has the requisite tools to profile as a starting DH type, with potential for an average hit, plus to plus plus power, and a healthy complement of walks. He has a long track record with his bat and should continue to tap into more of his raw power over time. With continued performance, Beer could put himself in the major league conversation in 2020.

7. Luis Santana, 2B (19), SS

Acquired in the J.D. Davis trade, Santana is an exciting offensive prospect with potential for a plus hit tool. He has a unique setup but has shown terrific contact ability in his short career to date. With crowded infields at the lower levels, the Astros gave Santana a trial at the Double-A level before recently transferring him to Tri-City. Santana didn’t hit the ball with much authority in Corpus but handled himself well overall, striking out just 9 times in 63 plate appearances. Although he is still a teenager at 19 years, 11 months, Santana could rise quickly as a 2B stick with offensive value.

8. Korey Lee, C (20), SS

Drafted by the Astros in the first round this month, Lee enjoyed one of the biggest rises of the 2019 draft season, entering the year virtually off the radar after two weak offensive campaigns at Cal. Hitting behind 3rd overall pick Andrew Vaughn for much of 2018, Lee hit .337/.416/.619 for the Golden Bears while playing strong defense at catcher in front of tons of eyeballs, and had climbed all the way to 45th on FanGraphs THE BOARD by draft day. With the tools to be a solid average defensive big league catcher, and solid average power, Lee’s offensive explosion really improved his projection. He has all the requisite ability to be a #1 catcher on a big league team some day- one that hits higher than 8th in the order. In his first five pro games, Lee is hitting .412/.545/.471 with a double, four walks and one strikeout.

9. Tyler Ivey, RHP (23), AA

A third-round pick in 2017, Ivey was enjoying a dominant 2019 before an injury sidelined him in late May, since when he has not pitched. With a firm fastball, plus curve and a slider and change, Ivey has a #4 starter package and should be up at the Triple-A level in relatively short order once he returns from the injured list. I can’t find much info on what ails him, but Double-A hitters were no match for him in his 25 innings before being shelved, as he allowed just two runs while striking out 37 and walking 9. He could help the big league club in 2020 and projects comfortably as a long term starter. If everything really clicks for Ivey, a long term #3 role isn’t out of the question.

10. Abraham Toro, 3B (22), AA

Though he’s come down to earth a bit of late, the Astros’ Quebecois 2016 fifth rounder has enjoyed a tremendous 2019 campaign to date. He had never really backed up his significant offensive potential with statistical performance until recently, but has shown a number of appealing traits for quite awhile, including home run power from both sides of the plate and a laser arm. His progress defensively at third base hasn’t been as rapid as hoped and he may profile better in right field long term, but he’s showing enough bat that it may not make a hell of a lot of difference. Toro is currently hitting .284/.381/.479 in Corpus with 12 home runs and 37 walks against 56 strikeouts in 294 PAs. He’s more likely a second-division regular than a true everyday guy, but if he can play both corner infield and outfield adequately while switch-hitting, he should bring enough versatility to the table to get into the lineup frequently at the big league level. He’s another potential 2020 ETA, though 2021 is probably more likely if he stays with Houston.

11. Brandon Bielak, RHP (23), AA

Bielak has done nothing but perform since the Astros made him their 11th round selection in 2017 out of Notre Dame, and has risen all the way to the Triple-A level in just over two years. He hasn’t thrown as many strikes this year as last, but at his best shows a deep arsenal that could allow him to profile as a #4. I am a bit less confident in the consistency of Bielak’s control/command than I am that of Tyler Ivey, and he doesn’t have the stuff of a Bukauskas, Abreu or Paredes, but he has a nice package of traits that should translate into a future as a big league starter at the back of a rotation.

12. Jairo Solis, RHP (19), A

Currently on the shelf with Tommy John, Solis, a teenage Puerto Rican starter, shows a #3 starter package when healthy, with an advanced curveball that projects as plus and a fastball that projects as above average and is already quite firm. He won’t pitch this year, but should return to the Low-A level in 2020 at age 20, at which point he should rise quickly assuming his recovery goes smoothly. The unknowns at play push him down slightly, but Solis has a big ceiling that warrants an aggressive placement.

13. Jordan Brewer, OF (21), N/A

Still technically unsigned since his Michigan Wolverines have advanced to the College World Series final, I’m nonetheless comfortable rating Brewer aggressively, as his toolset immediately becomes one of the most exciting in the system. A former football player, Brewer has played just one year of DI ball after transferring to Michigan from Lincoln Trail Community College. Brewer seized the opportunity by hitting .329/.389/.564 with 12 home runs and 25 steals, earning him Big 10 player of the year honors. Brewer has plus raw power, above average wheels and should be able to hit enough to carry the tools. He could clean things up at the plate a bit but I like the bones of his swing, and if he develops as expected with the bat he could be an everyday outfielder down the road.

14. Brandon Bailey, RHP (24), AA

A sixth-rounder for Oakland out of Gonzaga in 2016, Bailey is a 5’10” starting pitcher with an arsenal that continues to improve as he matures. With a strong three pitch mix, including an incredibly live fastball, a breaking ball that shows above average and a legitimate change, Bailey has a strong chance to keep starting all the way to the bigs in a back of the rotation role. With stuff that can generate both weak contact and swings and misses, Bailey is close to looking like a back of the rotation big league starter with a bit more polish. He’s been particularly good of late- over his last four appearances in Corpus, he’s put together a line of 17.2 IP, 8 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 21 K.

15. Manny Ramirez, RHP (19), A

Of the pitchers yet to be ranked, Ramirez has the most potential as a starter, with a firm fastball and impressive curve that could be an out pitch. Though he’s a slight 5’11”, he can run his fastball into the mid 90s, and reports on his changeup are promising as well. His frame is a bit concerning, but the raw stuff gives him mid-rotation potential with (a lot) more seasoning. He’s currently pitching in Tri-City, where Keith Law reported he was 94-96 in his most recent outing.

16. Peter Solomon, RHP (22), A+

Sadly, Solomon has only been able to log 7.2 innings this year after being shut down by an injury in April. There isn’t much information on the injury at this point, but it is not of the season-ending variety to my knowledge. Solomon has had impressive stuff for years now, and the Astros were able to really dial in his control after drafting him as a project in the fourth round of the 2017 draft. Though he’s been outpaced in the minors by his former college teammate Brandon Bielak, Solomon has similar potential with a bit more seasoning. His deep arsenal which includes an above average fastball, two breaking balls and a changeup, Solomon could max out as a #4 starter if he can stay healthy and continue to improve his strike throwing, and his 6’4”, 200 lb. frame should allow him to work pretty heavy workloads if his health cooperates.

17. Alex McKenna, OF (21), A

It’s been a frustrating 2019 for McKenna, who is following up an excellent debut in 2018, as he’s missed two stretches of time with injury. He’s healthy again now, and has hit well since his most recent activation. McKenna lasted until the fourth round in 2018 due to contact concerns, but his approach has served him well in the low minors and quieted those concerns a bit. With above average power and speed to go with advanced outfield defense, McKenna has a very appealing set of tools. He could profile as an everyday outfielder if he can find enough contact, with potential to impact the game in the number of ways. I think that McKenna’s advanced approach will offset his below-average contact ability enough to carry the rest of his tools.

18. Enoli Paredes, RHP (23), AA

Armed with a nuclear arsenal, the wiry, 5’11”, 168 lb. Paredes generates a ton of torque with his delivery, allowing him to deliver fastballs in the mid-90s. He also has great feel to spin it, with a plus curveball that flashes even more and a slider that is a legitimate offering. After Bukauskas, Whitley and Abreu, Paredes has the most raw stuff in the system. While his command is likely to top out at below average, the Astros may be able to find a role for him that involves him going beyond one inning regularly. I don’t think it’s totally impossible that Paredes can stick as a starter of some kind, and I think his best role would be following an opener, but some kind of relief role is most likely. Across two levels this year, Paredes has been able to throw a few more strikes, with 77 strikeouts and 27 walks in 57.1 frames. An interesting note on Paredes is that he served as the “unofficial interpreter” for the Fayetteville Woodpeckers during his time there, according to the Fayetteville Observer.

19. Ronnie Dawson, CF (24), AA

Dawson has come along slowly since being drafted in round 2 three years ago, but at age 24, Dawson is running out of time to capitalize on his significant tools, which include above average power, speed and strong defense in center. While he’s getting into more power than ever this year with 11 homers already, contact continues to be a big red flag for Dawson, as he’s struck out 80 times in 58 games this year. There’s a lot to like here, but it’s hard to envision more than a bench or platoon role for Dawson barring a big step forward in the contact department. I don’t want to completely discount that possibility, but given his age, it’s not exceedingly likely. Dawson already projects comfortably as a solid bench outfielder, so he keeps a top-20 ranking, but I have to place him behind players I see as having better chances to become regulars.

20. Colin Barber, OF (18), Rk.

The Astros afforded themselves the financial flexibility to grab under-the-radar prep and JUCO talents a bit later in the draft by going underslot on their first two picks, and the prize of that crop is Colin Barber, a California prep outfielder who they signed away from Oregon. Barber is a potential five-tool outfielder, with plus speed and potential for solid average power. He projects as a center fielder, and the bat will take a bit of work, but if his contact ability proves to play, he has the potential to be an everyday center fielder and has the tools to be a top-100 type prospect in the future. He received glowing reviews from teachers and coaches at the high school level, and a combination of plus tools and plus makeup is usually a winning one. While his swing is a little stiff right now, he shows great bat speed, and checks most boxes you can come up with. Had he gone to college and performed, he likely would’ve been in the first round conversation in 2022, and the Astros gave him day one money to forgo that opportunity.

21. Cristian Javier, RHP (22), AA

A deceptive, crafty righty with good breaking stuff, Javier has some funk in his delivery that makes it difficult to project great command. Minor league hitters have been frustrated by Javier thus far, including at the Double-A level where he has struck out 43 hitters against just 16 walks. Javier’s stuff isn’t quite as electric as Paredes’, but he has a chance for more command, and both profile as possible strikeout heavy multi-inning relievers, though Javier could have an outside chance to start long term.

22. Deury Carrasco, IF (19), SS

Carrasco hasn’t been able to get it going in either of his short stints in Tri-City thus far, but he has a very appealing set of tools, with infield ability, nascent hitting skills and plus speed. He’s extremely raw, doesn’t project for power and is probably four years from the big leagues, but if his bat develops as hoped, he has significant potential. He should continue to get regular playing time for the ValleyCats this season, and if he gets it going with the bat he should solidify a top 30 ranking for himself by season’s end.

23. Enmanuel Valdez, 3B (20), A+

Though his 5’9” frame isn’t ideal for his corner profile, Valdez can really handle the bat and should offer more long term power than you might expect at first blush. A bench bat future is most likely on a strong club, but his deft hands could allow him to play at third or second base, particularly on a team that likes to employ shifts, and serve a club well with his offensive ability. He’s a mature hitter for his age and could hit his way into fairly regular playing time at the big league level if it all comes together.

24. Jose Urquidy, RHP (24), AAA

What a 2019 it has been for Mexican starter Jose Urquidy, who has absolutely dominated the upper minors en route to a dazzling 70.2 IP, 55 H, 32 R, 13 BB, 95 K line across Double and Triple-A. Similar to Rogelio Armenteros, Urquidy’s best traits are his changeup and command, and the package seems to be clicking in a new way this season as he’s missing bats at a higher rate than he ever has in the past. Urquidy’s command is at least plus, and while he works in the 89-91 range generally, his location helps his stuff play up and if given a starting opportunity, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him run with it. He’s a very advanced arm who is ready for a big league test, and could be a long term #5.

25. Ross Adolph, OF (22), A

The talented Adolph had such a brutal start that I’m convinced he was either playing hurt or working on a significant approach change, as he hit .116 in April and .208 in May, but has been locked in during the month of June. Adolph has average power and above average speed, but has swing and miss in his game. Adolph still has the tools to be an outfielder who garners significant playing time at the big league level if he keeps hitting at his current torrid pace- he’s 16 of his last 40 with 3 homers and has a .371/.429/.694 slash this month. He could be in line for a promotion soon if that keeps up.

26. Jeremy Pena, SS (21), A

The Astros 3rd rounder a year ago, Pena is an easy shortstop stick who is showing some offensive ability in the low minors. While he will likely never offer much home run power, Pena has shown the ability to get on base this year, as he’s hit .294/.389/.413 with 35 walks and 54 strikeouts in 270 plate appearances thus far. He also offers above-average speed, and has stolen 16 bags in 22 attempts in 2019. He’s getting stronger and will have to continue to do so to maintain solid batting averages, but if he can do so, there’s a chance he could be a defensive-minded regular at short with baserunning value.

27. Hunter Brown, RHP (20), SS

The Astros were able to snag Brown, the top D-II pitcher in the class, in round five, a relative value in the eyes of many. Brown throws hard with good mechanics and a great frame, and his breaking ball shows a lot of potential as well. He struck out 114 batters in 85.1 innings as a junior at Wayne State, and with some work could profile as a #4 starter. His command and third pitch are going to need to improve, but there is a lot to like about Brown, who is among the best of the Astros’ strong day two crop.

28. Joe Perez, 3B (19), SS

Perez’ career has been slow to get off the ground due to injury trouble, but he’s healthy and playing third base every day for the ValleyCats now. A two-way prospect out of the Florida prep ranks, the Astros drafted Perez as a third baseman, though reports at the time indicated most teams preferred him as a pitcher. He has prototypical tools for third, with plus arm strength and plus raw power, and has quite a bit of upside if he can demonstrate a professional approach at the plate. In the early going he’s hitting .250/.286/.500 with a homer, five strikeouts and no walks against older competition. If he handles the bat well from here on out, he’ll likely open 2020 as the starting third baseman in Quad Cities.

29. Joshua Rojas, Util (24), AAA

It’s hard to overstate how impressive Rojas’ 2019 has been. The super-skilled utility man has logged time at every position other than pitcher, catcher and center field, and it’s that versatility which will likely get him to the big leagues soon. He bats lefty and throws righty, and has also taken a big step forward with the bat this season, with a .311/.397/.560 slash line across Double and Triple-A, with 11 total homers and 21 steals in 27 attempts. There aren’t any huge tools here, but Rojas has an advanced approach (34 walks, 41 strikeouts in 2019), and great instincts in all phases which helps his tools play up. He has a chance to hang around the big leagues for some time as a utility guy, and could get an opportunity before the end of 2019.

30. Grae Kessinger, SS (21), SS

Kessinger’s massive SEC season likely pushed him up two full rounds in the draft, as he hit .405 in conference play for a strong Ole Miss club. Kessinger isn’t the most explosive player, but has deft hands on the infield and can probably play anywhere on the field capably. His 6’2”, 200 lb. frame has more raw power in it than he showed in college, and he could be a candidate for a swing adjustment to help him tap into it. If that happens, Kessinger stands to rise, as he has already shows a professional approach and contact ability, and he’s a heady, skilled defender.

31. Brett Conine, RHP (22), A+

A 2018 11th-rounder, Conine has been utterly dominant everywhere he has pitched as a pro thus far. Though he pitched as a reliever often at Cal State Fullerton, he’s been deployed as a starter in the minors and has stacked up 119 strikeouts against 21 walks in 92 pro innings across three levels between 2018 and 2019. Though he lacks any overpowering stuff, Conine’s feel for pitching is advanced and he has a chance to make it as a back of the rotation starter. The early returns have been excellent, and the Astros should continue to push him aggressively if his performance holds up. While Conine doesn’t have the raw stuff of the pitchers ahead of him on this list, he has enough to envision a long term future as a #5 starter whose best trait is feel. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him crack Double-A before the end of the year, considering just how well he has performed in the low minors thus far. He is of no relation to former big leaguer Jeff Conine.

32. Jonathan Arauz, IF (20), A+

Arauz has always looked better on film than on paper, but that isn’t surprising given how young he has been relative to competition- still the case as he’s in the Carolina League at age 20. The Panamian should fit up the middle long term, and has potential to hit for high averages with gap power and a handful of homers. He’s hitting just .249/.324/.367 for Fayetteville this year, but has a silky swing, plenty of athleticism, and continues to carry a lot of upside, though there is still plenty of developmental road between him and the big leagues. I tend to think it clicks for Arauz before too long, and he could find himself much higher on lists soon if and when it does. His ceiling is probably that of a second-division second baseman, but he could also be an offensive-minded utility player.

33. Jojanse Torres, RHRP (23), A+

Torres, like Paredes, has a violent delivery that has him ticketed for a relief role. His two best pitches are even of similar quality to Paredes’, as his fastball sits 97-98 and can touch 100, and he also has a biting, upper 80s power slider. However, his repertoire more or less ends there, giving him less depth than Paredes and more likely to fill a single-inning role. He’ll need to dial in his location a bit, but is going to be incredibly difficult to hit with his power 1-2 punch. He has late inning relief potential, perhaps debuting in 2020, but control could limit him.

34. Jayson Schroeder, RHP (19), SS

It’s been rough sailing in pro ball for Schroeder, who currently can’t find the plate in Tri-City. A second rounder a year ago, Schroeder has a lot of starter traits with a great frame, breaking ball and projectability, but has a long way to go to reach his #4 starter potential.

35. Ryan Gusto, RHP (20), Rk.

A day three selection who received fourth-round money out of the JUCO ranks, Gusto is an intriguing arm speed prospect who can run his fastball into the upper 90s and has an improving breaking ball. He’s fairly raw at this point but has a lot to work with, and is an intriguing developmental arm from the 2019 class. He was a big statistical performer this season and has #4 starter bones- he’s similar in profile to Hunter Brown.

36. Angel Macuare, RHP (19), SS

Macuare pulled a big bonus out of Venezuela in 2016 as an advanced starting pitching prospect with some projectability. Macuare works in the low 90s and doesn’t have any standout offerings at present per reports, but can probably be expected to add some velocity down the road. His deep repertoire and feel give him potential to be a long term starter, but barring a profile change it’s a back of the rotation role with a lot of development still to go.

37. Parker Mushinski, RHP (23), A+

An unfortunate injury derailed an outstanding start to the year for Mushinski, who had a 2.64 ERA and 43 strikeouts against 8 walks for the Woodpeckers before being shelved. The Texas Tech product has a couple strong fastballs and an improving breaker, and has handled his return to starting as a pro very well thus far. If he can get healthy, he’s a candidate for a late season promotion, and could perhaps profile as a back of the rotation starter or multi-inning relief weapon, a role in which he pitched at Texas Tech. I’m a fan of Mushinski’s feel for the fastball and think it will serve him well up the ladder.

38. Willy Collado, RHRP (21), AA

A pure relief arm like Torres, Collado has deception and can spin a great breaker, and has had largely excellent results as a pro. He’s already earned two promotions this year and is all the way up to Double-A. He has setup man potential and isn’t far from reaching it, making him one of my favorite pure relief arms in the system at present.

39. Valente Bellozo, RHP (19), SS

A Mexican starting pitcher who stands just 5’10”, Bellozo has been highly impressive since his signing, including a long scoreless streak in the DSL last year and two great starts thus far in Tri-City. He’s a relative unknown but has shown swing and miss stuff and is being pushed aggressively by the club. He doesn’t throw with as much effort as many shorter pitchers, and has a high release point. He’s a younger prospect I’m watching closely as he gets established stateside.

40. Matthew Barefoot, OF (21), SS

Barefoot has a truly strange hitting style but has made it work to great effect in the college game. There’s above-average raw power in his frame and he’s shown a knack for hard contact as an amateur, but whether or not his strange setup will translate to the pro game remains to be seen. Assuming it’s not a hindrance, Barefoot carries some intriguing offensive potential at a corner outfield spot.