Short season ball serves as the first look at many shiny new toys each year, and in 2019 the Astros have a particularly strong crop of interesting names who could figure into organizational or national rankings down the line. Here’s a look at who I most have my eye on for each of the Astros two short season teams:
GCL Astros (Gulf Coast League)
The Astros lone rookie ball affiliate after the dissolution of their Appy League team, the GCL club features an interesting mix of international prospects making their stateside debuts and 2019 draft picks. Here are quick notes on some of the most interesting names:
Colin Barber, OF - The Astros selected Barber in the fourth round this June and gave him a day one bonus to forgo his commitment to Oregon. Barber has plus foot and bat speed, draws high marks for his makeup, and shows five-tool potential. Of lower level Astros prospects, Barber’s ceiling is among the highest.
Heitor Tokar, RHP - Signed out of Brazil in 2017, Tokar has a huge 6’6” frame and was a strong performer in the DSL last season. He was praised for his athleticism upon signing and should grow into more velo than his current upper-80s to low-90s heat.
Luis Guerrero, OF - Drafted this month out of Miami Dade CC in the eighth round, Guerrero struggled with injuries in 2019 but has played a number of positions in his amateur career and was a top performer in his first JUCO campaign in 2018. He’s a relative unknown at this point but has the athleticism to play infield or outfield and has some speed, as well.
Yorbin Ceuta, 2B - Part of the 2016 signing class that included Freudis Nova, Ceuta is a 6’0” second baseman whose best trait is contact ability. He was praised for advanced hitting skills upon signing. He had a solid DSL campaign two years ago but was rough in the GCL in 2018 and is repeating the level. The Astros liked his bat enough to give him a $1 million bonus three years ago.
Victor Mascai, 1B - A big-bodied slugger, Mascai had fifteen extra-base hits in the DSL last year. Signed out of Brazil, The Astros will hope to see Mascai and his countryman Heitor Tokar rise up the ladder together. Mascai stands 6’2” and is one of the youngest players on the team, with a February 2001 birth date.
Nerio Rodriguez, C - A beefy 6’2”, 205 backstop, Rodriguez’ father played big league ball and he carries the traits you expect from a player with bloodlines- maturity and mechanics. His best physical trait is raw power, and the Astros reportedly liked his chances to stick at catcher when they picked him up in the international market.
Franklin Pinto, OF - Part of the 2017 class, Pinto received one of the Astros $300k bonuses that year, the maximum amount they could hand out after exceeding their pool the previous year. Pinto was seen as an advanced hitter at the time, with a 6’1” frame and some foot speed. He’s making his stateside debut in 2019.
Abraham Castillo, OF - Similar to Pinto, Castillo was part of the 2017 class and was best known for his advanced hitting ability as an amateur. He’s the kind of player who could profile in center or an outfield corner long term depending on how he develops. He had a healthy walk rate in the 2018 DSL, suggesting a relatively mature approach.
Yefri Carrillo, CF - Like Barber, Carrillo shows a dynamic power/speed combination, but is very raw as a hitter to this point. He has significant upside if things start to come together for him in the contact department, and he’s one of the younger players on the roster, having been born in January of 2001.
Jairo Lopez, RHP - Lopez shares several traits with many recent pitcher signings in the international market, as he’s under 6-feet tall but has a starter’s mentality and look on the mound, with an advanced curveball and pitchability. He was signed out of Venezuela in 2016, and was very strong in DSL play in 2018, striking out 41 batters while walking 15 in 43.1 innings with a 3.32 ERA. There’s a possibility this is the next Jairo Solis or Manny Ramirez for the Astros, but there’s not a ton to go on just yet.
Adonis Giron, OF - Giron was signed by the Marlins in 2017 but was acquired for cash considerations later on. He received a $350k bonus from Miami, meaning Jeff Luhnow effectively maneuvered around the Astros’ restrictions in the market to acquire him. Giron has some power and speed and has hit well to this point in his career. He’s only 5’10” but shows plenty of juice and a strong approach.
Brayan De Paula, LHP - The other half of the deal with Miami, De Paula is unusually old for an international prospect at age 20, but was nails in the DSL last season and could get a quick promotion to Tri-City if he comes out strong in GCL play.
Yimmi Contabarria, OF - While the other outfielders listed above have balanced profiles with potential across the board, Contabarria is a pure power prospect with a right field profile. Like Carrillo, he was born in January of 2001 and is making his stateside debut this year. Thus far he’s struggled to make contact, as he struck out 73 times in 181 plate appearances in the DSL, but if he starts to get the bat on the ball more he’ll become a very intriguing prospect in a hurry.
Overall, this GCL team is highly talented, and will likely produce multiple future ranked prospects down the line, but we are working with limited information on nearly all of these players. GCL reports will be the first significant post-signing data point for many.
Tri-City ValleyCats (New-York Penn League)
Manny Ramirez, RHP - The prototype Astros international pitching signing in recent years, Ramirez is 5’11” with a starter’s delivery, velocity, and breaking ball. His curveball looks like an out pitch in its early stages, and he can work in the mid-90s as a starter. Ramirez shows potential to be at least a #3 starter if he keeps on his current path.
Hunter Brown, RHP - The Astros selected Brown in round five of the 2019 draft out of Wayne State, where he was the best statistical pitcher in D-II baseball. Brown has a good frame at 6’2”, 205 lbs., sits comfortably in the low-90s touching higher with good life, and has a strong slider that racks up swinging strikes. He has all the makings of a future #4 starter with some strikeout stuff if he develops as hoped.
Jayson Schroeder, RHP - The Astros’ second rounder a year ago, Schroeder is a projectable starter who showed feel for a curveball with above-average potential and had been into the mid-90s at times as an amateur. Thus far as a pro Schroeder has really struggled with control, and he still needs a lot of work, but at just 19 years old he’s being pushed aggressively and has plenty of time to iron out the kinks.
Korey Lee, C - The most recent first round pick of the club, Lee has big league defensive ability and offensive potential. With average power potential and an effective swing, Lee could be a 6 or 7 hole type hitter and regular backstop down the line if his bat makes the necessary strides.
Deury Carrasco, SS - Carrasco has been pushed harder than most players signed at the same time, as he was part of the 2016 international class. With hands that forecast above-average hitting potential and plus speed to go with the athleticism to play up the middle, it’s easy to see why. Carrasco is one of the more under-the-radar potential regulars in the system- it may not be his time to break out just yet, but I think it is coming.
Wilyer Abreu, OF - Like Carrasco, Abreu is being pushed very aggressively. He was a bit older for his IFA class in 2017 as he is already 20, and split time between the GCL and DSL in his first pro season. He’s a well rounded outfielder who showed well with the bat as an amateur, and is best known for his contact skills.
Luis Santana, 2B - Santana immediately became one of my favorite Astros prospects after being acquired in the J.D. Davis trade, and he has been in both my preseason and midseason top 10s. He has the athleticism to stick at second base and I think his hit tool is plus down the line, giving him the potential of a first-division regular up the middle. At just 19 years old, Santana is the youngest position player on the roster.
Grae Kessinger, SS - The second round selection in the 2019 class, Kessinger has deep big league bloodlines and very strong fundamentals on the infield dirt. He’s not highly explosive, but does have raw power and really hit against strong college competition. Many have speculated that Kessinger may be a candidate for a swing adjustment to tap into more of the pop in his frame than he has thus far, and he should stick somewhere on the infield.
Joe Perez, 3B - Another past second rounder, Perez was preferred as a pitcher by many teams in his draft year but now works as a slugging third baseman. Perez has plus raw power and arm strength, giving him a prototypical skillset for the hot corner. We haven’t yet had extended looks at Perez as he’s dealt with injury, so he has a chance to revitalize his stock with strong performance this season.
Matthew Barefoot, OF - Part of the 2019 day two class, Barefoot absolutely shredded college competition at Campbell, hitting for both average and power. Barefoot has one of the strangest hitting styles in pro baseball, but has at least average raw power and the Astros will hope that his approach translates to frequent hard contact as it did in amateur ball.
Valente Bellozo, RHP - Another sub-6 foot hurler with velocity, a starter’s mentality and mound presence. Bellozo is the type of pitcher that the Astros have had great success with recently, and his early results have been outstanding. With continued success, he’s likely to start garnering a bit more attention soon.
Angel Macuare, RHP - Given a $700k bonus out of Venezuela, Macuare brings a uniquely deep arsenal and advanced pitchability for a hurler of his age. The only player on the roster born in the 21st century, Macuare doesn’t have a standout secondary and works in the low-90s now, but could see his projection jump rapidly if he adds velocity or sees one of his offspeed offerings improve.
C.J. Stubbs, C - Garrett’s brother was recruited to USC as a pitcher but moved to catching after Tommy John surgery, and has responded very well to the change. The younger Stubbs is already 22, but had a strong offensive year for USC in 2019, and homered in his first two professional games. Though he plays the same position as his brother, C.J. is much bigger than Garrett at 6’3”, and also has more power in his game, though he doesn’t have the catching experience or chops that Garrett did at the same stage.
Peyton Battenfield, RHP - We’ve discussed one Astros pitching prospect archetype at length in this piece (sub-6 foot international hurlers with pitchability and feel to spin), and Battenfield falls into another bin that we’ve seen the team work heavily in recent years- the college reliever turned pro starter. They’ve had success with players like Brett Conine and Parker Mushinski following similar paths, and Battenfield looks like a strong candidate to be handled similarly with good mechanics and an impressive changeup.