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Farm Check-In: The State of the Outfield

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A look at a position of need in the organization in the wake of the COVID-shortened 2020 season

Detroit Tigers v Houston Astros Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

A topic of much discussion in Astros circles right now is the future of the club’s outfield. While the ascent of Kyle Tucker is a hugely positive development for the team, both players who he shared duties with in 2020 are set to hit free agency in George Springer and Michael Brantley. The early buzz on Springer has not been positive for the Astros, and while they may have a better shot at retaining Uncle Mike, the chances of both staying in Houston appear to be virtually non-existent, so they’ll need to find someone to fill the at bats somewhere.

As far as internal options go, the Astros aren’t in bad shape. Myles Straw is still firmly under team control, and while he doesn’t offer any power he can slap the ball around and play an outstanding center field, and could likely be a 1-2 win player on a full time basis. Another potential option would be Chas McCormick, who was included on the club’s playoff rosters, and is a defensive standout as well. McCormick has the range and arm to cover all three outfield spots and would figure to get most of his playing time in center as a big leaguer. He’s risen out of small school college ball and developed quite a bit as a hitter in the Astros organization- originally a somewhat free swinger who made tons of contact, he’s been able to maintain those contact rates while drawing more walks and showing a bit more pop as he moved up the ladder. Offensively, he projects to hit towards the bottom of a big league lineup, but he can provide solid value with his glove and wheels.

While there are other outfielders who have some buzz in the system, they’re a bit further from contributing and won’t factor into the mix in 2020. The two most notable names both entered the organization in the 2019 draft- Jordan Brewer, from the University of Michigan, and Colin Barber, an Oregon prep pick. Like Straw and McCormick, they share some similarities in their profiles. Both bring dynamic combinations of power and speed, particularly Brewer, who was a football standout before transferring to the diamond full time. They took somewhat divergent paths in their pro debuts, as Brewer struggled at the dish, making a lot of very weak contact and hitting for an exceedingly low average despite a relatively low strikeout rate. Barber, on the other hand. hit very well for most of his debut in rookie ball, showing patience and power to go with his bankable speed. While Barber is already one of the most exciting position players on the farm, he’ll be on a typical prep timeline and will probably take roughly 3 years to push for a big league call-up if development goes according to plan. Brewer is theoretically closer to the bigs, but needs some pretty significant tweaks to his swing to adapt to pro pitching, and it’s hard to envision a debut before 2022 at the very earliest.

Past these names, there’s one more player to keep in mind while plotting the future of the outfield, one who technically isn’t in the organization yet officially - Pedro Leon. His signing was announced some time ago now, but with COVID-19 pushing the start of the international signing period back to January, Leon and his fellow international free agents are stuck in limbo until that time. Regardless, Leon is expected to sign right away once able, and he could force his way into the mix pretty quickly once stateside. Coming from professional play in Cuba, Leon is much more developed than a typical 16-year old IFA. A standout for his massive power and arm strength, Leon is a bit enigmatic in the sense that most American scouts haven’t seen him play yet, but he electrified Cuban audiences the last time he saw live action, clocking 15 home runs in 33 games during the 2018-2019 season. Though he stands just 5’9”, his power is easily plus, and he fits a classic right field profile. While he’s already a fairly developed player, he’s been away from organized play for almost two years now and will need to reacclimate once in affiliated ball, making him a longshot for 2020 impact, though 2021 might not be outside the realm of possibility.

Straw and McCormick deserve opportunities to establish themselves at the big league level, but it’s likely that the team sees them as better fits for a fourth outfielder role, and will likely pit the two against each other during Spring Training to compete for such a position on the big league club. With further reinforcements further away from major league impact, it’s certainly shaping up to be an eventful offseason for the Astros as far as outfield transactions are concerned.