For the last several years, the Astros have steadily maintained one of the better farm systems in baseball, but after cashing in the majority of their chips for playoff pushes between 2017 and 2019, the cupboard is starting to look bare. While they still have enviable pitching depth, on the whole the Houston farm is among the weakest in the league. As of right now, only Forrest Whitley is viewed as a consensus Top 100 prospect, typically ranking in the back end of the top 25, with Jose Urquidy receiving some honorable mention love and Jeremy Pena getting a nod at 100 from Baseball Prospectus while being left off of the other major lists.
Even though the Astros are without high draft picks the next two years, they have a pretty good chance of placing a new face or two on forthcoming leaguewide prospect rankings. Here’s a look at the names I feel are most likely to break through that barrier before exhausting their prospect status, in order of probability. Jose Urquidy and Cristian Javier were not placed, as I think they will exhaust eligibility before cracking lists.
Jairo Solis, RHP (20) - Were it not for a Tommy John surgery with some of the worst timing possible, I think Solis would likely be a back end top 100 name right now. The 6’2” righty was cruising through Midwest League lineups at age 18 two years ago, showing a plus fastball/curveball combination with an impressive changeup to boot, striking out more than a batter per inning, when his elbow popped down the stretch, costing him the remainder of the 2018 season and all of 2019. Solis has now had plenty of time to recover and should be a full go to start 2020, and could be started at either Single-A level. Of pitchers in the Astros organization who look like good bets to start, Solis’s stuff is rivaled only by Forrest Whitley and Manny Ramirez. If he can demonstrate health and some improved strike throwing, it won’t be long until he sees a spike in stock.
Jeremy Pena, SS (22) - I’ve documented Pena’s progress pretty extensively here at Crawfish Boxes, and there have been plenty of positives to report. Over the last two years, Pena has transformed his body, adding something like 30 pounds of muscle, and as a result has hit the ball with much greater authority than he did in college. A very advanced defensive shortstop, Pena won’t need to hit the cover off the ball to get himself in the lineup, but it appears he’s going to try to. Pena’s gains resulted in more extra-base power in 2019, and if his continued training results in some over the fence pop, there will be few skeptics of his bat remaining.
Freudis Nova, IF (20) - Nova’s tools have been held in high regard for a long time, and they translated to the diamond okay in his full season debut in 2019. He missed a couple of stretches with injury trouble, but largely performed well against older competition with the bat, socking 20 doubles with a reasonable 22.7% K rate. His power is tracking well and he handles pitches in the zone pretty well for his age, but his approach is going to need work for him to approach his ceiling. If he shows strides in that department in 2020, he could be in the top 100 mix as soon as this year, but if he continues his free swinging ways without an uptick in contact rate, evaluators will continue to be cautious. At a young 20 years old, there’s plenty of time for Nova to figure things out, and he has the potential to hit in the middle of an order while staying on the infield dirt at shortstop or third base, with a move to the outfield also possible.
Hunter Brown, RHP (21) - It’s pretty easy to envision Brown ending up as a reliever, as his repertoire is pretty narrow, but it’s impossible to overlook consistent velocity of this variety. While not the easiest delivery in the world, Brown isn’t violent and pumps heat in the mid-90s with regularity. His slider is a capable go-to secondary and there’s a nascent changeup, but Brown is the type of hurler who’s always going to work off of his fastball, which can touch 97. He’s not the best strike thrower in the world, and he’s yet to face competition that really stands a chance against his heater since he came from a D-II college, but Brown’s upside stands out ahead of the bevy of hurlers in the system who fall in behind Whitley, Urquidy and Solis. Quality strike throwing in 2020 is all he needs to make a significant jump, as probability is more of a concern than upside here.
Colin Barber, CF (19) - I’m choosing to place one bat from the 2019 class on this list, and it’s Barber. Korey Lee and Jordan Brewer have claims, but Lee needs to hit most of his ceiling to be a top 100 name in all likelihood, and I think Barber has a much better chance to hit than Brewer in the long term. Barber’s tools are impressive, and in my eyes, underrated. His speed is his best trait, but he’s athletic in many ways and shows a swing that is pretty explosive, if a bit stiff. I’m bullish on Barber’s offensive ceiling, and while I expect plenty of growing pains in 2020, in 2021 and beyond I think he’ll emerge as one of the better position prospects in the organization. He’s pretty broadly built at 6’0”, and while there isn’t a lot of projection remaining, I see average power here, with the potential for an average bat as well, with plus speed and quality center field defense. That’s a very nice prospect, and while he’s not likely to be the next top 100 guy for the Astros, I think he’s got a reasonable shot to get there some day.
Enoli Paredes, RHRP (24) - Paredes has the best raw stuff in the Astros system other than Whitley, and is tracking as a back end reliever. I believe Paredes can be a dominant, if volatile, fireman type, but pure relievers simply don’t get top 100 consideration often. That said, Paredes is the type that could.
Korey Lee, C (21) - Lee doesn’t really have a carrying tool but his hit, power, defense and arm could all end up in the vicinity of major league average, which would translate to a primary catcher role. The short track record demands some caution, and without more explosive tools Lee will likely have to wait until he’s in the upper minors to gain top 100 consideration.
Tyler Ivey, RHP (23) - When Ivey is healthy, he’s a very impressive arm. There’s a wide arsenal here, anchored by his plus 12-6 curveball. Ivey has been pretty dominant when healthy since being drafted, but unfortunately he lost much of 2019 to suspension and injury. His delivery has some funk, and there’s concern he may not be able to hold up as a starter. If he can allay those fears, there’s enough stuff for him to be a back end top 100 name before graduation, but many view him as a reliever for now, and it’s a reasonable position.
Manny Ramirez, RHP (20) - At his best, Ramirez shows similar ingredients to Jairo Solis, with mid 90s heat, a curve that flashes plus and evidence of a changeup with potential. However, he had a disastrous 2019 from a control perspective, putting his mid-rotation ceiling in doubt. The potential is there for Ramirez to rise in a hurry, but the downside risk is just as significant.