Having been stripped of their top draft picks in 2020 and 2021, the Astros best opportunities to add talent to the farm system in the short term will be in the international and trade markets. Earlier this month, they made their first big strike internationally, reportedly agreeing on a deal with 22 year old Cuban outfielder Pedro Leon that will pay him a signing bonus of over $4 million. This is the largest international bonus that the Astros have handed out in some time, and exhausts the lion share of their spending pool.
Information and video on Leon are limited at this point, but what is available sounds very promising. Despite his young age for a pro, Leon has been a standout performer against Cuba’s highest level of competition, and evaluators have praised his loud tools on both sides of the ball. He is part of a strong group of young Cuban stars expected to ink deals during the 2020 international signing period, joining infinitely projectable shortstop Yiddi Cappe, projected to sign for $3-4 million with Miami, athletic hurler Norge Vera, who will receive $1.5 million from the White Sox, and potentially Yoelkis Cespedes, the younger brother of Yoenis who shows a similar athletic profile and is, to this point, uncommitted.
Leon is probably the most advanced of this group, with limited projection remaining in his 5’9” frame, but he displays explosive tools already and has a track record of success against professional competition in Cuba. Despite his compact build, Leon is a very strong individual. His arm strength is prodigious, with Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs giving it an 80 grade, and his power and speed both grade out somewhere between above average and plus depending on who you ask. His performance in Cuba, which he left in 2018, was nothing short of elite (note that these numbers came in just 33 games):
Sources: The Astros are the favorites to sign young cuban outfielder Pedro Leon (21) in next International Signing Period (July 2). León posted offensive line of .371/.455/.765, 36 RBI, 7 SB, 15 HR (record in 1st phase of the Cuban League) in 2018. Left Cuba last October. pic.twitter.com/x6sLA241WA— Francys Romero (@FrancysRomero10) February 6, 2020
The combination of loud tools and eye-popping performance against older competition makes it easy to see why Leon is considered one of the most coveted prospects available on the international market this year. The only question mark on Leon to this point is his hit tool, which is always more difficult to project, particularly when it comes to players who haven’t been seen by scouts very often. The longest chunk of video of Leon available to date is the one found below, a 70 second clip of him taking live BP:
OF Pedro Leon (21) Live BP Today. pic.twitter.com/jdUc90Km4y— Francys Romero (@FrancysRomero10) February 6, 2020
He shows a torque-heavy swing that is nonetheless very balanced through contact, with a good barrel path. It’s tough to draw too many conclusions from this much “data,” but I don’t have major concerns about his swing, and it’s already producing serious power in game action. FanGraphs is the only outlet to put out scouting grades on Leon, giving him a 40+ FV, and while that is a very strong grade for a player who is yet to see stateside action and hasn’t played organized ball since 2018, I feel it’s probably a bit conservative and would slap a 45 on him were I trying to do a report right now.
With explosive tools that will benefit him both at the plate and in the outfield, it’s not hard to envision an impact player emerging here. In an Astros system that is starved for offensive talent, Leon would have an argument as a top 5 organizational prospect right now, in the same range as Freudis Nova, with the potential to vault into the top slot pretty quickly if he hits the ground running. As long as he hits enough for his power to play and has a workable approach (and what we know about him to this point suggests that he does), I expect Leon to quickly earn top 100 rankings, as he shows four impressive tools at minimum.
Even as someone who is typically cautious on such players, I’m having difficulty containing my excitement about Leon, and will be watching intently when he (hopefully) makes his affiliated debut at some point late in the 2020 season. At 22 with a developed athletic skillset, he could rise quickly through the rankings both organizationally and nationally, and, in the Astros’ current position on the amateur market, looks like a very worthy investment.