Now that 2020 is here, it is time to start looking at the top three prospects at each position as we lead up to the Astros top 30 prospect list. Helping me with these lists is Spencer Morris (@prospect_spencer). This week we will look at the pitching prospects. We will do a top five rather than three for this position.
1. Forrest Whitley (AAA)
At this point, everyone knows who Forrest Whitley is. He has been the Astros top pitching prospects for the last few years. After a dominant 2017 which saw him strike out 143 over 92.1 innings while reaching AA at just 19 years old, he has struggled a bit to recapture that magic. A suspension and a few nagging injuries has held him back. Fortunately, his stuff is still there. Whitley possesses a fastball than has nice life and gets up to 98 MPH which he pairs with a devastating changeup. He also has a very good curveball and above average slider. The physical tools are there and he if cleans up his control a bit, he should be in Houston this summer.
2019 Stats: 18 G, 7.99 ERA, 59.2 IP, 59 H, 44 BB, 86 K, 13.0 K/9
2. Jose Urquidy (MLB)
One of the best stories in the Astros organization in 2019, Urquidy made a quantum leap as a pitcher, eventually earning a big league call-up. He’s been best known for his changeup for most of his career, but began throwing much harder last season and paired it with command improvements. He throws both a curveball and slider, the latter being the stronger pitch, which are more average but play up thanks to his location. Urquidy knows how to use his arsenal and projects to be part of the opening day rotation, where he can stick as a #4 starter for some time.
2019 Stats: 20 G, 4.46 ERA, 103.0 IP, 95 H, 21 BB, 134 K, 11.7 K/9, 6.3 K/BB (minors)
3. Cristian Javier (AAA)
Javier has been in the Astros system since 2015, and each year he has posted phenomenal numbers. In 2019 he struck out 170 in just 113.2 innings, while making it up to AAA. His fastball is in the low 90s but has an extremely high spin rate. He also possesses plus pitchability. To go along with his fastball he has a solid curveball and slider. He needs to work on his control (4.7 BB/9) last year but he has continued to strike guys out at a high rate. If he continues to pitch well in 2020, he should see some time in Houston this summer.
2019 Stats: 26 G, 1.74 ERA, 113.2 IP, 51 H, 59 BB, 170 K, 13.5 K/9
4. Bryan Abreu (MLB)
An elite spinner of the baseball, Abreu is highly athletic on the mound and has racked up strikeouts in bunches as a professional. His lean 6’1” frame produces mid-90s velocity with relative ease, but Abreu has difficulty repeating his mechanics and has never been a great strike thrower. His breaking stuff is nothing short of outstanding, as he shows an ability to tweak the spin and shape to suit his needs, and he routinely sits around 95 MPH with his fastball. If the Astros are able to rein him in a little bit and coax out a few more strikes, Abreu has the stuff to be a #3 starter in the big leagues. The more likely outcome for now is that he’s a late inning relief weapon capable of throwing multiple innings.
2019 Stats: 23 G, 4.83 ERA, 91.1 IP, 69 H, 54 BB, 126 K, 12.4 K/9
**Spencer and I had different opinions (which can be a good thing) on the #5 pitching prospect so we are going to list both of our opinions.**
5. Brandon Bielak (AAA) - (Jimmy)
Bielak is a high floor prospect who was drafted boy the Astros in the 11th round of the 2017 draft. He has a good build and should be able to sustain a large workload. Bielak has a low to mid 90s fastball that has excellent spin rate. He has a nice changeup and a curveball that has a chance to be a really good pitch. He finished the season posting a 3.04 ERA in his last 12 starts, and that included a 9 run in 4 inning outing. Take that out and his ERA drops to 2.05 in those other 11 starts, and this came in the hitter’s paradise that is the PCL. Like with Whitley and Javier, if he continues to perform well, he should get a shot in Houston soon.
2019 Stats: 23 G, 4.22 ERA, 121.1 IP, 98, 50 BB, 119 K, 8.8 K/9
5. Jairo Solis (A) - (Spencer)
Unfortunately stuck on the shelf for about 18 months now, Solis was charging up lists back in 2018 as an 18 year old dominating the Midwest League. A 6’2” righty with projection remaining, Solis sat around 92-94 when he last pitched and backed it up with a plus curveball and promising changeup that flashed above average. While not an elite strike thrower yet, Solis shows the ingredients for starter’s command and has a #3 starter ceiling if his stuff comes back the same after Tommy John surgery.
2019 Stats: Did not pitch
There are obviously a ton of notables to talk about, but we figured we could save it for when we do the Astros top 30 prospects!