The Astros farm system is known for its depth moreso than its top-end potential these days, and as a result some of the club’s lower-level prospects can get overshadowed in the discussion. This issue was compounded by the lack of a 2020 MiLB season, as such players got very little experience, and what they did receive was closed off from the public. As a result, we could see more movement on rankings than is typical in 2021, as well as potentially more new names than in years past. Here’s an attempt at identifying a few players outside the major organizational ranks who have the talent to improve their stock this season:
Ryan Gusto, RHP (21) - An overslot get in the 11th round of the 2019 draft, Gusto was a fast riser in his draft year who most expected to take another year in the college ranks. A projectable 6’4”, Gusto shows a lot of arm speed and already sits in the low-90s with ride and run, with room for more down the line. He also does a good job of getting downhill, adding some extension to his stuff. While last we saw him his offspeed stuff was a bit raw, he has shown feel for spin and an ability to throw a changeup with arm speed, so his arsenal can be expected to track positively. There should be room for him on the Asheville staff to start 2021, where he could begin to make a name for himself at the pro level.
Rainier Rivas, 1B (19) - Somehow still a teenager, Rivas was acquired in the Max Stassi trade and, despite his age, is phyiscally maxed out at 6’3”, 220 lbs. He’s manned the outfield a bit but given the body type, he’s projected to move to first base long term. Being a teenage first baseman is limiting, but Rivas may have the bat to make a name for himself there as well, already sporting low-90s average exit velocities. He hasn’t shown a ton of home run power yet in games, but has solid strikeout to walk ratios and enough juice in his bat to make noise if he can drive the ball in the air with a bit more frequency. Like Martinez, he benefits from a lack of low-minors competition at his defensive position, and could well open the season as Asheville’s starting first baseman.
Kenedy Corona, OF (20) - Acquired in the Jake Marisnick deal with the Mets, Corona is yet to play in an organized game with the Astros organization. He popped onto the radar late, making his pro debut in 2019, and apparently impressed enough for the Astros to take interest. A bit undersized at 5’10”, Corona’s best traits are his speed and bat to ball skills. He struck out in just 13.8% of his plate appearances in the 2019 GCL as an 18 year old, and totaled 19 steals in 24 attempts across two levels of play. Despite his size he also has some punch in his bat, having slugged 5 homers in 42 GCL contests as well. He may be a bit of a tweener, but Corona has more than enough talent to become a ranked prospect in the future given his ability to impact the game in a number of ways, and there should be playing time for him in Asheville relatively early in the season.
Yohander Martinez, 3B (19) - Martinez was something of a story during the second half of 2019, during which he dominated the DSL to the tune of a .313/.439/.383 batting line and walked 40 times against 27 strikeouts. Those numbers are massive, but DSL stats have zero correlation to long term success and Martinez was old for the league, so expectations were kept tempered, and largely remain so. While it’s important not to overrate him based on those numbers alone, there were also some positive reports about his arm, swing and feel for hitting which are cause for long-term optimism, which will make him an intriguing follow when he transitions to full season ball. He has very little competition in terms of pure third basemen in the system, so there’s a good chance he gets some action early on if he’s been performing in the interim.
Alex McKenna, OF (23) - A bit different from other players on this list, McKenna may have been indirectly aided by the 2020 shutdown. A rather toolsy college prospect, McKenna sports above average power and speed but had a lot of trouble staying on the field early in his professional career, facing a number of injuries throughout 2018 and 2019. The lack of continuity held McKenna back offensively, and he’s largely been forgotten as a result, but there were flashes of potential even in the midst of those difficult campaigns. If fully healthy, McKenna still carries big league upside, even if it’s most likely in a bench outfielder role, and could act as a bottom of the order sparkplug type. Perhaps the long layoff allowed him an opportunity to get his body back into top shape?
Heitor Tokar, SP (20) - Built like a tree at 6’6”, 250, Tokar made a lot of noise across 2018 and 2019 with his performance in the GCL and DSL. He has been a bit uneven at times, but shows impressive finesse for a hurler his size and can be expected to add some velocity even though he’s already massive. While video and reports are still scant and the usual caveats about rookie ball numbers apply here, the Brazilian righty has consistently limited both walks and home runs, as well as runs in general, and could have significant untapped potential as he continues to learn how to use his body to his advantage. The hype for Tokar is still mostly internal at this point, but if he can successfully make the jump to full season ball while maintaining his positive markers, that will change in a hurry.
Yimmi Cortabarria, RF (20) - A member of the Astros’ 2017 international class hailing from Venezuela, Cortabarria was able to create a bit of momentum for himself in 2019 that was unfortunately dashed by the 2020 season cancellation. A very projectable 6’2”, Cortabarria already sports impressive power with some ability to get to it in games, and should have much more on the way. His swing is power oriented with a bit of length, but has very little wasted motion and he shows better balance in the batter’s box than most players his age. His last live action came in the GCL in 2019, where he hit .267/.375/.467 against mostly older competition. While he did strike out in 30% of his plate appearances, that was partially due to a passive approach, and there’s plenty of reason to believe he can trim that number down with more seasoning. One factor working against Cortabarria in 2021 is the lack of available outfield reps- the Low-A and High-A rosters are full up with higher rated or older prospects, so Cortabarria will likely have to bide his time a bit before making his full-season debut.