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Early Season Observations from the Farm

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Quick hits on how some Astros farmhands are performing out of the gates.

Syndication: Asheville Citizen-Times Maya Carter/Asheville Citizen Times via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Fayetteville Woodpeckers (Low-A)

Shay Whitcomb - Whitcomb came out of the gates red-hot with the bat including an early four hit game, but has an alarming K/BB ratio at present. This is at odds with his amateur track record and should normalize, but is worth monitoring

Nerio Rodriguez - The big catcher leads qualified Woodpeckers in wRC+, and has an absurd 31.7% BB rate in the early going. The passivity doesn’t seem to be holding him back at the plate at all either, as he’s hitting .327 with some pop as well. He’s an under the radar guy but likely won’t remain that way if he can maintain something resembling this pace.

Matthew Barefoot - Generally I wouldn’t pay much attention to a 23 year old with average power striking out 27.1% of the time in Low-A, but Barefoot has piqued my interest with his completely new setup at the plate. He employed an absolutely bizarre pre-swing routine in his college days which he has quieted down, and the early results are pretty good, with a .317/.659 slash and 3 homers on the year. It will be interesting to see how the swing changes perform over a larger sample.

Joe Perez - Perez has huge power and difficulties staying on the field, but so far so good in 2021. At 21 years old, Perez is playing at an age appropriate level, and his current K rate of 17.6% is a full 10% lower than his 2019 short season mark. He’s homerless on the year, but if he can maintain this kind of contact rate and the power comes back on, he could pick up some significant stock rather quickly.

Zach Daniels - Daniels is scuffling at the plate with a 4.9% walk rate and 39% K rate, but has hit the ball pretty hard when he does connect with a pair of homers and .184 ISO, adding up to a 115 wRC+. He’ll need to improve the contact figures substantially, but he’s making a pretty large jump and is likely working on adjustments so it’s not time to sound any alarms yet.

Misael Tamarez - The 21 year old entered the season with some hype from the alternate site, but has not had his command whatsoever in the early going, with twice as many walks as strikeouts and 3 homers allowed. His trademark changeup has looked impressive, but we’ll have to hope he can reverse the backslide with his location.

Angel Macuare - Underrated by many entering the year, Macuare has a very impressive 12 strikeouts in 7 and 23 innings through two outings, with just one earned run allowed. The big righty has great feel and a starter look, and keeps trending in that direction.

Jaime Melendez - A relative unknown, Melendez is a 5’8” lefty hurler who is currently the youngest pitcher on the staff, but on a per-inning basis he’s also been the best thus far. Through two outings (7 innings), Melendez has allowed just one hit and no walks while striking out 13. Clearly his plan of attack is working right now, and despite the shorter stature, he definitely bears monitoring as we get more information about him.

Jonathan Sprinkle - One of a handful of 2021 UDFAs pulling innings in the system currently, Sprinkle has recorded 11 of his 12 outs thus far by way of strikeout. A 6’6” behemoth, Sprinkle was dominant college performer who is being employed in short relief thus far and could earn a quick promotion or two.

Asheville Tourists (High-A)

Luis Santana - Santana entered 2019 with hype but scuffled, making lots of incidental contact. This year, he’s lifting the ball much more, but at the expense of his contact rates in the early going. How both of these trends progress will determine a lot about Santana’s future.

Colin Barber - The youngest hitter on the team at age 20, Barber has a .126 wRC+ early on and has hit for some power, but currently holds a 44.4% K rate. He skipped Low-A entirely so some growing pains are to be expected, and his 14.8% BB rate suggests it may be a passivity issue.

Korey Lee - With just a .395 slugging percentage in the early going, Lee’s bat hasn’t been very impactful yet. At 22, Lee should be able to handle the pitching at this level over a larger sample, so it’ll be concerning if he doesn’t heat up over the coming weeks, though I’d expect that he does.

Alex McKenna - The good news is that McKenna is finally healthy, and hitting the ball pretty hard early in the season. The other side of the coin is that he’s already 23 and is striking out at a 35% clip, but circumstances allow for some patience here. He still has the speed to handle multiple outfield positions and some in-game pop, giving him fourth outfielder potential.

Jimmy Endersby - An undrafted free agent signing in 2020, Endersby has confounded High-A hitters thus far with his old school curveball. He’s a slightly built righty who doesn’t throw a ton of gas, but he’s able to generate a lot of swings and misses with the aforementioned breaker and his sequencing ability. He’s an intriguing back end starter prospect who could move quickly.

R.J. Freure - A sixth rounder by the Luhnow front office in 2018, Freure has been absolutely dominant out of the pen since turning pro, and has continued that trend into 2021. Through 7.1 innings (3 appearances) thus far, he has struck out 12 with just 2 walks, both improvements over his career rates. His age and command more or less lock him into a bullpen future, but he’s showing very real potential in that role with a power fastball/breaking ball combo.

Corpus Christi Hooks (Double-A)

Pedro Leon - Seemingly gaining comfort as he goes on, Leon struck out 11 times in his first 4 games, and a more reasonable 6 in his last 6 contests. The overall numbers still look ugly, but Leon is being pushed as aggressively as any prospect in the system, and the adjustment from international play can be one of the toughest in baseball. He hit a long home run for his first stateside and should continue to settle in. Don’t worry about him.

Scott Manea - One of several 25 year old position players on Corpus at present, Manea is probably the best of the bunch as a prospect. A 5’11”, tough as nails catcher, Manea is best known for his polished defense, but is also handling the bat well enough to provide some value there as well. He’s hitting just .227, but has 3 extra base hits and a 12.0% walk rate against just 16.7% strikeouts, and is trending towards a backup catcher role for somebody in MLB.

Hunter Brown - Entering the season with massive hype, Brown got knocked around a bit in his season debut but showed the crisp breaking stuff and firm fastball we are accustomed to. He’s another player being pushed very aggressively, and may need a little time to get his legs underneath him in the high minors. He’s still the Astros #1 pitching prospect with a bullet.

Hunter Peck - Here’s a real under the radar name for you. Another undrafted free agent, Peck came to the Astros by way of NAIA powerhouse Georgia Gwinnett, and is making his professional debut in Double-A- yep! The 24 year old has made two appearances totaling 4.0 IP, and has struck out 9 while allowing just 1 hit and 2 walks. Color me intrigued. He appears to have a strong changeup.

Sugar Land Skeeters (Triple-A)

Jose Siri - The big centerfielder has come out of the gates in trademark fashion, mashing his way to a 210 wRC+ despite a 4.9% walk rate and 29.3% K rate. He’s a volatile, free swinging player and that’s not going to change at this point, but he’s angling for a bench role if nothing else with his play in the early going.

Ronnie Dawson - Is Ronnie figuring something out? The 26 year old has long struggled with his contact rate but has only struck out in 9.1% of his plate appearances in 2021. A terrific defender with serious power, Dawson could be a real threat to the center field job in Houston if he can maintain his offensive performance.

Taylor Jones - I continue to view Jones’ bat as the best long term bet on the Sugar Land roster, and he’s currently batting .429/.556/.750 through 36 plate appearances. He has a lot of late bloomer markers and never struck out an exorbitant amount, so despite the advanced age he still has an outside shot to end up an offensive performer at the highest level if the power keeps coming around.

Lorenzo Quintana - He’s 32 years old, but Quintana is an interesting bat who could be an emergency option at catcher. His hit tool is the best piece of his profile and he’s hitting .389 in the early going with 8 strikeouts in 36 PAs.

Jojanse Torres - He’s coming off a dominant outing, but nonetheless Torres currently sports identical (very high) K and BB rates. This is the Jojanse Torres experience - he has a plus plus fastball with triple digit heat and extension, but often doesn’t know where it’s going.

Shawn Dubin - Seen by most as a relief prospect due to his slight build, Dubin is throwing as a starter in the early going and has gotten by okay. His first outing was a bit shaky, but he rebounded on the 11th with 6 Ks over 5 1-run innings. I’d expect him to join the big league bullpen this summer.

Tyler Ivey - A favorite of many, Ivey hasn’t yet found his command in 2021 and failed to escape the second inning in his last start. Another arm with some RP qualities, he may be shifted to shorter outings at some point as he can help the big league pen this year if desired.