These days, the Astros are known for a lot of things, for better or for worse. One of the positives? An ability to find unearth unduly underscouted players, particularly in the Latin American market. Not long ago, they were forced to flex those muscles when the team incurred international spending penalties by exceeding their bonus pool to lock up Yuli Gurriel, which for a two year period prohibited the Astros from offering a bonus north of $300,000 to any individual player. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and a $300k player is really more of a mid range prospect than a low end stab, but it certainly took Houston out of the running for the top of the class types and put their scouting department in a unique position.
Despite the restrictions, the Astros were able to come away with some interesting players who have gone on to varying levels of success at the professional level— the runaway best example is star starter Luis Garcia, who signed for just $20,000 as a 21 year old in 2017, but some of the younger signees from the same time frame have started to show signs of blossoming as of late as well. One who has been particularly impressive in the early going is Double-A outfielder Wilyer Abreu, a 2017 classmate of Garcia’s out of Venezuela who received the maximum $300k bonus just a couple of weeks after his 18th birthday.
While he wasn’t quite in Garcia territory, Abreu was on the older end for a July 2 (international free agent) signing, and was consequently put on something of an accelerated track compared to his younger peers. After a 34 game debut in the DSL immediately after signing, Abreu was sent to the GCL in 2018 in preparation for a full season debut at age 20. He struggled to impact the baseball much, but showed some solid hitting skills in the form of bat to ball and pitch selection, and scouts saw power potential waiting to emerge. Rather than throwing him directly into the fire in 2019, the Astros sent him on a quick NYPL stint where his performance was similar to where it had been in the GCL a year prior.
Despite pedestrian numbers, Houston pushed him to Low-A as planned, and Abreu seemed to make some strides in the power department, upping his slugging percentage to .385 after hanging out in the low .300s previously. and he managed to maintain a very tidy strikeout rate to boot. The performance was encouraging given his age, and was enough for the Astros to push him to Asheville to start 2021 after the lost season. It was there that a now 21/22 year old Abreu would really start to make good on the power potential, connecting for 16 HRs and 31 total XBH in an 82 game sample, albeit with a greatly increased strikeout rate around 30%.
Another day, another big fly by Wilyer Abreu! Fine finish to a 9-pitch AB. pic.twitter.com/mriSu3O1b3— Corpus Christi Hooks (@cchooks) April 17, 2022
Abreu had really grown into his frame at this point, and the game power he was displaying out of a compact frame was cause for intrigue, and he entered 2022 with a chance to play his way onto the radar if the positive developments continued. Thus far, they more than have, as Abreu has upped his contact rate by 5% while maintaining his 2021 ISO, all while making the biggest jump in competition level on the minor league ladder. Thanks to COVID, he’s now more age appropriate for his level than young for it, but with a wRC+ currently sitting at 147 he’s done more than enough to turn some heads nonetheless.
In terms of long term projection, Abreu is in danger of falling in outfield tweener territory, as he isn’t rangy enough for everyday center field duties and his power, while improving quickly, may not be quite big enough to lock down an outfield corner. If he can really maximize his natural gifts, though, it may be possible for him to hit his way into significant playing time. The Corpus roster has been a bit all over the place in the early going, but Abreu has been part of a core group that has kept the offense afloat, and is well on his way to improving his standing in the org rankings later this year as a compact outfielder with natural loft in his swing and solid athleticism.