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Perpetually underrated: a brief look back at the Astros 2020 farm system.

MLB: ALCS-Texas Rangers at Houston Astros Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the 2024 offseason, the Astro’s farm system is rated among the bottom of the league. This is undoubtedly an issue that Dana Brown will attempt to fix over the upcoming drafts; however, it does not necessarily mean that the Astros do not currently have any talent in their farm system.

Going into the 2020 season, the Astros had the 28th-ranked farm system in the MLB, but that crop of prospects managed to fill several holes for the Astros. Over the past ten years, Houston has developed prospects better than almost any other team in the league. While it remains to be seen if this trend can continue, it is encouraging to note that prospect rankings do not always equate to how those prospects will eventually perform.

2020 top 20 Astros prospects:

  1. Forrest Whitley, RHP
  2. Jose Urqudy, RHP
  3. Abraham Toro, 3B, 2B
  4. Freudis, Nova, INF
  5. Bryan Abreu, RHP
  6. Cristian Javier, RHP
  7. Jeremy Pena, SS
  8. Korey Lee, C
  9. Hunter Brown, RHP
  10. Jairo Solis, RHP
  11. Colin Barber, OF
  12. Brandon Bielak, RHP
  13. Enoli Paredes, RHP
  14. Jordan Brewer, OF
  15. Grae Kessinger, INF
  16. Tyler Ivey, RHP
  17. Luis Garcia, RHP
  18. Jose Rivera, RHP
  19. Jojanse Torres, RHP
  20. Shawn Dubin, RHP
  21. Dauri Lorenzo, SS
  22. Luis Santana, 2B/SS
  23. Grett Stubbs, C
  24. Taylor Jones, 1B/3B/OF
  25. Chas McCormick OF

The above list should look familiar to Astros fans because it contains several current Astro big leaguers, including four bona fide starting pitchers, two above-average position players, and one of the better relief pitchers in the American league. This group of players has been worth a whopping 36.1 fWAR so far. This is excellent production, especially considering this was a bottom-three farm system.

The player who exceeded expectations the most is Chas McCormick. Entering the 2020 season, gave him average grades in hitting for contact and power. However, with a career 120 wRC+ and 50 home runs in 1,046 PAs, he has shown that he is well above average in both. It is hard to say precisely how he outperformed these expectations, but it is likely a combination of makeup and superior player development in the Astros system.

In 2019, authors Travis Sawchik and Ben Lindbergh wrote the book MVP Machine. The book examined how teams are using analytics to not only identify superior players but develop them as well. Sawchik and Lindbergh observed that there were three primary keys to the Astros’ success.

First, they used analytics to select the right kind of players with more room for development. Second, pushing players to mold their game that gave them a greater chance of success. For example, in the case of McCormick, laying off the slider down and away. Lastly, on the pitching side, the Astros use analytics to tell their pitchers which pitches to throw and not throw.

Although the book was written during the Luhnow era, it is encouraging to see that the team is still developing players well. Since, for obvious reasons, most teams like to keep a tight lid on their methods in baseball operations, it is impossible to know just how much the Astros are continuing to innovate in player development. However, a few clues suggest that the Astros still have a substantial edge over the rest of the league for now. When Verlander left the Mets, it was reported that he thought the Mets’ analytics department, a form of player development, was several years behind the Astros’.

Although past performance is no guarantee of future success, it is encouraging for Astros fans to remember that the farm system has been at the bottom of the rankings for several years and still produces quality big-league talent. Of course, the front office has turned over a lot in the past few years, and there are legitimate concerns about how Crane has interfered with baseball operations. However, the team’s track record in player development remains rock solid, and until I see it differently, I will continue to be sanguine about the team’s long-term future.

My next article will examine the current top 20 prospect list and pick out players who may surprise to the upside!