After yesterday’s massive trade for Justin Verlander, it felt like a good time for me to put out a prospect list for the first time in forever. I’ll preface this by saying that this list is purely a reflection of my own opinion. While there are some relatively objective aspects to player evaluation, one can justify a wide variety of rankings of a single group of players, because confidence level in an individual player is more or less wholly subjective. We all know that most prospects don’t make it, and estimating risk on a player to player basis is a difficult, perhaps impossible process. Fair or not, in my time evaluating players as a hobby, I’ve developed skepticism towards certain types of profiles, which could make my rankings look a bit funky to some. With that out of the way, this how I see the top of the system as of right now:
#1. Luis Baez, RF, Fayetteville (Age 19)
After a strong DSL debut, albeit as a somewhat older player for the league, Baez demolished the FCL in a brief sample to earn a quick promotion to Fayetteville, where he has continued his torrid pace thus far. He’s a classic RF profile with a power over hit approach and plenty of physicality, but is already showing the kind of command of the strike zone he’ll need to be a slugging threat at higher levels. I’ve said time and time again that teenagers who hit in full season ball are great bets, and Baez has put himself in that category. The blend of performance, plus tools and projection have him atop the system for me.
#2. Brice Matthews, SS, Fayetteville (Age 21)
A late blooming ex-quarterback, Matthews was one of the bigger breakouts in college ball this season, posting the first 20 HR/20 SB season in the history of the Nebraska program. Matthews is an explosive rotator with top shelf bat speed and impressive movement ability that should keep him up the middle, though I’d guess it will be at CF or 2B rather than SS long term. He will swing and miss, but has a strong feel for the strike zone that should make him a lower AVG/higher OBP type with the requisite power to create offensive impact. There’s some risk related to the pure contact ability, but Matthews is a potential everyday player.
#3. Jacob Melton, CF, Asheville (Age 22)
Melton was one of the best college players in the country in 2022, earning Pac-12 player of the year honors, and it was mildly surprising that he made it to the end of the second round where the Astros pounced. A plus runner, Melton is a strong bet to stay in center field, and offers more power than the typical up the middle player. His swing path, which is unorthodox, has long been a topic of discussion amongst evaluators, and will probably limit his contact ceiling to some degree. It took him some time to dial in his professional approach, but he has shown significant progress lately and will probably play in Corpus between now and the end of the season. Swing and miss may derail him, but there’s top of the order potential.
#4. Zach Dezenzo, OF/3B, Corpus Christi (Age 23)
Dezenzo consistently posted some of the highest exit velocities in the college game with Ohio State, but was held back by issues with swing and miss, both in and out of the zone. In 2023, he has largely looked like an entirely different hitter. Swing adjustments have helped his zone contact, and his approach has been a lot tighter, fueling a breakout that earned him an early season promotion to Double-A. At first, he maintained his pace with the Hooks, but cooled off as the summer wore on before missing some time with injury. He returned recently and hasn’t yet gotten back into his early season groove, but I’ll cut him some slack and assume that the injury has something to do with it. He probably doesn’t have much defensive value and there’s still work to do in converting his raw power to in-game loft, but he looks like a solid hitter with double-plus raw pop, which is pretty tantalizing.
#5. Joey Loperfido, Util., Corpus Christi (Age 24)
A 7th round signability pick in 2021, Loperfido entered the Astros system with an approach that didn’t really do his physical tools justice, which has changed completely in the couple of years since. At 6’3”, 220, there’s plenty of oomph in Loperfido’s frame, and he has really started to unlock it this year with a career high 16 HRs through 320 PAs. While he swings and misses a bit, he makes good swing decisions and should be able to maintain a respectable OBP. He also offers great positional versatility, showing capability at 2B and across the outfield, and thus projects well as a high value utility player.
#6. Spencer Arrighetti, RHP, Sugar Land (Age 23)
Arrighetti pairs great fastball shape and velocity with a plus slider, which has helped miss a metric ton of bats in pro ball after a college career during which a heavy workload held his effectiveness back a bit. He has ascended the minor league ladder rapidly, reaching Triple-A earlier this season, where his performance has backed up slightly. Arrighetti has the repertoire to remain in the rotation but his strike throwing ability can phase in and out a bit, which could result in an eventual move to the bullpen. His strikeout ability allows him to project as a mid-rotation arm or high leverage reliever, so I’m placing him ahead of some more finesse-oriented arms.
#7. Andrew Taylor, RHP, Fayetteville (Age 21)
I’m going out on a limb with this one, but I think Taylor’s 2023 season has been very impressive in context. In college he showed fantastic fastball shape and an advanced changeup, which was enough to carve up MAC lineups, but it has been clear that this season he and the organization have placed an emphasis on developing his two breaking balls, which he has used much more often than as an amateur. Despite using a pitch mix that is suboptimal as far as results are concerned, Taylor has put up really strong numbers. If one of the breakers really pops in the future, or if he gains more velocity, which is also a real possibility, he could start to look like more of a mid-rotation arm than a back-end type. I think he offers a really nice combination of floor and ceiling and am willing to be the high man on him.
#8. Alonzo Tredwell, RHP, FCL (Age 21)
Tredwell requires a lot of projection as he just hasn’t thrown very many innings compared to his peers. He was drafted as a sophomore and had Tommy John his senior year of high school, so the body of work is very small for a college arm. When he has been on the mound, he has shown a lot of appealing traits- his fastball shape should help him miss bats, and at 6’8” he has the ability to really extend it. There is a reason you don’t see many pitchers of his size, but Tredwell shows rare body control for his height which makes him a potential mold breaker. The Astros should be able to help him dial in his promising secondaries, which could improve what is currently a #4 starter projection the way I see it. He’ll need to stay healthy and log innings, but could move up the ranks pretty quickly if he’s able to do so.
#9. Colton Gordon, LHP, Corpus Christi (Age 24)
A soft-tossing lefty, Gordon is another arm who stands out for his fastball shape, which helps his heater play despite topping out in the very low 90s. The pitch misses bats up in the zone, but also creates a lot of infield flies- meaningful pop-up skill is a valuable trait, and pairing it with strikeout ability tends to be a winning formula. He throws his changeup and slider with a lot of feel, and has always been a strong strike thrower, giving him a classic #5 starter look. He has been pretty dominant in Double-A this year and is probably about due for a promotion to Sugar Land. Gordon has a chance to help the Astros in 2024.
#10. Michael Knorr, RHP, Asheville (Age 23)
Knorr’s raw stuff might be the best in the system- he can get into the upper 90s with run and ride, and at its best his breaking offerings can look above average as well, though he hasn’t fully harnessed his raw spin ability yet. That makes it all the more unfortunate that he has faced injury trouble this season, as getting more reps in with the breakers is important for his development, though he was dominant at times when on the mound this season. He’s a higher-variance guy compared to the arms above, but he’s near the top of the list when it comes to raw upside. He has #4 starter upside if everything clicks, but the reliever risk is pretty high.