Astros minor leaguers have had a high bar to clear to join the big club in recent years, and that’s not likely to change significantly in 2024, but most fans can agree that the club will need some reinforcements in peripheral roles once the grind of the summer hits, if not sooner. There remains the possibility that the club will shake things up with a trade before spring, but if not they may need to look for help internally. While ranked near the bottom of farm rankings, the organization still has some near-big league ready talents who are nearing the doorstep as we look towards next season, so fans should expect to see a new face or two at some point.
When projecting call-ups for a contending club, it’s important to consider where the gaps are on the major league team- in the Astros’ case, there are 3 realistic spots where a rookie could make an impact. The catcher position is spoken for- Martin Maldonado has been replaced with Victor Caratini, who will split time with Yainer Diaz. That pairing should take the vast majority of the playing time behind the plate, and if there are any scraps left over they will likely be the responsibility of Cesar Salazar.
Similarly, there looks to be minimal playing time available on the infield. While Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve have had their share of injury trouble over the years, Mauricio Dubon and Grae Kessinger are first in line to soak up any appearances that may open up. Jose Abreu is 37 years old and will likely get a steady helping off of days, but those are likely to be handled by Yainer Diaz, and perhaps Jon Singleton if he maintains a roster spot. If a position player is to get into the mix, then, it will almost certainly have to be in the outfield. Obviously, the majority of starts are spoken for here as well, as Chas McCormick, Yordan Alvarez, Jake Meyers and Mauricio Dubon are all still in the fold, but Meyers will likely be on a short leash after an ineffective 2023, and Dubon may see less playing time under new manager Joe Espada.
The club has resisted giving extensive playing time to Chas McCormick and Kyle Tucker in center field, so an ability to cover that spot will really help a player’s chances at getting a call-up. Conveniently, the outfield prospects closest to the big leagues all show this ability. Jacob Melton and Kenedy Corona play the position primarily, and Joey Loperfido has shown well there in a part time capacity as a minor leaguer. For these reasons, I think the first position player to debut this season likely comes from this group. Melton is the best overall prospect, but is yet to play in Triple-A while Loperfido. Loperfido also offers some infield versatility, but I’m not sure exactly how much utility- no pun intended- that has on a roster that includes Mauricio Dubon. This race is likely to come down to 2024 offensive production. Melton started the year cold in ‘23 before rallying hard down the stretch, while Corona and Loperfido came out on fire before scuffling a bit after midseason promotions.
As always, there will also be opportunity on the pitching side. The starting rotation is- for now, at least- relatively locked in, but one injury (or a trade) could change circumstances quickly, and there are some real question marks in the bullpen. Spencer Arrighetti is the most obvious name in either case, and I’d agree that he’s the odds on favorite to join the Astros on the mound in 2024, but if an injury hits the rotation and they need a pure starter, Colton Gordon could be in the mix as well. His stuff isn’t nearly as explosive as Arrighetti’s, but he’s a much better strike thrower and is coming off a strong year. If Arrighetti’s strike throwing continues to be uneven, he could be jumped for a spot start.
I’d be fairly confident betting that the Astros’ next big league debut will come from the aforementioned group of five, but there are a handful of longshot options that have conceivable paths as well. Shay Whitcomb and Will Wagner both have intriguing skillsets in different ways even if they play roles that the Astros aren’t hurting for at present, and one of them could potentially take the Kessinger role on the big league bench at some point. Quincy Hamilton is another outfield dark horse with the ability to play all 3 positions, and was very hot with the bat at times in 2023. If he can sustain that kind of success this year, he’s another appealing fifth outfielder. Lastly, Rhett Kouba is another pitching option who showed impact command in 2023, before coming a bit undone in the second half. If he can regain his first half form, he could be appealing in a variety of pitching roles.