Houston Astros 2019 Preseason Top 10

Forrest Whitley
Forrest Whitley. Courtesy: Aaron Whelan

1)

Player: Forrest Whitley
Position(s): RHP Opening Day Age: 21 2018 Highest Level: AA
Bats: Right Throws: Right Height: 6’7” Weight: 195 lbs.
Quick Report: For my money, Whitley is easily the best pitching prospect in baseball. There was some thought he would get the chance to contribute out of the bullpen late last season, but that dream was killed early when Whitley was suspended 50 games for a drug program violation, then slowed again with minor nagging injuries. He has a fastball that can sit up to 98 with a ton of movement to go with a plus change that dips and runs. Add to that a slider that works plus thanks to the fact he can add velocity to it and make it work like a cutter or keep it a bit slower and have a bigger break. He also has a big curve that is better than most other pitchers top secondary offering but might be his fourth best pitch. He does not repeat the delivery well and his command can get away from him, but not in a way that will ever threaten his ability to stick as a starter.

2)

Player: Kyle Tucker
Position(s): OF Opening Day Age: 22 2018 Highest Level: MLB
Bats: Left Throws: Right Height: 6’4” Weight: 190 lbs.
Quick Report: Tucker finally got to the big leagues in 2018, although his 28 games there weren’t all that impressive. Going into this Spring, Tucker has a shot to earn an opening day job, although the signing of Michael Brantley may be enough to keep him at AAA to start the year. He has a smooth left-handed swing with plus raw and game power, but also makes enough contact to be a guy who will have a solid average. He played a lot of center early in his career, but he has already lost a step or two in the speed department and his reads have never been great. His above-average arm means he can easily play right where he projects to be a better than average fielder.

3)

Player: Yordan Alvarez
Position(s): 1B/OF Opening Day Age: 21 2018 Highest Level: AAA
Bats: Left Throws: Right Height:  6’5” Weight: 225 lbs.
Quick Report: The Astros may have pulled off another Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen-type deal when they got Alvarez from the Dodgers for Josh Fields. Some see Alvarez as a first baseman, while others see him relegated to first, but the position will matter very little as it is all about the bat for him. He has a big body but a well-controlled swing that sees the bat head get into the zone quickly but with enough loft in the plane to really drive the ball. He can hit to all fields, although he does sell out for pull power a bit much at times. Overall, he has plus raw power that is more above-average game power right now but should be able to make enough contact to be a force in the middle of the lineup.

4)

Player: Josh James
Position(s): RHP Opening Day Age: 25 2018 Highest Level: MLB
Bats: Right Throws: Right Height: 6’3” Weight: 206 lbs.
Quick Report: Casual baseball fans were introduced to Josh James in October when he came in as the hard throwing righty out of the bullpen despite having a future as a starter, the role Whitley was projected to have before the season started. To be honest, James come out of nowhere to most people, myself included, last season. He was a 34th round pick in 2014 and had ERAs in the mid-4.00s in 2016 and 2017. He has three legit pitches, a fastball that touches triple digits, a plus change, and an inconsistent slider that flashes plus at times, but his command will determine his long-term role. His delivery is inconsistent and could land him the late inning reliever role he played down the stretch, but he has the stuff to be an impactful guy in that role.

5)

Player: Corbin Martin
Position(s): RHP Opening Day Age: 23 2018 Highest Level: AA
Bats: Right Throws: Right Height: 6’2” Weight: 200 lbs.
Quick Report: In college, Martin looked more like a late inning reliever than a starter thanks to his big fastball and swing-and-miss breaking balls, but he lacked consistency. Since turning pro, he has quieted his delivery some and repeated it much better. Add to that the fact his change is turning into a pitch that he can turn to more regularly, and the Astros just might have yet another high upside starter. I expect Martin to make the leap to AAA and make a push to be a part of the Astros big league rotation before the end of the year.

6)

Player: J.B. Bukauskas
Position(s): RHP Opening Day Age: 22 2018 Highest Level: AA
Bats: Right Throws: Right Height:  6’ Weight: 196 lbs.
Quick Report: It really isn’t fair for the Astros to be this deep, as Bukauskas is yet another guy who is an impact prospect for a team that won the World Series two years ago and nearly got there again last year. He has a fastball that flirts with triple digits and showed a change that really impressed in the AFL, but his best offering is his slider. The arm slot is low 3/4 and there is a lot of effort in the delivery leading many, including myself, to feel Bukauskas’ future is in the bullpen, but he has the stuff that could make him a dominant reliever.

7)

Player: Freudis Nova
Position(s): SS Opening Day Age: 19 2018 Highest Level: Rookie
Bats: Right Throws: Right Height: 6’1” Weight: 180 lbs.
Quick Report: Nova has one of the best infield arms in the minors but has the potential to stick at short where his bat could make him an elite talent at the position. The ball jumps off his bat that gets into the zone quickly and the plane allows him to drive the ball. His leg kick can get a bit exaggerated at times when looking for more power, but he doesn’t lose much when he calms it down. He should make consistent contact and could be a guy that is near the top of this list a year from now thanks to graduations and more of a track record, as he should make his full season debut on Opening Day.

8)

Player: Seth Beer
Position(s): 1B/OF Opening Day Age: 22 2018 Highest Level: High A
Bats: Left Throws: Right Height: 6’3” Weight: 195 lbs.
Quick Report: There were a lot of doubters on Beer heading into the draft as he had not performed all that well in the summer showcase circuit in high school or summer leagues in college, all wood bat situation. OF is still attached to Beer as he played mostly left field while at Clemson, but his future is either at first or as a DH. Despite both those massive questions, the Astros grabbed him at 28 overall in last season’s draft, and it looks like a good move. He played 67 games across three levels and hit 12 home runs with an average above .300. At Clemson, he walked almost twice as much as he struck out, but he nearly flipped that in his pro debut. There are still lots of questions, but it looks like Beer is going to have plenty of bat to be impactful for the Astros.

9)

Player: Framber Valdez
Position(s): LHP Opening Day Age: 25 2018 Highest Level: MLB
Bats: Left Throws: Left Height: 5’11” Weight: 170 lbs.
Quick Report: Josh James may have been a draft steal for the Astros, but Valdez was just as big a steal on the international market in 2015 when he signed for $10,000 (largely due in part to the fact he was 21, very old for an international signing). He started five games for them late in the season and has a real shot to lock down the fifth starter job to open the season. He is not a tall pitcher, but he has plenty of juice in the fastball and a plus curve. His change is well-below average and doesn’t have great command, so he will probably be moved to the bullpen sooner-than-later, but he could be a dominant lefty arm out of the pen.

10)

Player: Bryan Abreu
Position(s): RHP Opening Day Age: 21 2018 Highest Level: Low A
Bats: Right Throws: Right Height: 6’1” Weight: 175 lbs.
Quick Report: Signed in 2013, Abreu spent the next two years in the Dominican Summer League, then two more seasons in Rookie ball. He had walks per nine of 8.2, 6.3, 4.7, and 6.4 before putting it all together in 2018 and walking just 3.8 per nine. In addition, his strikeout numbers went up, and he made it to full season ball. He has a fastball that sits mid-90s with a plus curve and sharp breaking slider. His change is well behind the other pitches, but it is another offering that has shown potential. He has some short arm to his delivery, but he gets the arm back into the same 3/4 slot time after time and shows good drive with his lower half. If the command is here to stay, Abreu will climb the minors this year, but if it goes away from him again, he will fall off all prospect lists.

Others of Note:

Cionel Perez – LHP – 22 – MLB
Tyler Ivey – RHP – 22 – High A
Jayson Schroeder – RHP – 19 – Rookie
Peter Solomon – RHP – 22 – High A
Jairo Solis – RHP – 24 – MLB

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