Houston prospects tend to get a little extra bump up the lists from me. My first year doing these, some readers on Reddit came at me for having Jeremy Peña too high (fifth) on the list. I might never forget it: my first time getting cooked in the comments. I wasn’t familiar with the ways of Reddit yet, and to be fair to the Redditors, I wasn’t particularly adept at writing these blurbs to reflect my reasoning yet either. The other comment-cooking that comes to mind was Houston related as well. I had ranked Alex Bregman 9th among third basemen for dynasty leagues coming off his 41 home run season. I think Astros fans were especially salty because this happened during those early pandemic days when the trash-can hate was still fresh, and there was no baseball on the field to distract us or force them to pay the full-stadium consequences for their fuckery. 

Sorry for the jaunt down memory lane. It’s just, both of these memories wound up being foundational for me as a baseball writer. Something might look wrong to most readers today, but that doesn’t mean you should hesitate to say it. This gig requires a fair amount of future-casting, and that requires a fair amount of confidence on top of the competence. Mostly I just want to say thanks to all of you who’ve read my work between there and here. Thanks to all of you who chat it up in the comments. And thanks to the Houston Astros for developing good baseball players. The automatic bump to a Houston prospect has been useful since Yordan Alvarez was left off the Top 100 lists heading into his rookie year. It’s helped us to roster Luis Garcia, Jose Urquidy, Cristian Javier and Jeremy Pena among others. Decent chance a couple people from this group vastly exceed their present perceived value in a similar fashion. 

 

Format: Position Player | Age on 4/1/23 | Highest Level Played | ETA

1. RHP Hunter Brown | 23 | MLB | 2022

Can Jose Urquidy hold this freight train off for the fifth starter spot? Hunter Brown is the most chamber-approved pitching prospect Houston’s had since Forrest Whitley. At 6’2” 212 lbs, Brown maintains impeccable balance throughout his delivery thanks to elite posture and strong legs. His ability to repeat has improved year over year to the point that his control is finally trending toward command. Hitting spots is still not his long suit, but Brown’s stuff is so dynamic, he’ll never have to be especially fine to retire big league hitters. In 20.1 MLB inning in 2022, he posted a 1.08 WHIP after recording a 1.08 across 106 Triple-A innings. The Houston development plan of piggy-backing mixed with starting all the way up prepares these guys for the life they’ll face as an Astro, waiting sometimes multiple seasons to truly crack the rotation. Whether or not Brown can buck that trend will come down to health across the roster, the club’s commitment to Jose Urquidy, and how Brown handles the back-and-forth role in which he’ll likely open the season.

 

2. C Yainer Diaz | 24 | MLB | 2022

Diaz has always hit. In 105 games across three levels, he hit 25 home runs and collected 96 runs batted in, his second straight season eclipsing 90 RBI in about 100 games across multiple levels. He doesn’t walk as much as you’d like, and runs batted in is perhaps the least popular surface stat in the game right now, but 90 RBI in about 100 games played across multiple levels is rare air for a minor league hitter. Certainly helped that he was with Cleveland and Houston, whose minor league lineups tend to be stacked, but he slashed .306/.358/.542 in 2022, which was pretty close to his slash line the year before: .324/.362/.527. His strikeout rates across these levels have also been consistent: 16.3, 16.2, 15, and 17.8 percent in 48 Triple-A games last season. Baseball America just released their Top 100, where they have Diaz listed as having a 92 mile per hour average exit velocity. We can see the elite power in the slash lines, but it’s nice to have the extra confirmation. The 6’0” 195 lb Diaz is a perfect fit for his major league team, where he should find plenty of ducks on the pond and plenty of easy homers down the left field line.

 

3. 2B Luis Santana | 22 | A+ | 2025

Santana made enough noise with the Mets in 2019 that Houston targeted him as the (perceived) primary return in the JD Davis trade. He played well enough (112 wRC+) in High-A, but then Houston sent him to Double-A at 19-years-old. He played 18 games there and posted a .333 OBP, so it could’ve been worse, but he also hit .228 and slugged .263. Then the pandemic began and closed out the 2020 season. Hard to say what happened with a lot of minor leaguers during that time, but it might’ve been pretty rough on Santana. Rather than having a chance to bounce back right away, he had to sit with what was really just a short stretch in a long season in a long career in a long life. But where did that lingering failure bring him? Back to the struggle bus, where he lived throughout the 2021 season. But it turns out, Santana’s combination of hit tool and plate skills might make him inevitable. In 97 games at High-A, Santana struck out 69 times, drew 38 walks and slashed .297/.386/.472 with 11 homers and steals. Was good for a 136 wRC+. More importantly, it doesn’t take long in the game logs to see the trend. From June 1 through season’s end, Santana slashed .342/.442/.550 with 31 extra base hits and nine stolen bases in 63 games. In the 25 games between August 1st and season’s end, Santana slashed .367/.486/.711 with six homers and six steals. Yes that’s 711 as in open 24-hours-a-day just like I wish my leagues were so I could go add Luis Santana everywhere I can fit him.

 

4. OF Drew Gilbert | 22 | A | 2025

Here’s what I wrote about Gilbert in Prospect News: Top 15 for 2023 First-Year-Player Dynasty Drafts:

Gilbert might have lost some perceived value with a hissy fit that got him ejected and suspended during this year’s postseason, but I’d be lying if I said I cared. He might get Ump-Showed a bit early in his career, but he’ll learn you can’t even look at those weirdos. Power corrupts, especially tenuous power. Gilbert can barrel up a variety of pitches in a variety of places, runs with attentiveness, aggression and speed, and he controls the strike zone, which is what got him ejected: his confidence in his ability to pick up spin and discern strikes from balls. He was the best player on the best team in college baseball for most of 2022. Sign me up for the discount he’ll bring on dynasty draft day as long as he doesn’t obliterate the minor leagues the rest of this season.”

He’s played ten games since that article came out, so I don’t have anything new to say, except that he therefore did not obliterate the minor leagues and might be available at something of a discount this draft season. 

 

5. 3B David Hensley | 27 | MLB | 2022

At 6’6” 198 lbs, Hensley brings intriguing versatility to the field. During his six weeks with Houston, he played shortstop, second base, third base, and left field. Also started four times at designated hitter. That’s five different spots in 16 games. Is this ranking too low? It’s already feeling too low, and we haven’t even gotten to the outcomes on offense. He was pretty good in Triple-A, slashing .298/.420/.478 with 10 homers and 20 steals, but then he was even better for that cup of coffee, slugging .586 with a .441 OBP and making the postseason roster. It’s a weird profile. Most of them are with Houston, but it’s pretty much impossible to argue with anything Hensley’s actually done on the field the past couple seasons. You can say he’s too old for the level or doesn’t really have a natural defensive home, but I dunno. At some point that’s just sound.

 

6. OF Colin Barber | 22 | A+ | 2024

A 4th round pick in 2019, Barber hadn’t put much on paper prior to 2022, having played all of 44 professional games. The tools won out though, and Barber enters 2023 looking like an easy plus hitter with functional plate skills already in place. He played 63 games in High-A, slashing .298/.408/.450 with seven home runs and seven steals. On the field, he’s a smooth 6’0” 200 lb lefty who can handle center field. Wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that Houston sees him as their centerfielder of the future. Might’ve already caught some helium if his season hadn’t been truncated by injury in July. He managed to return a month later but wasn’t in rhythm and hit .233 with singles only for those ten games.

 

7. OF Jacob Melton | 22 | A | 2025

As you might suspect, this dude can get really hot. Just locked in and liquidating anything in his hitting zone. Houston took him 64th overall and quickly sent him to Low-A. He obliged by posting a 171 wRC+ in 19 games there. A 6’3” 208 lb lefty, Melton hit .404 in 32 games as a sophomore for Oregon State and slugged .671 with 17 home runs and 21 steals in 63 games as a Junior. He’s precisely the kind of on-paper success that goes a bit under-the-radar in Houston’s system until he’s producing in the big league lineup.

 

8. OF Justin Dirden | 25 | AAA | 2023

Caution: this person might be a figment of your imagination.

And he might not wind up a major league player, but he earned this spot with an impressive 92 Double-A games that were just a continuation of his outcomes across two levels in 2021. He slashed .324/.411/.616 before a rough 32 games at Triple-A. If the past is any indication, Dirden will find better results there early in 2023 and push for major league looks. 

 

9. RHP Forrest Whitley | 25 | AAA | 2023

The list enters a murky area here. Shadows in the trees obscure our view. Whitley was as bad as he could be in 2022, recording a 7.09 ERA and a 1.73 ERA in 33 innings at Triple-A, but to be fair to Forrest, he hadn’t pitched since 2019 and only got one outing in the complex league and two in Low-A before getting launched up to Triple-A. That’s . . . puzzling. Rarely do the Astros make moves that look like clear mistakes through the eyes of Captain Hindsight. I mean aside from the whole long-term cheating thing. But developmentally speaking, it feels like they’ve centralized most of their mistakes onto the person of Whitley. Run, Forrest, Run. Captain Hindsight is now telling me that perhaps we should’ve made even more than we did of the drug thing. I don’t even remember the details anymore. Had to google it. Didn’t move him an inch on any list from what I can recall. We’ll just have to wait and see what he brings to the field this year. Seems free at the moment, so I’m buying here and there where I can fit him. Easy enough to cut him if it’s not working.

 

10. OF Pedro Leon | 24 | AAA | 2024

Leon is coming off a Triple-A season during which he hit .228 with a 28.8 percent strikeout rate. He stole 38 bases and has plenty of athleticism and patience at the plate, so I understand the optimism surrounding him in the fantasy realm. I’m just lower than most as I have been for a while. He’s listed at 5’10” 170 lbs, but I’ll take the under on the height and the over on the weight, for what it’s Wuertz. Not that I’m trying to body-shame the guy. Just trying to articulate my ongoing position of doubt regarding the player. A rare Astros prospect who got a bunch of hype before the outcomes warranted it. Oh, and he’s hurt, too. Just had surgery for a sports hernia and will miss roughly two months. Certainly could be a buying window if you’re all in on him.

Thanks for reading!

I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter and Reddit.

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Cheese Eating Surrender Monkey
Cheese Eating Surrender Monkey
12 days ago

their cheating as of now looks pretty smart, not one player was penalized for anything at all. the coach got a year off and came back to a raise (from BOS). it’s pretty clear the sport doesn’t mind this stuff as long as the fans don’t hear about it, and when they do it’s just rug sweep it away, meanwhile the comish mickey mouses around with rules and the balls themselves. if the players wanted it gone they’d change their CBA to get rid of protections from players being penalized when caught. those seemingly high % of players pretending they want it gone from the sport, then over half of them vote to make sure if they get caught they get the same rights as the HOU players, yeah we see how you really speak and it’s not what you say on twatter (same thing when the scherzer type elite contract guys mouth flap about how the lockout was to “protect the rights of the young players” yeah ok, and they end up with a marginal raise and no extra rights to get them to FA any faster)

Scott Kimmel
Scott Kimmel
13 days ago

Scott Kimmel

Itch I need your help. I am trying to trim down my minor league roster and not sure who to cut. These are my minor leaguers:
C Henry Davis (BAL) #1 $5.00
C Logan O’Hoppe (LAA) #1 $5.00
C / 1B Tyler Soderstrom (OAK) #1 $5.00
1B Darrick Hall (PHI) UR $5.00
1B / 2B / 3B Jonathan Aranda (TB) UR $5.00
SS Roderick Arias (NYY) #11 $5.00
SS Edwin Arroyo (CIN) #3 $5.00
SS Liover Peguero (PIT) #4 $5.00
SS Elijah Tatis (CWS) UR $5.00
SS Masyn Winn (STL) #2 $5.00
OF Evan Carter (TEX) #3 $5.00
OF Oscar Colas (CWS) #2 $5.00
OF Jasson Dominguez (NYY) #2 $5.00
OF Pedro Leon (HOU) #4 $5.00
OF Luis Matos (SF) #3 $5.00
OF Cristhian Vaquero (WAS) #7 $5.00
SP / RHP Sam Bachman (LAA) #6 $5.00
SP / RHP Yorlin Calderon (NYY) UR $5.00
SP / RHP Yoendrys Gomez (NYY) #12 $5.00
SP / RHP Ethan Hankins (CLE) UR $5.00
SP / RP / RHP Cole Henry (WAS) #6 $5.00
SP / RHP Seth Johnson (BAL) #10 $5.00
SP / RHP Landon Knack (LAD) #11 $5.00
SP / LHP Ronan Kopp (LAD) #16 $5.00
SP / RP / LHP Asa Lacy (KC) #10 $5.00
SP / RHP Ty Madden (DET) #4 $5.00
SP / RP / RHP Max Meyer (MIA) #2 $5.00
SP / RP / LHP Ken Waldichuk (NYY / OAK) #2 ? $5.00
SP / LHP Brandon Walter (BOS) #7 $5.00
SP / RP / RHP Hayden Wesneski (CHC) #12 $5.00
SP / LHP Brandon Williamson (CIN) #6 $5.00
RP / RHP Nick Anderson (ATL) ? $9.00

The number represents where they rank on the teams top 30 prospects. So my question is who should I cut? Thanks.

goodfold2
goodfold2
Reply to  Scott Kimmel
9 days ago

nick anderson at 9. but one of the other RP could also be it. very easy to replace low end RP’s. might be able to trade anderson though, people still all about hoarding that dude from stats like what over 2.5 years old now.

steve stevenson
steve stevenson
13 days ago

Good stuff, Itch – as an Astros homer I love to see it!

When do you think Yainer is up for good? I have a bit of a roster crunch in my AL-only 2C league where we keep 10 + 3 MiLB as I have 4 minors guys I want to hold in Yainer, Colas, Espino and Tiedemann.

Roster moves are limited (basically someone has to hit the IL or get called up for you to make a pickup) so if I keep Yainer in a majors slot he may be up there for a bit before I can replace him, plus I’d have to throw back a decent big league keeper (fighting for my last 2 slots as of now are $11 Kirk, $16 Pena, $2 Peraza and $22 Eloy).

So, keep Yainer? If so, majors or minors, and who gets the boot instead?

junior56
junior56
14 days ago

Morning Itch Great Write up!
Salty Astro fans… meh! Pena and Correa had pretty much the same stat lines in 2023 and a huge savings for the Astro Front office. Then they sign Abreu and now will deal Gurriel possibly and pluck more prospect fruit off the Marlins Tree. Think it’s safe to say these Cats know what they’re doing.

I’ll get off my soapbox now!

I like Santana, Gilbert, Hensley, and Barber.

Do you think Korey Lee has a shot to be the Astros catcher at some point or is it Yainer all the way?

Off the topic of the Astros but Seiya Suzuki is available as a FA in a dynasty rookie draft. Where does he hit in the Cubs line up? Thanx!

junior56
junior56
Reply to  junior56
14 days ago

Oops! Gurriel is a FA my bad

Dr Sauce
Dr Sauce
14 days ago

Hey Itch, following up from a convo in your previous post. Curious/interested in your rationale for your relative low rank on Witt (as compared to guys like Gunner, Carroll and Robert). Most industry folk seem to have Witt pegged as a foundational piece (in the Bichette area). If I recall, Grey has him ranked 14 in his top 20 for this year (high praise for a 2nd year guy). If I’m honest, I love the rank, I seem to want to trade Witt, just not entirely sure why lol:) One of the many reasons I enjoy reading your stuff is you write what you see and know rather than following industry rank. Therefore, carries a lot more weight with me. Well done! Looking forward to your response. Cheers

Last edited 14 days ago by Dr Sauce
Jimmy
Jimmy
14 days ago

Morning Itch! 13 team dynasty 5×5…Pulling hard for Forest Whitley….thoughts on Masyn Winn this year….thank you!

thehombre
thehombre
14 days ago

Itch, Do you think Murray will get to pitch in Houston and does he carry any value moving forward? Can he come out of nowhere like Garcia did?

thehombre
thehombre
Reply to  thehombre
14 days ago

And I meant Jayden Murray who came over in a trade. I know he was in your top 25 prospect pitcher ranks last season.

Last edited 14 days ago by thehombre
seltzah
seltzah
14 days ago

Itch! great read and glad to see your optimism on Yainer

got a scratcher of a trade offer

15 team keep forever dynasty 350 prospects rostered

I get Bo Bichette
I give up Jordan Walker and Pete Crow

Im probably 1 or 2 years from competing, but I’ve been going back and forth on this one, and will take any wisdom I can get!

galica1234
galica1234
14 days ago

The Itch!!!!

Awesome!!

a. Loved the opening blurb/paragraph more than or as much as the rest!

b. Awesome read. Murky indeed after #8 but love 1-8. Just really great. Thanks.

Cheers,
Ante