2020 turned out okay for the Astros, all things considered.
All in all, the trash-bang scandal of 2019 got lost in much bigger conversations, so the traveling circus that would’ve been Houston’s 2020 playing on the road in front of fans that hated them never got out of the garage. Despite season-ending injuries to Justin Verlander and Yordan Alvarez and quiet bats from Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Yuli Gurriel (curious), the Astros remained a force to be reckoned with when it mattered most, striking fear in the hearts of baseball fans everywhere when they pushed the Rays to game 7 of the ALCS.
2021 will be even more challenging. Though Yordan Alvarez is running again after surgeries on both knees, Houston will likely be without free agent outfielders George Springer and Michael Brantley. The system offers some possible help on the mound, but the bulk of their position prospects are too young to contribute anytime soon.
Format: Position Player | Age on 4/1/2021 | Highest level played | ETA
1. RHP Forrest Whitley | 23 | AAA | 2021
A late-night Adderall run pumped the brakes on Whitley’s exponential assent up the prospect rankings, then a combination of performance and injury pumped the brakes a few more times. I think he’ll be better off under Dusty in the post-Lunhow era than he was trying to squeeze his 6’7” frame and five plus pitches into Houston’s high-heat, low-curve mold. Whitley is a guy whose angle works better if he attacks all around the zone and just lets his arsenal eat, and I think Dusty’s calm and old-school approach could really help a guy like Whitley who has the profile to thrive in any era.
2. SS Jeremy Pena | 23 | A+ | 2021
Peña has a chance to leap the lists this season. I recall getting some negative responses for ranking him fifth on last year’s list, but the echo chamber has swayed my way on Peña since then, so I doubt anyone will blink to find him here. The son of big leaguer Geronimo Peña, Jeremy features a well-rounded game buoyed for fantasy by plus plate skills and a potentially plus hit tool along with just enough speed to steal us some bags. The big question here is whether Houston likes Peña enough to reserve the gig for him when Carlos Correa’s contract expires after this season. If Bregman wants to switch back to short, that could leave Peña on the outside looking in or competing with Abraham Toro at third base.
3. RHP Luis Garcia | 24 | MLB | 2020
I’ve been championing Garcia for a while here at Razzball, so I’ve got some confirmation bias to battle. As optimistic as I was, I wouldn’t have predicted he’d be taking the ball in an elimination game of the ALCS this year given that he’d never pitched above High A entering 2020. After 2 hitless innings against the Rays in game five, Houston went to the pen, logged a victory and lived to fight another couple days. Whether the club sees Garcia as a starter or reliever entering 2021 is an open question that might not get answered this year. If he breaks camp with the big club, he’ll do so as a reliever, I think, but it’s more likely he heads to AA or AAA because his profile and body type is that of a starter, assuming he can find and maintain command. If not, his stuff is electric enough to play near the back end of the pen.
4. SS Freudis Nova | 21 | A | 2023
Nova posted a 95 wRC+ as a 19-year-old in the Midwest League while playing passable shortstop for 75 games, setting himself up to be the full-season shortstop at High A the following year, which never happened in a minor-league-baseball sense. He’ll still be well ahead as a 21-year-old with a chance to climb the system.
5. RHP Jojanse Torres | 25 | A+ | 2021
I like the body. I like the delivery. The easy whip action he gets helps explain how he sustains high nineties velocities well into his outings, which I think is the primary factor for his 2019 dominance. Once you get a good rhythm on the mound, you gain command. In each outing, a pitcher gains confidence and command the longer it goes well, which is why you hear announcers say you gotta get this guy early. Muscle memory settles in. Sometimes even flow. Shoutout to the Soul fans in the building. Torres is old for level, certainly, but that’s the path international pitchers often walk. The path pitchers in general walk. It’s a highly tuned skill. 10,000 hours and whatnot. Plus the sturdily balanced musculature involved with throwing a baseball that hard that many times in a night.
6. OF Richi Gonzalez | 18 | NA | 2025
At 6’3” 185 lbs with power and speed, Gonzalez is the fantasy jewel of the Astros’ 2019 international class. He’s mostly projection at this point. It’s not ideal for a teenager to lose a season of reps, especially when they haven’t seen much high-spin off-speed stuff, but scouts who’ve seen him say positive things about his hands and power, and Houston has a history of getting good results from premium athletes.
7. RHP Jairo Solis | 21 | A | 2022
The pandemic created an odd scenario for pitchers rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. It’s never a good thing to miss a season of in-game repetitions, but if you had to choose a season to miss, you’d be wise to pick this one. You could almost say Solis gained a year in the age-to-level math relative to his peer group.
8. RHP Bryan Abreu | 24 | MLB | 2019
People fell in love with Abreu’s spin rates last winter and made him a popular sleeper pick, but he’s always struggled mightily with command, particularly fastball command, making it difficult for him to maximize the impact of his plus slider and double-plus curveball. There’s still a premium bullpen piece in here if he can repeat his delivery, but the jury remains out on that until we see it across an extended sample size.
9. RHP Tyler Ivey | 24 | AA | 2021
Ivey’s stuff is poison to minor league bats. Zing! That’s my time for the day thanks for coming; please tip generously.
Kidding. Ivey’s a 6’4” 195 lb curveball thrower and 3rd round pick from 2017. He’s posted dominant numbers since 2018, culminating in a 0.96 WHIP and 24.5 K-BB rate across 46 AA innings in 2019. I’m a little surprised we didn’t see him this season, but his mechanics are intricate enough that perhaps something went awry and he didn’t have time to iron it out. His wind-up funk and head whack are part of the deception, I suspect, so he might be extremely streaky and bound for the bullpen. It’s a tricky system that way. You don’t want to miss out on an Astro who breaks through like Javier did in 2019, but you can’t just buy all the candidates and hope for the best.
10. RHP Brett Conine | 24 | AA | 2021
Can copy and paste much of the Ivey blurb here. Conine’s a 6’3” 210 lb command specialist who’s yet to be challenged in pro ball. His ground ball rates have hovered around 53 percent, his strikeout rates around 31 percent, and his walk rates around seven percent. These are ace level metrics, but Conine has been old for level and doesn’t light up the radar gun. Nice flier in deep dynasty leagues to see how Spring Training shakes out.
Thanks for reading!
I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter.