If you set the filter to 30 minor league innings pitched, 65 Houston Astros struck out more than a batter per inning in their minor league system in 2019. The Cubs: 44. The Yankees: 46. Dodgers: 62. I think I checked all the teams I thought had a shot to match, and I might’ve actually checked all the teams. There’s not a leaderboard for this so far as I know. Just me geeking out with my cat, Calvin.
The Marlins? They seem to have a lot of heat last year, right? 36.
The Padres? Yup, gotta be. 64. Huge, but second place.
Anyway, they’re gonna be fine–the Astros–at least in the medium-term. Or maybe not. Maybe that one hyper-competitive dude was making all the magic and the next crew won’t take time for all his tricks (“Illusions, Dad! You don’t have time for my illusions!” – G.O.B.)
But it wasn’t just tricks. Something true came out of all the spycraft. Four-seam fastballs up. Curveballs down. Timeless.
More, too, but that’s at least partly how I’ll remember the Lunhow Astros. They redefined pitching. It wasn’t just them, of course, but they were a huge part of it.
They also tainted my favorite game on the planet. Changed history. Changed lives. Yu Darvish. Dave Roberts. No need to cry for everyone here–it’s just a game and all–and a lot of the people most impacted by the cheating are probably doing pretty damn great on the quality of life scale, historically speaking, but it’s not a good look. It’s kind of amazing the game can just pick up and move on. Even more amazing how many people just shrug the everyone cheats. I get it. The world is built to make us do that.
Anyway, so: Astros prospects! Do they throw things? What do they throw? Let’s find out!
Player | Age on 5/1/2020 | Highest Level Played | ETA
1. RHP Forrest Whitley | 22 | AAA | Mid 2020
Nobody’s lost sight of the ideal forest through the trees of a homer happy 2019, but it’s fair to be skeptical of the crowned king of pitching prospects heading into last season.
2. RHP Jose Urquidy | 25 | MLB | 2019
“Urquidy had a 1.10 WHIP in 41 MLB innings. If this surprises you, it’s likely because he had 0.72 WHIP in September, and while a few outings against the eliminated Angels and Mariners are not predictive, he also threw five dominant innings against the Athletics (10 K, 1 H). These are the teams he’ll face most in 2020. Might be a buy-window open now, but that’s in danger of slamming shut if Urquidy shows well in October.”
While he’s certainly gained some perceived value during a strong playoff run, Urquidy can still be acquired for a reasonable fee. I’m a little worried about all Astros going forward, but time could quickly prove that fear unfounded.
3. RHP Luis Garcia | 23 | A+ | Mid 2021
4. 3B Abraham Toro | 23 | MLB | 2019
5. SS Jeremy Pena | 22 | A+ | Late 2021
Off-speed command leads to high strikeout rates and elevated confidence. I like Shane Bieber a lot, but few would have predicted he’d turn out the way he has. My confidence in Luis Garcia is rooted in his thick base and his fluidity in maximizing and repeating it. He was regularly popping 97 and sitting 95 to go with devastating breaking stuff. Houston has a lot of overage arms in part because that’s the path in countries where everyone tries to play shortstop or centerfield until it’s clear they cannot, but that longer route can lead to great balance and athleticism on the mound, as it has in Garcia, who Houston signed for $20,000.
Somebody might read this and think I’m farting in Abraham Toro’s general direction, but I’m not really trying to hate on the bull. He might be really interesting in the right setting. But Houston is not that setting. If Kyle Tucker can’t catch a whiff, what’re Toro’s chances? I’d be trying to trade him if I had him.
I have yet to remember the name of a video game from my youth in which Geronimo Pena was an exceptional player, but images from him in that game flashed in my mind as I read about the breakout of Jeremy Pena. I actually remember the day well. There’s so much outstanding coverage of the minor leagues these days that it’s tough to read it all. Anywho, I used to love video game baseball. Still could, maybe. They just move too slow these days. I grew up on Nintendo: a beautifully frenetic if simplistic platform. I liked it. And I like Jeremy Pena. He hits, walks and steals. Plays a good shortstop. Big league Dad. Which just has to be the title of a movie somewhere. Staring Hulk Hogan?
6. SS Freudis Nova | 20 | A | 2023
7. RHP Enoli Paredes | 24 | AA | Late 2020
8. RHP Bryan Abreu | 23 | MLB | 2019
9. RHP Christian Javier | 23 | AAA | Mid 2020
Freudis Nova held his own as a 19-year-old in the Midwest League (95 wRC+). We might not get a good idea of what he could be as a fantasy asset for a while yet, but there’s a lot of reasons to be excited about this plus power shortstop with a decent chance to stay at the position.
Big fan of Enoli Paredes. The stuff is real, his extension and arm speed are unreal for a 5’10” pitcher, and I cannot wait to see what he becomes. I think he could start if they let him fight through the struggles.
A potential sea change in Houston might put Robert Osuna on the hot seat at some point, and Bryan Abreu has plenty of stuff to handle the role. He needs to repeat better and gain command, but I suspect working with the major league staff–and among all the veteran arms in Houston–would be good for him.
Can pretty much copy and paste the Abreu blurb for Christian Javier, who has a little less fastball but a more well rounded repertoire and a better chance to start if he adds command. I like all these arms a lot. Houston is good at arms.
10. RHP Jojanse Torres | 24 | A+ | Mid 2021
Would be in a select group in line for a potential leap in my opinion. Ended the season on a ridiculous stretch: 0.50 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 0 HR, 35.2 innings, 7 games, 5 wins, 0 losses, let’s party. Threw a seven inning one hitter with one walk against a Cleveland squad on July 24 and just went crazy from there. His season-long numbers are nice, too (1.73 ERA), but he was untouchable and clearly ready for AA and probably more with his 99 mile an hour heat and good control of a plus slider.