Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Astros Farm Report: 2/20

Catching you up on the latest Astros MiLB offseason news ...

WISHING A VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO

Rodrigo Ayarza - July 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen

2-19: OF Josh Reddick (31)
2-20: IF Rodrigo Ayarza (23)
2-20: C Brian McCann (34)
2-20: RHP Justin Verlander (35)
2-23: Marco Van der Wijst (20)

ROSTER MOVES/TRANSACTIONS

Again, nothing exciting happening this past week. The only Astros-related transaction I've seen is that free agent Reid Brignac, former Fresno Grizzlies infielder, signed a minor league deal with the Nationals.

You can check the cumulative Astros offseason transaction list here to see if you've missed any of the posted moves this offseason.

NEWS AND LINKS

Forgot to post this last week. Do you prefer Woodpeckers or Fatbacks?

Another name change, but this one is temporary. The Corpus Christi Hooks will become the Blue Ghosts for one weekend in June.

In case you missed it, I've been gathering the Astros Top Prospect info in one place and will put together a consensus list when everyone has weighed in. Updated with Baseball America's Top 30 going into 2018.

Here is the Astros Spring Training broadcast schedule. Yes, Astros baseball will be available on your radio and/or TV starting this Friday!!!

Lefty Brett Adcock is ready for the coming season. h/t to Sam Levitt

Thomas Eshelman, an under-the-radar piece of the Ken Giles trade to the Phillies, is ready for his close up.

And one last non-baseball item. High-fives to the Shibutani duo!

via GIPHY

In case you missed it, I started a "Beyond the Top 30" series, looking at both those Astros players who are considered Top 30 prospects and others at each position who may not be top talents (or may grow to be), but will be interesting to watch nonetheless. So far we've looked at ...

Shortstops
Second Basemen
First Basemen
Third Basemen
Center Field
Right Field
Left Field - Coming this week

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Beyond the Top 30: Right Field

As the old year fades away and the new season approaches, it's time to start looking at those players of interest who are beyond the Top 30. These players may not ever make a Top 30 list (or they may), but a combination of projections, actual results, incremental improvements and intangibles keep them in the mix as interesting players to watch. I am not including any players in these posts who have already made their major league debuts since, presumably, anyone reading my blog is already very familiar with those players.

Note: Many of the 2018 player rankings haven't been released yet so I will be using the MLB Pipeline postseason list, the Baseball Prospectus Top 10+ list and Baseball America's Top 10 list to denote those players who are currently considered Top 30 type players in the Astros system. Once FanGraphs weighs in, Baseball America publishes their Top 30 and MLB Pipeline posts their 2018 pre-season list, I will post a consensus top prospect list.

[NOTE: Almost all of these players have appeared at multiple outfield positions. For the most part, these lists are based upon the primary position the player appeared at in the 2017 season.]

RIGHTFIELDERS IN THE TOP 30 (in alphabetical order)

Carlos Machado - August 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Carlos Machado (R/R)
At this point, Machado is noted as a top prospect on only one list, that of Baseball Prospectus who has him as one of their "Next 10." And, although Kyle Tucker and Myles Straw played a considerable number of games in right field in 2017, Machado is the only listed prospect for whom right field was his primary position. Machado was originally signed by the Astros in August 2014, and 2017 was his third professional season. He did have good success at the plate in 2017, hitting a combined .324/.387/.462 with six doubles, four triples and two home runs between 33 games in the Gulf Coast League and eight games with rookie level Greeneville, but personally I feel that he should have been challenged to higher levels at this point in his development. BP really likes his hit tool and feel for hitting, but tempers their enthusiasm by saying that Machado will either need to hit at an elite level or develop more power in order to be successful. Machado will be 20 in June.

RIGHTFIELDERS BEYOND THE TOP 30 (in alphabetical order)

Carmen Benedetti - July 2017
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Benedetti got off to a slow start in his second professional season in 2017, hitting only .219/.306/.281 in April for Low A Quad Cities, but he made adjustments and by July, he slashed .402/.492/.523 in 28 games, leading to an early August promotion to High A Buies Creek. For the season combined, he hit .268/.341/.415 with 27 doubles, one triple and five home runs. He walked 60 times to 68 strikeouts in 92 games. Benedetti was drafted in the 12th round in 2016 out of the University of Michigan where he was a two-way player. His strong left arm translated into 11 outfield assists in 2017, six of those from right field. Benedetti's plus defense, good on-base skills, great gap power (and plus-plus baseball name) make him one of my favorite follows on this list. He turned 23 in October.
Key: Honestly, Benedetti just needs to keep doing what he's been doing as he climbs the ladder to the higher levels of the organization. With just a little added strength to his already strong frame, I can see some of his gap power translating to more home runs, adding to an already solid portfolio of skills.

Gonzalez signed with the Astros out of Venezuela in July 2016 and played his first professional season in 2017. In 59 games in the Dominican Summer League, he hit .226/.355/.249. Gonzalez really showed improvement as the season progressed, finishing with a .302/.446/.302 line in 16 games in August. At the time he signed, he was lauded for his ability to hit for contact, baserunning instincts, plate discipline and ability to hit to all fields. Gonzalez didn't exhibit much in the way of power (four doubles were his only extra base hits), but he did show really good on-base skills, decent baserunning (11 stolen bases; 8 caught stealing) and solid defensive abilities (no errors in 43 games in right plus six outfield assists, four from right). Oh, and he did all of that at the ripe old age of 17. He will not turn 18 until May 27th.
Key: At his age, the only thing he can really do is keep working, keep listening to his coaches/trainers and have fun!

Corey Julks (R/R)
Drafted in the 8th round in 2017 out of the University of Houston, Julks didn't have the best professional debut, hitting only .176/.311/.235 in 32 games for Tri-City, but he did manage to steal nine bases (two caught stealing) and walk 18 times to only 19 strikeouts. In Baseball America's annual draft report write-up, they called Julks one of the best athletes in the Astros 2017 class, citing his strength, speed and raw power. Prior to the draft, Julks was #500 on BA's Top 500 draft list, but some scouts were concerned about his bat path. All of this tells me that Julks is a work in progress and 2018 will likely be pivotal in defining Julks as a player.
Key: Hone in on the type of player he wants to be and work toward that goal.

Chas McCormick (R/L)
McCormick is one of my "intangibles guys," one whose baseball skills will play up because of his work ethic, intensity, team mentality and other non-baseball skills. McCormick was a senior sign out of Millersville University (PA) in the 21st round in 2017; he held the college record for hits, runs, RBI and triples, and his college coach called him "unbelievably clutch." That translated into a first pro season in which McCormick hit .298/.355/.399 with nine doubles, one triple, two home runs, 22 RBI, six stolen bases (four caught stealing) and 15 walks to only 20 strikeouts in 51 games (the majority of which were at Low A Quad Cities). He also hit .382/.447/.618 with two outs and runners in scoring position. And in nine postseason games, he hit .371/.465/.457 with one double, one triple and seven walks to three strikeouts. Defensively, he was errorless in games at all three outfield positions for the season. He will be 23 on April 19th.
Key: Since McCormick wasn't a top draft pick and, as a senior sign, presumably didn't have a big signing bonus, he doesn't represent a huge financial investment on the part of the Astros. The harsh reality of that is he will have to work twice as hard as higher ranked players to continue moving forward in the organization. But, personally, I think he is up to the job.

Luis Payano (R/R)
The main reason that I'm including Payano on this list is because he was the highest paid international player signed by the Astros in the July 2012 signing period, with a $500,000 pay day, and the Astros will give him every chance to succeed. My main concern with Payano is that he will be entering his 6th season in 2018 and has only played 24 games as high as Low A and has averaged only 46 games per season thus far in his career. In 44 games in 2017 (20 at Tri-City and 24 at Quad Cities), he hit a combined .248/.306/.441 with 11 doubles, one triple and five home runs, peaking at the end of the season (.292/.370/.458 in 21 games in August). At the time he was signed, Baseball America liked Payano for his above average arm, good bat speed and running ability, but thought his raw tools were ahead of his skills. Personally, I have enjoyed watching Payano play. He plays all out and possesses an infectious personality. I would really like to see him succeed.
Key: Payano, who will be 22 on May 12th has to be challenged to higher levels of competition and he will have to show that he is up to the task. And all of that needs to start really accelerating.

Stephen Wrenn (R/R)
Wrenn, drafted out of the University of Georgia in the 6th round in 2016, is definitely one of the stronger defensive players on this list. In 60 games in right field, 45 games in center and 15 games in left in 2017, he was charged with only one error while contributing eight outfield assists. Wrenn hit a combined .258/.332/.365 in 125 games between Quad Cities (42) and Buies Creek (85). It took him a while to catch up with High A pitching, but he did so nicely at the end of the season, hitting .301/.378/.336 in 30 games in August and September. According to Baseball America, Wrenn's swing is geared more for contact than for power and he is a plus runner. His 2017 results reflect that as he collected 17 doubles and six triples to go with his seven home runs, and stole 18 bases (seven caught stealing). He walked 50 times to 112 strikeouts, but his strikeout rate improved in the latter part of the season. Wrenn turned 23 in October.
Key: Work to get the most out of his speed. I can see him collecting more stolen bases, doubles and triples as he finetunes his running game.

Others to Watch:

Bryan de la Cruz (R/R)
Much like Luis Payano, my main concern with de la Cruz is that he hasn't progressed far enough in the system at this point in his career. He ended the season with a decent (but very limited) showing at Quad Cities, but going into his fifth season in 2018, he will need to move much more quickly. He turned 21 in December.

Patrick Mathis (L/L)
Drafted in the 22nd round in 2017 out of the University of Texas, Mathis was hampered by a leg injury in his final year at UT. He put up less than spectacular numbers in his first season, most of which was spent at rookie level Greeneville, but keep an eye out to see what he can do when/if he's completely healthy in 2018. He will be 22 in March.

Ronny Rafael (R/R)
Rafael signed for 1.5 million in July 2014, but after three seasons, he has yet to show that his bat is up to the challenge. Rafael turned 20 in October.

Previous Posts:
Shortstop
Second Base
First Base

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Astros Farm Report: 2/13

Catching you up on the latest Astros MiLB offseason news ...

WISHING A VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO

Gilberto Celestino - August 2016
Photo Courtesy of Bryan Green

2-13: OF Gilberto Celestino (19)
2-14: RHP Jose Rivera (21)
2-15: SS Anibal Sierra (24)
2-16: RHP Fredis Guerrero (22)
2-17: LHP Juan Pablo Lopez  (19)
2-19: OF Josh Reddick (31)


ROSTER MOVES/TRANSACTIONS

You know that it's been a slow offseason when the only Astros-related transaction I've seen over the past week was free agent and former Fresno Grizzlie Jumbo Diaz signing with the Marlins!

You can check the cumulative Astros offseason transaction list here to see if you've missed any of the posted moves this offseason.

NEWS AND LINKS

Let me just leave this here ...

The Fresno Grizzlies will become the Zamunda Lions on June 21st. (Would you be impressed if I told you that I know the guy who wrote the screenplay for Coming to America? Yeah, I didn't think so.)

RHP Brandon Bailey, one of our newest Astros (obtained in the trade for Ramon Laureano with the A's in November), writes a blog. It's well-written and gives a little insight into his personality.

Oh, and one last thing, GIRLS RULE!!!



Shortstops
Second Basemen
First Basemen
Third Basemen
Center Field
Right Field - Coming this week!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Beyond the Top 30: Center Field

As the old year fades away and the new season approaches, it's time to start looking at those players of interest who are beyond the Top 30. These players may not ever make a Top 30 list (or they may), but a combination of projections, actual results, incremental improvements and intangibles keep them in the mix as interesting players to watch. I am not including any players in these posts who have already made their major league debuts since, presumably, anyone reading my blog is already very familiar with those players.

Note: Many of the 2018 player rankings haven't been released yet so I will be using the MLB Pipeline postseason list, the Baseball Prospectus Top 10+ list and Baseball America's Top 10 list to denote those players who are currently considered Top 30 type players in the Astros system. Once FanGraphs weighs in, Baseball America publishes their Top 30 and MLB Pipeline posts their 2018 pre-season list, I will post a consensus top prospect list.

CENTERFIELDERS IN THE TOP 30 (in alphabetical order)

Myles Straw - August 2017
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Gilberto Celestino (R/L)
Much has already been written about Celestino, who is ranked #15 in the MLB Pipeline 2017 postseason list and #7 by Baseball Prospectus. He will also likely be ranked in the upcoming Baseball America Prospect Handbook as he was ranked #19 by that publication last year. Celestino was signed out of the Dominican Republic in July 2015 for a $2.25 million bonus (plus a $275,000 college fund) and will turn 19 on February 13th. Celestino appeared in 59 games with rookie level Greeneville in 2017, hitting .268/.331/.379 with 10 doubles, two triples, four home runs, 10 stolen bases (two caught stealing) and eight outfield assists (seven of those in center field). He walked 22 times to 59 strikeouts. To summarize what has been written about Celestino, he lacks any one plus-plus tool, but his baseball IQ, aptitude, work ethic and instincts make all of his projected average to above-average tools play way up.

Drew Ferguson (R/R)
I'm including Ferguson as a centerfielder since he played more at that position than right or left in 2017, but MLB Pipeline which has him ranked at #26 finds his range at center to be "fringy" and feels that he would be better suited to right or left. A 19th round draft pick out of Belmont University in 2015, I see the 25-year old as a solid utility outfielder. Ferguson spent the first 84 games of his season with AA Corpus Christi, hitting .292/.390/.426. He was promoted to Fresno on August 1st where he slashed a less robust .223/.304/.320 in his final 29 games of the season. Overall, he collected 25 doubles, nine home runs, 41 RBI, 66 runs scored, 18 stolen bases (six caught stealing) and seven outfield assists (five of those from left field and two from center); he walked 57 times to 98 strikeouts. Much like Celestino, Ferguson's tools play up because of his great baseball IQ, with his hit tool being his strongest asset.

Myles Straw (R/R)
Straw is currently ranked #20 on the MLB 2017 postseason list and in the "Next 10" by Baseball Prospectus. I fully expect him to debut in the 2018 Baseball America Prospect Handbook as well (ahem, I'm still waiting for my copy BA!). Straw was a 12th round pick in 2015 out of St. Johns River Community College (FL); he just turned 23 in October. Straw spent all but 13 games of his season with High A Buies Creek, hitting .295/.412/.373 at the level prior to a late season promotion to AA Corpus Christi. The speedy outfielder collected 38 stolen bases (nine caught stealing), 17 doubles, seven triples and one home run in his 127 games. He also walked (94 times) more than he struck out (79 times). Straw's speed is plus-plus and is enough to overcome an, at best, average arm and lack of home run power. He makes good contact with excellent plate discipline.

Kyle Tucker (L/R)
Tucker tops the list with a #15 and #17 overall top prospect designation from Baseball America and MLB Pipeline, respectively, and has been ranked #2 in the Astros system behind Forrest Whitley by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. Tucker, who turned 21 last month, split his 2017 season between High A Buies Creek (48 games) and AA Corpus Christi (72 games), hitting a combined .274/.346/.528 with 33 doubles, five triples, 90 home runs, 90 RBI and 21 stolen bases (nine caught stealing); he walked 46 times to 109 strikeouts. Drafted in the first round in 2017 out of H.B. Plant High School (Florida), scouts loved his swing from the start and expected him to develop more power. That power output was evident when Tucker went from hitting nine home runs in 2016 to hitting 25 home runs in 2017 in a roughly equivalent number of games. Rodney Linares, the 2017 Manager of the Corpus Christi team noted that, although Tucker has a somewhat unorthodox swing and approach (BP calls Tucker somewhat stiff and passive-aggressive at the plate), he has very good bat-to-ball skills and power. Defensively, Linares lauded Tucker's arm, but held that his accuracy was sometimes questionable. And, although Tucker has been a good base stealer thus far, that is expected to diminish at the higher levels, particularly as he fills out his frame, and that already appears to be the case. Tucker played in 110 games in the outfield in 2017 - 54 (CF), 37 (RF) and 19 (LF); he may very well spend more time in right field in the future and I personally like him better there than in center.

CENTERFIELDERS BEYOND THE TOP 30 (in alphabetical order)

In his first season after signing out of Venezuela for $300,000 in July 2017, Abreu hit a healthy .286/.377/.345 in 34 games in the Dominican Summer League (and a robust .440/.533/.560 with two outs and runners in scoring position!). According to Oz Ocampo, Astros Special Assistant to the GM, Abreu shows an advanced approach at the plate as well as defensively in center field. Abreu is also said to be a plus runner (seven stolen bases to four caught stealing in his 34 games) with a good arm and nice intangibles. He will be 19 on 6/24.
Keys: In a crowded field of talented outfielders, Abreu will need to work hard to stand out both defensively and offensively. Listed at 6'0" 180#, I would expect Abreu to generate more power as he develops. At a minimum, with his reported speed, he should be able to collect more extra base hits than the five doubles and one triple he had in 2017.

Jake Meyers (R/L)
Meyers batting line for his 42 games with short season A Tri-City was a lackluster .207/.289/.304, but he was definitely heating up toward the end of the season, hitting .313/.377/.513 over his final 15 games, including three of his four doubles and all three of his season home runs. Drafted in the 13th round in 2017 out of the University of Nebraska where he was a two-way player, Meyers is said to be a plus runner (11 stolen bases and two caught stealing) whose speed and above average arm translate well in center field. Meyers will be 22 on 6/18.
Key: Show that he can catch up with and master pitching at the professional level.

Juan Ramirez (L/L)
Ramirez originally signed with the Tigers out of the Dominican Republic in 2015 for $185,000 and came to the Astros after the 2017 season as the PTBNL in the Justin Verlander trade. In his second professional season for the Gulf Coast League Tigers in 2017, Ramirez hit .301/.385/.362 in 42 games. He walked 20 times to only 14 strikeouts and stole 11 bases (seven caught stealing). On the smaller side (Baseball-Reference has him at 5'9" 160#), Ramirez is known more for contact than for power (six doubles and two triples in 2017), but at the time of his signing Baseball America thought he would grow into more power. They also noted that his above average arm could land him in right field. Ramirez will be 19 in April.
Keys: Ramirez is said to have good baseball instincts and he will need to use those to help him get the most out of his average speed and below average power.

Ramiro Rodriguez (L/L)
I am definitely a fan of Rodriguez (at least on paper since I've never actually seen him play), so much so that I named him my Short Season Player of the Year for 2017. Rodriguez was absolutely dominant at the plate while also providing solid defense. Rodriguez spent the vast majority of his season with the Dominican Summer League with a mid-August promotion to the Gulf Coast League. In 58 games, Rodriguez hit .335/.440/.500 with 11 doubles, three triples, five home runs, 24 RBI, 37 runs scored and eight stolen bases (seven caught stealing). He walked 30 times to only 23 strikeouts. Rodriguez signed with the Astros in October 2015 out of Panama.
Key: Rodriguez will be 20 in February and, as good as he was in the DSL, I would like to have seen him play in more than nine games in the States at this point. He should be challenged to higher levels of competition in order to see what he can really do.

Others to Watch:

Yefri Carrillo
Signed during the July 2nd international signing period in July 2017 out of Venezuela for $300,000, I haven't found much information about Carrillo yet, even his age, but since he didn't play in 2017, he will likely be 17 going into the 2018 season. Oz Ocampo called Carrillo a legitimate five-tool player with a "great frame and plus athleticism," citing a 70 arm, plus speed and fielding, and a solid bat with power.

Yimmi Cortabarria and Franklin Pinto
I know even less about these two players, both of whom signed in July 2017 for $300,000 out of Venezuela and neither of whom have yet played, but I will be watching them both in the new season.

Andy Pineda (L/R)
2017 was mostly a season of regression at the plate for Pineda, but he still showed enough promise to be included as a New York-Penn League Mid-Season All Star. Based on his past performance, I can still see him as a solid 4-tool player (lacking power), but going into his fifth season, he will need to catch up to higher levels of pitching and do so much more quickly. Pineda turned 21 in November.

Previous Posts:
Shortstop
Second Base
First Base

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

2018 Astros Consensus Top Prospect List

It is prospect ranking season ... time to start compiling the 2018 Astros Consensus Top Prospect list. Once everyone has weighed in, I will average the rankings from the various sources and compile a consensus list. In the meantime, these are the rankings that have come out so far.

Forrest Whitley - August 2017
Photo by Jayne Hansen

BASEBALL PROSPECTUS - December 5, 2017
1. RHP Forrest Whitley (10th on the BP top 101 overall list)
2. OF Kyle Tucker (20th on the BP top 101 overall list)
3. RHP J.B. Bukauskas
4. OF/1B Yordan Alvarez
5. RHP Rogelio Armenteros
6. IF Jonathan Arauz
7. OF Gilberto Celestino
8. RHP David Paulino
9. 3B Colin Moran - traded to Pittsburgh for Gerrit Cole
10. RHP Corbin Martin

BP's Next 10 (not ranked; in alphabetical order)
3B J.D. Davis
OF Carlos Machado
SS Freudis Nova
LHP Cionel Perez
RHP Hector Perez
C Nathan Perry
LHP Patrick Sandoval
RHP Jairo Solis
OF Myles Straw
C Garrett Stubbs
Plus One
OF J.J. Matijevic

BASEBALL AMERICA - January 18, 2018 + Prospect Handbook released in early February
1. RHP Forrest Whitley (10th on the BA top 100 overall list)
2. OF Kyle Tucker (15th on the BA top 100 overall list)
3. OF/1B Yordan Alvarez (62nd on the BA top 100 overall list)
4. RHP J.B. Bukauskas (76th on the BA top 100 overall list)
5. SS Freudis Nova
6. RHP Jairo Solis
7. RHP Hector Perez
8. RHP Jorge Alcala
(3B Colin Moran was between Alcala and Paulino in Handbook; traded to Pittsburgh)
9. RHP David Paulino
10. 3B J.D. Davis
11. RHP Rogelio Armenteros
12. LHP Cionel Perez
13. LHP Framber Valdez
14. 3B Joe Perez
15. RHP Corbin Martin
16. OF Myles Straw
17. C Garrett Stubbs
(OF Jason Martin was between Stubbs and Celestino in Handbook; traded to Pittsburgh)
18. OF Gilberto Celestino
19. OF Ronnie Dawson
20. RHP Dean Deetz
21. SS Jonathan Arauz
22. 1B A.J. Reed
23. RHP Cristian Javier
24. OF J.J. Matijevic
25. RHP Riley Ferrell
26. RHP Jandel Gustave
27. RHP Elian Rodriguez
28. SS Miguelangel Sierra

Note that the above numbers were adjusted to exclude players who were traded.

MLB PIPELINE - Coming out between late February and early March
Here is the 2017 postseason list.
1. RHP Forrest Whitley (9th on the MLBP top 100 overall list)
2. OF Kyle Tucker (17th on the MLBP top 100 overall list)
3. RHP J.B. Bukauskas (76th on the MLBP top 100 overall list)

FANGRAPHS - Release date unknown
1. RHP Forrest Whitley (8th on the FG top 100 overall list)
2. OF Kyle Tucker (10th on the FG top 100 overall list)
3. OF/1B Yordan Alvarez (44th on the FG top 100 overall list)

As a reminder, these were the players who were consensus prospects in 2017. Players had to appear on at least three of the four rankings used and are in order by averaged rankings.

2017 Consensus Top Prospect List

1. RHP Francis Martes - Graduated to MLB
2. OF Kyle Tucker
3. RHP David Paulino - Missed 80 games in 2017 for failed drug test; followed by surgery in October to remove a bone spur from his elbow
4. RHP Franklin Perez - Included in the trade for Justin Verlander
5. RHP Forrest Whitley
6. OF Derek Fisher - Graduated to MLB
7. OF Teoscar Hernandez - Included in the trade for Francisco Liriano
8. OF Ramon Laureano - Traded to A's for Brandon Bailey
9. C Garrett Stubbs
10. OF Daz Cameron - Included in the trade for Justin Verlander
11. SS Miguelangel Sierra
12. 3B J.D. Davis - Has not exceeded rookie limits
13. RHP Jandel Gustave - Missed the majority of the 2017 season after undergoing TJ surgery
14. 3B Colin Moran - Included in the trade for Gerrit Cole

Additionally, these players appeared on two of the four lists and are in order of averaged rankings.

IF Yulieski Gurriel - Graduated to MLB
1B A.J. Reed - Exceeded rookie limits in 2016
OF Gilberto Celestino
SS Anibal Sierra
LHP Cionel Perez
OF Ronnie Dawson
IF Jonathan Arauz
SS Freudis Nova
C Jake Rogers - Included in trade for Justin Verlander
OF Jason Martin - Included in the trade for Gerrit Cole
1B Yordan Alvarez
RHP Brady Rodgers - Had TJ surgery in May 2017
OF Stephen Wrenn
RHP James Hoyt - Graduated to MLB

Also, check out my series on players who are Beyond the Top 30
Shortstops
Second Basemen
First Basemen
Third Basemen
Center Field
Right Field
Left Field
Catchers
Utility Players
LHP
RHP

Monday, February 5, 2018

Astros Farm Report: 2/5

Catching you up on the latest Astros MiLB offseason news ...

WISHING A VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO

Alex Winkelman - August 2017
Photo by Jayne Hansen

2-6: RHP David Paulino (24)
2-7: RHP Ronaldo Marrero (22)
2-8: LHP Jervic Chavez (21)
2-8: OF Jonathan Lacroix (21)
2-8: LHP Alex Winkelman (24)
2-11: 3B Adrian Tovalin (22)

ROSTER MOVES/TRANSACTIONS

I've only seen one roster move since last week's post.

1-31: 3B Richard Slenker (GCL) released

Slenker was drafted in the 28th round in 2017 out of Yale and was a senior sign. He only played in 9 games in 2017, missing almost three weeks in July which normally signals an injury issue.

You can check the cumulative Astros offseason transaction list here to see if you've missed any of the posted moves this offseason.

NEWS AND LINKS

It's been a pretty quiet week as teams gear up for Spring Training. One of the most interesting developments was the announcement by former Astros prospect Mark Appel that he would be taking a break from baseball. If you haven't already, you can read the story here. Brian McTaggart also weighed in. And now I guess it's my turn to weigh in.

Mark Appel - May 2015
Photo by Jayne Hansen

I first met Appel in 2013 and interviewed him in 2014 on the very day that he later became ill and ended up in the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Although the injuries he's suffered over the years since he was drafted and the pressure of being a number one pick are certainly factors that led him to this place in his life, I am firmly convinced that his highly analytical side also hampered him. I would really have liked to see him get out of his head and bash a few more walls (as outlined in the first story above). The times that I saw him simply enjoying himself in the years in which I observed him were few and far between.

I would love to see Appel come back to the game at some point. Perhaps he will flourish later in an environment in which expectations have been lowered substantially, but that will have to include his own expectations of himself. I think he's taking an important first step in letting life take him in a different direction. If he feels the pull to come back to the game, if he can reconnect with what he once loved about it, if he can once again learn how to have fun playing baseball, only then will he be ready to take the mound again. Appel is a wonderful young man and I'm happy to have had the opportunity to meet him and talk with him. I wish him nothing but the best and I really think, for now, he is making the right decision.

In case you missed it, I started a "Beyond the Top 30" series, looking at both those Astros players who are considered Top 30 prospects and others at each position who may not be top talents (or may grow to be), but will be interesting to watch nonetheless. So far we've looked at ...

Shortstops
Second Basemen
First Basemen
Third Basemen
Center Field - Coming this week (I lied last week, but it really is coming this week!)

Monday, January 29, 2018

Astros Farm Report: 1/29

Catching you up on the latest Astros MiLB offseason news ...

WISHING A VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO

Dex McCall - August 2017
Photo by Jayne Hansen

1-29: 1B Dex McCall (24)
1-30: RHP Dariel Aquino (22)
1-31: SS Juan Pineda (20)
2-2: RHP Brad Peacock (30)
2-2: OF Ramiro Rodriguez (20)
2-3: LHP Javier Navas (20)

ROSTER MOVES/TRANSACTIONS

These are the only recent posted transactions, aside from the non-roster invitees which are covered below.




Jon Singleton - April 2017
Photos by Jayne Hansen

1-23: 1B Jon Singleton suspended 100 games for a third positive test for a drug of abuse
1-23: RHP Dean Deetz suspended 80 games for a positive test for a performance-enhancing drug
1-22: LHP Buddy Boshers claimed off waivers from Minnesota

Boshers is being added to the mix (along with Tony Sipp and Rule 5 Draft pickup Anthony Gose) as a possible lefty reliever. Drafted by the Angels in the fourth round in 2008, Boshers has pitched in 100 major league games, compiling a 4.54 ERA and 1.274 WHIP. In 2016, lefties slashed .241/.267/.293 against him; in 2017, they hit .224/.258/.397 against him.

I would like to add a personal word about the suspension of Dean Deetz. I've had the opportunity to talk to and observe Deetz several times over the last three seasons and I have come to admire his humility and his professionalism. Following the suspension, Deetz released the statement below and he has given me no reason to doubt him. I'm sure many of you will think that I'm just being naive, but I'm going to go with my gut here. Other players have been just as adamant that they didn't know how the same banned substance Deetz tested positive for got into their system. Again, I may be naive, but I'm going to give Deetz the benefit of a doubt.

"Let me say first and foremost that I have never knowingly taken a performance enhancing substance of any kind," Deetz said in a statement released by the Major League Baseball Players Association. "I come from a small town, and know how fortunate I am to call myself a professional baseball player. I would never jeopardize that opportunity, or betray those who have supported me along the way, by trying to cheat in order to gain an advantage. As I explained to the arbitrator in my appeal, I have no idea how I could possibly have tested positive and although I am disappointed with the outcome, I will abide by his decision."

Several additional players were extended non-roster invitations to Spring Training this week. The complete list is here. One interesting invitee is 3B Randy Cesar. As I wrote in my post last week on third base depth, Cesar has been pretty steady at third base the last couple of seasons, but he has yet to play above High A going in to his seventh season in the system. It appears that the Astros intend to be aggressive with him in order to determine what his ceiling may be before he is lost to minor league free agency. All of the other invitees have played at AA or higher, although OF Myles Straw only played in 13 games with the AA Corpus Christi Hooks at the end of the season.

You can check the cumulative Astros offseason transaction list here to see if you've missed any of the posted moves this offseason.

FALL AND WINTER LEAGUE UPDATES

The winter leagues are all but over with only the Australian Baseball League postseason and Caribbean Series left to play. The final updates for the ABL regular season and LBPRC are below.  For the final stats for players having participated in the Arizona Fall League, Venezuelan Winter League, Mexican Pacific Winter League and the Dominican Winter League, please visit my Farm Report from 1/1. The Caribbean Series will start on Friday; information on the series can be found here.

AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE (ABL)

Since Rodrigo Ayarza's team was in dead last at the end of the regular season, he will not be playing in the postseason. But Ayarza is sure to have left a good impression on his Australian hosts with a very solid season. In his final four games, he was 5-for-18 with a double, two RBI, two runs scored and a stolen base.

Adelaide Bite
Rodrigo Ayarza - 40G .292/.324/.476 11-2B 1-3B 6HR 15RBI 8BB:34SO 6SB:2CS

PUERTO RICAN WINTER LEAGUE (LBPRC)

The stats below carry over from last week as neither Ruben Castro nor Carlos Sierra appeared in the final regular season games. Castro had only one plate appearance in the postseason, going 0-for-1 as a pinch hitter and Sierra did not appear in postseason play. The Cangrejeros de Santurce lost 0-3 to the Criollos de Caguas.

Cangrejeros de Santurce
RHP Carlos Sierra - 5G 3.1IP 5.40 ERA 3.900 WHIP 1SO:7BB
C Ruben Castro - 5G .500/.545/.600 1-2B 1RBI 1BB:3SO

NEWS AND LINKS

Kyle Glaser at Baseball America has this great article about players who take the opportunity to play in Korea and Japan. [Insider only]

Connor MacDonald - August 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Former Astro Connor MacDonald, a first baseman who signed with the Astros in 2012 as the first signing out of Australia in 20 years, was released by the Astros during the 2017 season but is getting a second chance with the Pirates as a pitcher. We at WTHB wish Connor all the best!

The Greeneville Reds, formerly the  Greeneville Astros, unveiled their logo this week. (I will miss visiting beautiful Pioneer Park at Tusculum College.).

Prospect ranking season continues with Kyle Tucker ranked by MLB Pipeline as the #5 outfield prospect. Last week, they had Forrest Whitley as second on their list of right-handed pitching prospects, behind only Shohei Ohtani.

And over the weekend, MLB Pipeline came out with their Top 100 overall prospect list and it included RHP Forrest Whitley (#9), OF Kyle Tucker (#17) and RHP J.B. Bukauskas (#76). In addition, former Astros RHP Franklin Perez (#39) and RHP Albert Abreu (#74) were also ranked. Notably missing from MLB Pipeline's list was Yordan Alvarez who was ranked #62 by Baseball America. Jonathan Mayo breaks down the Top 100 for you.

As a reminder, here is Baseball America's Top 100 Prospect Rankings list which came out last week, with RHP Forrest Whitley (#10), OF Kyle Tucker (#15), 1B/OF Yordan Alvarez (#62) and RHP J.B. Bukauskas (#76) all earning a nod. In addition, former Astros RHP Franklin Perez (#35), RHP Albert Abreu (#77), OF Brett Phillips (#80) and RHP Jorge Guzman (#87) were also ranked. BA included tool rankings for all 100 here.

Baseball America also posted an article about breakout prospects for 2018 who didn't quite make the Top 100 and included the Astros Freudis Nova.

When MLB Pipeline posts their 2018 pre-season prospect list, Baseball America releases their 2018 Prospect Handbook and FanGraphs weighs in with their Top Prospect list, I'll do a consensus prospect list. In the meantime ...

In case you missed it, I started a "Beyond the Top 30" series, looking at both those Astros players who are considered Top 30 prospects and others at each position who may not be top talents (or may grow to be), but will be interesting to watch nonetheless. So far we've looked at ...

Shortstops
Second Basemen
First Basemen
Third Basemen
Center Field - Coming this week

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Beyond the Top 30: Third Base

As the old year fades away and the new season approaches, it's time to start looking at those players of interest who are beyond the Top 30. These players may not ever make a Top 30 list (or they may), but a combination of projections, actual results, incremental improvements and intangibles keep them in the mix as interesting players to watch. I am not including any players in these posts who have already made their major league debuts since, presumably, anyone reading my blog is already very familiar with those players.

Note: Many of the 2018 player rankings haven't been released yet so I will be using the MLB Pipeline postseason list, the Baseball Prospectus Top 10+ list and Baseball America's Top 10 list to denote those players who are currently considered Top 30 type players in the Astros system. Once FanGraphs weighs in, Baseball America publishes their Top 30 and MLB Pipeline posts their 2018 pre-season list, I will post a consensus top prospect list.

THIRD BASEMEN IN THE TOP 30

As noted above, I'm not including write-ups on any players who have made their major league debuts, but I would like to note that 3B J.D. Davis is currently ranked #9 by MLB Pipeline, #10 by Baseball America and in the "Next 10" by Baseball Prospectus. Former Astros Colin Moran was ranked #5, #9 and #9 by each of those respective sources prior to his trade to the Pirates. In addition, although I included Freudis Nova in my shortstop post, he has also spent time at third base and may very well end up at that position. Nova is currently ranked #10, #5 and "Next 10" by the same respective sources. Which brings us to ...

Joe Perez (R/R)
Perez is currently only ranked by MLB Pipeline at #17, but may very well be included in Baseball America's forthcoming Prospect Handbook since BA called him the best athlete out of the Astros 2017 draft class. Drafted in the second round out of Archbishop McCarthy High School (FL), Perez reportedly underwent Tommy John surgery in June and has yet to play in his first professional game. According to BA, he was a "legitimate two-way star" in high school, but the Astros drafted him as a third baseman where he is projected to hit for both power and average, using all fields and making good contact. Defensively, he has the arm for third base, but it remains to be seen whether or not his other defensive tools will be enough for him to stick at the position. It is unlikely that he will make his professional debut until late in the 2018 season. He will turn 19 on 8/12.

THIRD BASEMEN BEYOND THE TOP 30 (in alphabetical order)

Abraham Toro-Hernandez - August 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Wander Franco (S/R)
Honestly, I'm not sure what to make of Franco up to this point in his professional career. Originally signed by the Astros in July 2013 for $575,000, Franco has baseball in his blood. He has two brothers who are also named Wander Franco (as is his father), one of whom is currently in the minors of the Giants organization and one of whom signed with the Rays during the 2017 July international signing period and is ranked as their #8 prospect by MLB Pipeline. In addition, his uncles, Erick Aybar and Willy Aybar, have both played in the majors. That big signing bonus and baseball pedigree are the main reasons that I am including Franco on this list. One reason I am concerned, however, has to do with a July 2017 suspension for undisclosed reasons followed by a quick demotion to the Gulf Coast League for about a month. Before and after the demotion, Franco played in 64 games with Quad Cities, hitting .230/.285/.358. Those numbers are less than stellar, but those 64 games were his first career games played above rookie ball. Franco just turned 21 in October so there is definitely still time for him to live up to his early promise as a smooth fielder with good instincts, and an advanced hitter with developing power and an ability to hit to all fields.
Keys: Continue to develop his line drive approach to all fields, refine his defensive abilities, stay out of trouble and prove that he can do all of that at the higher levels of the organization. With 2018 being his fifth season in the system, Franco needs to gain some real forward momentum in his development this year.

Sean Mendoza (S/R)
Mendoza, a 17-year old Venezuelan, may not stay at third base (he also played in the outfield and at second base in his first season), but he was solid defensively in his 23 games at the position in 2017. But it was his offensive contributions that really stood out, particularly for a 17-year old. In 63 games with the Dominican Summer League, he hit .301/.384/.342 with six doubles, one triple and 17 stolen bases to 10 caught stealing. He walked 27 times while only striking out 29 times. And he just got better as the season progressed. In 24 games in August, he hit .366/.418/.427 (including five of his six doubles). When he signed in July 2016, Oz Ocampo of the Astros saw Mendoza as "an athletic middle infielder with soft hands and solid actions" and lauded his speed, hand-eye coordination and ability to hit for contact. Mendoza won't be 18 until 6/2.
Key: Build on a very sold first season and use his speed to collect more extra base hits.

Josh Rojas (L/R)
I am in total agreement with Baseball America who cited Rojas as the best late round pick in the Astros 2017 draft. Drafted in the 26th round out of the University of Hawaii, he could prove to be a real steal. Rojas skipped short season A completely and ended up hitting a home run as his first professional hit at Low A Quad Cities. Although he was solid defensively at third base, he can also fill in nicely at second, and play short stop and left field in a pinch. Because of this, his value may eventually be as a utility player, but he showed enough power potential in 56 games (5 doubles, 5 triples and 10 home runs) to be considered at the hot corner. For the season, he hit .261/.319/.478, including hitting .333 in a four-game fill-in stint with AAA Fresno at the end of the season. I was really impressed with what he accomplished at a level that most 2017 draftees weren't even challenged to in their first season.
Keys: Work on driving the ball, including using more of the opposite field, and work on plate discipline (19 walks to 46 strikeouts).

Abraham Toro-Hernandez (S/R)
Toro was supposed to transition to catcher in 2017, but only played 15 games at that position as compared to 42 at third base so for purposes of this write-up, I still consider him a third base prospect. Toro peaked in July, hitting .315/.431/.607 in 26 games (21 at Tri-City and 5 at Quad Cities). His transition to Quad Cities was not a particularly smooth one and he managed only a .209/.323/.463 line in 37 regular season games at the level (as compared to .292/.414/.538 in 32 games with Tri-City), but Toro came through in the postseason, hitting .314/.400/.571 in nine postseason games as Quad Cities took the Midwest League crown. There is a lot to like about Toro. He is described as having great hands, a great arm, great defensive versatility, good power potential and "elite plate discipline" (40 walks to 51 strikeouts for the season). Toro is very athletic and has exceptional intangibles as well ... a leader on the field and in the clubhouse who speaks French, English and Spanish fluently. Yes, I'm a fan. If that's not enough, he also profiles as a true switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate. Toro was drafted in the fifth round in 2016 out of Seminole State College (OK) and just turned 21 on 12/20.
Key: Refine his approach at the plate to show that he is capable of facing the more and more experienced pitchers he will encounter at each level.

Others to Watch:

Randy Cesar (R/R)
Originally signed by the Astros for $100,000 in July 2011 out of the Dominican Republic, Cesar will be entering his seventh season in the Astros system in 2018. Unfortunately for the 23-year old, that means that 2018 is a make-or-break season for Cesar as he will become a minor league free agent at the end of the season. He has been a solid albeit unspectacular player, particularly the last two seasons, but the fact remains that he has yet to play a single game above High A.

Yeuris Ramirez (R/R)
Ramirez didn't have a particularly good season at the plate (.219/.397/.337) in 57 games in his second season with the Dominican Summer League, but he showed enough improvement during the season and enough of a hint of developing power (10 doubles, 1 triple and 3 home runs) in his age 18 season that I plan to keep an eye on him in 2018 when he will presumably graduate to the Gulf Coast League. He turned 19 on 11/28.

Adrian Tovalin (R/R)
Tovalin was one of the weaker third basemen on this list, defensively speaking, but it is his bat that got him drafted. A 16th round draft pick in 2017 out of Azusa Pacific University (CA), Tovalin is pretty much a boom-or-bust prospect. Baseball America described him as having "massive pull power with little effort," but the question is whether or not he can cut down on the strikeouts that go with that power. Tovalin hit .218/.294/.396 with six doubles, one triple, nine home runs and 20 walks to 65 strikeouts in his first 54 professional games between Greeneville and Tri-City. He will be 22 next month.

Previous Posts:
Shortstop
Second Base
First Base

Monday, January 22, 2018

Astros Farm Report: 1/22

Catching you up on the latest Astros MiLB offseason news ...

WISHING A VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO

Carlos Sanabria - July 2017
Photo by Jayne Hansen

1-22: RHP Mike Hauschild (28)
1-22: 1B Angel Tejeda (21)
1-24: C/1B Jose Carrillo (20)
1-24: RHP Carlos Sanabria (21)
1-25: RHP Bryan Solano (20)
1-27: LHP Antonio Pujols (20)

ROSTER MOVES/TRANSACTIONS

There haven't been any posted moves since the big Garrit Cole trade last week. You can check the cumulative Astros offseason transaction list here to see if you've missed any of the posted moves this offseason.

FALL AND WINTER LEAGUE UPDATES

Since most of the Astros minor leaguers are finished with winter ball, I'll only be including the active players here. For the final stats for players having participated in the Arizona Fall League, Venezuelan Winter League, Mexican Pacific Winter League and the Dominican Winter League, please visit my Farm Report from 1/1.

AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE (ABL)

Coming into the final week of the regular season, Rodrigo Ayarza has continued to impress with a solid season. On Sunday, Ayarza went 3-for-5 with two doubles and scored two runs, punctuating a 4-game series in which he was 5-for-18 with five runs scored, two doubles; he walked once and struck out four times. The ABL regular season will conclude on Saturday.

Adelaide Bite
Rodrigo Ayarza - 36G .293/.329/.493 10-2B 1-3B 6HR 13RBI 8BB:31SO 5SB:2CS

PUERTO RICAN WINTER LEAGUE (LBPRC)

Ruben Castro - August 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Ruben Castro appeared in four games since my last post, two as the starting catcher, one as a defensive replacement and one as a pinch hitter, going 4-for-9 with a run, one walk to three strikeouts and four stolen bases allowed. Carlos Sierra appeared twice over the past week. In his first appearance on Thursday, he allowed two hits and a walk without recording an out (none of his bequeathed runners scored or it could have been worse for him!) and on Sunday, he pitched one inning of relief, allowing one hit, one walk and no runs. The LBPRC will end its abbreviated regular season on Tuesday with postseason play starting on Wednesday.

Cangrejeros de Santurce
RHP Carlos Sierra - 5G 3.1IP 5.40 ERA 3.900 WHIP 1SO:7BB
C Ruben Castro - 5G .500/.545/.600 1-2B 1RBI 1BB:3SO

NEWS AND LINKS

Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs weighs in on the Gerrit Cole trade.

MiLB.com looks at the reality of minor league free agency.

Travel headaches in the Pacific Coast League, a league that stretches more than 2000 miles from the Pacific.

A history of some of minor league baseball's oldest team names.

The Astros front office released the 2018 minor league coaching staff on Friday. There are a couple of notable departures with 2017 Corpus Christi Hooks Pitching Coach Dave Borkowski leaving for the Dodgers AA staff and Hooks 2017 Hitting Coach Joel Chimelis joining former Fresno Manager Tony DeFrancesco on the Mets AAA roster. Notably returning to the Astros fold is Josh Bonifay who will be the minor league Fielding Coordinator after spending one season with the Rangers. In addition, there are several Manager promotions, including Rodney Linares from AA to AAA, Omar Lopez from Low A to AA and Morgan Ensberg from short season A to High A. One final note: Assistant Pitching Coordinator Chris Holt is this Chris Holt and not that Chris Holt.

It is prospect ranking season and more are starting to come out. MLB Pipeline is currently rolling out their Top 10 by position. They have Forrest Whitley as second on their list of right-handed pitching prospects, behind only Shohei Ohtani.

And Baseball America came out with their official Astros Top 10 list, after giving us a sneak peak in the run up to the Gerrit Cole trade. The scouting reports are insider only. [Note: If you're interested in prospects, college players, draft rankings, international rankings, etc., a BA subscription is your best friend!]

And just this morning, Baseball America came out with their Top 100 Prospect Rankings, with RHP Forrest Whitley (#10), OF Kyle Tucker (#15), 1B/OF Yordan Alvarez (#62) and RHP J.B. Bukauskas (#76) all making the list. In addition, former Astros RHP Franklin Perez (#35), RHP Albert Abreu (#77), OF Brett Phillips (#80) and RHP Jorge Guzman (#87) were also ranked. BA included tool rankings for all 100 here.

When MLB Pipeline posts their 2018 pre-season prospect list, Baseball America releases their 2018 Prospect Handbook and FanGraphs weighs in with their Top Prospect list, I'll do a consensus prospect list. In the meantime ...

In case you missed it, I started a "Beyond the Top 30" series, looking at both those Astros players who are considered Top 30 prospects and others at each position who may not be top talents (or may grow to be), but will be interesting to watch nonetheless. So far we've looked at ...

Shortstops
Second Basemen
First Basemen
Third Basemen - Coming this week