Even a veteran, World Series championship team will find holes to fill throughout the season. These four Astros prospects seem ready to be those stop-gaps, and maybe more.
A 162 game season is a grueling one, taking its toll on every team in baseball. And for the Astros, it’s no different. But which players should fans be on the lookout for in 2018?
Pitcher Forrest Whitley
As the 17th overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, Forrest Whitley has shot through the Astros minor league system. He reached AA in 2017 and dominated with a 1.84 ERA. But perhaps his most eye-popping stat was his strikeouts; 26 in 14.2 IP. Even at the AA level, that is impressive production.
And he did all of that at the ripe old age of 19. He turned 20 last September but has already filled out his 6’7″ frame, weighing in at 240 pounds. With that type of size, Whitley can generate some serious heat on his fastball, and give his breaking ball great depth with his high release point.
It remains to be seen if Whitley will be given much playing time at the major league level, given the team’s current status. But if Whitley continues to dominate, and injuries begin to pop up in the pitching staff, he could find himself on the fast track to Minute Maid Park.
Outfielder Kyle Tucker
Entering his age 21 season, Kyle Tucker is one of the jewels of the Astros farm system. The younger brother of former Astro Preston Tucker has always been a top prospect but came into his own in 2017. He hit 25 homers and drove in 90 RBIs while playing at both A+ and AA level. Tucker figures to start the season at AA, but that may not last too long.
If there is one weakness on the Astros major league club (a BIG if), it’s in left field. A combination of Derek Fisher and Marwin Gonzalez manned the position last year, and both were vital to the Astros World Series title. Even so, Fisher hit only .214 last season, and Gonzalez is much better suited to continue his super-utility role. That leaves left the field open for Tucker to make his move.
Tucker will begin the season in the minor leagues but could see playing time in the majors sooner rather than later. Should Derek Fisher struggle to start the season, don’t be surprised to hear Kyle Tucker’s name mentioned. However, it is highly unlikely the Astros start Whitely or Tucker’s arbitration clock unless they are desperate.
Pitcher Cionel Perez
As the sixth best prospects in the Astros farm system, Cionel Perez has a chance to be the lefty the Astros have been searching for. The Francisco Liriano experiment last season did not fare well, leaving the team without a viable lefty reliever. Converted outfielder Anthony Gose was selected in the Rule Five draft as a lefty reliever, but should not be counted on to have much impact this season.
That leaves Cionel Perez as the next best option. The Cuban native will turn 22 this season and ended 2017 at the AA level. While he did struggle in his short stint (5.54 ERA), his overall 2017 was solid. A cumulative 4.13 ERA may not look spectacular, but Perez found himself both starting and relieving last season. That type of uncertainty can get to a young player like Perez.
Even so, the young lefty could find himself in the Astros pen sometime this season. If general manager Jeff Luhnow decides to stand pat on the free agent market, Perez could end up as the top lefty option A.J. Hinch will have to choose from.
Third baseman J.D. Davis
After seeing time in the majors last season, J.D. Davis could very well be given another chance with the Astros in 2018. As the Astros 3rd round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, Davis has paid his dues in the minors. Even so, he played only 16 games at the AAA level last season before being called up. With more seasoning in the minor leagues, Davis could find himself filling a vital role for the Astros in 2018.
Davis is primarily a third baseman, but made starts at both corner outfield spots and first base last season at Corpus Christi. That type of versatility could be useful for A.J. Hinch, especially if the Astros have to deal with multiple injuries to their infield at the same time. Davis also has a strong bat, posting a .282/.345/.527 slash line in the minors last season. And even though he did scuffle in the majors last season, Davis still posted a respectable .484 slugging percentage with the Astros.
Davis will more than likely need some injuries to pop up for him to earn significant playing time in the majors this season. Even so, that is not out of the question. Look for Davis to turn another strong minor league season into some major league at-bats.
**Statistics and information courtesy of Baseball-Reference**