The Astros are well-represented on this year’s Top 101 prospects from Baseball Prospectus.
The slow trudge across the frozen tundra known as the baseball offseason has made for quiet times. Not a lot of breaking news, you know? For the Astros, Michael Brantley‘s two-year, $32 million contract might be the offseason’s high point for the club.
However, there are always prospect rankings to review, especially this time of the year as the upcoming season comes into clearer view. Today, let’s take a look at where the Astros are represented on Baseball Prospectus’ Top 101 rankings.
No. 7 – Forrest Whitley, RHP
Whitley is the first of five Astro prospects to check into the list. Although the right-hander saw his 2018 season shortened by suspension and various injuries (oblique, lat), Whitley’s stock is higher than ever entering 2019. Considered the club’s best pitching prospect, the 21-year old’s primary pitch is his fastball, followed by a 12-to-6 curveball, slider, and changeup. In only 26 1/3 innings last year, Whitley still struck out 34 batters while limiting the opposition to a .160 batting average in eight starts.
The Astros were hoping to utilize Whitley in a relief role last season similar to David Price back in 2008 with the Rays, but his prolonged absence due to the reasons listed above prevented such plans from taking shape. While he will likely start the 2019 season with the Round Rock Express, the top prospect is figured to make his major league debut as a starter sometime this year.
No. 14 – Kyle Tucker, OF
Considered the top position prospect in the Astros’ farm system, Tucker (unfairly) comes into the 2019 season with missing some luster off of his rising star. A .439 OPS in 28 major league games doesn’t help the public’s perception, unfortunately. Thankfully, his debut numbers won’t be used to determine his long-term viability on a major league roster.
There is still a lot to like about Tucker in 2019. For one, he posted a .989 OPS in 100 games for the Fresno Grizzlies last season. He showed a noticeable increase in power as his isolated power numbers has improved in the minors during the past couple of seasons. However, he may not break camp on the major league roster as George Springer, Josh Reddick, and Brantley are the likely starting outfield on Opening Day.
No. 46 – Josh James, RHP
A starting rotation candidate for the Astros in 2019, James impressed in his short time in the major last year. In 23 major league innings, James struck out 29 while walking only seven batters. He also limited opposing hitters to a .181 batting average while eating some key innings for the Astros when Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton were out with injuries. His relief appearance during Game 4 of the ALCS caught everyone’s attention as he reached up to 102 MPH on his fastball with Nolan Ryan in attendance.
Since he addressed his sleep apnea issue a couple of years ago, the 25-year old hurler has seen his stock risen considerably. As a starter with the Grizzlies last season, James struck out 133 batters in only 92 2/3 innings. While there are concerns if James is meant for the rotation long-term, the Astros will likely give him every chance to prove himself in the role. If not, then the right-hander may have a future in the bullpen, especially with a fastball that can top 100 MPH.
No. 49 – Yordan Alvarez, 1B/OF
Although his numbers took a dip following a promotion to Triple-A (.801 OPS) from Double-A (1.005 OPS) , Alvarez has shown plenty to be part of the Astros’ future plans. A left-handed hitter, the 21-year old likely starts the season with the Round Rock Express, playing either first base or the outfield. First base may be his long-term position, although he has demonstrated noticeable athleticism in the field.
The Astros may view Alvarez as a potential successor at first base, especially when you consider there is no long-term solution already on the major league roster. With the DH role at their disposal, it isn’t difficult to envision Alvarez and Tyler White splitting time in each role as early as 2020 or 2021. Of course, Alvarez may be a potential trade asset, especially if the Astros remain keen about not trading another top prospect in Tucker. Quite the return for Josh Fields from the Dodgers back in 2016, right?
No. 80 – J.B. Bukauskas, RHP
The Astros’ 2017 first-round pick only threw 59 innings this past season due to a car accident early last year, but he has shown potential. Although the sample size is small, Bukauskas did limit opposing batters to a .191 batting average. Thanks to a plus-plus fastball and slider combination, the 22-year old could be a fast riser in the system if he puts it all together.
The question long-term for Bukauskas is whether he is more suited for a starting or relief role. At this point, the Astros are likely to employ him as a starter, especially as he makes his way through the minors. If he can develop a reliable third pitch, like a changeup, in addition to his fastball and slider, then he may cement himself as a major league starter. If not, then a relief role sometime in the future is certainly possible.