Astros: Five potential debuts we’re excited for this season

Here are five Houston Astros prospects who could debut at some point this season.

If this shortened 2020 season does manage to get underway, one of the many things that’ll be different than in normal years is the number of players we’ll see. With COVID-19 precautions and exposures sure to cause several players to miss time this season, teams will be using more players, meaning we’re likely to see some rookies debut for the Houston Astros.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of the five players I’m most excited to see debut this season. There’s no guarantee they will all play, but I would speculate that at least some of them will. If the Astros are lucky, they might not need all of them.

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Forrest Whitley

This one’s a no-brainer, of course. Whitley is the organization’s consensus top prospect and has some of the best pure stuff of any pitching prospect in the game. He throws five plus pitches and has all the makings of a future ace, and he looked good in live batting practice recently.

Of course the knock is he’s had a rough go of it the past couple seasons, especially in 2019. He needs to refine his command and straighten out his mechanics in order to be effective, as we saw when he got torched at Triple-A to open last season. But if he can get things worked out, the Astros could use him this year, perhaps in a multi-inning relief role.

Cristian Javier

Javier’s results in the minor leagues have been incredible, as he owns a career 2.22 ERA in five seasons. He started 2019 in Class-A Advanced and made it to Triple-A by season’s end, posting a combined 1.74 ERA in 113.2 innings. Those numbers have helped get him up to a No. 6 ranking among the team’s prospects.

His stuff isn’t necessarily overpowering, but he strikes out hitters by the bushel thanks to a deceptive delivery and a high spin rate on his fastball. It makes him incredibly tough to hit, but if there’s anything for him to improve on, it’s his high walk rate. Still, there’s a ton of intrigue in this 23-year-old right-hander, and I’d be interested to see how he fares against big league bats.

Blake Taylor

The Astros haven’t had a reliable left-handed reliever since Tony Sipp was reliable, so the prospect of Taylor joining the bullpen this season is exciting. He’s ranked as the team’s No. 27 prospect after coming over in the Jake Marisnick trade during the offseason. He pitched seven scoreless innings in Spring Training after compiling a 2.16 ERA in 2019, with some particularly good results at Double-A.

Taylor also just became a full-time reliever last year after struggling as a starter and undergoing Tommy John surgery earlier in his career. He turns 25 in August and throws a mid-90s fastball along with a strong slider, so the potential is certainly there. Hopefully he can become what this team’s bullpen has lacked for a few years.

Taylor Jones

The 6’7″ Jones has a chance at being the team’s first baseman of the future after Seth Beer was dealt to Arizona in the Zack Greinke trade. He has decent power in his right-handed swing and displays a solid batting eye and the ability to drive the ball to all fields. He spent all of 2019 at Triple-A and hit .291/.388/.501 with 28 doubles and 22 homers in 125 games.

Defensively, he’s probably major league ready, and he can also play corner outfield or third base in a pinch. With Yuli Gurriel set to hit free agency this offseason, if Jones is needed this year and can show he can handle big league pitching, he might carve out a role for himself in 2021. As the team’s No. 24 prospect, he’s one who could be flying under the radar.

Brandon Bielak

Finally, we come to Bielak, who is ranked as the team’s No. 12 prospect. The scouting report notes he doesn’t have overpowering stuff or any one pitch that stands out, but he mixes his pitches and avoids getting himself into trouble. Getting ahead in the count and keeping hitters off balance is his game rather than simply blowing them away.

The results speak for themselves. The right-hander posted a 2.23 ERA in 2018 between Class-A Advanced and Double-A, and he pitched to a 4.41 ERA in his first taste of Triple-A last year. The 24-year-old could be called on if the Astros need further rotation help this season.