2022 Houston Astros Top 5 Prospectsby John Lepore January 30, 2022 0 comments
As recent as 2019, the Houston Astros had a very good minor league system. Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez have since graduated. Seth Beer, Corbin Martin, and J.B. Bukauskas were traded for Zack Greinke. Along with the Astros losing their first and second-round picks in 2020 and 2021, they have a lot of work to do to rebuild the prospect pool. That doesn’t mean the system is totally bereft of talent. There are plenty of question marks, so let’s take a look at who Houston has in the pipeline.
Make sure to check out all of our other Top Prospect Articles.
1. Korey Lee, Catcher
Lee was Houston’s first-round pick in 2019 out of California. He bounced around the diamond a bit in college but became the full-time catcher in his final season with the Golden Bears. Lee started the season at Advanced-A and moved up to Triple-A by the end of the year. The Astros are pleased with his development as he has shown good agility behind the plate. He has a cannon for an arm and with a quicker release, he projects to be able to neutralize opponents running.
Lee’s bat has come along as well. He drives the ball from gap to gap and has a short, compact stroke. He has quieted his movement and doesn’t sell out for power. The Astros believe his bat will play even if he needs to change positions. He has the arm for right field or third base and as long as Lee keeps his strikeout percentage below 20 percent as he did this year, the power will come along with a solid slash line.
2. Jeremy Pena, Shortstop
Pena was a third-round pick in 2018 out of the baseball hotbed that is the University of Maine. Son of former major leaguer Geronimo Pena, he has the pedigree although he is a different player than his father. The younger Pena is a defensive shortstop with smooth movements and soft hands. What his arm lacks in overall strength, he makes up for with accuracy and a quick release. The question has always been his bat.
That seems to have been answered this past season. After Pena’s promotion to Triple-A Sugar Land, the 24-year-old slashed .287/.346/.598 with 10 home runs. His 26.3 strikeout percentage is a little concerning especially coupled with a 4.5 percent walk rate, but if he can continue to show some power from his solid 6-foot, 200-pound frame, then he could see the majors as soon as this season.
3. Pedro Leon, Outfielder
Although Leon’s overall rating is higher than Pena’s, the shortstop is a bit more projectable than the Cuban outfielder. Leon was an absolute beast in Cuba’s top league slashing .383/.467/.789 with 15 home runs in 33 games as a 20-year-old. However, he struggled once he got to Triple-A last season. His power-speed combo was still there with nine homers and 18 stolen bases between two stops. The raw talent is definitely there, especially with his arm as it grades at the top of the scale. He has enough athleticism to play centerfield although the Astros had him manning shortstop primarily in the minors.
4. Alex Santos, Right-Handed Pitcher
The Astros picked Santos with their first selection in the 2020 draft. He missed plenty of bats at Single-A Fayetteville striking out 48 in 41.2 innings. The 19-year-old also walked 30 but allowed just two homers. Santos has a four-seam fastball that sits 91-94 with excellent spin rates. He can touch 96 with it and pound the top of the zone. The pitch pairs well with a good curve that has excellent depth and comes in between 76-78. If the 6-foot-4 right-hander can develop his changeup into a plus pitch and limit the walks he could see a shot at the Astros rotation in a couple of years.
5. Hunter Brown, Right-Handed Pitcher
Brown was a fifth-round pick in 2019 out of Wayne State University. He improved significantly through college and put up solid numbers last year. Between Double-A and Triple-A, Brown had a 4.04 ERA with 131 strikeouts in 100.1 innings. He has a four-seamer that he hums up to the plate 96-98 and a low-90s two-seam fastball that has some sink to it. He throws a curveball with good depth and a solid slider which he doesn’t throw as much anymore. Brown has a high release point which gives his pitches some natural downward movement. He needs to develop a true offspeed pitch and work on repeating his delivery as he can get out of his mechanics easily.
What Does the Future Hold?
The Astros still have Forrest Whitley. It seems he has been around forever as he was a first-round pick in 2016. He was suspended for 50 games for violating the Minor League drug program and has battled injuries including having Tommy John surgery in March of 2021. He is still just 23 years old and has the best stuff in the system. However, there are plenty of questions as to whether Whitley will ever become the ace Houston envisioned. They also have a couple of outfielders to keep an eye on in Tyler Whitaker and Colin Barber.
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