The Houston Astros made a couple of key moves to bolster their bullpen at the trade deadline. They were able to do so without desecrating the upper echelon of their farm system, though this isn’t an immense accomplishment given the club’s pipeline was already fairly weak to begin with.
Let’s dive into an updated ranking of Houston’s five best prospects.
Make sure to check out all of our Updated Prospect Articles.
1. Pedro Leon, Outfielder/Shortstop
Leon has emerged as the top player in the Astros’ pipeline. Signed out of Cuba for $4 million just seven months ago, the 23-year-old has demonstrated his talents in the minors. Through 57 games between Double- and Triple-A, he is slashing .249/.364/.434 with nine homers, 35 RBI, 30 walks, 73 strikeouts, and 15 stolen bases. He has a decent bat but has worried some scouts with his swing-and-miss ability. As for his defensive work, Leon projects well as both a center-fielder or shortstop. Luckily for the Astros, they have some time before they need to commit to one position.
Going forward, Houston will give Leon reps in the outfield and at shortstop to determine where he fits best. He has looked good at both positions, using his speed in center field and strong fielding ability in the infield. His performance in Spring Training next March will go a long way in determining the future star’s long-term projection. He could debut in 2022, but it seems more likely that the Astros keep him in Triple-A until 2023.
2. Jeremy Peña, Shortstop
Peña is a toolsy player who has shown off his well-roundedness. While there are mixed reviews about his hitting, he has impressed in this department this season. The 23-year-old is slashing .303/.385/.440 with seven homers, 54 RBI, 47 walks, and 90 strikeouts. He has also used his impressive speed to leg out seven triples and steal 20 bases. Defensively, Peña is a very strong defender with impressive glovework. He should stick at shortstop long-term given his range and fielding ability. He also has a quick release, though poor arm strength could restrict his projection.
Going forward, the Astros will likely look to make sure Peña is ready for the oft-tricky transition to the MLB level. In order to accomplish this, they should let him work with the MLB starters during Spring Training in 2022 and ease him into game action before putting him on the Opening Day roster. Peña’s ability to get on base coupled with impressive glovework make him an impressive prospect.
3. Hunter Brown, Starting Pitcher
Brown, a fourth-round pick in 2019, impressed in his first pro season as he posted a .157 OBA. Now, through 16 games (13 starts) between Double- and Triple-A this year, he has gone 3-4 with a 3.84 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and .228 OBA in addition to recording 35 walks and 91 strikeouts. Once again, he has held opponents to low hit rates but is still struggling with control. He posted a 6.85 BB/9 in 2019 and a 4.80 BB/9 this year. With that said, he has an incredible repertoire. The right-hander employs an upper-90s fastball that baffles hitters, as well as a newly-developed curveball that has already exhibited lethal drop. He also has another breaking ball—a slider—as a very effective third pitch. This selection complemented his fastball nicely in college but has since been surpassed by his curveball. (That’s not a bad problem to have.) He also boasts an average changeup as his fourth pitch.
I am tempted to list 2023 as his ETA, but considering he is already in Triple-A and has looked good this season, I’ll settle on 2022 with the caveat that he won’t be called up at the start of the year. He probably gets the nod sometime next summer; it’s hard to imagine the Astros waiting until September unless they have a strong rotation or make a big splash at the trade deadline.
4. Korey Lee, Catcher
A first-round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, Lee has swiftly risen through the Astros’ farm system despite the 2020 season being canceled. The 23-year-old posted great offensive numbers at High-A but is slashing just .261/.333/.465 with 25 RBI, 17 walks, and 33 strikeouts through 45 games at Double-A. On a more positive note, he has launched eight homers since his promotion to Corpus Christi. As for his defense, Lee is an average fielder with a receiving ability that has gotten stronger as of late. However, Lee’s arm is his best tool as he combines this with impressive athleticism to thwart opposing teams’ base-stealing attempts.
Lee has looked good enough defensively to suggest that he will stick at catcher, but this isn’t a guarantee. He has also seen time as a designated hitter, which fits with the fact that he will inevitably gain power and hit more home runs down the road. The Astros certainly hope that he can develop into an eventual MLB asset behind the plate, especially considering the team has limited depth at the position coming through the minors.
5. Alex Santos, Starting Pitcher
Drafted in 2020, Santos has seen limited work as a professional pitcher. Through nine games (five starts) totaling 29.2 innings at Single-A this season, he is 2-2 with a 3.34 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, and .198 OBA. He has a shaky 7.28 BB/9 rate while owning a K/9 rate of 10.01. The latter number is solid, but the former exposes a glaring control problem. As for his repertoire, Santos has a mid-90s heater that is complemented nicely by his breaking ball, which features really good depth. He rounds out his selections with a changeup. This is his tertiary pitch but still has potential; it boasts good fade and is already at an advanced stage of development.
Just 19 years old, Santos is still far from the majors. However, he has shown the makings of a really good pitcher while throwing baseballs at Single-A. Going forward, he will clearly need to focus on his control as his walk rate is far too high. With that said, I have no doubt that the Astros’ development department also sees this as a glaring concern and will work with him to correct it over the next few years. If he can improve his control, Santos should have no trouble cracking the MLB roster in 2024.
What Does the Future Hold?
Evidently, the Astros don’t have a phenomenal farm system. While Leon and Peña are toolsy and Brown and Santos provide optimism on the mound, Houston lacks a true phenom in its pipeline. The club’s recent postseason success coupled with the revocation of their first- and second-round picks in the last two drafts obviously play a major role in this. The poor injury status of Forrest Whitley also has major implications here as he would have likely ranked No. 1 with a grade of 60 if not for his various injuries, including Tommy John surgery at the start of the 2021 season.
With that said, look for Houston to build its pipeline back up now that they have survived their punishments handed down by MLB. With these distractions in the past, the Astros’ brass can focus on once again stocking up the team’s system for years to come.
Check us out on our socials:
Twitter: @PTSTNews and @TalkPrimeTime
Facebook Page: Prime Time Sports Talk
Join our Facebook Group: Prime Time Sports Talk
Follow Andersen Pickard on Twitter @AndersenPickard
Main Image Credit: