As I wrote last week, the Astros’ system has players outside their top 30 prospects who would’ve ranked as top-10 prospects within the organization just 5–6 years ago. In fact, there may be players outside the current top 40 who would’ve ranked that high.
Just how deep is the Astros’ system? Well, Baseball America and MLB Pipeline have ranked the Astros’ minor league system in the top six of farm systems for the 2019 season.
Still not convinced that this is a deep system? Then consider the following list of prospects, all of whom were top-30 prospects at some point and many of whom were top-100 prospects in all of the minors, that the Astros have dealt over the last few years: Josh Hader, Mike Foltynewicz, Domingo Santana, Vince Velasquez, JD Davis, Trent Thornton, Brett Phillips, Albert Abreu, Franklin Perez, Daniel Mengden, Jacob Nottingham, Daz Cameron, Jake Rogers, David Paulino, Joe Musgrove, Hector Perez, Jorge Alcala, Gilberto Celestino, Michael Feliz, and Adrian Houser.
That’s an impressive list of players, and one would think that an exodus of such talent from an organization would mean a scarcity of legitimate prospects. But not with the Astros, who still have arguably the deepest system in all of baseball.
To the point, current Astros prospects that I have outside the top 40, such as Chad Donato, Taylor Jones, Jack Mayfield, Bryan De La Cruz, and Carmen Benedetti, would’ve likely outranked these top 10 prospects from 2012: Kyle Weiland, Paul Clemens, Telvin Nash, Jio Mier, and the colossal bust, Ariel Ovando.
Oh, how times have changed.
Below are five players that I have ranked outside my personal top 30 who could easily break into the top 20 as other prospects in the organization lose prospect status or get traded. Trust me when I tell you, there are probably ten more prospects that I could’ve considered here.
Ross Adolf, OF, Quad Cities (Low-A)
Adolf was part of the package the Astros stole from the Mets in exchange for JD Davis and Cody Bohanek. Adolf has an impressive if unspectacular skill set, highlighted by plus speed and power with the potential to have above-average hitting and fielding tools. Last year, in the New York–Penn League, the 2018 12th-round draft pick slashed .272/.348/.509 for a .857 OPS. The 22-year-old out of Toledo added nine doubles, 12 triples, seven homers, and 14 stolen bases in just 232 at-bats. The downside is that he also struck out 52 times while drawing just 21 walks. Before being dealt, Adolf was ranked as the 18th-best prospect in the Mets system and was considered their best defensive outfielder in the organization. Also of note, MLB Pipeline has Adolf ranked as the 30th-best prospect in the Astros’ system. Adolf will start 2019 in Low-A Quad Cities but could rise quickly with continued success. There’s a lot to like here.
Jeremy Pena, SS, Quad Cities (Low-A)
Pena was taken in the third round of the 2018 draft, largely due to his potential to be an elite defensive player. The 19-year-old son of former big leaguer, Geronimo Pena, did not show much offensively during his professional debut, slashing just .250/.340/.309 in 136 at-bats for Tri-City. But he did have an impressive 18:19/BB:K and demonstrated elite range, a strong arm, and excellent footwork. He did, however, commit ten errors, but his defensive potential is evident. Pena also has plus speed and scouts have given him the “high baseball IQ” label. Pena will need to improve offensively to move through the crowded system. Without a playable bat, his defensive prowess will be inconsequential. Although Pena falls just outside my top 30, Baseball America has the young shortstop as the 25th-ranked prospect in the Astros system.
Manny Ramirez, RHP, Tri-City (Short-Season A)
The 5’11” slightly-built righty can generate serious velocity with his fastball, which sits 95-97 with late life. Unfortunately, that’s his only out pitch, as his curveball is average at best and his third pitch is, well, he doesn’t have a third pitch yet. That said, the 19-year-old Dominican has the arm strength and mechanics to develop a solid secondary offering. If he does, Ramirez has a chance to develop into a high-leverage reliever with a K/9 in the low teens. He’s 3-4 years away from Houston, but this is an exciting and tantalizing arm that the organization is likely to be very patient with. Baseball America has him ranked as the 27th-best prospect in the Astros system.
Nick Tanielu, INF, Round Rock (AAA)
Tanielu became a hot name recently after the infielder hit .353 with a 1.215 OPS, five homers, and 18 RBI during spring training. Tanielu has become a forgotten prospect due to missing all but two games in 2017 while he recovered from a torn ACL. Tanielu has always been able to hit, however, and now that he’s fully healthy, he has regained his prospect status and has Astros fans clamoring for an early season call-up. In 2018, Tanielu split time between Corpus Christi (AA) and Fresno (AAA) and slashed .288/.336/.418 in his first season back from injury. Overall, the 2014 fourth-round draft pick has slashed .295/.341/.421 in 1,557 at-bats over five seasons in the minors. 2019 is a big year for Tanielu, as his prospect status has never been higher, he’s now two years removed from the ACL injury, and the organization’s impending decision to add him to the 40-man roster or not will soon be upon us.
Jonathan Arauz, SS, Fayetteville (High-A)
Arauz probably belongs in the top 30, as, on paper at least, he looks the part of an all-around middle infielder with pop, defense, and speed. However, Arauz has dropped in my rankings due to his lack of putting it all together. It appeared that 2018 would be that season where his skill set would translate to actual production. Starting the season at Low-A Quad Cities, Arauz exploded, slashing a very impressive .299/.392/.471 with 11 doubles, six triples, and four homers in 204 at-bats, enough to earn him a promotion to High-A Buies Creek. However, Arauz crumbled, finishing the season as the worst hitter in the Carolina League after posting a .167/.223/.288 line in 233 at-bats. The organization declined to add him to the 40-man roster at the end of the year, but no other organization claimed him in the Rule 5 draft. Arauz will return to High-A in a make-or-break year for him. If he fails to improve dramatically offensively, the talented shortstop may be looking for a new organization in 2020. Others still believe in him, as Baseball America has Arauz as the 17th best prospect in the organization, and MLB Pipeline has him as the 25th. I’m not so optimistic, but the talent is tantalizing enough to keep him on the radar.