Update: Here are five more who just missed the top 30.
In 2011, discouraged about the state of the Astros, I began my journey of immersion into the Astros minor league system in the hopes of giving myself, well, hope. After reading what others wrote of the system, I became even more discouraged.
Most publications ranked the Astros minor league system in the bottom ten percent of organizations. After compiling my first top 30 prospects list, I quickly understood why the baseball analysts had little hope for the Astros. In fact, finding prospects in the system to include in a top 30 was incredibly difficult due to the utter lack of talent in the organization.
Enter Jeff Luhnow in 2012 and the reshaping of the entire organization. Since the arrival of Luhnow, and the equally impressive buy-in by Jim Crane of the radical plan to change how organizations are rebuilt, the Astros organization is annually in the top 10 of organizational rankings, despite the amazing list of talent that has been dealt via trades to improve the Astros’ playoff chances.
Now, ranking the Astros’ top 30 is difficult for another reason. The depth at all levels of the organization is hard to fathom. While other organizations are ranked higher, these other teams are still years from becoming serious World Series contenders. The Astros, meanwhile, have won a World Series already and are primed to make another serious run in 2019. It is an embarrassment of riches, and now the Astros have prospects well outside the top 30 that would likely have been top-10 prospects in 2011.
Below are my top 30 heading into the 2019 minor league season. My rankings are more fluid than others who make these types of rankings, in that I update them regularly as the season and each prospect’s performance dictates.
30. Deury Carrasco, SS: A switch hitter, he has very little pop but has a stroke from the right side that could develop fringe to average power. His left-handed swing is all over the place and he may soon become strictly a right-handed hitter. Carrasco also has plenty of speed and can be disruptive on the base paths. 2019 level: A (Short-Season)
29. Ryan Hartman, SP: Won the pitching Triple Crown in the Texas League with a 2.69 ERA, 143 strikeouts, and 11 wins. That’s good. 2019 level: AAA
28. Drew Ferguson, OF: Ferguson has adequate arm strength to play all three outfield positions but is best suited for centerfield, where his speed, routes, and arm all play up. I still think he’s undervalued. Ferguson gets raves for his baseball IQ and makeup. 2019 level: AAA
27.Cristian Javier, SP: Javierhas been able to get by against lower minors hitters. This year comes with a chance to separate himself from the organization’s plethora of mid-tier pitching prospects. 2019 level: AA
26. Peter Solomon, SP: Had a breakout 2018, going 9-1 with a 2.32 ERA across two levels. Low ceiling but high floor if he’s able to prove last year was no fluke. 2019 level: AA
25. Dean Deetz, RP: Made his big-league debut after fanning 63 in 40.2 innings across three levels. He can get very wild at times but seemed to harness his stuff toward the end of 2018. He has a chance to make an impact in 2019. 2019 level: AAA
24. Alex McKenna, OF: Finished his professional debut with a .906 OPS across two levels, showing a toolsy skill set and getting raves for his baseball IQ and work ethic. 2019 level: Low-A
23. JJ Matijevic, 1B: Matijevic was the 75th overall pick in the 2017 draft, a pick originally slotted to the St. Louis Cardinals, but we all know what happened there.He has a knack for driving in runs and could develop into an above-average MLB hitter. 2019 level: AA
22. Rogelio Armenteros, SP: Armenteros is heavily reliant on control and command to be at his best, which he achieved more often than not in 2017; but he regressed some in 2018. He’s a pitcher who is honing the art and could be a sleeper candidate to help the big club in a major way in 2019. 2019 level: AAA
21. Tyler Ivey, SP: A sneaky quick heater with a deep and fairly refined repertoire? Okay then, Mr. Ivey, you have my attention, and I’m now on board after not being too thrilled with your draft selection. 2019 level: AA
20. Framber Valdez, SP/RP: I like Valdez more as a reliever due to his ability to add velocity, as his two-seamer jumps up to 95-96. He made good hitters look foolish in his MLB debut last year and appears to be set for an important role with Astros in 2019. He’ll have his chance, too, as he has made the Opening Day roster and will likely try to fill the role Tony Sipp played. He will have to improve his command considerably to be a reliable asset for AJ Hinch. 2019 level: MLB
19. Garrett Stubbs, C: Stubbs’ best tool is his defense, which, when coupled with his quick feet and athleticism, plays up as plus-tool. Stubbs also brings rare speed to the position and could steal double digits given enough at-bats. His hit tool is slightly above average but there’s little to no power to be tapped into. At this point, he’s a top-20 prospect due to the importance of his position and the fact that he has likely reached his ceiling. 2019 level: AAA
18. Luis Santana, 2B: Santana came to the Astros this winter as part of the trade that sent JD Davis and Cody Bohanek to the Mets. Santana draws comparisons to Jose Altuve due to his small stature and the fact that Santana hit .348/.446/.447/150 wRC+ as a 19-year-old in Rookie ball. The Mets fan base was not happy to see this kid dealt — so there’s that. 2019 level: A (Short-Season)
17. Joe Perez, 3B: Purely based on his high school numbers. Has yet to get any significant at-bats in his pro career after undergoing TJS his senior year. Still, the Astros thought so highly of him that they made him an early round selection. He’s a likely breakout candidate in 2019 with immense raw talent; but he has to stay healthy in order to have the development he needs. 2019 level: Rookie (GCL)
16. Abraham Toro, 3B: He’s developing faster than I thought he would. Toro more than held his own in the Arizona Fall Leagueand earned raves this spring with a fantastic performance and work ethic. Toro has elevated his status as much as any prospect this offseason with some suggesting that he could make his big-league debut in 2019. The future is bright for this kid for sure, but I’m a little more cautious and think another full year of development is needed. 2019 level: AA
15. Jayson Schroeder, SP: I loved this pick last year. Astros paid over-slot money and the kid responded with an abbreviated but successful pro debut, finishing with 18K in 18 innings with a 1.50 ERA in seven outings. His raw stuff is that of a MOR starter with the upside to exceed even that lofty projection. 2019 level: Rookie (GCL)
14. Bryan Abreu, SP: In 14 appearances across two levels — four games in the New York-Penn League with Tri-City, and 10 games in Low-A Quad Cities in the Midwest League — Abreu dramatically improved across the board, finishing with a combined 1.49 ERA, a 1.031 WHIP, and a staggering 90 strikeouts in just 54.1 innings. Improved mechanics and the instruction received once he came stateside seem to be the difference. Most analysts have him ranked higher than this, but I’d like to see a repeat performance before going all-in. Still, a very exciting arm to keep an eye on. 2019 level: High-A
13. Jairo Solis, SP:Solis has many of the same attributes that made Franklin Perez such an intriguing prospect and the central piece in the Justin Verlander deal last August 2017. Once the command and control come around, he will begin to rise in these rankings. 2019 level: Low-A
12. Ronnie Dawson, OF: Dawson has committed himself to conditioning, defense, and becoming more selective at the plate. The result has been that Dawson is no longer an afterthought, and the naturally gifted outfielder is now firmly positioned as one of the organization’s most impressive outfield prospects. He has gotten off to slow starts each of the last two seasons, only to light it up in the second half. Would like to see him put it all together for an entire season. 2019 level: AA
11. Myles Straw, OF: Straw’s offensive value lies in his ability to get on base and turn walks and singles into doubles via the stolen base. His offensive skill set is enough to earn him at least a 4th outfielder role. Defensively, Straw has the speed to cover a lot of ground, and he takes efficient routes, which when paired with an above average arm, has Straw projected as a steady defender at every outfield position. Likely the replacement for Marisnick, should Jake get hurt or traded. 2019 level: AAA
10. Brandon Bielak, SP: One of my preseason breakout candidates going into the 2018 season, Bielak did not disappoint, striking out 131 batters in 117 innings with a 2.23 ERA across two levels. He could begin to move quickly with an outside shot at his big-league debut in 2019.Interestingly, according to one report I read, when other teams were involved in trade talks with the Astros, Bielak’s name kept coming up. 2019 level: AA
9. Seth Beer, 1B/OF/DH: Don’t scout statistics! By the end of 2018, the rigors of the college baseball season and subsequent three months of professional baseball took a toll, and he ended up scuffling. He’s a legit hitter, however, with ample power now and perhaps much more to come. Can’t wait to see what he does in 2019. At the MLB level, he’s purely a DH, which limits his ceiling and placement in these rankings. 2019 level: AA
8. Cionel Perez, SP/RP: Perez is still young and acclimating to America after spending his life in Cuba. He made his big-league debut in 2018, but 2019 could be the year Perez develops into the pitcher that the club originally believed was worth the $5M bonus. Others are somewhat higher on him than I am, but there’s no doubting the pure arm talent. 2019 level: AAA
7. JB Bukauskas, SP: Really came on strong at the end of 2018 after finally getting healthy. He then followed that up with a good showing in the Arizona Fall League and an even better showing this Spring. JBB has now breached many top-100 prospects lists, thanks largely to a developing changeup that flashes plus to pair with his already-plus fastball and slider. The development of this changeup could be the difference between him being a starter or a high leverage reliever. 2019 level: AAA
6. Freudis Nova, SS: Nova projects as an above-average hitter with power and plus speed. His size, at 6’1” and 180, still has room to fill out and his natural lift in his swing could mean an annual 20–25 home run season. Defensively, he projects as a plus defender with a strong arm and strong game aptitude. The organization is very excited about Nova and for good reason. He could — could — one day become the kind of prospect the Astros believe in once/if Carlos Correa seeks greener pastures elsewhere. As I have written previously, I believe Nova could actually be the most important prospect in the entire Astros system, and his progress could determine the Astros’ plan to extend the contract of Carlos Correa. 2019 level: A (Short-Season)
5. Corbin Martin, RP/SP: The organization will allow Martin to develop as a starter, knowing that he has closer upside should that fail. As a starter, Martin has the repertoire and competitive fire to be a solid MOR starter. His breakout campaign in 2018 has boosted his value tremendously, and he enters 2019 as one of the most likely pitchers in the organization to make his MLB debut this year. 2019 level: AAA
4. Josh James, SP: At this time last year, he was a minor league roster filler and maybe a top-100 player in the organization. Today, he’s a legit top-100 prospect in all of baseball. Practice good sleep hygiene, kiddos! He will start 2019 in the bullpen and could be in the rotation by mid-Summer if not sooner. 2019 level: MLB
3. Yordan Alvarez, 1B/OF: How much the organization believes in his ability to play the OF will determine if #2 gets dealt. For the record, I like his offensive upside more than anyone on this list, and, judging by the mentions he is getting from others, I’m not alone in this assessment. Alvarez has the hitting ability to be an impact bat who will hit for average and power. The only thing holding him back is finding him a position. Also, if Seth Beer blows up this year, either he or Alvarez may become trade bait come July. 2019 level: AAA
2. Kyle Tucker, OF: An absolutely torrid last three months of the 2018 season resulted in video game stats. Yes, he’s a legit future star; I’m just no longer convinced it will be in an Astros uniform. That said, the unfair label of Tucker being a bust, based on a very limited sample size, is ridiculous. The fact is, he had an incredibly low BABIP and his hard contact rate was well above average. He’s the real deal, folks, and suggesting otherwise is ignorance. 2019 level: AAA
1. Forrest Whitley, SP: Best pitching prospect in the game. Potential to have five — five! — plus to plus-plus pitches in his arsenal. He also has the command, control, and work ethic to be an ace. He is an untouchable commodity and easily the best pitching prospect in all of baseball. It will be interesting to see how the club manages his innings this year so that he will be of help to the big club come playoff time. 2019 level: AAA
Stats provided by Baseball Reference