Kyle Seager Gets Six More Weeks of Winter

Last Friday, Kyle Seager dove for a ball that was smacked down the third-base line by the Cubs’ Javy Báez and hurt his hand in the process. Scott Servais removed Seager from the game during a subsequent pitching change, and the Mariners announced Monday that the third baseman would undergo immediate surgery to repair an extensor tendon in his left hand. I am not intimately familiar with extensor tendons as a matter of course, but I understand they’re what allow you to straighten your fingers and thumbs. Since you need to be able to do those things in order to play baseball, Seager will be out six weeks.

Because the Mariners aren’t expected to be very good this year — their 75-87 projection is better only than the Rangers’ in their division — this isn’t the kind of injury that you’d expect to materially affect the way the season plays out for Seattle, but it is kind of a bummer for Seager, who had a pretty bad year last year and could use a bounceback. Here are Seager’s numbers for 2011-2017 and 2018, respectively:

Kyle Seager’s Bad Year
Seasons PA AVG OBP ISO K% BB% wOBA wRC+
2011-2017 4,213 .263 .332 .184 16.7% 8.5% .337 117
2018 630 .221 .273 .178 21.9% 6.0% .288 84

There’s a reasonable argument to be made that some of Seager’s under-performance last year was due to an unusually low BABIP (.251, compared to a career mark of .281), and that .178 ISO isn’t too far off his career mark of .183, but it’s hard to write off the sudden spike in strikeout rate — Seager posted a 14.3% full-season mark as recently as 2015 — especially when it comes, as it does, alongside a three-year slide in contact rate, from 83.4% in that 2015 season to 78.8% last year. Last year, for the first time in his career, Seager had a negative run value  on fastballs (-0.69 per hundred seen). Something, clearly, was a little off. Read the rest of this entry »


Craig Edwards FanGraphs Chat – 3/14/2019

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Nolan Arenado Talks Hitting

Nolan Arenado is one of the best hitters in the game. The 27-year-old third baseman has won four consecutive Silver Slugger awards, averaging a a 127 wRC+, 40 doubles, and 40 home runs over that stretch. Ensconced in the heart of the Colorado Rockies batting order, he’s driven in 503 runs, the most in MLB by a comfortable margin.

Like many players, Arenado has evolved. Unlike one of his new teammates, he’s done so in a more traditional —less nerdy, if you will — manner. On Tuesday we heard from Daniel Murphy on how he transformed himself into an elite hitter. Today we hear from Arenado.

———

David Laurila: We first talked during your 2013 rookie season. How have you most changed as a hitter since that time?

Nolan Arenado: “When I’m going well, I’m good at staying on my back leg. I didn’t do that back then. I was a front-leg hitter. That’s why I wasn’t driving the ball out of the ballpark. I was good at putting bat to ball in 2013, but that’s it. I was just slapping the ball for a knock.

“I had to learn how to be quicker without jumping at the ball. I had to learn to control the middle-inside pitch, because they were beating me there. I was kind of drifting, and I was getting jammed. In 2014, I started focusing on getting the head out. Read the rest of this entry »


Introducing Our New Contributing Writers

In January, we put out an open call for contributing writers. The response we received was overwhelming. Over 500 people submitted applications, and we are very grateful that so many smart, passionate baseball writers wanted to be a part of what we do here. It made for some really difficult decisions (and a rather long hiring process), but we are very excited to welcome six new contributors to our ranks.

A quick note to those who applied but weren’t hired: please keep writing. A number of people who have come to work for the site weren’t hired on their first go, but kept getting reps elsewhere on their way to making us regret having passed them by initially. Just because there wasn’t a home for you at FanGraphs this time around doesn’t mean that there won’t be one later, and in the meantime, public baseball analysis will be made better by your good words and good work.

And so, without further ado, allow me to briefly introduce the writers whose work will be debuting on these electronic pages soon.

Rachael McDaniel
Rachael has written at Baseball Prospectus, Vice Sports, and The Hardball Times, authoring work encompassing a whole range of baseball topics past and present. Rachael is currently in the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and following the conclusion of the academic year, will assume the role of managing editor of The Hardball Times in addition to writing at FanGraphs as a contributor.

Twitter handle: @rumhamlet

Devan Fink
Devan has spent the last two years as a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score and the previous four years blogging for his own website, Cover Those Bases. He loves analyzing the latest current events and trends in baseball, ranging from the most minute aspects of the game to the largest, most impactful tendencies league-wide. Outside of baseball writing, Devan is currently a senior at James Madison High School, where he serves as an editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, The Hawk Talk, and as the captain of the debate team. He will be attending Dartmouth College next fall, where he plans to study quantitative social science. Devan resides in Northern Virginia with his parents, brother, and his four-year-old cockapoo, Ike.

Twitter handle: @DevanFink

Sung Min Kim
Originally a broadcast journalism student at Maryland, Sung Min took a sports writing class as a fun elective and went from there. Since his debut at The Hardball Times, he has been writing about the Yankees at River Avenue Blues. He has also written about Asian baseball for publications like VICE Sports, The Sporting News, Baseball Prospectus, and The Athletic. Sung Min will explore different aspects of Asian baseball while also writing about major league subjects.

Twitter handle: @sung_minkim

Ben Clemens
Cardinals fans may recognize Ben as a writer from Viva El Birdos. He always wanted to play baseball and be a famous writer growing up — he got ‘baseball’ and ‘writer’ at least, though he’s still working on ‘play’ and ‘famous.’ Working in financial markets made him interested in the decision-making and game theory aspects of baseball; he’s now answering the truly important questions, like whether Matt Carpenter should swing more on 3-0. He lives in New York but will soon be moving to San Francisco.

Twitter handle: @_Ben_Clemens

Audrey Stark
Audrey attended her first MLB game in June 2003 with her Girl Scout troop. While watching Albert Pujols through binoculars from an upper section of Busch Stadium II, she realized that baseball was the best sport on the planet. Audrey began writing for SBNation in 2016 at Beyond the Box Score; she has also contributed to Viva el Birdos and Federal Baseball. She has a degree in political science.

Twitter handle: @HighStarkSunday

Octavio Hernandez
Once a beat writer in the Venezuelan Winter League before becoming the assistant GM for Leones del Caracas in that same league, Octavio currently works for Diablos Rojos del Mexico as the chief of the Advanced Metrics department. Now he’ll return to his roots as a writer, focusing on Latin American major league players along with providing some insight into what’s going on in the Mexican League and the Caribbean Winter Leagues. He is a man with a mission: to help Latin American baseball get on board with advanced metrics. He hopes you will join him on his ride.

Twitter handler: @octaviolider

You’ll begin to see work from these six writers appearing at FanGraphs soon. We hope you’re as excited for them to get going as we are.


Top 39 Prospects: Houston Astros

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the Houston Astros. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from our own (both Eric Longenhagen’s and Kiley McDaniel’s) observations. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of our prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this.

All of the numbered prospects here also appear on The Board, a new feature at the site that offers sortable scouting information for every organization. That can be found here.

Astros Top Prospects
Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV
1 Forrest Whitley 21.5 AA RHP 2019 65
2 Kyle Tucker 22.2 MLB RF 2019 60
3 Corbin Martin 23.2 AA RHP 2019 50
4 J.B. Bukauskas 22.4 AA RHP 2019 50
5 Joshua James 26.0 MLB RHP 2019 50
6 Cionel Perez 22.9 MLB LHP 2019 50
7 Yordan Alvarez 21.7 AAA DH 2020 50
8 Freudis Nova 19.2 R SS 2022 45
9 Bryan Abreu 21.9 A RHP 2020 45
10 Brandon Bielak 22.9 AA RHP 2020 45
11 Luis Santana 19.6 R 2B 2022 40+
12 Rogelio Armenteros 24.7 AAA RHP 2019 40+
13 Jairo Solis 19.2 A RHP 2022 40+
14 Tyler Ivey 22.8 A+ RHP 2020 40+
15 Ronnie Dawson 23.8 AA CF 2020 40+
16 Manny Ramirez 19.3 A- RHP 2023 40
17 Myles Straw 24.4 MLB CF 2019 40
18 Seth Beer 22.5 A+ DH 2021 40
19 Abraham Toro-Hernandez 22.2 AA 3B 2021 40
20 Peter Solomon 22.6 A+ RHP 2020 40
21 Brandon Bailey 24.4 AA RHP 2019 40
22 Framber Valdez 25.3 MLB LHP 2019 40
23 Alex McKenna 21.5 A CF 2022 40
24 Jonathan Arauz 20.6 A+ 2B 2021 40
25 Garrett Stubbs 25.8 AAA C 2019 40
26 Cristian Javier 22.0 A+ RHP 2020 40
27 Jayson Schroeder 19.3 R RHP 2023 40
28 Enoli Paredes 23.5 A+ RHP 2020 40
29 Joe Perez 19.6 R 3B 2022 35+
30 J.J. Matijevic 23.3 A+ 1B 2021 35+
31 Carlos Sanabria 22.1 A+ RHP 2020 35+
32 Ross Adolph 22.2 A- CF 2022 35+
33 Deury Carrasco 19.5 A- SS 2023 35+
34 Jeremy Pena 21.5 A- SS 2022 35+
35 Osvaldo Duarte 23.2 A+ SS 2020 35+
36 Reymin Guduan 27.0 MLB LHP 2019 35+
37 Dean Deetz 25.3 MLB RHP 2019 35+
38 Angel Macuare 19.0 R RHP 2022 35+
39 Kit Scheetz 24.8 AA LHP 2019 35+
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65 FV Prospects

Drafted: 1st Round, 2016 from Alamo Heights HS (TX) (HOU)
Age 21.5 Height 6′ 7″ Weight 225 Bat / Thr R / R FV 65
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops
70/70 60/65 60/60 60/70 50/55 40/50 93-99 / 100

Whitley was listed at 235 pounds on the 2015 Area Code Games roster but was tipping the scales at 260 not long before that. At that event, he was sitting in the 90-92 range with feel for locating a solid-average curveball. He looked like a mature-bodied pitchability prospect whose stuff might be done improving. During that fall and winter, though, Whitley began to reshape his physique. He dropped about 50 pounds and came out the following spring with much better stuff, his fastball creeping into the 93-95 range and touching 97.

Whitley and his stuff have continued to improve, though he had a somewhat chaotic 2018. He missed the season’s first 50 games due to a suspension for the use of an unknown stimulant, then had his season debut pushed back due to a lat strain. He finally toed the rubber at Double-A Corpus Christi in June and made five four-inning starts before he was removed in the first inning of his sixth outing and placed on the IL with an oblique strain. He missed a little over a month, then made two more starts in August before feeling lat discomfort warming up for what would have been a third. He was shut down as a precaution and sent to the Arizona Fall League to pick up innings.

His stuff was wholly intact in Arizona, as Whitley sat 93-97 and touched 99. His apparitional changeup haunts both left and right-handed hitters, disappearing beneath barrels as it approaches the plate. Whitley’s array of breaking stuff is well-designed. His power 12-6 curveball honors his Texas heritage but has been de-emphasized as an out pitch in deference to his tilting, mid-80s slider. He has the best collection of stuff in the minor leagues, and might have been in the big leagues last year if not for various setbacks. He may be on somewhat of an innings limit this year because he didn’t pitch all that much in 2018, but barring that, we expect he’ll help the Astros cause at some point in 2019.

60 FV Prospects

Drafted: 1st Round, 2015 from Plant HS (FL) (HOU)
Age 22.2 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr L / R FV 60
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
50/60 60/60 50/60 40/40 40/50 55/55

A very divisive amateur prospect, some scouts were put off by Tucker’s unique swing, while it reminded others of Ted Williams’. The Astros have parlayed his natural bat control into more power. Tucker has gotten stronger and more physically mature, his lower half is better incorporated into his swing than it was in high school, and in 2017, he began lifting the ball more as his ground ball rate dropped from 42% to 34%. With that additional lift has come in-game power and Tucker has slugged well over .500 during each of the last two seasons, and hit about 25 homers during each campaign. He had a horrendous 28-game big league debut but his long track record of hitting suggests that should be heavily discounted.

Though Tucker spent much of his minor league career in center field, he’s a below average runner who is ticketed for an outfield corner, probably in right. He’s an opportunistic base stealer but almost all of his value is tied to his bat, and we think he eventually ends up as a middle of the order bat with a dynamic hit/power combination.

There are still detractors who don’t like Tucker’s motor, or his swing, but on the low end he projects somewhere in the Max Kepler/Nomar Mazara area, and that still plays everyday.

50 FV Prospects

3. Corbin Martin, RHP
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2017 from Texas A&M (HOU)
Age 23.2 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/55 55/60 45/55 40/50 93-95 / 96

Martin was a solid two-way performer in high school who hadn’t quite grown into his frame yet when he got to Texas A&M. By the summer after his sophomore year, Martin was flashing three TrackMan-friendly plus pitches and starter traits in the Cape Cod League, but he only started 16 games in College Station due to a deep veteran staff and his own inconsistency. The Astros popped him in the second round in 2017, hoping to tease out the guy they saw on the Cape and in the last 18 months, they’ve done just that.

Martin sits in the mid-90s, mixes in a plus slider, with an above average changeup and average command. He still doesn’t post the strikeout rates that you’d assume from a possible No. 2 or 3 starter in the Astros farm system, which annually leads the minors in strikeouts in part because they know how to coach pitchers to make the most of their stuff. Sources with knowledge in this area indicate that Martin should see more K’s in 2019 if he can make a couple subtle adjustments to how he uses his pitches and fully unlock his potential, which could lead to a big league look at the end of 2019 if the vaunted Astros pitching staff has an open spot.

Drafted: 1st Round, 2017 from North Carolina (HOU)
Age 22.4 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 196 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops
60/60 60/70 55/60 55/55 45/50 92-97 / 98

Bukauskas took time off from pitching and got in the weight room as a high school underclassman, and emerged the following spring with four or five more ticks on his fastball. He then reclassified and was suddenly on track to graduate and be draft eligible a year early, meaning every decision-making amateur evaluator in the country had to get in quickly to see a pitcher who had all this new velocity but with whom scouts had very little history. Then Bukauskas asked not to be drafted (he was, late, and didn’t sign) so he could go to North Carolina. After a middling freshman year, he was dominant as a sophomore and in the early part of his junior year before his stuff was depressed during North Carolina’s postseason games. It inflamed perviously held concerns that durability issues resulting from his size and a violent delivery might push Bukauskas to the bullpen.

After parts of two pro seasons, we still don’t have great feel for how Bukauskas will hold up under a pro workload. He hasn’t had any arm issues, but missed two months due to a slipped disk in his thoracic spine, an injury he suffered in a car accident. Bukauskas was electric when he returned and became increasingly dominant towards the end of the summer before his stuff was seen by the entire industry in the Arizona Fall League.

He’ll flash 70-grade changeups and sliders on occasion, bump 98, and has added a cutter. His stuff would lose some zip late in Fall League outings, and he may be more of a 120-inning starter than true workhorse, which would cap his value at around 2.5 annual WAR.

5. Joshua James, RHP
Drafted: 34th Round, 2014 from Western Oklahoma JC (HOU)
Age 26.0 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 205 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
70/70 55/55 55/55 40/45 94-99 / 102

James’ fastball velocity has climbed each of the last three years and is now in the upper-90s. He struck out 171 hitters in 114 innings at Triple-A Fresno in 2018 before the Astros brought him to the big leagues for six appearances (some out of the bullpen, some as a starter), and he struck out more than a batter per inning there, as well. He was slated to compete for a spot in Houston’s rotation during the spring but was sidelined with a quad strain, and may begin the regular season rehabbing or in a lesser role due to the late start.

James’ secondaries can sometimes be easy to identify out of his hand, but purely based on movement, they’re both plus. His command may limit him to a relief role, or at least a starting role that carries fewer innings than is typical, but he has high-leverage big league stuff, and was perhaps 2018’s biggest prospect surprise.

6. Cionel Perez, LHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Cuba (HOU)
Age 22.9 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr L / L FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/60 55/60 55/60 40/45 40/45 92-96 / 98

The Astros initially agreed to sign Perez for $5 million but found something they didn’t like during a physical, voided his deal, then renegotiated his bonus down to $2 million. Perez has traversed the minors injury-free and reached Houston last year in just his second pro season in the U.S. All of Perez’s pitches have great action on them, including the changeup, which Perez just doesn’t have feel for locating yet. For now, he relies heavily on mid-90s heat and two good breaking balls, the best of which is a hard, upper-80s slider.

He had weird usage patterns last year and it’s not clear if Houston is developing him as a true starter or not, though lots of scouts see his skinny build and project him to the bullpen. He has multi-inning stuff if that move occurs.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Cuba (LAD)
Age 21.7 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 225 Bat / Thr L / L FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
45/55 65/65 30/55 45/40 30/40 45/45

The Dodgers signed Alvarez for $2 million just before the clock struck midnight on the 2015-2016 International Free Agent signing period, then traded him to Houston for Josh Fields a few weeks later, before Alvarez had even played a pro game. Houston took things slow for the first year 10 months, and left Alvarez in the DSL in 2016 and in Extended Spring Training to start 2017, but he has moved very quickly since then, climbing to a new minor league level every half season. And he has performed. Alvarez is a career .301/.381/.507 hitter in the minors, has always been young relative to his level, and reached Triple-A last year shortly after he turned 21. He has big, all-fields raw power, and balls he mis-hits will often still find their way to the warning track. While Alvarez has good natural timing in the box and isn’t often fooled by breaking stuff, he does have limited bat control and we anticipate his batting averages will be lower in majors than they have been thus far.

Athletic for his size, Alvarez has mostly played left field as a pro and he’s a 40 runner underway, but he appeared to stiffen last year and most teams have him projected to first base or DH. That will limit his overall value and makes his lack of bat control a little scary, but we still think Alvarez will become an average regular, and possibly get an opportunity quite soon.

45 FV Prospects

8. Freudis Nova, SS
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Dominican Republic (HOU)
Age 19.2 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
25/60 50/60 35/55 60/50 40/45 55/55

The Marlins backed out of a $2.5 million agreement with Nova after he tested positive for PEDs as an amateur. He eventually came to a $1.5 million deal with Houston, which was reduced to $1.2 million after his physical. While there’s creeping doubt about his ability to stay at shortstop — some scouts have gone so far as to say he appears wholly disinterested in defense — there’s confidence in Nova doing well-rounded damage on offense. He’s an athletic swinger with plus bat speed and bat control, and is especially adept at impacting pitches in the bottom of the strike zone.

For now, Nova’s approach is rather hedonistic, and he’s talented enough to make that work, at least for a while. Though this feature adds some approach-related risk to his profile, there’s huge ceiling if Nova remedies his defensive shortcomings and becomes more selective, and it’s probably a strong everyday role if just one of those things happens.

9. Bryan Abreu, RHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2013 from Dominican Republic (HOU)
Age 21.9 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/55 55/60 60/60 40/45 40/45 93-96 / 97

The origin of Abreu’s superficially surprising 40-man add was the glacial pace at which the Astros moved him through the system during his first several seasons. He spent four years at various levels of rookie ball and barely pitched, only throwing about 40 affiliated innings per year on average. The 38 innings he threw at Low-A to round out 2018 were dominant, as Abreu recorded 68 strikeouts, most of which were accrued with either of his two excellent breaking balls, which he has better feel for locating than he does his mid-90s fastball.

There’s considerable industry doubt regarding Abreu’s ability to start, the result of several factors. The lack of total innings creates reasonable doubt about him handling a 140-plus inning workload, and the lack of fastball command, along with Abreu’s mediocre changeup, are also cited as pitfalls. As long as Abreu’s breaking ball command refines though, he may have the tools to attack lefties and get ahead of hitters even if these other components are sub-optimal. His 40-man addition makes it more likely that he spends the early part of his big league career in the bullpen, but he may be a dominant multi-inning piece and could evetually transition into the rotation. Despite some clear present issues, we’re betting heavily on the stuff here.

Drafted: 11th Round, 2017 from Notre Dame (HOU)
Age 22.9 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
50/50 50/55 55/60 45/50 45/55 91-94 / 96

Bielak was one of several talented Notre Dame pitchers who had an uneven college career during ’15-’17. Bielak’s control issues were quickly remedied in pro ball, and his pitch utility improved. He can pitch backwards and consistently locates both of his breaking balls to his glove side; Bielak often sets up one with the other. He checks an awful lot of boxes; there’s a starter’s repertoire depth and pitch quality, starter’s command, good raw spin, and he performed and reached Double-A in his first full year. We think he’s a No. 4 or 5 starter and could be ready in 2020.

40+ FV Prospects

11. Luis Santana, 2B
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Venezuela (NYM)
Age 19.6 Height 5′ 8″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
25/60 40/45 20/40 50/50 40/50 50/50

The Astros acquired Santana from the Mets for J.D. Davis when Santana was coming off a domestic debut at advanced rookie-level Kingsport, where he hit .348/.446/.471 with more walks than strikeouts.

A curvaceous 5-foot-8, Santana crowds the plate so much that he’s practically straddling it, and his idiosyncratic, low-ball swing enables him to impact pitches that cross the plate beneath his chest as he leans over it. It’s weird, but it works, and Santana looks like he’s going to be a plus hitter who also has a discerning eye for the strike zone, and whose plate crowding gets him hit by pitches so often that it actually matters. He has been hit in 4% of his 611 career plate appearances, which is nearly twice the career rate of active big league HBP leader Shin-Soo Choo (132 HBP, 1.9%) who became the active leader when Chase Utley (204 HBP, 2.5%) retired.

Athletically, Santana fits at second and third base. His body is pretty maxed out and he’s not likely to grow into sizable raw power, but he runs well, has infield-worthy hands, and an average arm. The combination of his defensive profile and promising feel to hit make him a potential regular. The bat control may be obscuring poor pitch selection.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Cuba (HOU)
Age 24.7 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
45/45 45/50 60/60 50/55 87-90 / 92

Though it seems like Arementeros was more inclined to nibble with his fringy fastball in the hitter’s paradise of the PCL, he was still pretty successful and of interest to teams ahead of the trade deadline. His fastball plays because he hides the ball well, it has some life at the top of the zone, and he works it up around the hands of righties, causing significant discomfort. His command enables his milquetoast breaking ball to play, but his dastardly changeup, which Armenteros uses against hitters of both handedness, is clearly his best pitch. The deception may not play multiple times through a batting order if Armenteros ends up in a traditional starting role. Instead we think he fits best in a role like Chris Devenski, who has similar stuff.

13. Jairo Solis, RHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Venezuela (HOU)
Age 19.2 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 160 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/60 55/65 45/55 35/45 92-95 / 97

If not for a very unfortunately timed Tommy John — which will keep him out until 2020 — Solis would have been several spots higher on this list. Among the non-Top 100 types of arms in this system, he not only has one of the better chances of remaining a starter but also has the best stuff among those who do, led by a plus-flashing curveball that he has great feel for locating. Solis also has a great arm for a 19-year-old and may still throw harder as he matures, with his fastball already sitting in the viable low-to-mid 90s. There’s some changeup feel here, too, and teams think Solis has mid-rotation ceiling so long as his command continues to progress.

The Astros will need to make a Rule 5 protection 40-man decision on him after the 2020 season, a decision that will be made easier if Solis hits the ground running after rehab.

14. Tyler Ivey, RHP
Drafted: 3rd Round, 2017 from Grayson County JC (TX) (HOU)
Age 22.8 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops
50/55 45/50 60/60 45/50 40/45 45/50 90-94 / 96

The way Ivey’s jersey billows down from his long, skinny limbs throughout an eccentric, slowly-paced windup makes him look like a backup dancer in some kind of vampire musical. Despite the head whack that comes at the end, he’s able to throw strikes with his fastball and has a sufficiently deep repertoire for starting. He is the Astros’ type, possessing a fastball/curveball combination that plays well in sequence at the top and bottom of the strike zone. The rest of his stuff is just okay but enables Ivey to attack hitters in various ways, either by working his cutter in on the hands of lefties or by dipping his slider beneath the zone. He has a No. 4 or 5 starter’s mix or could end up a dynamic multi-inning reliever.

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2016 from Ohio State (HOU)
Age 23.8 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 225 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
40/45 55/55 45/50 55/55 45/50 55/55

A multi-sport high schooler, Dawson drew some Division I football interest from MAC teams like Bowling Green but transitioned to baseball full time after suffering a torn ACL late in his high school career. In every regard he became a contextually toolsy outfielder at Ohio State, possessing a power/speed blend that’s rare for prospects in college baseball, let alone the Big Ten.

While Dawson ran well for a hefty, 230 pound former linebacker/fullback, it was assumed that his size would prohibit long term play in center field and that his arm strength would limit him to left. He has worked doggedly to improve both those issues. Weighted ball work has helped improve his arm, and he’s now considerably leaner than he was in college. He’s also faster, and shags batting practice fly balls with intense focus. He’s willed himself to become viable in center field, which gives him a real shot at becoming an everyday player because Dawson has more raw juice than is typical for center fielders. More likely he’s the larger half of an outfield platoon or a strong fourth outfielder, but he has already surpassed developmental expectations and may continue to do so.

40 FV Prospects

16. Manny Ramirez, RHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Dominican Republic (HOU)
Age 19.3 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/60 50/60 40/50 35/50 92-95 / 97

Ramirez wasn’t a hyped international prospect and it’s easy to see why. As a 5-foot-11, 170 pound righty, he would need to have electric stuff to be a real prospect, stuff he didn’t have when he signed for $50,000 in the 2017 class. This year, that stuff materialized with a mid-90s fastball and plus-flashing curveball, along with a changeup that shows average at times. The future scouting grades add up to a potential mid-rotation starter, but Ramirez is still just 19, with no full-season minor league experience, a frame that likely isn’t conducive to starter bulk innings, and a ways to go to even reach those projected future grades. With a realistic outcome of multi-inning power reliever, Ramirez joins a number of power arms the Astros have been developing at a greater than usual rate.

17. Myles Straw, CF
Drafted: 12th Round, 2015 from St. John’s River JC (FL) (HOU)
Age 24.4 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
50/55 30/30 20/20 70/70 60/60 55/55

One of the more unusual players in the minors, Straw has long been considered a likely bench outfielder due to his complete lack of power, but his other tools may prove to be so strong that he finds his way into an everyday role for someone.

Straw has one of the lowest Pull% in pro baseball, as only 27% of balls he puts in play are to his pull side. His 70-grade speed plays like an 80 from home to first, as his swing has a natural jailbreak that gets him out of the box very quickly. He lead the minors with 70 stolen bases last year, his closing speed is very valuable in center field, and Straw is a tough out thanks to his feel for the strike zone and bat control. Players like this occasionally turn into Michael Bourn or Ender Inciarte and provide sizable everyday value. Straw’s skillset indicates this sort of future is a possibility, but not a likelihood, and chances are he’s either a low-end regular in center or good fourth outfielder.

18. Seth Beer, DH
Drafted: 1st Round, 2018 from Clemson (HOU)
Age 22.5 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/40 70/70 40/55 20/20 30/40 45/45

Beer was on the scouting radar very early as a prep underclassman who was old for his year but had tools, performed, and was a decorated swimmer. Instead of reclassifying and enter the 2015 draft as an 18-year-old, Beer skipped his high school senior year completely and early-enrolled in January at Clemson. He wasn’t on the radar for the top couple rounds, so scouts weren’t sure he’d perform well, but Beer went on to have one of the best freshman years in college baseball history: .369/.535/.700 with 18 homers, 62 walks, and 27 strikeouts.

The pessimistic view is that Beer is a player with old skills that peaked that season, as his stats regressed a bit from historic to merely among the best. The optimistic view is that Beer has impact plus-plus raw power, a long track record of production and will fit as an everyday 1B/DH type. We’re a bit on the pessimistic side, as Beer is a 20 runner whose athleticism has backed up. He may only fit at DH now and we worried his swing was grooved enough that the hit tool may only be a 40, but with plenty of walks and power. The slippery slope to platoon DH is in sight, so we’d like to see some higher minors performance before we adjust our projections.

His pro debut was strong and he’ll likely spend this year at Hi- and/or Double-A at age 22, age-appropriate for prospects, which will show us where he is on the spectrum of expected performance from Dan Vogelbach to Nate Lowe, or maybe Rhys Hoskins at the very high end.

Drafted: 5th Round, 2016 from Seminole State JC (OK) (HOU)
Age 22.2 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr S / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
40/45 50/50 40/50 50/50 45/50 70/70

Perhaps the most divisive prospect in this system, some clubs believe Toro has a chance to play third base everyday while others see a bench bat ceiling on a player who has yet to prove he can handle other positions. He’s a switch-hitter with feel for lifting the baseball from both sides of the plate, makes hard contact, and has plus-plus arm strength when he’s able to step into his throws. But Toro struggles to make throws from athletically challenging platforms, which leads some onlookers to question whether he’s actually a good fit there, and his one-note, pull-heavy approach to contact may be less successful in the big leagues than it has in the lower levels of the minors.

The median opinion has Toro pegged as a switch-hitting bench piece, but he’ll need to learn to play other positions before that can become a reality. Houston briefly tried him at catcher but that experiment ended quickly. The outfield corners are logical avenues to explore.

20. Peter Solomon, RHP
Drafted: 4th Round, 2017 from Notre Dame (HOU)
Age 22.6 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops
55/55 50/50 55/55 40/45 40/45 40/45 92-94 / 96

Solomon’s stuff garnered sizable hype when he was in college but he was not a competent strike-thrower and ended up walking 77 hitters in 110 career innings. He has become more mechanically consistent as a pro and now has an improved chance of starting.

He has plus fastball rise, two good breaking balls, and a changeup and cutter in their nascent stages of development. Houston has had success turning college arms like this into good starting pitching prospects, and Solomon’s 2018 was a step in that direction. He has No. 4 or 5 starter stuff if the metamorphosis continues, and either his changeup or breaking ball command sharpen.

21. Brandon Bailey, RHP
Drafted: 6th Round, 2016 from Gonzaga (HOU)
Age 24.4 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops
50/50 45/50 55/55 55/60 50/50 40/45 89-93 / 94

In a prospect pool increasingly full of TrackMan darlings, Bailey might be Grace Kelly. His fastball has premium life, his once-stigmatized stature helps create a flat approach angle that enables his fastball to play at the top of the strike zone, and it helps set up his knee-buckling, 12-6 curveball. His changeup will flash plus and he can vary his breaking ball shape with a slider and relatively new cutter to give hitters different looks. All of these components allow Bailey to strike out lots of batters without big velocity, but his approach to pitching is not conducive to efficient strike-throwing. This, combined with his size, has teams projecting him to the bullpen. He threw 122 strong, albeit walk-heavy, innings last year as an old-for-the-level Carolina Leaguer, often with extended rest. We tend to think he’ll end up in a multi-inning relief role, especially since the tricks that enable his fastball to play may have diminishing returns the second and third time through the order.

22. Framber Valdez, LHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Dominican Republic (HOU)
Age 25.3 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Command Sits/Tops
55/55 60/60 40/45 89-94 / 97

Though he may be used as a short term rotation patch, Valdez’s future is likely in the bullpen due to his repertoire depth. Both his two-seamer and curveball induce lots of groundballs (Valdez has a 58% career GB%) and the curve can miss bats when it’s properly set up by the four-seamer. But that’s the whole show and while Valdez has plus velo and nearly elite curveball spin, that may not play for four or five innings at a time. Instead he profiles as a good middle reliever. There are very few lefties on the Houston 40-man, so Valdez will likely play a sizable role on the big league club in 2019.

23. Alex McKenna, CF
Drafted: 4th Round, 2018 from Cal Poly (HOU)
Age 21.5 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/45 55/55 30/50 55/55 45/50 50/50

McKenna had a solid Cape Cod League, putting him on the radar for the top couple rounds, but some scouts thought his lack of patience could be his undoing going forward. McKenna is somewhere around the somewhat classic profile of a power-over-hit center fielder with more tools than skills, but that archetype is in demand now more than ever. McKenna has above average raw power and speed and enough hitting skills to get to around average offensively, and around average defensively in center field.

At times, he’s shown a flat-planed swing that doesn’t tap into his power and other times he’s over-aggressive, but Houston thinks they can tap into this skillset and thought he was a nice value with performance and low-end regular upside in the fourth round.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Panama (PHI)
Age 20.6 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 150 Bat / Thr S / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/55 35/40 20/30 45/45 50/55 55/55

Long in possession of one of the prettier swings in the minors, Arauz had a strong, BABIP-aided first two months (.299/.392/.471) at Low-A and was promoted to Hi-A as a 19-year-old, where he struggled. He’s a switch-hitting middle infielder with above-average bat control, so there are all sorts of exciting hit/power/defensive profile mixes in play, depending on how Arauz develops physically. He has filled out a bit since he first signed (he was acquired from Philly in the Ken Giles deal) but scouts had mixed feelings about his body composition last year, and largely have him projected to second base. If that’s the case, ideally there will be more power than there is right now, and it’s fair to project some based on Arauz’s age.

For now, though, he has very little strength and at times appears to struggle to rip the barrel through the top of the zone and instead is adept at letting the bat do most of the work on pitches near his knees. The lift this creates is intriguing, but there needs to be more raw power if it’s going to matter. He has an outside shot to be a regular at second base but may just end up as a switch-hitting bench infielder.

Drafted: 8th Round, 2015 from USC (HOU)
Age 25.8 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
50/55 45/45 30/40 50/50 55/55 55/55

After a dour, injured 2017 season, Stubbs had a bounce back 2018 and hit .310/.382/.455 at Triple-A. He spent the offseason adding mass to his little frame, a body scouts have long been skeptical about being able to weather the full-season storm of catching. These doubts have been reinforced by Stubbs’ semi-frequent injury issues, which led him to focus on weight gain during the offseason.

His athletic capabilities are clear though, and Stubbs is a good ball blocker, an excellent catch-and-throw guy, and his passable framing may benefit from altering the depth at which he sets up. From a skills standpoint, totally ignoring the issue of durability, he looks like a potential everyday catcher. There has been some industry sentiment that Stubbs would be best deployed as a multi-positional bat, perhaps playing third base and the outfield corners as well as catcher. He hasn’t played other positions in games but has worked with Matt Chapman at third during the offseason, so perhaps he will be allowed to try new things once the season starts.

We have him projected as a contact-oriented, multi-positional bench piece.

26. Cristian Javier, RHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Dominican Republic (HOU)
Age 22.0 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops
45/50 45/50 55/60 45/50 40/45 40/45 89-94 / 95

Javier’s fuzzy shock of hair is the best in the system, and he’s one of the more creative sequencers among Houston farmhands as well. His front side flies way open during disconnection, and the dramatic manner in which his limbs bandy about during his delivery limit his fastball command, but also help create a weird angle on his stuff, which is quite good. He’ll sit in the low-90s, his curveball has premium spin, and Javier can manipulate the shape of his fastball and multiple breaking balls. There’s a chance he ends up in a rotation so long as the command progresses a little bit, and Javier’s feel for pitching is promising in this regard. If it doesn’t, he could be an excellent multi-inning reliever.

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2018 from Juanita HS (WA) (HOU)
Age 19.3 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
50/55 50/55 40/50 35/50 89-93 / 94

Schroeder was a pocket follow for most scouts, then his velo spiked in the spring at a Washington state high school, sitting 92-95, and hitting 97 mph, and flashing an above average breaking ball at his best. That often came with some head violence at release, so the Astros tried to calm down his delivery a bit, which led to more average stuff in instructional league, so pro scouts getting first looks weren’t encouraged by what they saw from the second rounder. Being a cold weather velo spike arm, we think there’s a happy medium with back-end starter potential, but prep arms are often a rollercoaster and there was a bit of a dip after the draft.

28. Enoli Paredes, RHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Dominican Republic (HOU)
Age 23.5 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 165 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops
60/60 40/45 60/70 45/55 45/50 35/40 92-96 / 97

Little Enoli’s arm is so fast that it threatens to break the sound barrier and generates a lively mid-90s fastball. Everything about Paredes’ delivery involves max effort, which limits his command but also makes his stuff hellacious and unpredictable in a way that makes him a very uncomfortable at-bat. Not only does he throw hard, but his power curveball has big, bat-missing depth and competes for swings and misses in the zone. His arm speed enables very favorable changeup projection and Paredes already flashes some plus cambios on occasion. He can shorten the curveball into a slider or add cut action to his fastball, but the other three pitches should be sufficient for him to play a strikeout-heavy relief role.

We don’t stick many 23-year-old A-ball relievers on the 40 FV tier of lists, but Paredes only signed at age 19 and hasn’t had as much pro development as other same-aged Latin American players, and he’s not yet occupying a 40-man spot. He has considerable appeal as a trade target and a chance to be a rare 45 FV reliever on this list next year.

35+ FV Prospects

29. Joe Perez, 3B
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2017 from Archbishop McCarthy HS (FL) (HOU)
Age 19.6 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Perez was on the scouting radar for his upper-90s fastball, occasionally plus slider, and easy plus raw power at the plate. He was seen primarily as a pitcher who, while raw, also could show you BP power until he broke out with the bat in the spring. He blew up Twitter with a number of tape measure shots and looked like he had a chance to play third base, as well, though there’s questions about his lateral quickness.

After going in the second round in 2017, Perez required Tommy John surgery but the Astros drafted him as a hitter, believing they could tap into the raw power in games more often and that the bat offered more upside than the likely reliever profile. Perez got into games late in 2018 and scouts who saw him in the instructional league weren’t enthusiastic, but it’s still early.

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2017 from Arizona (HOU)
Age 23.3 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 206 Bat / Thr L / R FV 35+

Announced as a second baseman when the Astros drafted him, and deployed primarily in left field as a pro, Matijevic’s stiffness and immobility will likely limit him to first base, where he played in college. He has sufficient power to profile there but there have been questions about the contact since high school. He clubbed 22 homers in 2018, mostly at Hi-A, and will force some re-evaluation if he has a big year at Double-A. For now, he projects as a bench bat with limited defensive flexibility.

31. Carlos Sanabria, RHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2013 from Venezuela (HOU)
Age 22.1 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 165 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Sanabria was moved to the bullpen in 2018 but a lot of teams think he has the repertoire depth and command to start, assuming he retains the same quality stuff for multiple innings. The sizable strikeout totals Sanabria has posted come from his ability to locate his slider and changeup rather than from high-quality stuff, and he’d likely max out as a fifth starter if re-introduced to the rotation.

32. Ross Adolph, CF
Drafted: 12th Round, 2018 from Toledo (NYM)
Age 22.2 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 203 Bat / Thr L / R FV 35+

Adolph is an interesting small-school sleeper who hit .322/.445/.654 as a junior at Toledo, then signed for $125,000 as the Mets’ 2018 12th rounder. He continued to rake at short-season Brooklyn after signing, hitting .276/.348/.509 and swiping 14 bases (on 17 attempts) in 60 games. He’s an above-average runner with good instincts in center field, and there’s a chance he can stay there. He could be a 50 bat with gap power who is playable in center, which would make him at least a viable big league fourth outfielder. We whiffed on him pre-draft, but our sources who saw him in pro ball raved, and the industry’s error bars on small school bats are pretty large due to the quality of pitching they face.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Dominican Republic (HOU)
Age 19.5 Height 5′ 9″ Weight 165 Bat / Thr L / R FV 35+

Carrasco is a common type among middle bonus international signees: the skinny, speedy shortstop with some present skills. He signed for $480,000 and performed well as an 18-year-old in the GCL in 2019, with a short taste of short-season ball. He has very little present strength and only has gap power in games, but he has above average contact skills, plus speed, arm strength, and defensive ability, so there’s a chance for some real ceiling if and when the physicality comes along, though it’s more likely he becomes an athletic utility infielder.

34. Jeremy Pena, SS
Drafted: 3rd Round, 2018 from Maine (HOU)
Age 21.5 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Pena was widely considered to be the best collegiate defensive shortstop in the 2018 draft but despite his picturesque swing, he made very little offensive impact against out-of-conference pitching and with woods bats during the summer. The lack of offense likely caps Pena’s ceiling in the bench infielder area, but he has added about 20 pounds of muscle over the offseason and is also a sleeper breakout candidate if it makes a meaningful impact on his contact quality.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2013 from Dominican Republic (HOU)
Age 23.2 Height 5′ 9″ Weight 160 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Duarte is an energetic, multi-positional speedster with an infectious style of play. He’s an aggressive hitter who strikes out a ton, but he played everywhere but first base and catcher last year and could find a big league role as a versatile bench piece.

36. Reymin Guduan, LHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2009 from Dominican Republic (HOU)
Age 27.0 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 205 Bat / Thr L / L FV 35+

There are moments when Guduan looks like one of the more dominant lefty relievers in baseball. He’ll touch 100, his fastball spins and has life, his slider is consistently plus, and he hides the ball well. At other times he’s unplayably wild. The early parts of Guduan’s 2019 spring were encouraging but, at age 27, it’s unlikely the issues that have plagued him for years have suddenly been remedied. He’ll likely be a scintillating and terrifying low-leverage relief piece.

37. Dean Deetz, RHP
Drafted: 11th Round, 2014 from NE Oklahoma A&M JC (HOU)
Age 25.3 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Deetz is a pretty standard two-pitch, lowish slot middle relief prospect. He has a good curveball and is a dead ringer for Jason Ritter. We typically 40 FV this role, but Deetz is already 25 and has had a PED suspension, so we rounded down a tad.

38. Angel Macuare, RHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Venezuela (HOU)
Age 19.0 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 188 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Signed for just south of $700,000 out of Venezuela, Macuare was a polished amateur arm who has been as advertised in two years of pro ball. He has good command of mostly average stuff as a 19-year-old, so there’s a chance he either grows into better stuff through physical maturation, or develops such special command that he doesn’t have to. In either case, he’s got a shot to be a No. 4 or 5.

39. Kit Scheetz, LHP
(HOU)
Age 24.8 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr L / L FV 35+

Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Virginia Tech, Scheetz has reached Double-A and performed at each stop, accumulating a 140:26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 115 pro innings. He’s a low slot lefty with below-average velocity, on the surface appearing to be of the LOOGY endangered species. But Scheetz can really spin a breaking ball, and has a four-pitch mix that you could argue plays like a six-pitch mix because he likes to vary his arm slot. He could be a non-traditional bullpen mainstay.

Other Prospects of Note

Grouped by type and listed in order of preference within each category.

Pitching Staff Caboose Types
Jose Luis Hernandez, RHP
R.J. Freure, RHP
Cody Deason, RHP

Hernandez has a plus changeup and plus command. He’s 23 and is a classic spot starter who’ll be in pro ball forever, like a righty Tommy Milone. Freure and Deason are vertical arm slot righties with vertical breaking balls. They were both mid-round 2018 draftees and are likely future relievers.

The Carrying Tool Group
Enmanuel Valdez, INF
Carlos Machado, OF
Chuckie Robinson, C
Scott Manea, C

Valdez, 20, has some pop and feel for contact, as well as good infield hands and actions. He has limited lateral quickness and his frame is pretty maxed out, so it’s hard to say where exactly he’ll fit defensively. Machado has hit a pretty quiet .312 with a .362 OBP over four pro seasons and he does have feel for the barrel. He may not have the power to profile in a corner but the contact feel is promising and he is only 20. If it turns out that he’s an elite contact guy, the power won’t necessarily need to come, but he’s a good-framed 20-year-old, so it might. Robinson and Manea are big-bodied catchers with power who most of the industry thinks can’t catch. Manea, 23, was an undrafted free agent who the Mets sent to Houston in the J.D. Davis trade. Robinson, 24, was a small school guy who hit for big power in 2017, then scuffled at Hi-A last year.

System Overview

This will be Houston’s first full calendar year with a scouting staff comprised largely of in-office analysts who break down high-quality video and integrate their assessments with a slew of data from TrackMan and other cutting edge evaluation technologies. Houston let go of most of their scouts in two waves over two years, and now sends individuals with Edgertronic cameras to amateur games in lieu of traditional area scouts. While this style of scouting has yielded stylistic uniformity across Houston’s prospect population — they almost invariably acquire high-spin, four-seam/curveball pitchers with a 12:30 spin axis, most of whom are adding cutters early in pro ball, while targeting college bats who have performed on paper and have big exit velos — it has also yielded a bunch of talented players, and further use of the tech on the player development side has made those players better.

This is a good farm system even though there are some clear potential long-term pitfalls from having narrow criteria for the players the org targets. For one, the types of pitchers Houston seems to like are becoming more sought after by other teams as a better understanding of how pitching works permeates baseball. Fewer pitchers of this type will be available to Houston as a result, but of course, Houston is likely also identifying players who can be altered to become this type of pitcher, even if they aren’t one yet. One day, there might be repercussions for having a staff full of very similar pitchers, but there’s no way of knowing that.

The Astros are clearly ahead of other teams around the league in some other areas, too. In some ways, it’s becoming easier for those lagging behind to catch up because they can also look to Baltimore and Atlanta, both of which have former Houston employees in prominent roles, to spot trends. In other ways, it’s getting harder to learn about Houston from the outside, as paranoia and acrimony have begun to impact industry discourse about the Astros in a way that makes it difficult to know which rumors about them are true and which are BS. Some of the things that have been mentioned consistently, and which seem plausible and interesting, include experimentation with visual machine learning and work with topical substances to improve pitch spin/movement. Of course, all the Rapsodo and Motus sleeve stuff is already widely known or knowable with quick use of Google.

Expect the 40-man crunch to continue apace here as teams gobble up the overflow of Astros pitching that can’t quite crack their roster.


Effectively Wild Episode 1347: Season Preview Series: Dodgers and Royals

EWFI
Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller banter about parity in the NL and imbalance in the AL, then preview the 2019 Dodgers (7:08) with Los Angeles Times national baseball writer Andy McCullough, and the 2019 Kansas City Royals (1:02:45) with The Athletic’s Royals beat writer, Rustin Dodd.

Audio intro: The High Water Marks, "National Time"
Audio interstitial 1: Mark Olson, "National Express"
Audio interstitial 2: Gorillaz, "Kansas"
Audio outro: Matt Costa, "Sweet Thursday"

Link to Ben’s AL/NL parity article
Link to Andy’s Farhan article
Link to preorder The MVP Machine

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The Washington Nationals Take a Sipp

On Wednesday, the Washington Nationals dipped into the leftovers pile of free agency and came away with lefty reliever Tony Sipp, formerly of the Houston Astros, who signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal, with a $2.5 million mutual option for 2020.

Sipp spent five seasons with Houston, originally joining the Astros as a free agent in 2014 after being released from a minor-league contract with the Padres. The book on Sipp at the time was that his control wasn’t quite passable enough to use him in high-leverage innings, and it looked a lot like he was destined to spend his career shuttling between Triple-A and the majors depending on team needs at the time.

In 2014-2015, Sipp significantly improved that long-term outlook with increased confidence in his splitter, making a concerted effort to throw the pitch for strikes enough to make it not-so-predictable. Actually getting batters to chase it resulted in the splitter being promoted to a regular part of his repertoire, which had previously consisted primarily of a mediocre fastball and a good slider.

During those first two years, the splitter became his go-to tool against righties, throwing it 315 times against them compared to just 21 time to left-handed batters. The slider remained his bread-and-butter pitch against lefties as expected and over 2014-2015, Sipp allowed a 2.66 ERA and 2.93 FIP, and struck out 125 batters in 105 innings. Read the rest of this entry »


MLB’s Lineup Decision Kicks off New Era in Baseball Betting

Late last year, Major League Baseball entered into a contract with MGM Resorts International to become the league’s official gaming and entertainment partner. Now we have the first significant change to the game as a result of that partnership.

In a move Major League Baseball hopes will “reduce integrity risks” involved with gambling on baseball, the organization has announced that teams must send their starting player lineups to officials at least 15 minutes before they’re publicly announced, according to the Associated Press. Doing so, the organization claims, will “reduce the risk of confidential information being ‘tipped’.”

At least, that’s the reason the league provided. But others have suggested that MLB is actually doing something a bit different with those lineups. Per Chad Finn (emphasis mine):

MLB, which in November reached a gambling partnership with MGM Resorts International, one of the world’s largest gaming operators, and also has a deal with daily fantasy site DraftKings, will confirm receipt of the lineups, then distribute the information to its partners. Releasing the lineups first to the commissioner’s office would allow MGM to set its betting lines before others have access.

In other words, according to some, in addition to the “integrity risks” cited as its public reasoning, MLB also appears to be collecting lineups so that its gaming partners can set betting lines on baseball games. As you might imagine, the new rule hasn’t been all that popular with managers and players.

Alex Cora, manager of the champion Boston Red Sox, addressed the gambling issue this week:

“This whole thing is serious. You guys know [catcher] Hector Villaneuva. He used to tell me stories from Taiwan, how the whole gambling thing was there. The pitcher was [stuck] in it, he was in it, then the umpire was in it. Nobody knew what to do. Throw pitches down the middle; he was taking pitches, and the umpire was calling them balls. For us to send the lineup, and if something happens, we have to re-send the lineup and then keep doing it — hopefully I don’t forget.”

Peter Gammons addressed the issue from another direction.

Read the rest of this entry »


Yankees Buy Back YES and Bring Along Amazon and Sinclair

With 80% of the YES Network up for sale, the New York Yankees have formed an ownership group that will give the club a majority interest in the network. The deal is valued at $3.47 billion, more than four times the network’s estimated value when it was formed in 2002, though that figure is also about half a billion dollars less than it was when YES was last sold in 2014. Disney recently acquired the 80% share of YES as part of their acquisition of Fox, but they must sell Fox’s regional sports networks in order to gain government approval of the broader Fox purchase. The Yankees, not willing to go it alone on a multi-billion dollar investment, found financial backing in the form of Blackstone and a few other private equity groups. More important to the actual running of the network, Sinclair Broadcasting Group and Amazon will also be significant investors, with the Yankees possessing a majority interest.

A little over six years ago, Fox bought nearly half of YES Network for $1.5 billion. While the team was the most prominent owner of the network at the time, that deal most benefited Goldman Sachs, Providence Equity, and a group headed by former Nets’ owner Raymond Chambers. The latter three groups owned roughly two-thirds of the network at the time, and sold most of their share. The Yankees sold about 9% of their share, netting them around a quarter of a billion dollars. That deal allowed Fox to later purchase the rest of the equity groups’ shares, as well as a bit more of the Yankees’ share, for another billion or so dollars. Fox completed that purchase in 2014, owning 80% of the network; the Yankees owned the remaining 20%. In what would turn out to be a big part of the agreement and the current sale, the Yankees retained the ability to buy back the network. Read the rest of this entry »


Sorting Out the Mets’ First Base Logjam

Who’s on first? This spring, it’s a question that both New York teams are figuring out through compelling job battles. While the Yankees attempt to decide between homegrown Greg Bird and mid-2018 trade acquisition Luke Voit — the latter of whom was the AL’s hottest hitter from August 1 onward, with a 194 wRC+ — the Mets are sorting out whether Dominic Smith or Peter Alonso will be their starter. I wrote enough about the Yankees’ pair late last season, when Voit seized the job from the struggling, oft-injured Bird, so today, it’s worth considering the Mets’ dilemma.

Of the two combatants, the 24-year-old Alonso, who currently lists at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, is fresher in mind because he bopped 36 homers for the Mets’ Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Las Vegas affiliates last year but didn’t receive a September call-up, a move that looked far more like a garden-variety attempt to manipulate his service time than it did a sound baseball decision. Taking a page from the playbook used by the Cubs for Kris Bryant and by the Blue Jays for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the Mets even cited Alonso’s defense as one reason they were holding off. “His bat is his calling card and his defense is something he’s going to have to work at,” said director of player development Ian Levin last August, shortly after Alonso was named the Las Vegas 51s’ defensive player of the month for July.

To be fair, scouts did and do have concerns about Alonso’s defense, as well as his conditioning. Our own Eric Longenhagen noted concerns about his glove last April while ranking him seventh overall among the Mets’ prospects and grading his defense for both present and future at 40 on the 20-80 scouting scale; for what it’s worth, while Baseball America and MLB Pipeline don’t distinguish between present and future in their grades, both concur with the 40. BA’s Prospect Handbook 2019 calling him “an American League player in a National League organization.” But after the 2016 second-round pick out of the University of Florida slashed .285/.395/.579 between the two upper levels last year, his overall Future Value grade improved from 45 to 50 thanks to massive jumps in both his raw power (from 60/60 to a maximum 80/80) and game power (from 40/55 to 55/70) and modest advancement in his hit tool (from 40/50 to 45/50).

“Right/right college first basemen don’t typically work out (this century’s list of guys who have done nothing but play first since day one on campus and done well in MLB is Paul Goldschmidt, Rhys Hoskins, Eric Karros, and that’s it),” wrote Longenhagen for last year’s Mets list. Compare that to this year’s model from our Top 100 Prospects list, where Alonso landed at number 48: “This is what top-of-the-scale, strength-driven raw power looks like, and it drives an excellent version of a profile we’re typically quite bearish on: the heavy-bodied, right/right first baseman.” Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel referenced some of Alonso’s greatest hits including a single Arizona Fall League game where his exit velocities reached 116.3 mph on a double and 113.6 on a homer, as well as this Futures Game homer which, holy smokes:

Spring stats don’t count for doodly squat, but with four doubles and three homers so far in Grapefruit League play, as well as a .406/.457/.813 line, Alonso is turning heads. After he hit one over the Green Monster-like wall at the Red Sox’s Jet Blue Park last week, Boston manager Alex Cora called him “Probably the best hitter in Florida right now.” Catching peoples’ attention in a much different way was Monday’s unintentional leveling of the Astros’ Josh Reddick at first base:

Then there’s the lefty-swinging Smith, who was chosen as the 11th overall pick out of a Gardena, California high school in 2013, cracked BA’s Top 100 list three times (in 2014, ’16 and ’17, peaking at number 71 in the last of those years) and is currently listed at 6 feet and 239 pounds, 54 pounds more than when he placed 73rd on our Top 100 Prospects list two years ago. He actually tipped the scales at as high as 260 pounds before cutting out wet burritos, a factoid no consumer of 21st century New York baseball coverage will ever forget. Though he’s receded into the background somewhat as Alonso’s star has risen, he’s actually six months younger (he doesn’t turn 24 until June 15), and has 332 plate appearances of major league experience under his belt from 2017-18, though his .210/.259/.406 line (79 wRC+) is abysmal outside of the 14 home runs.

Smith does not have Alonso’s natural power. It took him four years of pro ball to reach a double-digit home run total in a single season (16 at Binghamton in 2016), though he did hit 25 between Las Vegas and the majors in 2017. For that year’s lists, Longenhagen graded his raw power at 55/55, and his game power at 40/55, with his hit tool and glove both at 50/60. That profile has led to comparisons to James Loney — the young version that former Mets manager Terry Collins oversaw from 2002-06 as the Dodgers’ minor league field coordinator and then director of player development, not the end-stage version that Collins managed in 2016. “I thought he’d at minimum replicate James Loney’s best years,” said Longenhagen when I asked about the post-prospect version of Smith. “Never huge home run power but 40 doubles, tons of contact, plus glove at first base.”

Nothing has really come together for Smith at the major league level, perhaps in part because the Mets have convinced him to try to pull the ball and hit for more power. Promoted from Triple-A on August 11, 2017, he played first base regularly over the final two months of the season following Lucas Duda’s trade to Tampa Bay but hit just .198/.262/.395 with nine homers in 183 PA, striking out 26.8% of the time. Last year, after showing up late for his first Grapefruit League game and getting scratched from the lineup, he suffered a right quad strain in his spring debut, an injury that sidelined him until mid-April. He slipped behind what was left of Adrian Gonzalez on the depth chart, then bounced between Las Vegas and New York all season, serving four stints with the big club.

Between the shuttling, an experiment in left field — the results of which were brutally Duda-esque (-3.1 UZR and -5 DRS in 90 innings) — and semi-regular play in September while Alonso went home, Smith didn’t hit, either in the majors (.224/.255/.420) or at hitter-friendly Vegas (.258/.328/.380). In the bigs, he walked in just 2.7% of his plate appearances while striking out in 31.5%. When he did make contact, his average launch angle rose from 9.7 degrees to 17.2, with his groundball rate dropping from 50.4% to 34.4%, but the approach didn’t pay off. What’s more, within the small sample of playing time across both seasons, his defensive metrics at first base have been unfavorable (-2.4 UZR, -8 DRS in 74 games).

Like Alonso, Smith has hit well this spring (.433/.500/.600, for what it’s worth). As bad as he was last year in the outfield, he’s expressed a willingness to continue the experiment. But with Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo slated for the outfield corners (manager Mickey Callaway recently said that Conforto would exclusively play right, but we’ll see), and infielder Jeff McNeil somehow squeezed into the picture, it’s difficult to see where outfield playing time for Smith would come from even if Conforto or Nimmo does log time in center instead of Juan Lagares. The pair combined for 81 starts there last year, with dreadful defensive metrics (-6.8 UZR, -10 DRS). Mets pitchers have to shudder at the thought of such an alignment that includes Smith.

Lately, McNeil — who made 52 of his 53 big league starts last at second base — has been seeing playing time at third base because both Jed Lowrie and Todd Frazier have been slowed by injuries (a capsule sprain in the left knee for the former, an oblique strain for the latter). Even that situation has spillover into the first base picture, as Lowrie’s arrival in free agency displaced Frazier, who, after struggling (.213/.303/.390, 90 wRC+) in his first season with the Mets, was slated to get more playing time at first base, where he’s started 82 major league games (but just eight since 2014). With a crowd that includes newly acquired second baseman Robinson Cano, the Mets were supposed to have enough bodies on hand to push at least one of the two first basemen (likely Alonso) back to the minors to open the season, conveniently obscuring the service time issues that have loomed since last year.

In contrast to Guerrero’s situation in Toronto and the way Alonso was handled by the Mets last fall, Callaway and general manager Brodie Van Wagenen are saying the right things. Last December, the new GM said that his intent was for Alonso to be the Opening Day first baseman, and the continued refrain in Florida has been “We’re taking the best 25 guys up north with us,” which would be a refreshing departure from the industry-wide trend towards service time manipulation. Until Opening Day, however, it’s all talk.

At some point, the Mets will have to choose a first baseman. For what it’s worth, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections gives a clear preference for Alonso, mainly because of Smith’s struggles in recent years. The numbers don’t jump off the page, however:

Peter Alonso via ZiPS
Year AVG OBP SLG HR OPS+ WAR
2019 .239 .324 .450 24 110 2.2
2020 .239 .329 .452 23 111 2.2
2021 .238 .330 .448 23 111 2.2
2022 .236 .331 .456 24 113 2.3
2023 .235 .332 .453 23 113 2.2
2024 .236 .333 .451 22 112 2.1
Total 13.1

Lest you think that ZiPS is particularly low on Alonso, note that his Steamer projection for 2019 is nearly the same (.241/.319/.458). Last year, he tore up the Eastern League (.314/.440/.573, 180 wRC+) but relative to his league, saw a substantial drop-off at Las Vegas (.260/.355/.585, 139 wRC+). It’s worth noting that his slash numbers within that projection are held down by a low BABIP (.281 for 2019) that owes something to his 30-grade speed. It’s still a much more playable profile than the projections for Smith:

Dominic Smith via ZiPS
Year BA OBP SLG HR OPS+ WAR
2019 .244 .296 .380 14 84 0.7
2020 .245 .300 .395 15 89 1.0
2021 .243 .299 .393 15 88 1.0
2022 .241 .299 .392 15 88 0.9
2023 .242 .301 .396 10 89 0.7
2024 .240 .302 .386 9 87 0.5
Total 4.9

Woof. Again, it’s worth remembering that these are the result of heavy weighting of the player’s recent performances, which in Smith’s case have largely been struggle after struggle, though he did hit well at Vegas in 2017 (.330/.386/.519, 134 wRC+). Note that the gap between Alonso and Smith may be larger than shown above, as the former was projected for just 524 PA this year, the latter 587.

Ultimately, even with potential season-opening stints on the Injury List for Lowrie and/or Frazier, and so many other job battles among the team’s position players, it seems quite possible that the Mets will trade Smith, who has youth on his side and may be best served by a change of scenery anyway. One way or another, it should be very interesting to see how this all unfolds.