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Astros top prospects 2021: Forrest Whitley, still waiting to make big-league debut, is No. 1 for Houston

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The arrival of the offseason means that it’s time to rank stuff. Already this winter, we’ve sized up the 60 best free agents, both on an overall and positional basis. There’s no law that prevents us from ranking minor-league players in addition to their big-league counterparts. As such, we’re going to spend the winter evaluating every team’s farm system. 

The lack of a minor-league season makes that more of a challenge this year. It doesn’t help that some teams opted against sharing video and data from their alternate-site camps with the rest of the league. As such, we’ve opted against overthinking this. Our rankings will essentially be the same as they were last winter with a few changes. First, we’ll exclude anyone who graduated by exhausting their rookie eligibility; second, we’ll replace them with draftees or other worthy prospects; and third, and lastly, we’ll present the information in a new format.

In every article in this series, you’ll find a team’s top five prospects as well as five others we felt like including, either because of their promise or some other reason. For those top five prospects, you’ll find a quick summation of their pros (their saving grace, if one will) and their cons (their fault line), as well as beefier report and our attempt to peg their “likeliest outcome.”

These rankings were compiled by talking to industry folks — scouts, analysts, and other evaluators — and include a touch of our own evaluative biases. Remember, that this is more of an art than a science, and that the write-ups matter more than the rankings themselves.


Now, let’s get on to the top five prospects in the Houston Astros system.

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Age (as of 4/1/2021): 23

Height/Weight: 6-foot-7, 238 pounds

Acquired: 17th pick in the 2016 draft (Alamo Heights High School, Texas)

Highest level: Triple-A

Saving grace: Upside

Fault line: Disastrous 2019

Scouting report: Whitley entered the 2019 season in the conversation for the title of “best pitching prospect in baseball.” He then had a hellacious year that saw him post a 7.99 ERA and walk more than six batters per nine in 59 innings. To make matters worse, he’s never thrown as many as 100 innings in a season because of the pandemic, injuries, and suspension. Whitley has a deep, high-grade arsenal and the frame to eat innings. Whether he ever lives up to his billing as a potential front-of-the-rotation monster is anyone’s guess. The way things have trended, it would be fair to say that it seems unlikely.

Likeliest outcome: Frustrating mid-rotation starter

Age (as of 4/1/2021): 21

Height/Weight: 6-foot-1, 180 pounds

Acquired: International amateur free-agent signing (Dominican Republic)

Highest level: A-ball

Saving grace: Offensive potential

Fault line: Approach

Scouting report: Nova has a quick bat and above-average power potential. It’s unclear where he’ll end up defensively — he’s played some shortstop, some second, and some third, which is a fancy way of saying it probably won’t be at shortstop — and how much he’ll be hampered by a swing-happy approach that limited him to a five percent walk rate in 2019. 

Likeliest outcome: Regular at some infield position

Age (as of 4/1/2021): 23

Height/Weight: 6-foot-1, 225 pounds

Acquired: International amateur free-agent signing (Dominican Republic)

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Highest level: MLB

Saving grace: Power stuff

Fault line: Command

Scouting report: Abreu had a lost year. He made just three big-league appearances, throwing several ticks slower while still demonstrating his well-below-average command. Abreu then ended the season on the injured list for undisclosed reasons. When he’s right, he has eighth- or ninth-inning potential, depending on his ability to throw enough strikes. 

Likeliest outcome: Late-inning reliever

Age (as of 4/1/2021): 22

Height/Weight: 6-foot-2, 205 pounds

Acquired: No. 32 pick in the 2019 draft (Cal)

Highest level: Low-A

Saving grace: Power, defensive skills

Fault line: Limited success

Scouting report: Lee has above-average strength in his bat and his arm, and just enough defensive chops to remain behind the plate for the long haul. The most pressing concern with him is that he has essentially one year of production — that being his junior year at Cal, when he homered 15 times in 51 games. Otherwise, Lee had cleared an .800 OPS just one other time, no matter the medium or sample size. 

Likeliest outcome: Backup backstop

Age (as of 4/1/2021): 23

Height/Weight: 6-foot, 202 pounds

Acquired: Third-round pick in the 2018 draft (Maine)

Highest level: High-A

Saving grace: Defense

Fault line: Power

Scouting report: Pena’s father, Geronimo, played in parts of seven big-league seasons. Jeremy could have similar staying power. He’s a skilled defender who has shown a marked ability to hit for average and draw walks. Pena is unlikely to offer much power beyond hitting the gaps, but that’s okay. There’s enough secondary value here to see him filling a bench role, at absolute minimum, or even becoming a regular shortstop, at maximum, provided the bat plays. 

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Likeliest outcome: Starting shortstop, maybe

Five others to know

The Astros were stripped of their first- and second-round picks. That left Santos, pick No. 72, as their first selection of the 2020 process. He’s an interesting enough right-hander who has size and some innate attributes (namely the ability to impart spin) that make him worth monitoring.

Houston’s second selection in June, Brown had been the subject of chatter that he could go earlier as a signability type. (The Astros signed him for less than $600,000.) Brown started only twice in 58 appearances at Vanderbilt, but there are those in the industry who believe he can start. As with Santos, he too has promising spin rates and an ample frame.

Ivey has a high-spin fastball that pairs well at the top of the zone with his curveball. He also has a history of throwing strikes and has had enough success at the Double-A level (albeit in a limited sample) to think that he’ll reach the majors in ’21, either as a back-end starter or reliever. 

Brown has the frame of an innings sponge and a live arm that could allow him to develop into a back-end starter. Fun fact: he’d be the third pitcher from Wayne State to make more than 100 big-league appearances, joining Anthony Bass and Doug Konieczny. 

Brewer is a toolsy center fielder with above-average power-speed potential. His bat might lack the usability necessary to have a big-league career. To wit, in his final season at Michigan, he struck out 56 times and walked 24 times.

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