For the past several seasons, the Houston Astros’ farm system has been ranked near the bottom no matter which ranking you look at. MLB.com currently has them at #29. Our Prospects1500 farm system rankings come out in early February, so we’ll see where Houston lands there. Their draft positions and loss of draft picks have impeded their ability to add top-tier talent to their system. Evaluating the system leaves us with questions. Where are the first basemen? Where are the left-handed pitchers? Where can prospects even go with the Astros so stacked?
Those questions, and the Astros excellent history of player development, make them a system to watch regardless of ranking. Kyle Tucker, Yordan Alvarez, Cristian Javier, Framber Valdez, and Jeremy Pena have all emerged from this system as star talent in recent years. Who is going to be the next man up?
Astros MiLB Affiliates
Sugar Land Space Cowboys (@SLSpaceCowboys) – AAA
Corpus Christi Hooks (@cchooks) – AA
Asheville Tourists (@GoTourists) – High-A
Fayetteville Woodpeckers (@WoodpeckersNC) – Single-A
Florida Complex League Astros – Rookie
Dominican Summer League Astros – Rookie
Tier 1: Players with high expectations of both making the majors and playing at an All-Star level for a number of years
Tier 2: Players with an above-average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 3: Players with an average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 4: Players who have the potential of making the majors, or have a high likelihood of making the majors but providing minimal impact (e.g. middle reliever, low-ceiling UT guys)
Tier 5: Players of interest, worth keeping an eye on, who have an outside chance of making their team’s 40-man roster
Levels listed for each player are the highest levels player reached in 2022
1. Hunter Brown, RHP, 24, MLB
Brown was super in 20.1 MLB regular season innings, securing a roster spot for all postseason series. He saw limited postseason action but did not allow a run and earned his first World Series ring. There could be a debate for Tier 1 status as his success was sustained throughout the season. He posted a 2.55 ERA and 1.05 in over 100 innings at Triple-A before his call-up, and this emergence made it easier for the Astros to move on from Justin Verlander. Brown features a fastball which has touched 99 MPH and is complemented by an outstanding curveball and solid slider.
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) September 6, 2022
2. Yainer Diaz, C/1B, 24, MLB
Diaz and Korey Lee were both called up by Houston late last season with Lee getting the bulk of the opportunities and a late World Series roster spot when an injury opened one up. However, Diaz’s bat seems to be considerably better than Lee’s and he threw out 33% of would-be base stealers in 2022 compared to Lee’s 27% at AAA. He’s bound to get opportunities in 2023 and beyond and I think he’s the most likely Catcher in the Astros system to make good on those opportunities.
3. Drew Gilbert, OF, 22, Single-A
Injuries robbed Gilbert of the opportunity to fully show Astros fans what he can do, but the way he ended his season hints at his style of play. Drew dislocated his elbow colliding with the centerfield wall in August, but demonstrated a knack of hitting at the professional level before that. The Astros first-rounder hits from the left side, played centerfield throughout college, and has shown the ability to hit for power.
4. Colin Barber, OF, 22, High-A
Barber put together a solid season at High-A Asheville, hitting nearly .300 and notching 7 home runs. Speedy and 6 feet tall, Barber can cover plenty of ground in the outfield and is expected to develop power.
5. Pedro León, OF/SS, 24, Triple-A
Coming off a disappointing 2022, León has something to prove if he expects to debut in 2023 as many have projected. Leon struck out just 13 times in July, then missed significant time in August after being hit in the face by a fastball. He followed that up with a September where he struck out 35 times, almost thrice his July number. I can’t help but wonder if the HBP did more damage than originally thought, but he is the toolsiest player in the Astros system and is expected to overcome his current ails.
6. Will Wagner, IF, 24, Double-A/AZFL
Unranked in MLB.Com Pipeline’s Astros Top 30, Wagner can be expected to turn a lot of heads in 2023. He already started by hitting .346 with 3 home runs in the Arizona Fall League. The son of Astros legend, Billy Wagner, Will was drafted in the 18th round in 2021 and is already expected by some to start 2023 in Triple-A. He sees most time at 3B and 2B where Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve are firmly entrenched but has demonstrated an ability to play all over the infield. Of note, Will was featured in 2022 Bowman. Maybe their scouts were doing a great job, but I think they just have an understandable affinity toward the kids of former big league stars.
7. Jacob Melton, OF, 22, Single-A
After going hitless with no walks in his first 17 professional at-bats, the Astros promoted Melton, their 2022 2nd round pick, to Single-A. He rewarded their confidence by hitting .324 over 19 games and went 9-for-21 with 6 walks in his last full series. The 2022 PAC-12 Player of the Year played most of his college games in centerfield and has the speed and athleticism to stay there.
8. Joe Perez, 3B, 23, MLB
Perez debuted for the Astros on August 8th last year, just four days before his 23rd birthday. The third baseman is blocked by Alex Bregman, and the Astros have not experimented with him at the middle infield positions, so the likelihood that he emerges as Aledmys Diaz’s replacement seems low. He will likely get a fair amount of big league time throughout the 2023 season, but I could see him becoming trade bait for a team in need of corner infielders with power.
9. Forrest Whitley, RHP, 25, Triple-A
What can I say that you don’t know about Forrest Whitley? Going into the 2019 season, he was Baseball America’s #5 prospect in baseball. Since then, injuries and a failed drug test have led analysts to see a giant question mark when they see Forrest Whitley. He has the stuff and athleticism to succeed at the big league level. However, his shortened 2022 campaign was more bad than good, as he posted a 6.53 ERA over 40 innings. He cannot be counted out, but if he does not show considerable progress in 2023 then the likelihood of him ever making an impact in the Major Leagues will drop to somewhere around zero.
10. Justin Dirden, OF, 25, Triple-A
Dirden was great in Double-A, hitting .324 with 20 home runs, but ran into challenges after being promoted. In Double-A, he’d been walking about 10% of the time and striking out around 23%. Both of those numbers went the wrong direction after he was promoted with him walking about 7% of the time and striking out 28%. Like Gilbert, Barber, and Melton, he has spent most of his time in centerfield, which speaks to his athleticism. Out of that group, he is the least likely to stick in CF as demonstrated by a shift to right after his Triple-A promotion. That race will be a fun one to watch, especially because centerfield is the biggest weakness the Astros currently have.
11. Sandro Gaston, C/1B, 20, Rookie (DSL)
Call me crazy, but I like guys who can hit at their first stop in professional baseball. Gaston spent his first professional season entirely in the Dominican Summer League, where he clubbed 12 home runs and hit .319. He also threw out a remarkable 40% of would be base-stealers. He led the team in On-Base Percentage with .420 but his 41 strike outs are enough to raise eyebrows. Given 169 plate appearances, he was striking out at an acceptable rate but he will need to ensure that rate does not grow as he promotes through the system.
12. Ryan Clifford, OF, 19, Single-A
Clifford fell to the 11th round of the draft due to his commitment to Vanderbilt and the associated signability concerns, but the Astros overcame that with a signing bonus of $1,256,530. Standing at 6’3″, the left-handed hitter has considerable upside, but will take time to develop.
13. Jayden Murray, RHP, 25, Triple-A
Jayden Murray joined the Astros as part of the Trey Mancini trade, and while Mancini made a run-saving defensive play in the World Series that has already cemented the transaction as a “good trade”, Murray could turn it into the “Jayden Murray trade”. A starting pitcher, Murray put up a 0.708 WHIP in 2021 and earned a promotion to Triple-A before being traded. I expect to see him earn big league camp reps in the Spring before starting the season in Sugar Land.
On July 27, Jayden Murray threw an immaculate inning in his Triple-A debut with the Bulls
— Durham Bulls 🏆🏆 (@DurhamBulls) December 27, 2022
14. Korey Lee, C, 24, MLB
Lee has me scratching my head. He clearly has potential and people who matter in the Astros organization see it. When the Astros needed to fill Yuli Gurriel’s roster spot before Game 6 of the World Series, it was Lee who they turned to. However, his numbers don’t stand out. He makes me think of J.R. Towles after injuries. His 25 home runs in Triple-A last season were a great surprise, and there is no question that he can play catcher at the big league level, so time will tell. In 2023 he will have every opportunity to prove that he is the Astros catch of the future and if he does it fast enough he can graduate from this list before I have time to acknowledge my error by promoting him in the mid-season update.
KOREY LEE’S FIRST MLB HIT AND RBI! WELCOME TO THE SHOW!!!pic.twitter.com/3kkvdqhBru
— Apollo Media (@ApolloHOU) July 10, 2022
15. Alex Santos II, RHP, 20, Single-A
16. Spencer Arrighetti, RHP, 22, Double-A
17. Joey Loperfido, OF/1B/2B, 23, High-A
18. Quincy Hamilton, OF, 24, Double-A
19. Alimber Santa, RHP, 19, Single-A
20. Luis Baez, OF, 18, Rookie (DSL)
21. Andrew Taylor, RHP, 21, College
22. Miguel Ullola, RHP, 20, Single-A
23. Kenni Gomez, OF, 17, Rookie (DSL)
24. Cristian Gonzalez, SS/3B, 21, High-A
25. Michael Knorr, RHP, 22, DNP
26. Colton Gordon, LHP, 24, Rookie (FCL)/AZFL
27. J.C. Correa, SS/3B/C, 24, High-A/AZFL
28. Zach Daniels, OF, 23, High-A/AZFL
29. Logan Cerny, OF, 23, Single-A
30. Dauri Lorenzo, IF, 20, Rookie (FCL)
31. Trey Dombroski, LHP, 21, College
32. Misael Tamarez, RHP, 22, Triple-A
33. Shawn Dubin, RHP, 26, Triple-A
34. Corey Julks, OF, 26, Triple-A
35. David Hensley, IF, 26, MLB
36. Parker Mushinski, LHP, 27, MLB
There is undoubtedly significant potential in the group of players. Loperfido, Santa, and Baez are three guys who jump out as me as players that might quickly jump tiers. Loperfido has been playing all over the diamond and hit over .300 in his last three stops. Santa turned heads at Spring Training to start 2022, but his season never really came together for reasons that aren’t clear. His stuff and his velocity are enough to make him one to watch though. Baez hit .305 with 9 HRs in his first pro season, earning MiLB’s Dominican Summer League Player of the Month honors for August, along with a Postseason All-Star award. J.C. Correa is proving he is more than just Carlos Correa’s little brother after hitting .333 in the Arizona Fall League this year, bringing his career minor league batting average up to .310. Daniels and Julks both have a very real possibility of reaching the Major Leagues, and for Corey that could come in 2023 after his strong finish, hitting .287 in September. Hensley hit .345 in 29 MLB ABs after debuting locking up a spot on the post-season roster. He recorded 2 hits in the World Series en route to his first championship ring and may be the first guy off the bench throughout the 2023 season. That’s the only concern. Despite his success, there is not a clear path for him to start with the Astros at the big league level. Mushinski made his big league debut last season and saw success, but his age and status as a reliever make it hard to rank him higher.
37. Shay Whitcomb, IF, 24, Double-A
38. Jimmy Endersby, RHP, 24, Triple-A
39. Nolan DeVos, RHP, 22, Single-A
40. Alex McKenna, OF, 25, Triple-A
41. Luis Santana, IF, 23, Double-A
42. Miguel Palma, C/1B, 21, High-A
43. Tim Borden, IF, 23, High-A
44. Nerio Rodriguez, C/1B, 23, High-A
44. Kenedy Corona, OF, 22, High-A
46. Matthew Barefoot, OF, 25, Double-A
47. Scott Schreiber, IF, 27, Double-A/AZFL
48. J.P. France, RHP, 27, Triple-A
49. Jaime Melendez, RHP, 21, RHP
50. Tyler Guilfoil, RHP, 22, Single-A
Melendez is the most likely Tier 5 prospect to embarrass me due to my ranking decision. The 5’8″ 21-year-old had a relatively poor 2022 campaign, finishing with a 5.01 ERA and 1.493 WHIP. Those numbers aside, he is significantly younger than most of his Double-A peers and his four-pitch arsenal has a lot of promise. Nerio Rodriguez has been putting up better numbers as he promotes through the system. The Astros have a lot of promising “C/1B” types in their system, but not a lot of true first basemen, so even if Rodriguez’s progression is blocked at the Catcher position, he could be a guy who settles firmly into the first base position. McKenna was featured in Bowman Baseball way back in 2018 and has not had a great season since then. He’s gradually progressed overall, but was demoted to Double-A in June of last year. He still has time to hone his skills and contribute at the big league level, but there is no realistic path for him to be a starting outfielder for the Astros any time soon. Borden was a 16th-round draft pick just last year, but he hit well in High-A plays all over the infield and played outfield in both the Northwoods League and Prospects League prior to playing in college. A hot start in camp or at High-A could see him in Double early next year which would be quite an acceleration compared to other 16th-round infielders.
Eric Killian is an Army Officer who covered the San Diego Padres for Prospects1500 when the site initially launched, but has since moved over to the Houston Astros. He is a longtime baseball fan and collector whose collecting inspired him to learn all he can about up-and-coming players. Follow him on Twitter @USKillian or @BaseBallDayRCs for strictly card collecting content.