The 2017 Houston Astros have made a run not seen in Houston for over a decade. And while this season could very well end in heartbreak, the overall feel is just… different. The average age of the last (and until this year, only) Houston World Series team was 30.36 years and while the 2017 Houston World Series team is only slightly younger (29.28 years), the main difference is in the overall talent of those teams. 2005 was led by elder statesman Roger Clemens (43), Craig Biggio (39), Jeff Bagwell (37), and Brad Ausmus (36). The “25 and under crowd” consisted of exactly 3 players: Ezequiel Astacio (25), Chris Burke (25), and Willy Taveras (23) and those three players were rated as the top three Houston prospects at the start of 2005. The rest of the top 10 (per Baseball America) consisted of Mitch Einerston, Troy Patton, Matt Albers, Taylor Buchholz, Fernando Nieve, Josh Anderson, and Hunter Pence. Of those, the only Top 100 prospects were Burke (60) and Astacio (80). My how the times have changed!
2017 was a banner year for the Houston Astros. Years of futility and focusing on minor league depth over major league success has led Houston to the Promised Land with many return trips a very real possibility. Remember that Under-25 group from 2005? The 2017 version consists of Lance McCullers, Jr. (24), Joe Musgrove (24), Derek Fisher (24), Alex Bregman (23), and Carlos Correa (23). There are several other Baby ‘Stros that had a hand in helping Houston on their drive for the American League Championship and beyond.
James Hoyt (#8 preseason prospect on my 2017 Astros Top 50 Prospects) surpassed the prospect innings limit on June 23rd and was holding a 5.54 ERA. While riding the AAAA shuttle between Houston and Fresno for most of the season, Hoyt stayed in Houston late in the year and held his own. Across 12 innings in August and September, the reliever pitched to a 0.75 ERA with a 6.75 K/9 and 3.75 BB/9. While those aren’t numbers that instill confidence in a solid bullpen, Hoyt did contribute 7 holds.
Francis Martes (#1) started the season as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, but got off to a rough start in Fresno (AAA). Martes had problems with his control to the point that he allowed 28 walks in 32.1 minor league innings. The control didn’t improve greatly after he made his Major League debut on June 9th. In 54.1 innings he still walked 31 but boasted an impressive 11.43 K/9. The Astros hope the control can come in time as Martes will enter the 2018 season at just 22.
J.D. Davis (#10) earned his first big league call-up when Colin Moran landed on the DL after receiving a facial fracture from a foul ball in his second game of the season, replacing Carlos Correa. Davis had a rough go in his first taste of big league ball hitting just .226 with a .763 OPS over 62 at bats. He did show power however with 4 doubles and 4 home runs while walking 4 times as well. Davis might have a hard time moving forward with the likes of Bregman, Moran, and A.J. Reed still on the depth chart, but he could be dangled in an effort to improve the big league team. (bullpen anyone?)
Speaking of dangling, the Astros made two trades after July to try and find the pieces to put them over the top. The first trade sent outfielder Teoscar Hernandez (#9) to Toronto for Francisco Liriano. Based on early returns, this looks like a Toronto win hands down. Liriano pitched to a 4.40 ERA with 11 strikeout and 10 walks in 14.1 regular season innings. In the postseason, those number have been 5.40 ERA with 1 K against 1 BB in 1.2 IP. After a brief stint in Buffalo, Hernandez got the call to Toronto and didn’t disappoint. He hit .261 with a .908 OPS to go along with 8 home runs and 20 RBI in only 88 AB.
There was one other trade the Astros made that you might have heard of – a literal deadline beating deal that brought Justin Verlander to Houston. In order to obtain the rights to one of the greatest pitchers of this generation for the remainder of 2017 plus 2018-19, all it cost Houston, outside of roughly $12M in salary (per year) was pitcher Franklin Perez (#6), outfielder Daz Cameron (#7), and catcher Jake Rogers (#39). Over the course of the season Perez evolved into one of the better pitching prospects in the minors while Rogers did the same at the catcher position. Perez is still just 19 (20 in December) and ended the season in AA. Over the course of the season Rogers’ bat caught up with his glove and he steadily rose on both the Astros prospect charts as well as the league-wide positional charts. Cameron had a rough 2016, but was starting to put it together in 2017 with 14 HR and 73 RBI along with 32 SB across 454 AB between Quad Cities (Houston A) and West Michigan (Detroit A). The Astros also received Juan Ramirez in the Verlander deal, an 18-year old outfielder who spent 2017 in Gulf Coast League.
So there we have it. The 2017 Astros had several prospects help the Astros to the AL West title and a trip to the playoffs. The top 10 Astros prospects that are still with the team and have prospect status are: Kyle Tucker, Forrest Whitley, Yordan Alvarez, J.B. Bukauskas, J.D. Davis, and Garrett Stubbs. Our Prospects1500 post-season Overall Top 186 Prospects includes Tucker (12), Whitley (33), Alvarez (108), and Bukauskas (109). Not only have the Astros gotten younger, but they’ve also gotten better. Even though the Astros trail in this World Series 1-0 (as of press time) and might struggle to win a championship in 2017, this writer doesn’t think there is any doubt that the future is bright in Houston.
Article featured image of James Hoyt – courtesy of MLB.com