For the third time in five years, the Houston Astros ended their season as World Series participants. With major contributions from a number of homegrown players, the 2021 season illustrates the organization’s continued ability to develop talent. Many will assume that the Astros’ time as a dominant team in the American League is waning with George Springer already in Toronto and Carlos Correa’s pending departure. However, a rundown of their farm system shows yet another group of talented arms and projectable bats ready to sustain Houston’s success.
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
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 2021
1. Pedro Leon, OF/SS, 23, AAA
The Astros’ biggest international signing, Leon showed all five tools in his first season stateside. Scouts agree that his defensive flexibility between CF & SS makes Leon even more valuable to Houston’s future success. He will need to continue making adjustments but the talent is evident.
2. Jeremy Pena, SS, 24, AAA
A fluid, highly competent defender, Pena came back from a wrist injury to play the last month of the season at AAA. He demonstrated added strength and power, becoming more of a dynamic threat at SS. Peña continued showing his renewed health in the winter, playing in 5 LIDOM games. With the Correa-sized hole at SS, it’s almost a guarantee Peńa gets first crack at filling it. Expect spring training to be his time to earn the Astros’ starting job.
3. Korey Lee, C, 23, AAA
There are high hopes that Lee will become the Astros’ everyday catcher for the next decade. He has developed defensively, throwing out 43% of base stealers. He added a new wrinkle by playing 3B at times including on occasion in the Arizona Fall League. Lee’s also progressed at the plate, increasing his SLG by 80 points. He’ll never be high in OBP, given his low walk rate in upper minors but he should develop enough power to stay as an everyday player.
4. Hunter Brown, RHP, 23, AAA
Brown’s upside is more limited than his ranking would indicate. Since joining the Astros, his curveball has become more refined, while he still throws the 2 & 4 seam fastballs that first got him noticed. Hard contact remains his bugaboo and reliever risk remains in his profile.
Hunter Brown is going to be a prospect that should be able to contribute to the big league club in 2022. Finished the year strong in AAA including his 10 strikeouts in 5.1 innings in this outing. #Astros pic.twitter.com/T1B6pPZtxE
— Astros Future (@AstrosFuture) December 2, 2021
5. Jose Siri, OF, 26, MLB
Toolsy has been Siri’s middle name for years, since bursting on the scene with a (now defunct) Midwest League record 39 game hit streak for the Reds organization. A couple of mediocre years plus reports of immaturity led Siri to bounce from team to team (Seattle, then San Francisco on waivers). Landing with Houston in 2021, the power/speed combo that set scouts’ hearts aflutter was on full display as he hit 16 HRs and stole 24 bases at AAA. There’s still reason to be hesitant as Siri’s K rate hasn’t been below 30% since High A ball in 2018 but he’s firmly in the mix for the Astros’ CF spot.
6. Alex Santos, RHP, 19, Low-A
Santos has the potential to be another Houston developmental surprise. On one hand, in his first pro season, he posted a 26.2% K rate with a near 30% CSW. On the other, his command was almost non-existent, resulting in a 16.4% walk rate. With all that said, Santos still has a pitch mix with which the fine spin doctors in H-town will love to tinker: an MLB level 4S fastball that sits 94MPH, a 50-55 grade curve that has quality depth, along with an average changeup. Reliever risk is real with Santos but it’s still conceivable to see the Astros develop him into a more efficient strike thrower and begin rising up rankings, similar to Jose Urquidy’s developmental path.
7. Shay Whitcomb, SS, 23, High-A
Whitcomb showed a slightly unexpected power stroke in his first pro season, clubbing a total of 23 HRs and 25 doubles across two levels, including 16 HRs/22 doubles in High A. Along with hitting for power, he posted .296/.366/.534 combined line. There are still reasons to foresee struggles for Whitcomb as he struck out at a 30.2% clip and pulls the ball above 50% but there’s some underlying skills that could blossom with another year of development in the Astros organization.
8. Misael Tamarez, RHP, 21, High-A
Another explosive arm without an exact role, Tamarez set Low & High-A ablaze with an effective arsenal of 95+ fastball to go with a change and a slurve. The numbers point to a potential breakout (103Ks in 76.2IP total) for the Astros; if he can refine the shape of his breaking ball then Tamarez could follow Cristian Javier’s development path as a power MIRP.
Misael Tamarez over his final 10 outings of the season:
2.51 ERA, 46.2 IP, 33 H, 13 ER, 17 BB, 65 K
— Astros Future (@AstrosFuture) September 20, 2021
9. J.C. Correa, SS, 23, High-A
An aggressive ranking? Perhaps but the younger Correa showed a mature approach in his first pro season, combining for 9 HRs and a .368 OBP across A/A+ ball.
10. Shawn Dubin, RHP, 26, AAA
Two good pitches and one potentially great pitch, Dubin projects to be an efficient short inning guy that racks up Ks. His slider is being debated as 70 grade while the sudden burst in his delivery makes his mid-90s fastball and mid 80s curve play up even faster. His last 10 appearances? 42:12 K:BB in 28.1 IP with only 7 earned runs.
11. Freudis Nova, SS, 21, High-A
Nova still has all of the tools that made him sought after as a J2 signing in 2016 including a 70 grade arm. However, Nova still is very raw, with an aggressive plate approach that lead to a 32.5% K rate. A torn ACL in September ended his season and could be a setback in his development for 2022.
12. Joe Perez, 3B, 22, AA
Perez has effortless power to all fields and quickly moved through 3 levels in 2021, finishing in Double-A Corpus Christi. He combined for 18 HRs and 34 doubles while keeping his K rate around 23% as a 22-year-old. Perez will need to continue developing his bat but he has the potential to be an everyday major leaguer.
13. Jonathan Bermudez, LHP, 26, AAA
Bermudez will get dinged because of his low velo stuff and being slightly old for the level at certain stops of his career. But the command & control seems legit at this point (HR/9 under 1 with a K:BB of 4.06). He has simple, balanced mechanics with some expected deception as a lefty. Bermudez should get his chance with the Astros sometime in 2022.
14. Yainer Diaz, C, 23, High-A
Modern catching prospects tend to have the lowest bar to clear among all players but that shouldn’t undercut Diaz’s potential. Having shown doubles power as part of the Cleveland farm system, Diaz came to Houston with Phil Maton in exchange for Myles Straw and commenced to driving more balls over the fence (11 HRs at High A). A history of sub 20% K rates matched with a career wRC+ of 135 makes Diaz an intriguing name to watch in 2022.
— Follow @AstrosFuture (@AstrosFutureVC) November 21, 2021
15. Forrest Whitley, RHP, 24, AA
Like Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar, Houston doesn’t know how to quit Whitley. Added to the 40-man roster in Nov ’20, the plan was for Whitley to begin ramping up for AAA Sugar Land but that plan never came together as Whitley suffered “arm soreness” and eventually underwent TJS in March ’21. This is the fourth reported injury in Whitley’s pro career (oblique, lat, shouder) and his brilliant 2017 seems further and further away.
16. Cristian Gonzalez, SS, 20, Low-A
Super high-ceiling alert! Already 6’3, Gonzalez seems sure to grow into his frame in the years to come. His carrying tool right now is his arm which makes a potential move to 3B less of a risk. He’s able to impact balls with simple swing mechanics that shouldn’t need much tweaking. Gonzalez quickly moved from rookie ball to Low A in 2021; a full season in Fayetteville should help refine his skills.
17. Peter Solomon, RHP, 25, MLB
As he was already set for recovery from TJS, Solomon found himself able to find some benefit from 2020’s canceled minor league season. Solomon has a starter’s repertoire & clean, repeatable mechanics; his season was productive enough to be named Triple-A West Pitcher of the Year. Scouting reports seem to be split: some see a low leverage reliever while others still believe he can start. 2022 could be the season to determine Solomon’s future.
18. Matthew Barefoot, OF, 24, AA
It took a while for Barefoot’s career to take off after a disastrous 2019 and missed a year in 2020. 2021 brought a noticeably quieter stance/swing leading to admirable results in Low & High A with a combined .301/.354/.571 slashline. However, upon being promoted to AA, Barefoot suffered a severe decrease in production (.175/.226/.299 in 36 games). Instead of mid-season promotions, Barefoot may need a full season to adjust to the upper levels,s but there’s still enough talent to be intriguing.
19. Tyler Ivey, RHP, 25, AAA
Take a drink every time you see “Tyler Ivey” and “violent head whack” in the same sentence (Drink!). Every scouting report points out Ivey’s suboptimal mechanics but a four-pitch mix along with high spin rates have kept him high on Astros’ rankings for the past two years. His season was ended shortly after making his major league debut due to thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) and a sprained UCL.
20. Colin Barber, OF, 21, High-A
Barber’s season was cut short due to a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery. However, the talent for Barber remains the same; he’s a capable CF with improved run times and a short, left handed swing that uses all fields. As it stands, he’s expected to be ready for spring training and he’ll have a chance to impress the Houston front office.
21. Justin Dirden, OF, 24, High-A
22. Jaime Melendez, RHP, 20, AA
23. Grae Kessinger, 2B/SS, 24, AA
24. Jimmy Endersby, RHP, 23, AA
25. Enmanuel Valdez, 2B/3B, 23, AA
26. Jojanse Torres, RHP, 26, AAA
27. Jonathan Sprinkle, RHP, 23, AA
28. J.P. France, RHP, 26, AAA
An undrafted FA, Dirden produced a similar, if not better, 2021 season between Fayetteville & Asheville compared to Barefoot…..Melendez was effective in using a low release point and an advanced ability for tunneling his breaking balls off of his fastball to freeze hitters at the A/A+ level…..Kessinger showed some life currently in the Arizona Fall League (18/65 with 2 HRs) while mostly manning first base…..A converted infielder, Endersby has a decent fastball with some rise to it to go with a couple of average secondary pitches…..Valdez’s swing has begun to generate more loft (49% FB, 26 combined HRs), he could continue creating more power in 2022…..After dominating at age-appropriate Low A, Sprinkle was promoted to High A where he met some actual resistance (5.96 ERA) but still managed incredible strikeout numbers (25.3% SwStr & 39.4% CSW).
29. Dauri Lorenzo, SS, 19, Rookie (FCL)
30. Jordan Brewer, OF, 24, Low-A
31. Yohander Martinez, SS, 19, Low-A
32. Brett Conine, RHP, 25, AAA
33. Zach Daniels, OF, 22, High-A
34. Angel Macuare, RHP, 21, AA
35. Richi Gonzalez, OF, 19, Rookie (FCL)
36. Alex McKenna, OF, 24, AA
37. Jairo Lopez, RHP, 21, Low-A
38. Chayce McDermott, RHP, 23, Low-A
39. Scott Manea, C, 26, AA
40. Tyler Whitaker, OF, 19, Rookie (FCL)
41. Jose Alberto Rivera, RHP, 24, Low-A
42. Austin Hansen, RHP, 25, AAA
43. Luis Santana, 2B, 22, High-A
44. Tyler Brown, RHP, 23, AA
45. Leosdani Molina, SS, 21, Rookie (DSL)
46. Julio Robaina, LHP, 20, High-A
47. Luke Berryhill, C, 23, AA
48. Blair Henley, RHP, 24, High-A
49. Jairo Solis, RHP, 22, Low-A
50. Valente Bellozo, RHP, 21, Low-A
While he possesses no plus tool, Lorenzo’s short swing and contact-heavy approach allows for him to spray line drives around the field…..2022 will be Brewer’s age-24 season with only 81 career games played…..Martinez has shown a tendency for walking over striking out (16.4%BB to 19.4% K in 2021 Low A)…..There’s not a lot of info or video publicly available on Lopez but based on what’s out there, he has the chance to develop into a valuable pitcher for Houston…..Rivera suffered an undisclosed injury in late June, only accumulating 11IP for the season…..Santana posted a 72% contact rate with 6 homers although he has posted low EVs & a 53.5% pull rate…..Only 20 years old with 3 years of low minors ball, Robaina may develop into an effective MIRP that sneaks up rankings by mid-season of 2022….Berryhill was named the Astros’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2021.