2020 Prospect Opportunities — Astros

Today, we continue through the American League West teams in our 2020 Prospect Opportunities series, as we move onto the Astros. Naturally, the team with the best record in baseball in 2019 doesn’t have many players truly at risk of losing their starting jobs based on performance. Note that for this article, let’s ignore the cheating scandal and potential effects on performance.

American League Prospect Opportunities
AL East AL Central AL West
Blue Jays Indians Angels
Orioles Royals Astros
Rays Tigers Athletics
Red Sox Twins Mariners
Yankees White Sox Rangers

National League Prospect Opportunities
NL East NL Central NL West
Braves Brewers Diamondbacks
Marlins Cardinals Dodgers
Mets Cubs Giants
Nationals Pirates Padres
Phillies Reds Rockies

At Risk: Yuli Gurriel
Replacement: Taylor Jones

At age 35, Yuli Gurriel enjoyed his best season out of the three full years he has played in MLB. The performance was driven primarily by a doubling of his HR/FB rate and near doubling of his ISO off 2018 lows. Obviously, there’s real questions about how sustainable those gains are, especially given his advanced age. Then again, he had no trouble holding onto his job the prior two seasons at worse performance levels, so he seemingly would really have to fall flat to lose his job.

If Gurriel actually gets kicked to the bench, it’s likely the Astros will just move pieces around and find someone to man first base. But Taylor Jones is the super sleeper. He’s 26 now, but posted ISO marks over .200 at Double-A in 2018 and at Triple-A in 2019. Also at Triple-A in 2019, his HR/FB rate surged into the high teens for the first time. He has typically posted double digit walk rates and actually improved his SwStk% to his best level since his 2016 professional debut. Guys with power who doesn’t swing and miss often or strike out a lot are exciting.

At Risk: Josh Reddick
Replacement: Kyle Tucker, Drew Ferguson

Ya know, you have to think that if Josh Reddick hasn’t lost his job yet, after two straight seasons with a WAR around 1.0, then he’s simply not going to unless he suffers a further decline. But there’s really no reason for the team to continue playing a guy who has provided negative value both offensively and defensively over the last two years.

Obviously, Kyle Tucker is the uber prospect we keep waiting and waiting on. For two straight seasons, he has been giving an identically sized cup of coffee worth 72 plate appearances. With power, solid plate discipline, and speed, he’s an exciting fantasy prospect.

Drew Ferguson is already 27, but he’s got an interesting skill set I’d love to see get an extended opportunity. He has walked at double digit rates at every minor league stop except Single-A back in 2015, while he has posted mid-teen marks during his last two Triple-A stops. He has also posted high single digit SwStk% marks every stop since 2016, so his just average strikeout rates are more due to plate patience than a penchant for whiffing. That’s good. He has been an excellent line drive hitter, which has resulted in an elite history of BABIP marks. He also owns some pop, though the level of power has fluctuated dramatically. Lastly, he swiped 27 bases last year. C’mon Astros, give him a chance!

At Risk: Jose Urquidy, Josh James, Austin Pruitt
Replacement: Forrest Whitley, Cristian Javier

After a solid debut, Jose Urquidy figured to win a rotation spot, and while I’m intrigued by his 2019 minor league strikeout spike, there’s risk it was a fluke. I love Josh James, but those control issues are seriously problematic. He was supposedly battling Austin Pruitt for the final rotation spot, but Pruitt is far less interesting to fantasy owners.

Forrest Whitley has seemingly been a top prospect for ages, but 2019 was a pretty disastrous season. Amid injury, his control deserted him and during his first taste of Triple-A action, his strikeout rate plunged to just 24.4% (to go along with a 12.6% walk rate). His SwStk% remains solid, but his timetable and immediate performance are more up in the air now.

Cristian Javier is the team’s sixth ranked prospect, after blowing through the minors from High-A to Triple-A in 2019. At each stop, he posted a strikeout rate between 33% and 39%. His 11 Triple-A innings even included an absurd 19.6% SwStk%. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher though, so expect a low BABIP, but potential issues with the long ball.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Was there any thought of including Bryan Abreu as a replacement SP? He might be slated for relief work, but team officials still seem pretty high on him as a starter and he’s run pretty good swinging strike rates in starts in the minors (only through AA, granted).