A Minor Review of 2017: Houston Astros by Marc Hulet October 16, 2017 The Astros have a talented, young team but the minor league system is starting to thin out now. With that said, there are still a few prospects with high ceilings, such as outfielder Kyle Tucker and pitcher Forrest Whitley. The Graduate: Francis Martes, RHP: The Astros have a relatively young team but the club didn’t rely heavily on rookies in 2017. Derek Fisher led the first-year hitters with 166 plate appearances while Martes led the freshman pitchers with 54.1 innings — narrowly edging a more effective James Hoyt. Why focus on the former and not the latter? Hoyt has solid potential as a one-inning reliever but Martes has additional value as a guy that can go multiple innings out of the ‘pen or could eventually move back into the starting rotation. Just 21, he already flashes three potentially-plus offerings but it’s his lack of control and command that holds him back. Martes sits in the mid-90s with his heat but until he trims his walk rate (5.13 BB/9) he’ll be pitching in triple-A or mopping up games in the Majors. The Stud: Kyle Tucker, OF: With a strong core of hitters 28 years of age or younger, the big league club has mostly emptied the minor league system of impact bats. Tucker, though, should be a good one and might be ready for The Show at some point in 2018. He’s a multi-pronged threat with a strong arm and the ability to play center field (although he’ll likely play a corner in the Majors). He’s also shown the ingredients necessary to develop into a plus hitter and he has 20+ homer power. With another 200-300 at-bats, Tucker might be able to tighten up his approach at the plate to have success with the Astros. He has the potential to be a run-producing star. The Draft Pick: J.B. Bukauskas, RHP: I’ll admit I wasn’t a huge fan of this pick for the Astros. The club hasn’t done a great job of identifying and developing college arms in recent years. An undersized righty at 6-feet, Bukauskas has effort in his delivery and may have just average command/control. That might still be enough for him to be a dominating pitcher with two plus offerings in his fastball and slider. The changeup, though, will be a key offering if he’s going to start. The Astros see top-of-the-rotation potential. I see a high-leverage reliever… if the command/control improve. The Riser: Yordan Alvarez, 1B/OF: Alvarez, 20, doesn’t have much value outside of the batter’s box but he could nonetheless develop into an impact player. He opened the year by hitting .360 in 32 low-A games. He also walked 23 times but the 36 strikeouts were a concern. Moved up to high-A ball, Alvarez wasn’t nearly as dominant and he hit just three homers and saw his batting average drop to .277 in 58 games. Alvarez should return to high-A ball in 2018 but, if he gets hot, he could spend a good chunk of the year in double-A and could eventually take over first base for the Astros. The Tumbler: David Paulino, RHP: Paulino produced some excellent minor league numbers to receive a shot at the big leagues in 2016. Since that time, though, he’s dealt with elbow issues, a team suspension and then a drug suspension. And recently it was announced that Paulino had surgery for bone spurs in his throwing elbow. That injury might help explain why his heater has sat more in the 92 mph range rather than the 94-96 mph that he reportedly threw in the minors. With four pitches, he might also be better served by eliminating one or two offerings. The 2018 season should be a make-or-break year for Paulino. The Sleeper: Myles Straw, OF: I’m a sucker for hitters like Straw. He’s one of those speedy guys that understands he just needs to get on base to be valuable, and sacrifices power to make contact. He also uses what the pitchers give him and will constantly pepper the opposite field. He’s no threat to hit even five homers in a season but he still has pop in his bat; he produced a 22.5% line drive rate in 2017 and was at 26% in low-A ball in ’16. The fly balls have been eliminate by design. Straw is a threat to hit .270-.300 as a big leaguer with the ability to steal 20+ bases as a full-time player but he’s probably best suited for a fourth-outfielder role. And he has a chance to be a very good one.