A Minor Review of 2018: Houston Astros by Marc Hulet March 29, 2019 Welcome back to my annual off-season series that has a quick-and-dirty review of all 30 minor league systems around baseball. This feature began way back in 2008 and wraps up with the 30th and final piece with the 2019 baseball season now upon us. If you were perusing this series in late 2017 you would have read: 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 the 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. 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. Now on to the new stuff: First Taste of The Show: Josh James, RHP: A former 34th round pick, James saw his fastball velocity trend upward over the past year and so did his fortunes. He can now overpower hitters to make up for his modest command, and he’s also shown improvements in his secondary offerings. He may end up with three average-or-better offerings. James still has some detractors because of his iffy command/control but another strong season in 2019 will quiet talk of him ending up in the bullpen. He’s been mostly durable as a pro and could provide at least 150-160 innings during the coming season — much of which should come from the Astros rotation. The Draft Pick: Seth Beer, 1B: Headline writers in Houston were licking their chops when the Astros selected Beer with their first overall selection in 2018 and he earned a little bit of the hype with a strong debut. But he also shares some similarities to former second-rounder A.J. Reed, who has been unable to crack the Astros big league roster despite respectable numbers for parts of three years in Triple-A. Beer is a bat-first player with no defensive or base-running value. He was given some time in the outfield by Houston but has a very low probability of spending any time at the position. His power will have to carry him. The Riser: Yordan Alvarez, OF/1B: Alvarez showed a lot of promise as an amateur out of Cuba and commanded a $2 million signing bonus but his rise through the Astros system has likely been even more meteoric than they expected. He needed just two full seasons in pro ball to reach the cusp of the Majors. He’ll return to Triple-A to open up the 2019 season, after spending 46 games there last year, but a strong offensive start could push him into the big league picture in the second half of the year. And he won’t turn 22 until late June. Alvarez is a hulking beast at the plate but he’s athletic for his size. He has all-field power and could easily hit 30 home runs if he continues to mature as a hitter. He has some swing-and-miss to his game but not as much as you might expect and he offsets it somewhat with a solid walk rate. The Fallen: J.J. Matijevic, OF: Matijevic didn’t have a terrible season with the bat in 2018 but it also wasn’t great. He’s gone from being a well-rounded college hitter so chasing the home run and his BB-K ratio de-evolved to 36-103 and he hit just .266 in High-A ball as a 22-year-old. To be fair — when he makes contact — Matijevic can hit the ball a long way but, like Seth Beer above, his value is tied up in the bat and he has little defensive or base-running value. The left-fielder is also a platoon threat given his struggles with same-side pitching. He could struggle even further in 2019 at the Double-A level unless he makes some additional adjustments. The 2019 Contributor: Forrest Whitley, RHP: Arguably the best pitching prospect in baseball, only an injury likely stands in Whitley’s way of making his MLB debut in 2019. Just 21, he has an enviable pitcher’s frame and stands 6-foot-7. He will very likely have four better-than-average or plus offerings when all is said and done, including a 93-97 mph fastball. Injuries and a suspension for performance enhancers kept him to just 26.1 innings during the regular season but he dominated hitters in another 26 innings in the Arizona Fall League. Still, the Astros will likely want to be cautious with his innings as they build him back up. He’s never thrown more than 93 innings so you probably won’t see him as a secret weapon in this year’s big league playoffs unless his workload is managed very carefully in the first half of 2019. The 2019 Sleeper: Abraham Toro-Hernandez, 3B: Toro-Hernandez is an example of great scouting by the Astros. Signed out of junior college, he actually grew up in Canada so he’s a little bit behind most players his age. With that said, he’s made up for lost development time over the past year. His first full pro season in 2018 had signs of promise — including developing pop and an improved eye at the plate — but he was also inconsistent, especially after his promotion to Double-A. He capped off a long season with a good showing in the Arizona Fall League. Despite a strong showing in spring training, Toro-Hernandez may be headed back to Double-A to continue to add polish to his game. Because he doesn’t have a ton of defensive value, he may end up as a bat-first utility player but it might also be worthwhile giving him a shot at left field. The 2019 Lottery Ticket: Enoli Paredes, RHP: Paredes is a smallish but very energetic right-hander who gets his entire body into his delivery, which also leads to modest command/control and doesn’t set him up in the best fielding position. Still, there is something here and the Astros have a strong track record with developing undervalued international signees. His lightning-quick arm generates a power fastball (92-95 mph) and slider and hitters managed just a .141 average against him (with 90 Ks in 69 innings) in 2018 likely due to the combination of stuff and distracting movement in his delivery. Paredes could develop into an intriguing multi-inning reliever.