Astros Have too Much Fuel to Tank

The Astros brought tanking into vogue, building a roster set to lose 100 games per season to achieve a high draft pick the next season. That strategy could become a problem for baseball as now half the teams in the major leagues would prefer to tank rather than play to mediocrity. Cities left with teams tanking will see a decline in attendance and at some point major league baseball will have to establish a policy to discourage tanking. But the Astros would not be the team they are now without tanking.

The highest prospect rating the Astros got was in 2014 when they finished second to the Cubs, who also defined tanking. The players who appeared on the Top 100 that year were Carlos Correa, George Springer, Mark Appel, Jonathan Singleton, Mike Foltynewicz, Lance McCullers and Delino Deshields. Last year they were rated tenth. The following players from last year who appeared in the Top 100 rankings are Kyle Tucker, Forrest Whitely, Yordan Alvarez and J.B. Bukauskas.

The biggest star prospect this year is Kyle Tucker, who is appearing on a number of lists as a Top five prospect. His brother Preston Tucker played for the Astros. The two are built very differently. Preston is shorter with Popeye forearms. Kyle is taller and leaner and carries all the tools needed to be a star. Preston has the tools to be a journeyman or fourth outfielder in the major leagues. Kyle has the power to hit 30 plus homeruns per year (24 last year) with the speed to steal 20 plus bases and play centerfield. With a strong arm right field will be his ultimate position as his speed is just marginal to be a standout centerfielder. The 2015 first round pick struggled with his opportunity in the major leagues last year (.141 batting average) but the Astros have an opening in the outfield that he could win with a good spring. The tools are there for him to be another impact player for the Astros in 2019.

The Astros acquired Yordan Alvarez from the Dodgers for Josh Fields during their tanking period. While he plays left field his best use may be as a firstbaseman or designated hitter. His speed and arm are not great for outfield play. What the Cuban has that all teams look for is a potent bat that will make an offensive difference in a lineup. The bat can hit for big time power (.615 slugging in AA) and average (.325). At 6′5″ he has that typical build teams look for in a corner outfielder but without the defensive skills. A promotion to AAA brought a little struggle (.259 average and .452 slugging) so expect him to see significant time in AAA before finding the Astros roster.

Myles Straw could be that diamond in the rough that was drafted late (12th round 2015) but could bring huge rewards. His greatest tool is his speed which allows him to play a gold glove centerfield. What he lacks is power and the ability to punish the ball. Teams can play him shallow. Last year just 24 of his 150 hits went for extra bases resulting in a slugging average of .353, .317 in AAA. What he does have is speed, which led to 70 stolen bases and the ability to get on base (.291 average and .381 OBA). Those results gave him a cup of coffee in the major leagues last year. Myles would like to increase that major league time next year.

The Astros are not so strong in the infield. They have 2018 number one pick Seth Beer to play first base. Designated hitter is his best position, though the Astros could use him at first base. His lack of speed and weak arm leave no other position alternatives. Drafted out of college, if his bat works he should rise quickly. Last year he reached High A hitting .304 with a .496 slugging average through three levels.

With Carlos Correa at shortstop the best Freudis Nova can hope for is a spot as a utility player. Fortunately for the Astros he is only 19 and they can be very patient with him. He has all the tools to stick at short with a good arm and range but may have to move to second or third if Correa is still with the Astros when Nova has shown he has the bat to play in the major leagues. Last year in rookie ball he hit .308 with a .466 slugging average. Plate discipline could be an issue with his 6/21 walk to whiff ratio.

On the pitching front Forrest Whitely is listed in the top ten on most prospect ranking sheets. At 6′7″ with mid-90s heat and a hard breaking curve he can be an intimidating force on the mound. Last year he was issued a 50 game suspension for violating major league baseball’s drug policy so that hindered his development and limited him to just eight starts. The 2016 first round pick was dominant in those starts with a .160 opposition average. Too many walks hurt him (11 in 26 innings) leaving him with a rather lofty 3.76 ERA. If he can stay drug free he should see the Astros rotation sometime next year.

Cionel Perez is the typical Cuban lefty who throws an arsenal of pitches from multiple arm angles. His fastball also carries some pop, sitting in the low 90s but occasionally hitting the mid-90s. The Astros used him for 8 games in relief last year and that will be his ultimate role when he reaches the major leagues. He could be an emergency starter if the need exists, but retiring lefthanded hitters will be his ultimate role.

Corbin Martin has gotten some publicity for his fastball hitting triple digits. He might be most noted for being the second round pick the Astros received from the Cardinals for hacking their system. The curveball, slider and change are there for him to be a starter, including a fastball that clicks the radar guns consistently in the mid-90s. He also shows excellent command of his pitches. Last year he pitched in AA (2.97 ERA). Expect him to start the 2019 season in AAA and stay there until needed for the rotation.

Josh James has good size (6′3″) to fit in the rotation. A 34th pick in the 2014 draft, signed for $15,000,he could be the biggest bargain in the Astros farm system. He did not really distinguish himself until last season when he produced a 3.23 ERA and limited the opposition to a .191 batting average, striking out 171 hitters in just 114 innings. This got him a promotion to the major leagues where his success continued. His fastball hitting the mid-90s was his biggest pitch. There are still command issues so if he struggles next year the bullpen is always an option.

J.B. Bakauskas was the Astros first round pick in 2017. His small stature (6′0″) leave many thinking the pen is his best option. A mid-90s fastball and solid slider see the possibility of a starting pitcher. Last year he pitched at five different levels finishing with a 2.14 ERA and .199 opposition average. He struck out 71 hitters in 59 innings. He was limited to just 14 starts because of a back injury delaying his season by three months. Next year he should have an opportunity to pitch a full season to address any durability concerns. Reaching AAA should be his goal.

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