Written by: Zach Volland (@NotBrianKenny)
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Pitching prospects and uncertainty go together like white on rice. Injuries often scar and stagnate their road to excellence, and a string of bad performances by pitching prospects with certain trains can set their ETA back by several weeks or even months. However, the Houston Astros have been refreshingly consistent in developing young talent. As their MLB team wallowed in the cellar for a few seasons, their farm system was busy developing some of the best talent in all of baseball. The continued development of their young talent eventually paid the ultimate dividend last season, when the Astros won the World Series. Most of Houston’s positional talent is already in the big leagues, but in this piece, I’ll dive into the top 5 (in my opinion, anyways) Astros’ top organizational pitching prospects to give you a deeper look of what will eventually stand 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate at Minute Maid Park.
- Forrest Whitley:I wrote about Whitley not too long ago. The kid is spectacular. He’s big and polished beyond his years. His fastball grades at 65 and has late life. His curveball is a 12-6 hammer of a pitch (I also grade it at 65). Like his fastball, Whitley’s slider moves late and is deceptive (60). The changeup is still a feel pitch for him, but it looks like he was very confident throwing the pitch last season (60). Overall, I think Whitley is destined to be a top 20 arm. Despite the accolades that the current Astros rotation is accruing, I think there’s a chance Whitley eventually headlines the group of starting pitchers in Houston. Acquire him in your dynasty leagues and stash him while you can. His suspension for violating the MiLB drug policy will be ending soon, but a lat injury will sideline Whitley awhile longer. No worries, he still projects as a top-of-the-rotation arm in real life and within fantasy circles.
- David Paulino: I’m still a buyer on Paulino. Yes, he used PEDs and was suspended. Depending on how high you sit on the horse, you might feel a little dirty about rostering him in fantasy baseball. However, Paulino’s talent is truly remarkable. Paulino is a HUGE right-hander with a ton of potential. He currently possesses three MLB-ready pitches and a fourth that’s still developing. His fastball is big and sits at 94-95 mph with life. He can reach back and dial it up to 99 mph from time to time, but don’t expect him to sit that close to triple-digits as a starter (60-65). Paulino offers a curveball that grades at 60, and it’s probably his best secondary offering. However, he does get lazy with this pitch at times. His change up is decent and can flash as a plus-pitch occasionally. The pitch looks like a fastball out of his hand, and Paulino sells it with nice arm action. Sometimes, this pitch looks flat and hittable, but with time and continued development, I think it eventually lands in the 55-range. His slider is an absolute work-in-progress and needs some added shape to it. It often looks like he tries to spin this pitch instead of trusting the feel (50). I think Paulino will eventually be a solid #3 SP with potential to be a high-ceiling arm. Because Paulino is still unpolished and a ways from his potential, there’s still some variance here. Also, since the Astros’ rotation is seemingly already log-jammed and Whitley figures to have next crack at eventually debuting and inserting himself in the rotation, Paulino (along with the rest of the arms I mention in this post) might eventually be converted to an explosive bullpen arm. The 6’7, Dominican Republic native has been unlucky so far this season in AAA, but don’t let that deter you. Paulino is going to be a name-to-know in the MLB throughout the next decade.
- J.B. Bukauskas: There isn’t much to dislike about Bukauskas and his repertoire of pitches. He’s a fastball/slider right-hander with a pretty good changeup that serves as a cherry on top. Bukauskas’ slight build might scream ‘reliever’, but I think he can reach his starter potential if he refines his secondary offerings and command. His fastball grades at 70 and is an elite pitch. The offering has tons of arm-side run, and I’m sure he will develop a cutter at the big league level. Any kind of fastball movement is good movement. His slider might be even more filthy of the fastball. This pitch is mid-80s (65) and has nasty, sharp break. There’s a ton of spin with the pitch, and Bukauskas hides it well, making it deceptive out of his hand. Some scouts believe that Bukauskas will eventually lean on his slider similarly to how Jack Flaherty currently leans on his, which wouldn’t be a bad thing. Lastly, Bukauskas has a changeup, but it needs work. It has decent arm-side run and sometimes looks like a fastball out of his hand (50). If Bukauskas can refine this pitch and eventually use it as a compliment to his fastball (which might be a compliment to his slider?), he’d be a definite force in the Major Leagues. I believe Bukauskas could be a #3-4 who eats 180 innings perennially for a big league rotation. Earlier this month, Bukauskas was placed on the 7-day disabled list in Low-A. At the time this article was published, the reason was still unknown.
- Corbin Martin: I really like Martin. When I watched some video on his outings, the first thing I noticed was the effort in his delivery. However, it seems like he’s athletic enough to compensate, so I’m not overly worried. He offers four pitches that all show above-average at times, but like every other pitching prospect with fewer than 100 IP in professional ball, he obviously needs some refinement. His fastball is absolutely a bull of a pitch. By that, I mean it gets on you quickly. It sits 93-95 mph with some arm-side run. I’d grade it as 60 with a chance to be 65. Martin also possesses a devilish curveball. It’s an absolute-hammer that has great, late life. It’s certainly his best non-fastball offering, and I think it looks Major League ready. It has great plane and depth with a ton of spin (60). Martin throws a slider that needs some refining but projects to be an eventual out-pitch for him down the road (55). He also throws a changeup that has shown potential but needs continued development (50-55). I think with time, Martin should develop into a solid middle-of-the-rotation arm. He has the arsenal and build to get better, so I wouldn’t sleep on him. Now is probably the time to stash him in your dynasty league. Along with a little pitch refinement, Martin simply needs more minor league experience. I’m really interested to see how he develops for AA Corpus Christi this summer.
- Hector Perez: Perez is listed at 6’3, and his figure suggests he may eventually add bulk to his current 190-pound frame. He’s a solid, young arm with four pitches that can be potential-plus pitches. His fastball is a bright spot with arm-side run. It’s a deceptive pitch. I think he’s most effective in the 93-96 mph range, but he can dial it up to 97-98 mph if he really needs to. I don’t think he needs the extra ticks to get hitters out. Outside of the fastball, Perez has a slider that can be devastating and a curveball that gets swings-and-misses but can be erratic at times. Both are currently grading at 50, but I see plenty of room for growth. Lastly, Perez throws a splitter that has the ability to generate misses. For the 21-year-old right-hander, refining the command of his slider, curveball and splitter will be absolutely critical in eventually reaching Perez’s gaudy ceiling.
Other arms of note: Cionel Perez, Jorge Alcala, Rogelio Armenteros
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Featured image courtesy of the Houston Defender