Houston Astros fans will tell you 2016 was a disappointing season. They appeared to be entering the season with one of the most solid, young cores in baseball backed by a rotation led by the reigning-Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and a very encouraging season by Lance McCullers. An 84-78 record and third-place finish in the AL West was not really what they had in mind.
But 2017 is a clean slate and the Astros figure to be right back in the thick of things. They will have that rock-solid core for the next several years and this season, they could see more young prospects reach the big leagues and help even more. Guys like Derek Fisher, Francis Martes and David Paulino could all contribute to the success of their team.
This is the first team in the AL West that I will be covering. Next week, I will continue the AL West with the Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners. To read more about my prospect coverage, click here.
By the way, if you are interested in more MLB prospects columns, head on over to our 2017 fantasy baseball rankings dashboard. Throughout the offseason, you will find the rest of our team prospect breakdowns, fantasy baseball prospect rankings, tiered positional rankings, keeper values articles, and more - all in one easy place.
Houston Astros Top Prospects for Dynasty Leagues
Top Overall Talent: Kyle Tucker
Top Prospect who won’t debut in 2017: Kyle Tucker
There was some shock when the Astros took Tucker as high as fifth overall back in 2015 when guys like Carson Fulmer, Tyler Jay and Andrew Benintendi were still available. But Tucker has done a lot to make their decision to draft him look like a sound one. The younger brother of Astros’ outfielder Preston Tucker, Kyle has made a very quick transition from Rookie league after his 2015 debut all the way to High-A at the end of 2016. Along the way, he has flashed some power (nine home runs in 117 games), promising speed (32 steals), an advanced knowledge of the strike zone (10.0% BB rate and only 16.3% K rate) while also posting an outstanding .285 average. I will certainly talk more about him, but it is important to know he has some of the highest upside of any prospect in baseball and could be a quick riser to the big leagues. With that said, it would be shocking to see him debut in 2017.
Top Prospect to Debut in 2017: Francis Martes
Few pitchers can match the upside of Martes. The guy has one of the best two-pitch combinations in the minors with his fastball/curveball combo receiving plus-plus grades from most evaluators. The fastball touches triple-digits and sits in the mid-upper-90s while the curveball has been clocked as high as 88 mph. Martes has exceptional control over his repertoire and is capable of limiting the walks. Martes is a budding ace and dynasty owners should get a chance to see the 21-year-old right-hander take his talents to the big leagues in 2017.
Biggest Boom or Bust: Daz Cameron
Cameron is an extremely polarizing prospect. Many scouts are urging patience with the 20-year-old outfielder while others are starting to jump ship off his bandwagon and call him a bust. Those who believe in him see a future centerfielder with a lightning-fast bat, capable of generating enough pop to drive 15-20 home runs and hit near .280 ever season. They also see someone with the speed and athleticism to not only man centerfield, but also swipe 20+ bags annually. The doubters see someone who will fail to make strides in his plate discipline and never make the big leagues. He's worth a flier if you've got space for him, but don't count him as a lock to the big leagues just yet.
Biggest Sleeper: Ronnie Dawson
Dawson does not receive a lot of recognition for his promising skill-set, but that should start to change soon. The Astros’ second round pick in 2016 slashed .225/.351/.373 with seven homers and 12 steals while walking 14.1% of the time and struck out at a 22.7% rate in his first taste of professional action. That doesn’t initially sound great, but consider he essentially played a 135 game season between Houston’s Low-A affiliate and Ohio State (including Big Ten and NCAA tournament runs), so fatigue most likely played a role towards the end of his season. But Dawson was outstanding in his 65 games at Ohio State, slashing .331/.419/.611 with 13 home runs and 21 successful steals in 25 attempts. Scouts love Dawson’s power/speed combination, citing his smooth swing and power to all fields. If he cut down on the strikeouts, he could be a future .270 hitter with 20/20 potential.
Top Prospect Hitters
Most Likely to Hit over .300: Kyle Tucker
As discussed earlier, Tucker is one of the more advanced prospects in the game for someone only 20 years old. Scouts love his easy, smooth swing that currently generates plenty of line drives. They also praise his plate discipline and understanding of the strike zone which should help him translate success from the majors to the minors. All of this leads to the belief he could eventually compete for batting titles at the big league level.
Best Power Hitter: Derek Fisher
Best Burner on the Bases: Derek Fisher
Do you recall the Cleveland Indians’ top 10 prospect list? You know, the one where I talked about Bradley Zimmer and how he strikes out too much but has an exciting power/speed combination? Well you might want to recall that to further understand Fisher. I’ve often thought of him as a Diet Dr. Zimmer: less likely to cut down on the Ks, slightly fewer homers and fewer steals. But even then, that makes for one exciting dynasty prospect. In 129 games between Double-A and Triple-A this season, Fisher mashed 21 homers and swiped 28 bags. His strikeouts will remain an issue, but if he can trim them down just enough, he could have a future in the big leagues as a regular corner outfielder with annual 20/20 potential if the middle of what figures to be a very potent lineup.
Top Prospect Pitchers
Strikeout Machine: David Paulino
Paulino experienced a bit of a setback when he underwent Tommy John surgery back in 2014, but he has shown little signs of rust since returning. Since he restarted his development in 2015, he has hit every level of the minors along the way. And with an innings minimum of 10 innings pitched, his lowest strikeout rate was 24.8%. There are several reasons for this. A) he has a blazing mid-upper-90s fastball B) his power-curve has become a legit out-pitch for him C) at 6-foot-7, he is able to stay on top of his pitches and throw them from an angle many hitters don’t get to see and D) he has very reliable command over all his pitches. If he can prove capable of holding up over the long haul, he has the chance to be a legit frontline starting pitcher.
Best Command: Francis Martes
As discussed earlier, Martes possesses phenomenal command of his elite array of pitches. He walked only 9.0% of opposing batters at Double-A this past season and typically has a history of walking only around 6-8% of hitters faced. Scouts believe that he is only making improvements in his control and that the best is yet to come. Walks may be an initial concern in the big leagues when he first debuted, but expect him to iron those issues out very quickly.
Top 10 Dynasty Prospects for the Houston Astros
1. Kyle Tucker (OF, A+)
Drafted out of high school, Tucker is a quick riser through the minors thanks in large part to his advanced profile. He has the potential to be a future middle-of-the-order bat with 20-30 homers and a .310+ batting average annually.
2. Francis Martes (SP, AA)
Martes is probably one tweak away with his changeup from turning into a fully-fledged ace. As it stands right now, his repertoire and command give him the appearance of a No. 2 starter.
3. Derek Fisher (OF, AAA)
Underrated power/speed combination, Fisher is limited in the batting average stat to probably a .260-high, but owners will love the 20/20 upside.
4. David Paulino (SP, MLB)
Paulino’s combination of stuff, size and control is a rare combination and could lead to him becoming a future ace. He just needs some improvements in his changeup and to show he is durable enough to last 30 starts.
5. Forrest Whitley (SP, ROK)
Whitley already has a borderline elite array of pitches and balances them out with a smooth, easy delivery. He needs some years to work on improving command, but he could be yet another frontline pitcher in this Astros system.
6. Franklin Perez (SP, A)
Perez’s outstanding 2016 campaign at Class-A really put him on the map. But it will be his 2017 season that establishes him as a top tier pitching prospect. He’s got the stuff, he just needs to prove his control is for real.
7. Ronnie Dawson (OF, A-)
Strikeouts are the only problem right now in a promising outfielder with an impressive power/speed combination.
8. Teoscar Hernandez (OF, MLB)
Derek Fisher is diet Dr. Zimmer; Hernandez is diet Dr. Fisher. Hernandez too possesses a decent power/speed combination, though it’s more about the speed and raw power right now. Like with the other two, strikeouts remain a concern.
9. J.D. Davis (3B, AA)
For Davis, it’s all about the power. He has 30-homer pop, but little else to help him out right now. He needs to cut down on the swings-and-misses if he wants to post a decent average.
10. Daz Cameron (OF, A)
It’s all about upside until he starts to show progress. He has a long way to go to prove he can stay healthy and make consistent contact.
The Astros are starting to look like the American League version of the Chicago Cubs. They were in the cellar for a very long time, but have now started to dig themselves up and out of it thanks to one of the best farm systems in baseball. The core of their franchise has all been developed from within: bats like Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and George Springer while arms like Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers were also former farmhands.
And somehow, the Astros still seem to have one of the best farm systems in baseball. They have four pitching prospects with front-of-the-rotation potential, two of the most exciting outfield prospects in baseball and many other high-upside bats and arms buried in the system. For dynasty owners, there is a lot of talent to be had here and a lot still left to find. Look for other guys like Garrett Stubbs and Cionel Perez all over this system.