Friday, February 21, 2020

2020 Fayetteville Woodpeckers Prospect Preview

The Astros farm system graduated Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker in 2019.  They also traded Corbin Martin, Seth Beer, Josh Rojas and J.B. Bukauskas for Zack Greinke.  Forrest Whitley is still in the Astros farm system, but there is not many other other top prospects at the full season levels.  However, there is no shortage of interesting arms.

What I find most interesting about the Astros is there ability to find unheralded pitchers that have a great deal of success in the minors.  Jose Urquidy is perhaps the first of these pitchers to make an impact in the majors.

The Astros use a lot of piggybacking for their pitchers where they have two scheduled pitchers for a game and each pitches between three and six innings.  The Astros seemingly have an endless supply of pitchers who project as multi inning relievers.  Bryan Abreu, Cristian Javier and Enoli Paredes are three pitchers that began 2019 for the Woodpeckers that could be contributors to the Astros bullpen in 2020.

The Astros Carolina League affiliate has led the league in strikeouts every year since they joined the Carolina League in 2017.  In 2019, the Fayetteville Woodpeckers had 1,476 strikeouts.  This was 293 more strikeouts then any other team in the league.  The Astros pitchers struck out an average of 10.62 batters per game.  Lynchburg was the next highest in the league at 8.76 batter per game.  The minor league record for strikeouts by a team in a season is 1,514 which was set by the 2018 Astros Quad Cities affiliate in the Midwest League and included several pitchers that were on Fayetteville in 2019.

This is an excellent article by James Kaplan of the Athletic about the Astros recent minor league pitching success.  There is a subscription required.

The Astros player development will be challenged by the penalties from their cheating scandal.  They will not have a first or second round draft choice in 2020 or 2021.  

Best Guess on Assignments

Position  Prospect  Assignment
CF Alex McKenna Fayetteville is most likely.
RHP Austin Hansen Fayetteville or Corpus Christi depending on pitching logjam.
RHP Brett Daniels Fayetteville
RHP Cody Deason More likely Fayetteville to start, but could be promoted to Corpus Christi early in the season.
SS Freudis Nova Quad Cities to start.  Good chance for mid season promotion to Fayetteville. 
SS Grae Kessinger Fayetteville is most likely.
RHP Hunter Brown Fayetteville is more like than Quad Cities to start.
RHP Jairo Lopez Quad Cities to start.  Outside chance for late season promotion to Fayetteville 
RHP Jairo Solis Quad Cities to start.  If healthy there is a chance of a mid season promotion to Fayetteville but the Astros will monitor his innings.
SS Jeremy Pena Could start at Fayetteville or Corpus Christi, but should be in Corpus Christi for most of the season.
RHP Jojanse Torres Corpus Christi
CF Jordan Brewer Quad Cities most likely to start.  Good chance for mid season promotion to Fayetteville. 
RHP Jose Alberto Rivera Fayetteville 
LHP Juan Pablo Lopez Quad Cities to start.  Chance for mid season promotion to Fayetteville based on performance.
Korey Lee Quad Cities or Fayetteville to start.  Likely to spend a good portion of the season in Fayetteville.
RHP Luis Garcia Corpus Christi
2B Luis Santana Quad Cities to start.  Chance for mid season promotion to Fayetteville based on performance.
RHP Nivaldo Rodriguez Fayetteville or Corpus Christi depending on pitching logjam.
LHP Parker Mushinski More likely Fayetteville to start, but could be promoted to Corpus Christi early in the season.
CF Pedro Leon Likely will sign on July 2nd.  Best guess is the Astros keep him in short season and possibly Quad Cities this year.
RHP Peter Solomon Likely to return mid season and should be in Fayetteville at some point.
RHP Shawn Dubin Most likely Corpus Christi.

Returning Woodpeckers Prospects

Peter Solomon (6'4 201 lbs DOB 8-16-96 RHP 4th round pick in 2017) seemed poised to be a big riser in 2019 after a very nice year in 2018 and eleven strikeouts in his first start of the year, when he got hurt in his second game of the year.  Solomon had Tommy John surgery and should return around the middle of the year.

Solomon struggled with control in college but was much better as a pro in 2018.   He will look to pick up where he left off when he returns.

Fayetteville or Corpus Christi

Jeremy Pena (6'0" 179 lbs DOB 9-22-97 SS RR 3rd round pick in 2018) had a very good year in 2019 between Quad Cities in the Midwest League and Fayetteville after getting stronger in the off season.  Pena was considered a defensive first shortstop, but hit better than expected.  Overall, Pena hit .303 / .385 / .825 with seven homers and twenty stolen bases.  Pena was born in the Dominican Republic but grew up in the US where his father, Geronimo was a major leaguer in the early nineties.  Pena went to University of Maine.   

Pena played in the Arizona Fall League and struggled a bit in twenty four games but the AFL was a challenge for him given his  experience.  Pena only played forty three games for Fayetteville in 2019 so it is possible he returns to start the season.  Pena is a strong defensive shortstop that is unlikely to be ever be a top offensive performer, but showed in 2019 he does have some offensive potential.

Austin Hansen (6'0" 195 lbs DOB 8-25 1996 RHP 8th rounder in 2018) did not throw more than 38.1 innings a year during his three year college career at Oklahoma where he was primarily a relief pitcher.  Although Hansen walked too many hitters, he put up some impressive stats between Quad Cities and Fayetteville in 2019.  In 94 innings, Hansen only allowed 52 hits while walking 51 and striking out 128. Prior to getting promoted to the Woodpeckers on June 6th, Hansen had a 33.2 inning scoreless streak for Quad Cities.

Hansen can throw in the mid nineties.  He has a slider that can be a plus pitch but is inconsistent at times.  Hansen also has a curve and change up that are works in progress. Hansen projects as a multi inning reliever and is an arm to watch. 

Nivaldo Rodriguez (6'170 lbs DOB 4-16-97 RHP 2015 IFA) the Astros has some money leftover from the 2015 / 2016 IFA class so they signed Rodriguez out of Venezuela for $10,000 in June 2016.  Rodriguez has been pitching well at each stop ever since, as he had slowly moved up the Astros organization.  For his career Rodriguez has pitcher 225.1 innings allowing 169 hits and 69 walks while striking out 235.  

Rodriguez only throws in the low nineties but has a high spin rate and a plus curveball.  Rodriguez was promoted to Fayetteville from Quad Cities on May 16th after six dominant starts.  While Rodriguez was still very good for the Woodpeckers, one concern is that his walks increased.  Prior to being promoted to the Carolina League, Rodriguez career BB/9 was 2.26.  In the Carolina League, the BB/9 was 3.77.  It is worth monitoring to see if more advanced hitters are laying off Rodriguez' breaking ball.

The Astros added Rodriguez to their forty man roster over the winter so they had some concern about exposing him to the rule five draft.

Parker Mushinski (6'0" 218 lbs DOB 11-22-95 LHP 7th round in 2017) was really good for the first month of 2019 (30.2 innings allowing 26 hits and 8 walks while striking out 43).  Mushinski then got hurt and missed more than two months.  Mushinski was not as good when he finally did return, but ended the season with a outstanding start in the playoffs. 

Like Hansen, Mushinski was lightly used, primarily in relief in college, when he was drafted by the Astros.  Mushinski went to Texas Tech.  The Astros have added a slider to his arsenal to go along with his fastball and cutter.  This is a big year for Mushinski and I would not be surprised if he put it all together.

Cody Deason (6'4" 214 lbs DOB 12-26-96 RHP 5th round 2018) gets lost in the shuffle with the eye popping statistics that some of the other pitchers in the Astros organization put together. However, Deason, had a solid first full season as a pro.  Between Quad Cities and Fayetteville, Deason pitched 100.2 innings allowing 76 hit and 45 walks while striking out 120.  

Deason played for the Arizona Wildcats in college where his teammates includes Astros prospect JJ Matijevic and Cesar Salazar who will likely be a Woodpecker catcher this year.  Deason has a strong fastball (low to mid nineties) and curveball combination.  His slider and change up need work.  

Likely to be Promoted from Fayetteville to Corpus Christi

Jojanse Torres - after an issue when the Brewers tried to sign Torres in 2015, he did not sign with an major league organization until 2018 when he was almost twenty three.  Torres spent 2018 in the Dominican Summer League before finally coming stateside in 2019.  He was spectacular in 2019 between Quad Cities and Fayetteville going 12-0 while allowing only 18 earned runs and 58 hits in 94.2 innings and striking out 107.

Torres can reach a hundred miles an hour with his fastball and his slider might be his best pitch.  The questionable command and lack of a third pitch makes Torres a likely reliever.  

Luis Garcia - likely only the third best prospect in baseball named Luis Garcia, but he is still someone to keep an eye on. An international free agent signing from Venezuela that did not sign until he was almost twenty one for a $20,000 signing bonus.  Garcia had an incredible finish to 2019.  In his last seven appearances including the playoffs, Garcia struck out 73 batters in 39.1 innings while allowing 19 hits and 13 walks.

Garcia has added a lot of velocity since signing with the Astros  and is now throwing in the upper nineties.  Both his slider and change up show potential but are not finished products.

Shawn Dubin - another Astros pitchers that has seen a velocity increase since being signed.  Dubin pitched his first couple of  years in college at University of Buffalo where the results were unspectacular.  He transferred to Georgetown College, an NAIA school in Kentucky for 2018 where he dominated and the Astros selected Dubin in the thirteenth round.  

Dubin closed out 2019 including playoffs with twenty four scoreless innings where he only allowed six hits and four walks while striking out thirty two.  The WHIP during that stretch was 0.42!  Dubin is very slender but has a lively arm. He primarily is a two pitch pitcher (mid nineties fastball and slider) and with his size is likely a reliever.       

New Woodpeckers Prospects

Freudis Nova (6'1" 200 lbs DOB 1-12-00 SS RR 2016 IFA signing) made it to full season ball as a teenager and held his own for seventy five games for Quad Cities in the Midwest League.  Nova has a potential power speed game that you dream on. 

Nova signed for 1.2 million with the Astros after a deal with the Marlins fell through.  After spending 2017 in the Dominican Summer League, Nova had a strong year in 2018 at the GCL level and got the aggressive assignment for 2019. Nova has a very strong arm and has the skills to stick at shortstop although the Astros have played him around the infield.

Nova will likely begin the year at Quad Cities but has a good chance to be called up to Fayetteville in the second half.

Jairo Solis (6'2" 160 lbs DOB 12-22-99 RHP 2016 IFA signing) a $450,000 international signing from Venezuela who was progressing quickly when he hurt his arm and had Tommy John surgery.  In 2017 Solis began the year in the Dominican Summer League and finished the year in the Appalachian League with Greenville as a seventeen year old which is almost unheard except for Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Wander Franco.  In three stops in 2017 he pitched 61.1 innings allowing 51 hits and 21 walking while striking out 69.  In 2018 with Quad Cities, Solis struggled with consistency and control (32 walks in 50.2 innings) but also threw some gems before hurting his arm.

Solis had Tommy John surgery in late 2018 so he should be at full strength in 2020.  Prior to the injury he was throwing in the low to mid nineties with a potential plus curveball. If things go well it is possible Solis could finish the year in Fayetteville but it is unlikely that the Astros will push him.

Luis Santana (5'8" 175 DOB 7-20-99 2B RR 2016 IFA signing) a squat bat first infielder that the Astros acquired in the JD Davis trade after a big season in 2018 for Kingsport in the Appalachian League (.348 / 446 / .917).  Interestingly, in 2019 the Astros used Santana as a fill in for AA Corpus Christi for eighteen games before short season ball started and he was then assigned to Tri-City in the NY Penn League.  Santana had a disappointing season for Tri-City (.228 / .333 / .690) that can be partially explained by a decrease in BABIP for .376 in 2018 to .271 in 2019. 

Santana has an advanced hit tool (career 85 strikeouts compared to 84 walks in 738 at bats) but is is unclear about the rest of his skills.  Santana should begin 2020 in Quad Cities and can make it to Fayetteville with a good first half.

Jose Alberto Rivera (6'3" 160 lbs DOB 2-14-97  RHP 2016 IFA) another inexpensive, relatively older pitching prospect who the Astros signed, that several years later looks promising.  Rivera was dominant for Quad Cities at the end of the year.  In his last 29.1 innings including the playoffs, Rivera allowed just 14 hits and 13 walks while striking out 48. In his last appearance of the year in the playoffs, Rivera got 13 of his 15 outs via the strikeout.

Rivera can reach the upper nineties with his fastball. He throws a slider that at times looks good and has a change up that is very much a work in progress.  Rivera is yet another good looking pitcher that is likely a multi inning reliever.   

Jairo Lopez (5'11" 150 lbs DOB 11-21-00 RHP 2017 IFA) got a $300,000 signing bonus out of Venezuela.  In his first year stateside in 2019, Lopez put up some impressive numbers between the Gulf Coast League and Tri City in the NY Penn League.  In 51 innings, Lopez only allowed 25 hits (.140 BAA) and 23 walks while striking out 61. The walk percentage did increase from 7% in the GCL to 15.2% in the NY Penn League.

Lopez is obviously undersized but he has advanced skills for his age with a fastball in the low to mid nineties and a promising curveball and change up.  Lopez will likely begin 2020 in Quad  Cities and if everything goes perfect could end the year in Fayetteville.

Juan Pablo Lopez  (6' 4" 170 lbs DOB 2-17-99 LHP 2016 IFA) at this point Lopez is more of a crafty pitcher that a power arm, but he is young and has some projection.  Lopez is from the same part of Mexico as Roberto Osuna.  In 2019, Lopez primarily pitched for Tri-City in the NY Penn League.   Lopez was called up to Quad Cities at the very end of the year for one appearance.

Lopez will likely begin 2020 for Quad Cities and has a chance to get promoted to Fayetteville for the second half.

Alex McKenna (6'2" 200 lbs DOB 9-6-97 CF RR 4th round in 2018 draft) an advanced college player who had a very disappointing first full year as a pro.  McKenna was a regular for three year at Cal Poly where he hit .323 / 402 / .874 and played well in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2017.  McKenna's pro career got off to a solid start in 2018 where in 44 games in Tri City and Quad Cities he hit .311 / .394 /.906 with seven homers.  However, in 2019 McKenna missed most of the first half with an injury and in 65 games ended up only hitting one homer with nine extra base hits while striking out 29% of the time.

McKenna is a much better player than he showed in 2019 and will look to rebound.   

Brett Daniels (6'0"194 lbs 2-25-96 RHP 17th round 2018) with the Astros it is a good idea to monitor any pitcher that has had some success.  Daniels was selected as a Senior out of University of North Carolina and has pitched well as pro (144 innings allowing 105 hits and 57 walks while striking out 151).

Daniels will be twenty four before the 2020 season begins.  He throws in the low nineties and and his best pitch s probably his change up.  Daniels should be in position to get regular innings for the Woodpeckers in 2020.

2019 Notable Astros Draft Picks

The Astros went with a surprise in the 1st round which may have been questioned more if the pick was made by a less successful organization.  

Blair Henley,  Ryan Gusto and Garrett Gayle are late round pitching draft picks that will look to have the same type of success that 2018 late round picks Brett Conine or Shawn Dubin had in 2019.  Ninth round pick, Peyton Battenfield was already traded with Cal Stevenson to Tampa Bay for Austin Pruitt.

Round  Pick Player Age Position School Bonus
1 32 Korey Lee 20 C California $1,750,000
2 68 Grae Kessinger 21 SS Mississippi $750,000
3 106 Jordan Brewer 21 CF Michigan $500,000
4 136 Colin Barber 18 CF Pleasant Valley HS $1,000,000
5 166 Hunter Brown 20 P Wayne State $325,000
6 196 Matthew Barefoot 21 CF Campbell $150,000
7 226 Blair Henley 22 P Texas $150,000
8 256 Luis Guerrero 20 CF Miami-Dade CC $150,000
9 286 Peyton Battenfield 21 P Oklahoma State $148,400
11 346 Ryan Gusto 20 P Florida SouthWestern State College $421,699
12 376 Garrett Gayle 21 P Rice $125,000
13 406 Kevin Holcomb 20 P Glendale CC $175,000
35 1066 James Nix 21 RF Central Florida $250,000

Korey Lee (6'2" 205 lbs DOB 7-25-98 RR C) After two mediocre years at Cal, Lee exploded as a Junior with 15 homers tying Andrew Vaughn for the team lead and being the surprise 1st round pick of the Astros.

Lee has a good arm but his defensive behind the plate is still a work in progress and it remains to be seen if he sticks at catcher or goes to a utility role.   

Grae Kessinger (6'2" 200 lbs DOB 8-25-97 RR SS) was a solid college player with a well rounded game, but not any stand out skills besides a strong hit tool.  Kessinger hit .405 with a .472 OBP in SEC play in 2019.

On a semi related note, Kessinger's grandfather, Don Kessinger had a 16 year major league career primarily with the Cubs.  Despite only hitting 14 career homers with a .626 career OPS, Kessinger was a six time All Star.  The 1960s and early 70s were a very different era.

Jordan  Brewer (6'1" 195 lbs DOB 8-1-97 RR OF) A cold weather player who played a lot of football until college, Brewer has an intriguing power and speed combination.  Brewer transferred to Michigan from junior college for 2019 and was the Big Ten Player of the year with 12 homers and 24 steals.

It was only 16 games, but Brewer struggled at Tri City in the NY Penn League (.346 OPS). Brewer may progress slower than the typical college player because of his background.  He is a high risk, high reward prospect.

Hunter Brown (6'2" 203 lbs DOB 8-29-98 RHP) Brown was a completely unheralded player out of high school that progressed  to the best pitching prospect in Division II at Wayne State. 

In short outings as a pro for Tri City in the NY Penn League, Brown held hitters to a .157 batting average with 33 strikeouts in 23.2 innings but walked too many (18).   

One Down the Road to Monitor

While the Astros have some interesting names in the lower minors to keep an eye on, their is not one standout currently in their organization.  A few names to watch include Colin Barber (18 year old CF), Dauri Lorenzo (17 year old SS), Yohander Martinez (18 year old INF), Kenedy Corona (19 year old OF) and Richi Gonzalez (17 year old OF).

The most interesting prospect is not officially in the Astros organization yet.    

Pedro Leon (5'10" 180 lbs DOB 5-28-98 CF RR 2020 likely IFA signing) is expected to sign with the Astros for approximately four  million dollars on July 2nd.    Leon is a five tool athlete that defected from Cuba in 2019.  In the top Cuban League he hit .371 with 15 homers in 33 games in 2018.  Given his age and experience it will be interesting to see how quickly the Astros move Leon up the organization.  My best guess is that he would be in Fayetteville for the first part of 2021 and could move up to Corpus Christi quickly if he is as good as advertised. 

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