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Whitley looks to stay on track after stellar '17

Astros' top pitching prospect racked up 143 K's in first full season
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Astros pitching prospect Forrest Whitley was front and center during the team's annual Caravan and FanFest last week, signing autographs alongside All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa and manager A.J. Hinch, among others, while looking like a seasoned pro. Whitley, the Astros' first-round Draft pick in 2016 out of San Antonio, looks like he belongs in the big leagues off the field and could soon get a chance to show he belongs on it.

The hard-throwing Whitley, the No. 2-ranked right-handed pitching prospect by MLB Pipeline (behind Shohei Ohtani of the Angels), reached Double-A at age 19 last year, striking out 26 batters in 14 2/3 innings in four games (two starts) with the Corpus Christi Hooks. That put an exclamation point on a terrific first full season in pro ball and set up Whitley to reach the big leagues in 2019.

HOUSTON -- Astros pitching prospect Forrest Whitley was front and center during the team's annual Caravan and FanFest last week, signing autographs alongside All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa and manager A.J. Hinch, among others, while looking like a seasoned pro. Whitley, the Astros' first-round Draft pick in 2016 out of San Antonio, looks like he belongs in the big leagues off the field and could soon get a chance to show he belongs on it.

The hard-throwing Whitley, the No. 2-ranked right-handed pitching prospect by MLB Pipeline (behind Shohei Ohtani of the Angels), reached Double-A at age 19 last year, striking out 26 batters in 14 2/3 innings in four games (two starts) with the Corpus Christi Hooks. That put an exclamation point on a terrific first full season in pro ball and set up Whitley to reach the big leagues in 2019.

Top 10 Prospects by Position

"There's extra excitement," Whitley said of the 2018 season. "I'm going to try to stay in my lane, stay where my feet are and be humble as possible and just play the game."

Whitley, who will pitch at 20 years old all of next year, started the year in Class A Quad Cities and went 2-3 with a 2.91 ERA in 12 games (10 starts), striking out 67 in 46 1/3 innings. He was promoted for the first time to high Class A Buies Creek and struck out 50 in 31 1/3 innings before finishing the year in Corpus Christi.

He struck out a whopping 143 batters in 92 1/3 innings across three levels last year and will likely start the season in the rotation at Double-A. A promotion to Triple-A by the end of the season could have him knocking on the door of the big leagues.

"Expectations are going to be there, but I'm going to go out there and play my game and not try to do too much," he said.

Whitley could be invited to Major League camp as a non-roster player, where he could work alongside Justin Verlander, one of his idols. He said he's been focusing on gaining some strength on his 6-foot-7 frame this offseason as opposed to focusing on conditioning a year ago.

"It's been going really well thus far and I'm happy with my progress," he said.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

 

Houston Astros

Whitley keeping ear to ground as rumors swirl

Houston's top pitching prospect mentioned as possible piece in Cole deal
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Forrest Whitley couldn't help but hear his name being thrown around in trade rumors on Wednesday afternoon as speculation began to increase that Houston was on the verge of acquiring right-hander Gerrit Cole from Pittsburgh.

The Astros are working on multiple possible trades, but general manager Jeff Luhnow told MLB.com on Wednesday that no deal was in place and nothing was imminent. Whitley, the 20-year-old right-hander and Houston's top pitching prospect, is thought to be "untouchable" in terms of being included in possible trades, but that didn't stop his name from surfacing as a part of a possible package headed to the Pirates.

HOUSTON -- Forrest Whitley couldn't help but hear his name being thrown around in trade rumors on Wednesday afternoon as speculation began to increase that Houston was on the verge of acquiring right-hander Gerrit Cole from Pittsburgh.

The Astros are working on multiple possible trades, but general manager Jeff Luhnow told MLB.com on Wednesday that no deal was in place and nothing was imminent. Whitley, the 20-year-old right-hander and Houston's top pitching prospect, is thought to be "untouchable" in terms of being included in possible trades, but that didn't stop his name from surfacing as a part of a possible package headed to the Pirates.

Astros' Top 30 Prospects

"I'm not going to lie to you, I've been paying pretty close attention to it," Whitley said Wednesday during a stop on the Astros Caravan fan outreach tour. "It's got me on my toes, but that's out of my control. That's up to Jeff, that's up to people higher up in the Astros."

Tweet from @astros: Earlier today, @Rodg_20, @ForrestWhitley, @OrbitAstros and @SteveSparks37 paid a visit to @HoustonFire Station #62 on their #AstrosCaravan leg, presented by @Academy! 🚌 pic.twitter.com/NlqIVzTo6A

Astros owner Jim Crane said Monday the team is looking for a high-end starting pitcher to join Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton, and adding Cole would give Houston the deepest rotation in baseball to go along with the deepest lineup. At this point, a trade seems more likely than a free-agent signing.

The Astros are certainly unlikely to pay big free-agent dollars to Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta, but making a deal for an impact player could mean they would have to give up top prospect Kyle Tucker, an outfielder, or Whitley.

Video: Top Prospects: Forrest Whitley, RHP, Astros

"It's very flattering," Whitley said. "It's an interesting situation, to say the least. You just kind of take it and roll with it, I guess."

Whitley, the Astros' first-round Draft pick in 2016 out of a San Antonio high school, started last year at Class A Quad Cities and finished at Double-A Corpus Christi, where he appeared in four games in the Texas League at 19 years old. He struck out a whopping 143 batters in 92 1/3 innings across three levels last year.

Video: Survey Says: Whitley is second-best pitching prospect

Whitley is likely to start the upcoming season in the rotation with the Hooks and could be invited to Major League camp as a non-roster player, where he could work alongside Verlander. He said he's been focusing on gaining some strength on his 6-foot-7 frame this offseason as opposed to focusing on conditioning a year ago.

"It's been going really well so far and I'm happy with my progress," he said.

Cole, 27, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 Draft out of UCLA. A National League All-Star who won 19 games in 2015, Cole went 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA in 33 starts last year for the 75-win Pirates, allowing 55 walks and 31 homers while striking out 196 batters in 203 innings. He's 59-42 with a 3.50 ERA in 127 big league starts.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

 

Houston Astros

Astros add Gose as pitcher via Rule 5 Draft

Former full-time outfielder was briefly with Houston in 2010
MLB.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Astros hope Anthony Gose's second tenure with the club is a little more memorable than his first.

Gose, who spent less than a day with the Astros in between a pair of trades in 2010, was selected by the club from the Rangers in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft, which capped the Winter Meetings. Gose, a former Major League outfielder, was selected as a left-handed pitcher and will come to camp competing for a roster spot on the big league club.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Astros hope Anthony Gose's second tenure with the club is a little more memorable than his first.

Gose, who spent less than a day with the Astros in between a pair of trades in 2010, was selected by the club from the Rangers in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft, which capped the Winter Meetings. Gose, a former Major League outfielder, was selected as a left-handed pitcher and will come to camp competing for a roster spot on the big league club.

"We thought he had the best stuff in the Draft," Astros special assistant to the general manager Kevin Goldstein said. "Obviously, because of his lack of experience, it's going to be a bit of a long shot, but we decided to take the gamble because the upside was so good."

By selecting Gose and signing free-agent reliever Joe Smith , the Astros' 40-man roster is full. Gose must remain on the team's active roster all season or be offered back to the Rangers. That may be hard to do considering he only recently switched to pitcher from hitter, but the Astros think it's a risk worth taking.

Gose throws a fastball in the upper 90s with what Goldstein described as a very effective power breaking ball. "It has both velocity and a lot of depth," he said.

"We're a team that sees itself as returning to the postseason, we hope," Goldstein said. "It's not the kind of thing we just kind of hang onto and see how he develops. He needs to earn his job this spring on merit. We'll take a look at him as a potential left-handed bullpen piece."

Video: DET@NYM: Gose makes a nice running catch in left

Gose, 27, spent his 2017 season in Detroit's organization, when he saw his first action as a pitcher. He made 11 relief appearances with Class A Lakeland, recording 14 strikeouts against six walks and a .189 opponent batting average. He has appeared in 372 career big league games as an outfielder with the Blue Jays (2012-14) and Tigers (2015-16) and is a .240 career hitter.

If he makes the club, the Astros could have the luxury of using him in other ways -- pinch-runner, defensive replacement, etc. He could even come in from the outfield and face a batter and go back to the outfield. For now, the Astros are focused on him as a pitcher.

"He'll get an opportunity and he certainly has interesting weapons," general manager Jeff Luhnow said.

:: Rule 5 Draft coverage ::

Gose was originally a second-round pick by Philadelphia in 2008 and was traded to Houston in 2010 along with left-handed pitcher J.A. Happ and infielder Jonathan Villar in exchange for right-handed pitcher Roy Oswalt. He was traded by Houston on that same day to Toronto in exchange for infielder Brett Wallace.

The Astros lost right-handed pitcher Elieser Hernandez in the first round of the Rule 5 Draft to the Marlins.

In the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft, Houston selected left-handed pitcher Chris Nunn from the Chicago Cubs.

Nunn, 24, made four starts with Double-A Tennessee last season, posting a 4.76 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 17 innings. He missed the entire 2016 season, but has made 180 career Minor League appearances, posting a 20-5 record, a 4.06 ERA and 256 strikeouts in 230 1/3 innings. He was originally a 24th-round pick by San Diego in the 2012 Draft.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

 

Houston Astros, Anthony Gose

Astros add Perez, Deetz to fill 40-man roster

Club keeps pitching prospects out of Rule 5 Draft
MLB.com

The World Series champion Astros set their 40-man roster Monday by stocking it with pitching prospects.

Ahead of Monday's 7 p.m. CT deadline to protect players from next month's Rule 5 Draft, Houston selected left-hander Cionel Perez and right-hander Dean Deetz to the 40-man contingent. Perez is rated the organization's seventh-best prospect by MLBPipeline.com, while Deetz is ranked 26th. Adding Perez and Deetz filled out the Astros' 40-man roster.

The World Series champion Astros set their 40-man roster Monday by stocking it with pitching prospects.

Ahead of Monday's 7 p.m. CT deadline to protect players from next month's Rule 5 Draft, Houston selected left-hander Cionel Perez and right-hander Dean Deetz to the 40-man contingent. Perez is rated the organization's seventh-best prospect by MLBPipeline.com, while Deetz is ranked 26th. Adding Perez and Deetz filled out the Astros' 40-man roster.

Perez, 21, went 6-4 with a 4.13 ERA across three classifications in his first professional season in 2017. He began the season at Class A Quad Cities, where he posted a 4.39 ERA while striking out 57 in 55 1/3 innings.

Perez was promoted to Class A Advanced Buies Creek on July 11 and went 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA in five outings. That earned him a promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi on Aug. 15. A native of Cuba, Perez was signed by the Astros as a non-drafted free agent Dec. 9, 2016.

Deetz, 23, finished a combined 7-6 with a 4.25 ERA in 25 games at Corpus Christi and Triple-A Fresno. He registered 97 strikeouts in 84 2/3 innings. Deetz began the season at Corpus Christi, where he posted a 1.82 ERA before being promoted to Fresno on May 30.

Selected by Houston in the 11th round of the 2014 MLB Draft, the right-hander was twice named the Midwest League Pitcher of the Week (Aug. 24-30, 2015 and Sept. 1-6, 2015) and was also named Quad Cities Pitcher of the Month in August 2015. Additionally, Houston obtained righthander Brandon Bailey from Oakland for outfieder Raymon Laureano.

Bailey, 23, will be entering his third professional season after being drafted by the A's out of Gonzaga in the sixth round of the 2016 Draft. He split the 2017 season between Class A Advanced Stockton and Class A Beloit, finishing a combined 3-2 with a 3.26 ERA.

Bailey went 3-2 with a 3.26 ERA in 24 appearances (17 starts). He struck out 120 and walked 31 in 91 innings.

Chris Haft has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2007.

 

Houston Astros

NBA's 76ers take in World Series in Houston

MLB.com

HOUSTON -- The Philadelphia 76ers are in Houston to play the Rockets at Toyota Center on Monday night, but with the World Series taking place just down the street, they figured it was worth their time to visit two sports venues while they're in town.

The 76ers created a bit of a spectacle when they walked onto the field at Minute Maid Park while the Dodgers took batting practice before the Astros' 13-12 victory in Game 5, giving Houston a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Series. Half the basketball team wore Dodgers jerseys; the others opted for Astros jerseys. Most spent a large part of their time near the cages taking photos of their surroundings, posing for selfies with teammates and getting shots of the field in the background.

Full Game Coverage

HOUSTON -- The Philadelphia 76ers are in Houston to play the Rockets at Toyota Center on Monday night, but with the World Series taking place just down the street, they figured it was worth their time to visit two sports venues while they're in town.

The 76ers created a bit of a spectacle when they walked onto the field at Minute Maid Park while the Dodgers took batting practice before the Astros' 13-12 victory in Game 5, giving Houston a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Series. Half the basketball team wore Dodgers jerseys; the others opted for Astros jerseys. Most spent a large part of their time near the cages taking photos of their surroundings, posing for selfies with teammates and getting shots of the field in the background.

Full Game Coverage

Gear up for the World Series: Astros | Dodgers

Apparently, even athletes who are playing at the highest level can still be a little star-struck.

:: World Series presented by YouTube TV: Schedule and coverage ::

"You respect the craft," guard Nik Stauskas said. "As a professional athlete, you respect anyone who's a professional at their sport. Obviously, these guys have worked tremendously hard to get to this point in their lives. It's an honor to be here, it's an honor to watch them and hopefully we'll get to see a great game tonight."

Stauskas wore an Astros jersey, while his teammate, guard T.J. McConnell, opted for the Dodgers. Stauskas, admittedly not a baseball fan, simply wanted to support the home team. McConnell, however, purposely chose the Dodgers in honor of one of the more popular athletes to play in the City of Brotherly Love.

"We play in the city of Philadelphia, and I've grown up watching baseball, and Chase Utley is one of my favorite players of all time," McConnell said. "He's a beloved Philadelphia Phillie who now plays for the Dodgers. I'm going with the Dodgers on this one."

The 76ers, 2-4 in the early stages of the 2017-18 season, will play the Rockets for the second time in a week when they meet at Toyota Center on Monday. They came to Houston by way of Dallas, where they beat the Mavericks on Saturday, 112-110.

For the 76ers, Sunday was a day of rest between games, but they respected the fact that the two baseball teams involved in the World Series were in full preparation mode during their visit to batting practice.

Being that close to the action gave some of the players a greater appreciation for how much goes into the simple act of hitting a baseball.

"When you see them bat, and hear the sound of the bat when the ball goes off the bat, you appreciate how hard it is to play your respective sport," McConnell said. "So I'm standing here in awe, just pretty much watching them working their craft. It's awesome."

Tweet from @sixers: Company outing in Houston. 🏀 x ��������#WorldSeries pic.twitter.com/xztQEWH4oI

They also appreciate how hard it is to hit a baseball, which many ballplayers say is the toughest things to do in sports. Stauskas tried to do so at a batting cage with a friend last summer. It didn't go well.

"The ball was going 40 miles an hour," he said. "I did not hit one ball. I have the most respect for these guys that can hit a ball going 95 miles an hour. It's really unbelievable."

They may not be great at hitting, but catching, for one 76er, is a different story.

Joel Embiid, the 76ers' 7-foot-tall center, found himself on the receiving end of a Giancarlo Stanton home run ball during the T-Mobile All-Star Home Run Derby last summer at Marlins Park.

"There were actually a lot of baseballs coming my way," he said. "I caught one of them."

Embiid said he tries to find time to keep up with Major League Baseball and is rooting for the Dodgers to win the World Series.

"I try to watch them when I can," he said.

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros

How the Astros, Dodgers were built

MLB.com

As the 2017 regular season started to hit the homestretch, it became very clear the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers were postseason bound. On July 31, the Astros had a 16-game lead in the American League West, while the Dodgers had a comfortable cushion of 14 games in the National League West.

Both teams, though, felt they could use a rotation upgrade to increase their chances of playing deep into October. The Dodgers made their move right at the edge of the non-waiver Trade Deadline on July 31 by acquiring Yu Darvish from the Texas Rangers. The Astros waited a full month to make their move, nabbing Justin Verlander on Aug. 31 after the Tigers had put the veteran right-hander on waivers.

As the 2017 regular season started to hit the homestretch, it became very clear the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers were postseason bound. On July 31, the Astros had a 16-game lead in the American League West, while the Dodgers had a comfortable cushion of 14 games in the National League West.

Both teams, though, felt they could use a rotation upgrade to increase their chances of playing deep into October. The Dodgers made their move right at the edge of the non-waiver Trade Deadline on July 31 by acquiring Yu Darvish from the Texas Rangers. The Astros waited a full month to make their move, nabbing Justin Verlander on Aug. 31 after the Tigers had put the veteran right-hander on waivers.

• Gear up for the World Series: Astros | Dodgers

:: World Series schedule and coverage ::

Both moves, obviously, have paid large dividends for the two clubs preparing to play tonight in Game 1 of the World Series presented by YouTube TV. Darvish was solid in August and September (4-3 with a 3.44 ERA in nine starts) and has won both of his postseason outings (11 1/3 IP, 8 hits, 2 ER, 1 BB, 14 K).

"We went into July with the mindset of focusing on impact-type talent," said Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers' president of baseball operations, at the beginning of October. "To the extent we were able to line up on it, we would be aggressive in doing that. Our most acute need was left-handed relief, but if there was someone who could impact us in October … and Yu fits that perfectly."

Verlander has been other-worldly, with his September (5-0, 1.06 ERA in five starts) just a tune-up to his postseason run, particularly in his AL Championship Series MVP-winning peformance (postseason combined 4-0 in 24 2/3 IP, 17 H, 4 ER, 6 BB, 24 K).

"The Verlander deal took a long time to pull together, and it wasn't clear it would come together," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said as the postseason was about to begin. "To get two years of control, along with him pitching as well as he has pitched in his career, we went through a pretty disciplined approach to get that result."

That Los Angeles and Houston would get such production from trades should come as no surprise. The Dodgers had more players on their roster at the start of the postseason acquired via trade or waivers (14) than any team in the playoffs. The Astros, with 11, weren't too far behind. Tweaks to the World Series roster brought the Dodgers down to 13, with Curtis Granderson likely making way for Corey Seager, but it's still the top total. That baker's dozen produced a bWAR (Baseball-Reference WAR) of 21.1 for the Dodgers in 2017. Houston now has an even dozen on the roster, which put up a bWAR of 17.8.

How they were built: Astros | Dodgers

As much as trades have been crucial parts of building these World Series participants, there have been some big contributions from homegrown players. L.A. is obviously thrilled to get Seager back after he missed the NLCS presented by Camping World with a back issue, joining Clayton Kershaw and Cody Bellinger as Dodgers draftees making an impact. The Dodgers' homegrown players put up a bWAR of 21.6.

The Astros have eight homegrown players on their World Series roster, and like the Dodgers, have a pair of infielders (Houston's entire starting infield is homegrown, actually) and a frontline starter who originally signed with the organization leading the group. Carlos Correa was the No. 1 overall pick in 2012, and he hit .333 and slugged .556 in the ALCS presented by Camping World. International signee Jose Altuve has gone 16-for-40 (.400) this postseason, with five homers and eight RBIs. Dallas Keuchel, a humble seventh-round pick back in 2009, may have been overshadowed by Verlander this postseason, but he has a combined 2.60 ERA in 17 1/3 playoff innings this October, having allowed just 14 hits and five walks while striking out 25. In total, the eight homegrown players provided 28.8 in bWAR.

Houston has been more "active" on the free-agent market than Los Angeles, though that's all relative. There are five free agents on the Astros' current roster, with Josh Reddick leading the way in terms of regular-season bWAR (4.4), though he's gone just 7-for-41 in the postseason. The Dodgers, for their part, have four free agents for 7.6 bWAR. Justin Turner's 5.7 mark was tops during the season, and he's gone 6-for-18 with a pair of homers this postseason.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros

How they were built: Astros

Homegrown talent leads successful rebuild into the World Series
MLB.com

MLBPipeline.com breaks down how each postseason team used the Draft, the international market and free-agent signings to build its team.

When Jeff Luhnow took over as Astros general manager in December 2011, the team was coming off a 106-loss season, the worst in franchise history. Houston actually got worse from there, suffering 107 defeats in 2012 and 111 in 2013.

MLBPipeline.com breaks down how each postseason team used the Draft, the international market and free-agent signings to build its team.

When Jeff Luhnow took over as Astros general manager in December 2011, the team was coming off a 106-loss season, the worst in franchise history. Houston actually got worse from there, suffering 107 defeats in 2012 and 111 in 2013.

But after the most dismal three-year period the Astros ever have endured, they're now enjoying one of their best. They've posted three consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 2001-06 and this year captured their first division title since 2001 with 101 victories -- their second-highest total ever.

:: How each postseason team was built ::

Asked whether it was harder to return his club to contention or to keep it there after doing so, Luhnow said the tasks were equally challenging.

"Starting where we were, with a big league club that had lost 100 games and a Minor League system consistently rated in the bottom five in baseball, we knew it was going to take years," Luhnow said. "It's not easy, and there's no given road that leads to success. It's equally difficult to stay competitive. The more success you have, the more likely your players are to get compensated or become free agents.

"You have to have a pipeline to keep talent coming. We do have a pipeline, and it's not top-heavy or bottom-heavy, but it's spread out. That's going to be critical for us. We're going to try to keep our stars long term, but we'll need our system to continue to produce."

HOMEGROWN

Player, how acquired, year, 2017 Baseball-Reference WAR (31.8):

Jose Altuve, Int'l sign, 2006, 8.4
Dallas Keuchel, Draft, 2009 (7th round), 3.9
George Springer, Draft, 2011 (1st), 5.1
Carlos Correa, Draft, 2012 (1st), 6.3
Lance McCullers Jr., Draft, 2012 (supplemental 1st), 0.9
Derek Fisher, Draft, 2014 (supplemental 1st), 0.4
Alex Bregman, Draft, 2015 (1st), 4.1
Yuli Gurriel, Int'l sign, 2016, 2.7

The Astros lead all postseason teams in production received from homegrown players, as measured by Baseball-Reference WAR. They've scored with premium Draft picks such as first-rounders Springer (No. 11 overall in 2011), Correa (No. 1 in 2012) and Bregman (No. 2 in 2015) and supplemental first-rounder McCullers Jr. (No. 41 in 2012), as well as a $47.5 million investment in international signee Gurriel (2016).

Houston also has built its club around two players who have far exceeded expectations since turning pro. Altuve signed for $15,000 out of Venezuela in 2006, but he attracted more attention for his size (5-foot-6) than his ability until he won the Minor League batting title in 2011. Dallas Keuchel received $150,000 in 2009 as a seventh-rounder who had a plus changeup but an otherwise fringy repertoire.

Luhnow liked Altuve's prowess at the plate, but he didn't project him becoming a three-time American League batting champ, not to mention also turning into a power hitter, two-time AL stolen base leader and a Gold Glover -- and possibly the AL MVP in 2017. He was the starting second baseman during Luhnow's first year in Houston in part because the club had few alternatives.

"He made the All-Star team that first year, but he didn't have a good first half in 2013 after we extended his contract," Luhnow said. "There was no guarantee he was going to become what he turned out to be. We did believe in him: the person, the work ethic, the hitting skills. He's continued to perform better year after year."

Keuchel's strike-throwing ability landed him a spot in Houston's rotation by mid-2012, but he struggled in his first two years there, going 9-18 with a 5.20 ERA. After the 2013 season, Luhnow, then-manager Bo Porter and pitching coach Brent Strom decided Keuchel would benefit from being guaranteed a starting job despite his struggles. He has justified that faith by going 55-34 with a 3.15 ERA since, earning two All-Star berths and the 2015 AL Cy Young Award.

"We had to give Dallas some certainty because he had earned it," Luhnow said. "We trusted him and put the ball in his hand. He paid us back by becoming one of the best starting pitchers in baseball."

TRADES/WAIVERS

Player, year, acquired from, bWAR (17.8):

* Marwin Gonzalez, 2011, Cubs (via Red Sox), 4.4
Joe Musgrove, 2012, Blue Jays, 0.1
Chris Devenski, 2012, White Sox, 1.8
Brad Peacock, 2013, Athletics, 3.0
+ Will Harris, 2014, Diamondbacks, 0.9
Evan Gattis, 2015, Braves, 1.3
Ken Giles, 2015, Phillies, 1.9
Brian McCann, 2016, Yankees, 1.3
+ Collin McHugh, 2013, Rockies, 1.2
Francisco Liriano, 2017, Blue Jays, 0.2
+ Cameron Maybin, 2017, Angels, -0.1
Justin Verlander, 2017, Tigers, 1.8
* Acquired via Rule 5 draft.
+ Acquired via waivers.

When the Astros bolted back into contention in 2015, Luhnow traded prospects that July to acquire Scott Kazmir from the Athletics and Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers from the Brewers. None made much of an impact in Houston, while Josh Hader, Brett Phillips and Domingo Santana have emerged from the latter deal to become building blocks in Milwaukee.

That didn't deter Luhnow from trading more youth for experience as he shaped the 2017 Astros. Last November, he sent power arms Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman to the Yankees for McCann, filling a need for a catcher who could provide offense and veteran leadership. After Luhnow drew criticism for not making a significant move at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, he pulled off a blockbuster a month later by getting Verlander, a six-time All Star, from the Tigers for prospects Daz Cameron, Franklin Perez and Jake Rogers.

Verlander won all five of his starts for the Astros and has been dominant in October, taking home American League Championship Most Valuable Player honors. Houston will retain him through 2019 at the cost of $20 million per season and managed to hold onto Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley, the prizes of its farm system.

Video: Astros' trade for Verlander part of postseason build

"In retrospect, with the production we got from the players for who we gave up in 2015, we would take those deals back in a heartbeat," Luhnow said. "When you have experiences like that, they can't help but affect you. But we try to be disciplined with how we approach these deals.

"The Verlander deal took a long time to pull together, and it wasn't clear it would come together. To get two years of control, along with him pitching as well as he has pitched in his career, we went through a pretty disciplined approach to get that result."

Several smaller moves that didn't generate nearly as many headlines have worked out well for the Astros. Super utility man Gonzalez was a Rule 5 pick from the Cubs via the Red Sox in 2011 on Luhnow's second day on the job. Bullpen revelation Devenski was an unknown when plucked from the White Sox in the Brett Myers trade in 2012, and rotation surprise Peacock had posted a 6.01 ERA in Triple-A when he was part of a package received from the Athletics for Jed Lowrie in 2013.

FREE AGENTS

Player, year, bWAR (6.7):

Luke Gregerson, 2014, 0.0
Charlie Morton, 2016, 1.8
Josh Reddick, 2016, 4.4
Carlos Beltran, 2016, 0.7
Juan Centeno, 2016, -0.2

Video: Reddick among smart Astros free agents deals

The Astros have mostly avoided big-money commitments to free agents, with the lone exception a still moderately priced four-year, $52 million deal for Reddick last November. He provided some left-handed balance for the lineup and responded with the best season of his career. Morton also enjoyed a career year after signing for two years and $14 million last November.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

 

Houston Astros

Fisher, Whitley named Astros' Prospects of the Year

MLB.com

The Astros thought so highly of outfielder Derek Fisher and right-handed pitcher Forrest Whitley they refused to include them in any trades this summer, despite a wealth of suitors. Both could be on the verge of being impact players in the big leagues.

Fisher, a left-handed hitter, made his big league debut this year and was hitting .218 with five homers and 17 RBIs for the Astros heading into the final day of the regular season. The bulk of his season was spent at Triple-A Fresno, where he hit .318 with 21 homers, 66 RBIs and 16 stolen bases.

The Astros thought so highly of outfielder Derek Fisher and right-handed pitcher Forrest Whitley they refused to include them in any trades this summer, despite a wealth of suitors. Both could be on the verge of being impact players in the big leagues.

Fisher, a left-handed hitter, made his big league debut this year and was hitting .218 with five homers and 17 RBIs for the Astros heading into the final day of the regular season. The bulk of his season was spent at Triple-A Fresno, where he hit .318 with 21 homers, 66 RBIs and 16 stolen bases.

Whitley dominated at three separate Minor League levels this year despite pitching the entire season at 19 years old, going 5-4 with a 2.83 ERA with 34 walks, 78 hits allowed and 143 strikeouts in 23 games (18 starts) between Double-A Corpus Christi, Class A Buies Creek and Class A Quad Cities.

Astros' Prospects of the Year

Each team's Hitting and Pitching Prospects of the Year were chosen by the MLBPipeline.com staff. To receive consideration, players must have spent at least half the year in the Minors, appeared on the team's Top 30 Prospects list and played the entire year in the organization.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Fisher's unusual speed and combination could spell stardom in the future.

"Fisher had a spectacular first half and that put him on everybody's radar at the [Trade] Deadline," Luhnow said. "We had to look at our roster next year and the year after that, and there's a spot for left-handed-hitting outfielders that can play all three positions and hit for power and run well and all the fundamental things he needs to do to be a star. He's got a chance to be a really good player for us."

Selected by the Astros with the 16th overall pick in last year's MLB draft, the 6-foot-7 Whitley led the Minors in strikeouts per nine innings (13.94) as he zoomed through the system.

Video: Top Prospects: Forrest Whitley, RHP, Astros

"For a young high school pitcher to go through his first full season in the Minors and all the way to Double-A, it's a pretty historic pace, and well-deserved," Luhnow said. "He has the stuff to pitch lights-out at every level and has the stuff to continue to dominate at the highest level.

"I couldn't be more excited about it. In my opinion, he's probably one of the top two or three pitching prospects in the game right now and a guy that could figure into our team towards the end of next year, if not sooner. That's exciting."

Whitley said he learned a lot in his first full season in pro ball.

"I'd say just really learning how to pitch and reading the hitters would be the biggest thing and reading their swings and how they react on different pitches," he said. "That was something that was really able to sink in this year and not really so much my first season, right after I got drafted. This season was big in that aspect."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

 

Houston Astros

Paulino has surgery to remove bone spurs

MLB.com

BOSTON -- Astros right-handed pitching prospect David Paulino, who was eligible to come off the suspension list on Sunday, was instead placed on the 60-day disabled list after undergoing surgery Friday in Houston to remove bone spurs in his right elbow, the team announced.

Dress for October: Shop for official AL West champs gear

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BOSTON -- Astros right-handed pitching prospect David Paulino, who was eligible to come off the suspension list on Sunday, was instead placed on the 60-day disabled list after undergoing surgery Friday in Houston to remove bone spurs in his right elbow, the team announced.

Dress for October: Shop for official AL West champs gear

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Paulino, the Astros' No. 6-ranked prospect by MLBPipeline.com, was suspended 80 games without pay on July 1. for testing positive for Boldenone, a performance-enhancing substance, in violation of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

Paulino is expected to be ready for Spring Training.

"It was an awkward timeline for him not being healthy and having one day left in the season [that] he was going to be eligible," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He'll rehab over the winter."

The 23-year-old Paulino, who made his Major League debut last year, was 2-0 with a 6.52 ERA in six starts for the Astros this season. While at Double-A Corpus Christi last year, Paulino was suspended by the Astros for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

Reddick expected to work out Tuesday

Outfielder Josh Reddick, who missed the final week of the regular season with a sore back, should be able to work out on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park. Reddick left Boston on Friday and returned to Houston to have his back examined by team doctors.

"I'm assuming we're going to face [Red Sox lefty ace Chris] Sale on Thursday, so I'll have a decision to make whether he plays or not from a baseball standpoint," Hinch said. "We're hoping the health part of it will be answered by then."

The Red Sox announced Sale as their Game 1 starter of the American League Division Series presented by Doosan. He's 5-1 with a 1.31 ERA in six career starts against the Astros. Reddick is 3-for-14 in his career against Sale.

Rotation plans

Hinch said he will announce his starters for Game 1 and Game 2 of the ALDS on Tuesday, prior to the team's workout at Minute Maid Park. The 25-man playoff roster has to be set by Wednesday night. The Astros will take off Monday and work out at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"This time off between Sunday and Thursday is a blessing and a curse," Hinch said. "The blessing part of it is we can freshen up and feel really good going into the Division Series, and the curse is we're just not used to having that much time away from seeing pitches or making pitches or making defensive plays. It'll be similar to the All-Star break where we'll have a workout or two, and adrenaline will be sky high on Thursday."

Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel threw three innings in a simulated game prior to Sunday's game at Fenway Park, facing J.D. Davis, Colin Moran, Tyler White and Derek Fisher. Keuchel was in line to pitch Sunday, but the Astros held him out because nothing was on the line and he will face the Red Sox in the ALDS later this week. Justin Verlander, Houston's likely Game 1 starter, threw in the bullpen at Fenway Park following Saturday's game.

"We're going to be a la carte with their preparation before their next outings," Hinch said.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

 

Houston Astros, David Paulino

Tucker, Whitley honored as top Minors players

MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley spent a few moments Sunday afternoon talking with Astros manager A.J. Hinch in the home dugout, looking more like a couple of guys who should be hanging out on the college quad than the top of prospects lists.

Tucker, the No. 7-ranked prospect overall by MLBPipeline.com and the top prospect for the Astros, and Whitley, ranked No. 36th overall and second for the Astros, were honored at Minute Maid Park on Sunday after being named the Astros' Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively, by the team's player development department on Thursday.

HOUSTON -- Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley spent a few moments Sunday afternoon talking with Astros manager A.J. Hinch in the home dugout, looking more like a couple of guys who should be hanging out on the college quad than the top of prospects lists.

Tucker, the No. 7-ranked prospect overall by MLBPipeline.com and the top prospect for the Astros, and Whitley, ranked No. 36th overall and second for the Astros, were honored at Minute Maid Park on Sunday after being named the Astros' Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively, by the team's player development department on Thursday.

Both players performed well at Double-A Corpus Christi to end the season, setting themselves up for a spot in Major League Spring Training next year and a shot at the big league roster in the not-to-distant future.

"It was my second full year and so I tried to soak everything in," said Tucker, a left-handed-hitting outfielder. "It was a big learning experience for me. Last year, I felt like I saw a lot of room to improve and I felt like I did a lot of improving over the offseason last year and it kind of showed a little bit in the season. I kind of took a few things from last year and kind of grew from that."

Tucker batted .274 with 70 runs, 33 doubles, five triples, 25 homers, 90 RBIs, 21 steals and an .874 OPS in 120 combined games between Corpus Christi and Class A Buies Creek this season. Despite being one of the youngest position players in both the Carolina League and Texas League at 20 years old, Tucker was one of just 10 players in all of the Minor Leagues to record at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 2017.

Tucker, the No. 5 overall pick in 2015, will represent the Astros in the Arizona Fall League beginning next month. He said understanding the strike zone better was his biggest adjustment.

"I kind of have a feel for it now, and throughout the season I would chase a little bit more than I liked," he said. "I realized that, and I feel like that's a big thing going into next year and for the rest of my career. I feel like once I get that laid out, it will be good. "

Whitley dominated at three separate Minor League levels this year despite pitching the entire season at 19 years old, going 5-4 with a 2.83 ERA with 34 walks, 78 hits allowed and 143 strikeouts in 23 games (18 starts) between Corpus Christi, Buies Creek and Class A Quad Cities. Selected by the Astros with the 16th overall pick in last year's Draft, the 6-foot-7 right-hander led the Minors in strikeouts per nine innings (13.94).

"I'd say just really learning how to pitch and reading the hitters would be the biggest thing, and reading their swings and how they react on different pitches," he said. "That was something that was really able to sink in this year and not really so much my first season, right after I got drafted. This season was big in that aspect."

Whitley said he will spend his offseason working out and splitting time between his native San Antonio and Austin, where many of his friends attend the University of Texas.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

 

Houston Astros

Tucker, Whitley Astros' top Minor Leaguers

Club's Nos. 1 and 2 prospects will be recognized Sunday
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Outfielder Kyle Tucker and right-hander Forrest Whitley were named the Astros' Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively, by the team's player development department Thursday. They will be recognized in a ceremony before Sunday's home regular-season finale against the Angels.

Tucker batted .274 with 70 runs, 33 doubles, five triples, 25 homers, 90 RBIs, 21 steals and an .874 OPS in 120 games between Double-A Corpus Christi and Class A Buies Creek. Despite being one of the youngest position players in both the Carolina League and Texas League at 20, Tucker was one of just 10 players in all of the Minor Leagues to record at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases.

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HOUSTON -- Outfielder Kyle Tucker and right-hander Forrest Whitley were named the Astros' Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively, by the team's player development department Thursday. They will be recognized in a ceremony before Sunday's home regular-season finale against the Angels.

Tucker batted .274 with 70 runs, 33 doubles, five triples, 25 homers, 90 RBIs, 21 steals and an .874 OPS in 120 games between Double-A Corpus Christi and Class A Buies Creek. Despite being one of the youngest position players in both the Carolina League and Texas League at 20, Tucker was one of just 10 players in all of the Minor Leagues to record at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases.

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Tucker, the fifth overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, is ranked as the Astros' No. 1 prospect and MLB's No. 7 overall prospect by MLBPipeline.com. The left-handed hitter represented the Astros in this year's SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, going 1-for-3 with an RBI in a start in right field.

Video: Mayo on progress of Astros' prospects Whitley, Perez

Whitley, ranked No. 2 on the Astros and No. 36 overall by MLBPipeline.com, dominated at three Minor League levels despite pitching the entire season at 19 years old, going 5-4 with a 2.83 ERA with 34 walks, 78 hits allowed and 143 strikeouts in 23 games (18 starts) at Corpus Christi , Buies Creek and Class A Quad Cities. Selected by the Astros with the 16th overall pick in last year's Draft, the 6-foot-7 right-hander led the Minors in strikeouts per nine innings (13.94).

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

 

Houston Astros

River Bandits sweep Midwest League championship

MLB.com

Quad Cities led from start to finish as the River Bandits completed the sweep and cruised to a Midwest League title with a 12-2 win over Fort Wayne on Saturday night.

Quad Cities, the Class A affiliate of the Houston Astros, jumped out to an early lead by striking for a trio of runs in the first inning before blowing the game open with six runs in the second to clinch the franchise's seventh Midwest League title and first since 2013.

Quad Cities led from start to finish as the River Bandits completed the sweep and cruised to a Midwest League title with a 12-2 win over Fort Wayne on Saturday night.

Quad Cities, the Class A affiliate of the Houston Astros, jumped out to an early lead by striking for a trio of runs in the first inning before blowing the game open with six runs in the second to clinch the franchise's seventh Midwest League title and first since 2013.

Quad Cities captures MWL title

Padres No. 5 prospect Adrian Morejon (No. 73 overall) got the start for Fort Wayne, but he didn't have his best stuff and was lifted after just 1 2/3 innings. Morejon, who posted a 3.86 ERA across 13 starts during the regular season, gave up six runs on five hits in what was his shortest outing of the year.

Quad Cities' offense wasted no time getting started as the first five batters of the game reached base, including Troy Sieber, who got the scoring underway with a two-run double.

Sieber's double plates two

While Sieber got things started, it was Chuckie Robinson who led the offensive assault. Robinson, a 21st-round pick from the 2016 Draft, set a career high with four hits as he went 4-for-5 with three RBIs and four runs scored, including a two-run homer in the fifth.

Robinson belts two-run homer

As impressive as Robinson and the offense were, right-hander Ronel Blanco was just as dominant on the mound. Blanco, who posted a 3.38 ERA across two levels this season, fired 64 of his 93 pitches for strikes as he gave up just four hits and set a career high with 10 strikeouts across 6 2/3 scoreless innings.

Box score

Thanks to a strong second half, during which the team went 42-28, Quad Cities finished the regular season with a 79-59 record, the best in the Midwest League Western division.

From there, the River Bandits worked their way through the playoffs with series wins over Peoria, Cedar Rapids and ultimately Fort Wayne.

William Boor is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor.

 

Houston Astros

Astros' No. 1 pick Bukauskas visits club

Special to MLB.com

HOUSTON -- The Astros' No. 1 Draft pick this year, J.B. Bukauskas, was at Minute Maid Park on Saturday, getting a first-hand look and feel for the organization that selected him 15th overall.

The University of North Carolina right-hander soaked up the atmosphere and met several Astros, who are on the verge of clinching their first division title since 2001.

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HOUSTON -- The Astros' No. 1 Draft pick this year, J.B. Bukauskas, was at Minute Maid Park on Saturday, getting a first-hand look and feel for the organization that selected him 15th overall.

The University of North Carolina right-hander soaked up the atmosphere and met several Astros, who are on the verge of clinching their first division title since 2001.

Full Game Coverage

"I've never been down this far on a professional field like this, so it's cool taking it all in," said Bukauskas, the Atlantic Coast Conference pitcher of the year, who as a junior this season went 9-0 with a 2.02 ERA. "It's a big deal for me to experience it this year as opposed to going into next year, like completely having not seen it. It's going to benefit me."

Bukauskas has spent time this summer with fellow Houston draftees Corbin Martin, Mike Papierski, Kyle Serrano and J.J. Matijevic.

"I'm here for the weekend," Bukauskas said. "I've never seen an Astros game, so my family and I definitely wanted to come down, at least see what it was going to be like."

Video: HOU@TOR: Astros sign first round pick Bukauskas

The 6-foot, 196-pound Bukauskas is back at North Carolina, working toward a degree in communications. He's also on a strength program.

"I'm going to be working hard this offseason, making sure I'm ready for next year," he said.

There's no timetable for when the 20-year-old, who has a devastating slider in the mid-80s, will be progressing to the Major Leagues. His fastball is in the low to mid-90s, and this summer he has worked on his changeup. He said the changeup has gotten better.

"I'm just going to go where they tell me to go and do the best I can and let the cards fall where they may," said Bukauskas, who struck out 116 in 92 2/3 innings this season.

"I got my plan, my program to work on and develop the way I can, the best I can, and move up when they tell me to move up," he added. "I'm just going to do what I can where I am.

"Everybody wants to move up as fast as they can, but I also want to develop as best as I can, too, to make sure I am ready where they put me and do whatever they want me to do."

Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com based in Houston.

 

Houston Astros