These young Astros most impressive in camp

March 4th, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Astros probably have as much star power in their camp as any team in baseball, with a roster that includes Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, José Altuve, Alex Bregman, George Springer and Carlos Correa. There are some other names on the rise, though.

We asked a few of the Astros’ veteran players for their impressions on which younger players have impressed them this spring. The Astros only have one player on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list (No. 19 Forrest Whitley), but there remains some talent in the Minor Leagues that could be helping the big boys in Houston soon.

Jones, who stands 6-foot-7, had a breakout season in 2018 to earn an invite to big league camp, then he backed it up last year by hitting .291 with 28 doubles, 22 homers, 84 RBIs and an .889 OPS in 125 games with Triple-A Round Rock. Primarily a first baseman, he can also play third base well despite his height. With first baseman Yuli Gurriel facing free agency, Jones could get a shot to start next year.

“I’m a big fan of Jones,” Springer said. “I’ve seen him take a lot of BP. His swings in the game and the way he plays the field [are impressive]. Big dude. I think what gets lost about him is pretty much how athletic he is for being 6-foot-7 or whatever he is. For being that big, to be able to move the way he does, I think it’s impressive. I do think the next wave of guys, whenever that is, is going to put this organization right where they want to be.”

“I wouldn’t say it’s a surprise, because I rehabbed with him two years ago, and what I’ve seen Taylor Jones do at the plate, and even in live BP when we face [Justin Verlander] and [Ryan] Pressly, the stuff he can do with every pitch in the zone is pretty impressive,” outfielder Josh Reddick said. “On the short stint of defense I’ve seen, he’s pretty solid. I do know he’s got a really good short swing and uses the whole field and swings the other way really well, and if [the pitcher] hangs something, he’s usually going to pull it. He’s a pretty good all-around hitter from what I’ve seen.”

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Straw’s speed has always been his calling card -- he had the fourth-fastest average Sprint Speed (30.1 feet per second) last year, per Statcast -- but he’s driving the ball this spring, with a pair of over-the-fence homers (and one inside-the-park). Straw has 170 steals in five Minor League seasons and will take over the role Jake Marisnick had last year of being a defensive specialist and pinch-runner. Houston’s entire starting outfield is set for free agency after this year, so Straw’s best opportunity for consistent playing time could be a year away.

“I think Straw has impressed me a lot,” Correa said. “Really good approach at the plate. He’s driving the ball better. He’s not slapping the ball anymore. That’s something that’s very impressive. He’s got three homers already, so he’s been having a really good spring.”

“Straw looks really, really good,” Bregman said. “He’s hitting the ball to all fields. He’s hit the ball hard in the air to the pull side. He’s attacking more. He’s looking to drive the baseball, which is really good.”

Acquired from the Mets in the trade that sent Marisnick to New York in the offseason, the lefty became a full-time relief pitcher last year in the Minor Leagues and had 74 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings. He’s only pitched in three games above Double-A in his career, but the Astros don’t have much left-handed pitching depth in their bullpen. Taylor is a long shot to make the bullpen to start the season, but he figures to be a factor at some point.

“Blake Taylor’s got a fastball that’s extremely unique and could play at any level,” veteran right-hander Jared Hughes said. “The velocity and the movement -- not many guys can do what he does. I’m excited to see what he can do at the big league level.”