19-year-old Clifford, Astros' No. 4 prospect, on the rise

May 21st, 2023

HOUSTON -- is the only prospect in the top half of the Astros’ Top 30 rankings by MLB Pipeline who is still a teenager. Clifford will turn 20 years old in two months and is already playing at High-A Asheville, which give you an idea of how highly the Astros are on the outfielder/first baseman.

Clifford began the season at Single-A Fayetteville and slashed .337/.488/.457 with 25 walks and 27 strikeouts in 25 games before earning a promotion to Asheville. In his first 10 games with the Tourists, he’s slashing .235/.308/.382 with three walks and 15 strikeouts. The jump in levels means better pitching, which Clifford is slowly getting adjusted to.

“I think the biggest difference is always going to be the pitching,” he said. “Guys get better and have more control. I walked a lot in [Single-A] and then kind of not as many walks and some more strikeouts in High-A. Always some stuff I can keep working on. I’m looking to put the ball in play, hit the ball hard. It’s always an adjustment and I’m looking to make those adjustments and continue to compete.”

Clifford was selected in the 11th round of last year’s MLB Draft out of high school in North Carolina and was given a $1,256,530 signing bonus to forgo a scholarship to Vanderbilt. A 6-foot-3 left-handed-hitting corner outfielder, he’s the Astros’ No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline. He said the decision to turn pro was one he doesn’t regret.

“It’s been enjoyable,” Clifford said. “We have a really great staff that helped me get ready towards the end of last year and Spring Training this year. I knew what I wanted to work on and went and did that. I’m glad things have gone the way they’ve gone so far, and I’m looking to keep the line moving and have a good rest of the season.”

Clifford has split time between right field, left field and first base and said getting better jumps and working on his throws are among the things he’s focused on defensively. On offense, it’s cutting down on the strikeouts and driving the ball consistently. If he can do that, it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to reach Double-A later this summer.

“I’m looking to kind of be where my feet are for the time being,” Clifford said. “I’m in High-A and I’m going to go out there and compete. Obviously, moves happen and if it happens, great. If not, I’m totally OK with where I’m at and always looking to make that jump. At the same time, it’s not in my focus.”

Triple-A Sugar Land

Outfielder , Houston's No. 7 prospect, has heated up in May and is slashing .266/.340/.489 with six homers and 23 RBIs in his first 35 games for the Space Cowboys. After slashing .178/.277/.288 with one home run in April, Dirden has hit .361/.412/.738 with five homers in his first 15 games in May.

Double-A Corpus Christi

Right-hander Rhett Kouba, a 23-year-old who was a 12th-round Draft pick out of Dallas Baptist in 2021, retired the final 15 batters he faced in a win Tuesday, improving his record to 3-1 with a 2.86 ERA in seven games (six starts) this season. He has not issued a walk in his last five games, with 33 strikeouts and 18 hits and six earned runs allowed in 27 2/3 innings in that span.

High-A Asheville

Third baseman , a 12th-round Draft pick last year out of Ohio State, had back-to-back three-hit games on Friday and Saturday, extending his hitting streak to 10 games. He’s 18-for-33 (.545) during that stretch with one homer and four RBIs. Dezenzo is first in batting average (.414), OPS (1.109), on-base percentage (.483) and slugging (.626), and second in runs scored (34) in the Houston system.

Single-A Fayetteville

Right-hander Nolan DeVos put together his most dominant start of his career Wednesday, striking out 12 batters in 6 1/3 innings in a 2-1 win over Down East. A fifth-round Draft pick in 2022, DeVos retired the first 12 batters he faced and wound up allowing one earned run, two hits and no walks. It was the first time a Fayetteville pitcher struck out at least 12 since Luis Garcia had 13 on Aug. 24, 2019.