The Astros won the World Series in 2017, nearly won another in 2019 and made their fourth straight American League Championship Series appearance last year -- but also finished with their first losing record in six seasons. Also on the negative side of the ledger, Gerrit Cole and George Springer departed via free agency the last two offseasons and Justin Verlander will miss all of 2021 following Tommy John surgery.
Houston built one of the game's best farm systems in the middle of last decade and rode it to success via homegrown stars and deals of prospects for veterans. In 2020, it used 15 different rookie pitchers (most notably Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy) and came within a victory of its third pennant in four seasons. But years of picking toward the bottom of the Draft and trading youngsters have taken a toll on the organization's Minor League talent.
The Astros are clearly at a crossroads and it's uncertain where they go from here. They have a lineup built around Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa (a free agent next offseason) and Kyle Tucker, but a pitching staff with a lot of question marks. Enigmatic right-hander Forrest Whitley was diagnosed with an elbow ligament tear this week, so outside of fellow righty Luis Garcia, they don't have any rookies poised to make a significant impact in 2021.
Houston has done a nice job of using analytics and technology to transform anonymous signees such as Javier, Urquidy and Framber Valdez into useful arms. It hopes to polish position players from the early rounds of the last two Drafts -- catcher Korey Lee; outfielders Colin Barber and Zach Daniels; infielder Grae Kessinger -- into big league regulars in similar fashion. Forfeiting its top two picks in both the 2020 and 2021 Drafts as punishment for sign-stealing dealt a blow to efforts to restock the system, though signing Cuban outfielder Pedro Leon for $4 million in January added a potential impact talent.
Here's a look at the Astros' top prospects:
Here are the players whose ranks changed the most from the 2020 preseason list to the 2021 preseason list.
Jump: Peter Solomon, RHP (2020: NR | 2021: 15) -- Back pitching after Tommy John surgery in mid-2019, might be a mid-rotation starter if he stays healthy and improves his control.
Fall: Bryan Abreu, RHP (2020: 5 | 2021: 14) -- He reported to Summer Camp out of shape and couldn't throw strikes at the beginning of the big league season, so he quickly fell out of Houston's 2020 plans.
(tie) Luis Santana, 2B/3B (2020: 22 | 2021: NR) -- A stocky bat-only second baseman, he hit just .257/.337/.329 in his last full season and has been passed by other position players.
Players are graded on a 20-80 scouting scale for future tools -- 20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average. Players in parentheses have the same grade.
Hit: 55 -- Grae Kessinger
Power: 55 -- Zach Daniels (Taylor Jones, Korey Lee, Pedro Leon)
Run: 65 -- Jordan Brewer
Arm: 80 -- Pedro Leon
Defense: 60 -- Jeremy Pena (Taylor Jones)
Fastball: 70 -- Jojanse Torres
Curveball: 70 -- Bryan Abreu
Slider: 60 -- Shawn Dubin (Bryan Abreu)
Changeup: 60 -- Brett Conine (Luis Garcia, Forrest Whitley)
Control: 55 -- Brett Conine (Tyler Brown)
How they were built
Draft: 21 | International: 9
Breakdown by ETA
2021: 12 | 2022: 8 | 2023: 8 | 2024: 2
Breakdown by position
C: 2 | 1B: 1 | 3B: 1 | SS: 4 | OF: 6 | RHP: 16