Despite tying an Ohio State record with 19 homers in 2022, Zach Dezenzo wasn't sure if or where he'd fit in the Draft. After he gained more exposure by spending a second straight summer in the MLB Draft League, the Astros popped him in the 12th round.
Dezenzo was still fairly anonymous by prospect standards until he destroyed High-A pitching to open this season. He batted .407/.474/.628 in 31 games in the South Atlantic League and suddenly established himself as one of the most dangerous hitters in Houston's system.
The fifth-ranked Astros prospect spent the final four months of the season in Double-A, missing three weeks in July with a foot injury and finishing with a .304/.383/.531 line with 18 homers in 94 games between the two levels. He's currently in the Arizona Fall League with the Mesa Solar Sox, trying to get closer to the big leagues.
Though Dezenzo has raised his profile, he hasn't changed his mindset.
"Just to be the best version of myself is always the expectation," said the 23-year-old, who's batting .204/.316/.408 with two homers through 12 AFL games. "I think that the work that I put in this offseason and the confidence that I have in myself really showed the true baseball player that I am. I can compete and I belong at this level, regardless of what round I was picked in or what other people have to say about me. It was a good full first year for sure."
A right-handed hitter, Dezenzo creates high-end exit velocities and well-above-average raw power with his combination of bat speed and strength. His aggressive approach does lead to strikeouts, as he fanned in 26 percent of his plate appearances during the regular season and 28 percent in the Fall League so far. If he can make consistent contact against more advanced pitching, he could provide 25 or more homers per season.
The Astros still are trying to determine Dezenzo's best position. Primarily a shortstop in college, he moves reasonably well for a 6-foot-4, 220-pounder, but wasn't quick enough to remain there at the next level. He has played mostly third base while dabbling at first and second base as a pro, and he has focused on the infield corners in Arizona.
Dezenzo's average arm may be stretched at the hot corner, though he has sure hands and a chance to become a decent defender there. That may be a moot point, however, with Alex Bregman in Houston. He doesn't cover enough ground at second base, which is blocked by Jose Altuve, so his best long-term options with the Astros may be first base and left field.
For now, Dezenzo is trying to hone his approach and polish his defense so he'll be ready when Houston needs him. The big leagues appear a lot closer than they did a year ago.
"I think a lot of guys take advantage of this Fall League to kind of springboard themselves into the next year," Dezenzo said. "Looking at Houston and the winning culture that they have there, it's exciting to see that. I'm starting to get a little bit of a feel for what that could potentially be like for me, and I'd love nothing more but to contribute and help out with that winning culture up there."
Astros hitters in the Fall League
Kenedy Corona, OF (No. 11): Acquired from the Mets in a trade for Jake Marisnick in December 2019, Corona has plus speed and has added strength without sacrificing quickness. He hit .251/.331/.458 with 22 homers and 32 steals in 117 games between High-A and Double-A.
Miguel Palma, C/1B (No. 17): Part of the same Venezuelan program that produced Willson Contreras and Keiber Ruiz, Palma signed for $300,000 in 2018 and is known most for his defense. He batted .274/.340/.408 with six homers in 61 games in High-A.
Astros pitchers in the Fall League
Miguel Ullola, RHP (No. 22): Signed for $75,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2021, Ullola gets good carry on a 93-98 mph fastball and backs it up with a short slider in the upper 80s. He posted a 5.86 ERA with 116 strikeouts in 90 2/3 innings in High-A.
A.J. Blubaugh, RHP: The Horizon League Reliever of the Year in both 2021 and '22 while pitching at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Blubaugh has become a starter since turning pro as a seventh-round pick last year. Armed with a 92-96 mph fastball and a solid slider, he compiled a 4.41 ERA with 112 strikeouts in 100 innings between High-A and Double-A.
Ray Gaither, RHP: A nondrafted free agent signed out of Dallas Baptist in 2021, Gaither operates with a 93-95 mph fastball that touches 97 and an upper-80s cutter. He logged a 3.51 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings in Double-A.
Tyler Guilfoil, RHP: Guilfoil's fastball sits at 91-93 mph but can be hard to hit because he generates plenty of carry from a low release point. The 2022 eighth-round pick from Kentucky compiled a 3.21 ERA, .204 average-against and 123 strikeouts in 84 innings between Single-A and High-A.