Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Astros.
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- No team wants to feel like it has to hit the reboot switch, but if it has to happen it might as well do it right. The Astros couldn't have drawn it up any better: Three straight years of No. 1 overall Draft picks, followed by two in the Top 5, trades of big leaguers to bring in prospects, and all of it culminated in winning the World Series in 2017.
:: MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports ::
• Astros' Top 30 Prospects list | Q&A with J.B. Bukauskas
"It's something to think about, winning vs. losing that last game and how much that means that we won that last game," Astros farm director Pete Putila said. "It's an incredible thing to think about how many people are involved over the last 10 years, really. A lot of the players on our roster, how many people have touched them, whether it's a scout or a coach or front office member. Every player has a story behind him in terms of how we acquired and developed him. It really is special we were able to finish it off.
"When you have tributes, it's nice to say we won, and not that we got there. Looking back at 2005, they got there and it was special and everyone remembers it, but it was disappointing that they weren't able to finish it off."
Now that the Astros have finished it off, the player development staff can sit back and rest on its laurels, right? Not so much. There's no reboot going on; now it's a matter of continuity and helping build long-range success.
"We want to reload, we don't want to rebuild," Putila said. "We want to focus on getting these guys ready so it's not just a Major League tryout for when they get there, like it was maybe in 2010, 2011, 2012, but they're there to produce and we can confidently replace guys we lose to free agency.
"Now, from my perspective, I'm thinking about 2020, 2021 and looking at the guys on the backfields and showing these guys there are going to be a lot of opportunities over the next few years on the big league team. Those guys are going to have to step up and fill a lot of spots. We're always looking ahead."
There's still plenty of talent on those backfields, even if the farm system is thinner than it once was. The big league roster has plenty of homegrown talent on it, and it isn't easy to keep up with that graduation rate when the team is no longer picking at the top of each round in the Draft. And the Astros were big-time buyers late last year, using their farm system depth to bring in Justin Verlander. Putila looks at that deal and readily recognizes the impact the Minor League coaches and instructors had in making it a possibility.
"It's a credit to our scouts and our analysts, all the people involved in our player acquisition, to be able to get so many quality players, and then also to our coaches," Putila said. "Daz Cameron, Jake Rogers, would those guys have been traded for Justin Verlander a year prior? I don't know the answer, but if you look at the numbers … it's a credit to the players themselves; they put in the work, but you give credit to the staff for getting them going in the right direction. They are some of the unsung heroes in the championship.
"When you point to Verlander, you're also pointing to our hitting coaches, our pitching coaches, our scouts all the way down. It's all kind of connected there. That's where it's huge to be able to develop these guys so we're not completely depleting the ability to reload for the future."
With a big league roster very much ready to compete again, the player development staff is afforded the opportunity to give players more time to become Major League ready. Gone are the days when young players are rushed to Houston out of need to plug holes. Exhibit A might be Kyle Tucker, the Astros' No. 2 prospect, who has spent much of this spring setting the Grapefruit League on fire with his bat.
"Tucker's a good example," Putila said. "He's hitting .410 with an OPS over 1.200 in around 40 at-bats. Small sample, but he's played in a fair amount of games. Even if everyone is banging on the table in the city of Houston to bring him up, who do we bring him up for? That's not my decision, either, but that's a good example where there won't be any pressure beyond just making sure you get him there when he's ready."
Pitching from 2017 Draft ready to step forward
First-round selection J.B. Bukauskas, Houston's No. 3 prospect, understandably gets most of the attention, but Putila is excited about several other college arms preparing for their first full season of pro ball. Tyler Ivey was the Astros' third-round pick out of Grayson Community College, Brandon Bielak was an 11th-round selection from Notre Dame and Vanderbilt product Matt Ruppenthal was taken in the 17th round.
"When you're looking at them in 2017, right after the Draft, you're looking at them at the back end of their season that's the longest season of their career," Putila said. "Then they have five months to get their body ready. A lot of guys comment on that, on how they feel, they've added the weight they've wanted to for years, but because of the college calendar, they hadn't been able to. That's where you're looking at the gun and hoping to see guys get back to where they were, maybe even above, where they were when we took them."
And so far this spring, Putila and his staff have liked how these arms -- part of a group of 10 college pitchers taken in the Top 20 rounds -- have looked as they ready themselves for the long season ahead.
"Those are guys who pound the zone with quality stuff, average to above-average velo," Putila said. "They might not be big names now, but give them a full season and they're going to start establishing themselves. Those are the players I'm looking at when I'm looking at 2020, 2021."
In addition to the work amateur scouts have done domestically, Astros international and pro scouts have been busy augmenting the system. Two products from those efforts, No. 4 prospect Yordan Alvarez and No. 5 Freudis Nova, have been extremely impressive in West Palm Beach.
The Astros got Alvarez from the Dodgers in July 2016 in the Josh Fields deal before he had even made his pro debut. The Cuban defector is coming off a solid first full season of pro ball and he looks like he's ready to pick up where he left off.
"He impresses with his size," Putlia said of the 20-year-old. "He looks like he might be a slow mover, but he's explosive and covers ground well in left field and he's working well around the bag at first base."
Nova, who is just 18 years old and was part of the Astros' international spending spree in 2016, will be making his U.S. debut in '18. He may have only played in the Dominican Summer League to date, but you wouldn't know it by watching him get his work in this spring.
"The foot speed, the bat speed, everything at that age," Putila said. "When you see him taking ground balls next to guys three or four years older than him and he's already doing things at the same rate, maybe even higher, it's eye-popping."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.