HOUSTON -- Neither infielder Abraham Toro nor right-handed pitcher Cristian Javier were considered to be among the elite Astros prospects to begin the season, but their 2019 performances -- coupled with injuries at the big league level and other prospects being dealt away in trades -- opened the door for them to zoom through the system.
Toro, who could make the Astros’ postseason roster, was named Houston’s Hitting Prospect of the Year by MLB Pipeline, following a season in which he started at Double-A Corpus Christi and reached the big leagues. Javier was named the Astros’ Pitching Prospect of the Year after starting the year at Class A Advanced Fayetteville and notching a couple of games at Triple-A Round Rock to end the season.
Each team's Hitting and Pitching Prospects of the Year were chosen by the MLB Pipeline staff. To receive consideration, players must have spent at least half the year in the Minors and appeared on the team's Top 30 Prospects list.
Toro, 22, spent most of the year at Corpus Christi, hitting .306 with 16 homers, 70 RBIs, 65 runs, a .393 on-base percentage and a .906 OPS in 98 games. Toro, a switch-hitter, led the league in OPS and on-base percentage, also ranking among league leaders in batting average (second), slugging percentage (second, .513), RBIs (fifth), homers (tied, seventh) and total bases (10th, 193).
“Last year, a lot of teams were asking about him as part of a trade,” president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “He was starting to get some industry love for what he did last season, and we were pretty high on him coming into this year. He had a terrific year in both Double-A and Triple-A and has carried it over. He was really one of our better performing position players throughout the year.”
That earned him an Aug. 1 promotion to Round Rock, and Toro crushed it with the Express. In 16 games, the switch-hitter batted .424 with a .506 on-base percentage, 10 walks and five strikeouts. He was called up to the Astros on Aug. 22, and he had one of the biggest moments of the year for Houston when he hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning on Sept. 1 in Toronto -- he was born in Montreal -- to break a scoreless tie to allow Justin Verlander to finish off his third career no-hitter.
“The jump from Double-A to Triple-A didn’t seem to affect him at all,” Luhnow said. “He was among the leaders in just about every category for our Minor League players -- high batting average, high on-base percentage, high OPS. So overall, just a really strong year for him, and he doesn’t strike out a ton. He’s got good discipline and takes walks. He’s a full-package offense and hits the ball hard. That’s exactly the types of guys we value.”
Javier, 22, began his season at Fayetteville, dominated at Corpus Christi, finished at Round Rock and put himself in the discussion to be called up to the big leagues. The Astros will likely add him to the 40-man roster this offseason to protect him from being taken in the Rule 5 Draft.
Promoted from Class A Advanced to Double-A on May 15, he went 6-3 with a 2.07 ERA in 17 games (11 starts) at Corpus Christi. In 74 innings, he struck out 114 batters, held opponents to a .124 batting average and a 0.95 WHIP. In his final seven games (three starts) at Double-A, he struck out 53 batters and walked 14 in 26 1/3 innings.
“He’s a guy that we got a very low signing bonus [$10,000] back in 2015,” Luhnow said. “He doesn’t blow people away with his velocity, but he’s got a full arsenal of above-average pitches and basically has some sort of deception or something else going on, because there’s not a lot of hard contact made off of him, and he was able to strike guys out at a really high rate and keep the ball in the ballpark. Really excited about him.”
The Dominican-born Javier struck out 16 more in two starts at the end of the season at Round Rock. Among Minor Leaguers with at least 100 innings, Javier ranked second in ERA (1.74), and first in strikeouts per nine innings (13.46) and opponents' average (.130). The Astros see him as a starter going forward.