Inbox: What's timeline for top prospects?

March 9th, 2021

Despite being diagnosed with a ligament sprain in his right elbow that could have him headed for Tommy John surgery, right-hander remained the Astros’ No. 1-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline. He’s the No. 41 prospect overall and the only Astros player in the Top 100.

Much of the buzz at Astros camp has centered on outfielder , the Cuban outfielder who signed for $4 million in January. He has been working out at shortstop and has gotten into a game at the position during Grapefruit League play and figures to have all eyes on him the rest of the spring.

Let’s answer some of your questions about the updated Top 30 list that was released Monday:

@jeremysports: I saw where they were getting Pedro Leon some work at shortstop. Do they feel that could be a viable spot for him or are they just trying a few things out to see what matches his skill set? Does this say anything about Jeremy Peña? I don’t think this has anything to do with Peña. If the Astros don’t re-sign shortstop Carlos Correa, who’s a free agent at the end of this year and said last month he wants a contract done before the start of the regular season, Peña remains in line to be the club’s shortstop of the future. He’s an elite defender at perhaps the most important defensive position on the field, and the club believes he’ll hit enough to handle the position. Leon has all kinds of tools, and the Astros still feel he’s a center fielder, but the club stresses versatility and is seeing if those tools can translate at another position.

@Tubby_McFats: Jeremy Peña timeline? I’m becoming more and more pessimistic about Carlos re-signing … Is Peña only a year away? Peña has yet to play above Class A, so a year away is aggressive. He probably would have spent last year at Double-A Corpus Christi and been poised to start this year at Triple-A, had last year’s Minor League season not been canceled. That being said, I could certainly see Peña coming to camp as the favorite for the starting shortstop job in a year if his bat continues to develop this summer and Correa doesn’t return (with Grae Kessinger pushing hard behind him). If Correa signs a long-term deal with Houston, Peña’s future becomes a little cloudier and he could be viewed as a trade chip.

@stillthechamps: How many of these guys do you expect to become Major League regulars? Becoming a “Major League regular” is the goal of every prospect, but there’s still a small percentage who attain that label. It’s impossible to put an exact number on it because injuries, trades and underperformance aren’t predictable, but if a dozen of these players reach the big leagues as impact position players/starters/relievers, the Astros would probably take that. Much of Houston’s core from its 2017 championship team was homegrown -- Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr., among others. The Astros supplemented much of their pitching staff and some other positions through trades and free agency, such as outfielder Josh Reddick, catcher Brian McCann and pitchers Justin Verlander and Charlie Morton, but a championship core starts with drafting and developing your own talent.

@bseballguru: Do you see Bryan Abreu covering some spot starts this year? It depends on whether the Astros plan to keep pushing him as a starter or just focus on him as a reliever. Astros pitching coach Brent Strom said last year that he thought Abreu could be a 200-inning starter, but that was before he showed up at Summer Camp out of shape and then struggled to get batters out when he got to the mound in the big leagues. The Astros don’t have a ton of Major League-ready starting pitching, especially with Framber Valdez and Whitley suffering significant injuries, so Abreu, Luis Garcia and Brandon Bielak are the next wave of starters with Major League experience who could be plugged into the rotation when needed.

@heffernan_evan: Considering the fact that there was no Minor League season last year, do you consider any prospect list to be credible? The Astros seem to have plenty of talent that hasn’t had an opportunity to show their ability. True, there is more uncertainty in lists this year because of the lost season, but every team is in the same boat in that aspect. In years past, Jon Singleton and Mark Appel were listed as the Astros’ top prospects, but neither one panned out. Then there’s Altuve, who didn’t get much attention in the Minors until he went to Double-A in 2011 and hit .361. He was sent straight to the big leagues, and no one in baseball has as many hits since. It’s somewhat of a crapshoot, but it comes down to performance, and this will be an important year for each of the Astros prospects, considering most of them haven’t played in a professional game since 2019.