It’s pretty early to speculate on which prospects are elevating their standing on the call-up totem poll, but with a revamped Major League roster, every game and every at bat matters.
There will be fewer opportunities for Minor Leaguers to get big league playing time than usual, and as A.J. Hinch filters in prospects as the inevitable injuries roll in, he will likely go the hottest of the Astros prospects.
As a result, the pressure is on for the Astros farm system. Professional playing time will be earned, and any prospect will need to seriously produce to get a shot.
As a result we’ll be tracking the Astros prospects, particularly those higher up on the call up list, all season. Without further ado, here’s who’s hot and who’s not in the Astros AAA and AA affiliates.
AAA Fresno Grizzlies
Hot: Tony Kemp, OF
Tony Kemp, a speedster who stands at just 5’6”, is off to a great start for the Astros’ AAA affiliate. Through eight games and 40 at bats, Kemp is batting .400/.462/.486 for a ridiculous 167 wRC+. He has also swiped 3 bags and has struck out only once. Obviously he won’t finish with these stats, but if he keeps up the offensive production he should get another big league shot this season.
Kemp was an exciting addition to the team when he was initially called up last season, but the spark he provided soon fizzled as his poor offensive production kept him from receiving more playing time.
With Kemp’s versatility and speed, he offers value as a defender and as a baserunner. He is also a natural second baseman, and would be a solid fill-in if (god-forbid) Jose Altuve were ever to get injured. However, he needs to bat for a respectable average to justify getting playing time.
How the Astros handle Kemp's call up will be interesting in 2017, as Astros fans learned in 2017 from Altuve's finish that he could have used some time off in July. While every major leaguer wants to try to play all 162, it might be beneficial for Kemp to fill in for Altuve a few days in July to keep the most valuable player on the Astros healthy come September and October.
Kemp doesn’t offer much power at the plate, but he has proven to be a consistent to great contact hitter throughout his Minor League career. He has outperformed expectations at every level except for the pro’s, and hopefully that production finally carries over this season.
Warm: AJ Reed, 1B/DH
Reed has also been on a mission to prove himself so far through the season, as he is batting .321/.472/.607 for a team high 1.079 OPS through 28 at bats. He has also walked a team high 8 times, but also ties a team high with 9 strikeouts. He has also added two homers.
Considered one of the Astros top prospects, AJ Reed has the tools to be a high-powered masher in the MLB. Like Kemp, things did not go so smoothly for Reed when he was initially called up last season.
He was visibly uncomfortable trying to adjust to big-league pitching, and struck out in an alarming amount of at-bats (34%) and only managed to hit .164 in 141 big-league at bats.
He’ll look to put that rough start behind him in 2017, as he vies for playing time at first base and designated hitter. If he keeps it up, he’ll be one of the first Astros prospects to receive a coveted call up to the big leagues.
Cold: Reymin Guduan, P
The first week of baseball has not been kind to Reymin Guduan, who has been an extremely slow developing pitching prospect for the Astros. It took Guduan four full seasons to progress past rookie ball, and things have not gotten smoother since.
Guduan is a flamethrower who touches the 100’s, but has had a complete lack of control with his pitches. He was looking to put last season behind him, in which he had a 5.23 ERA and walked 7.12 batters per nine in 34 Triple-A appearances. Yet in four appearances this year Guduan has already been shelled, giving up 20 hits for 8 earned runs 3.1 innings of work.
Guduan has intriguing talent with his high-velocity arm, but in his current state he is unplayable at the Major-League level. Jeff Luhnow will need to seriously consider if Guduan will ever develop into a capable MLB reliever, as he is already in his 8th Minor-League season and has yet to work out his glaring control issues.
AA Corpus Christi Hooks
Hot: Rogelio Armenteros
Through two starts for the Hooks, Armenteros has been absolute dynamite. He has 18 strikeouts in 10.2 innings, and has surrendered just 3 hits, 3 walks, and 1 earned run.
Armenteros was not at all a highly touted prospect when the Astros’ initially signed him in 2014 for $40,000. That’s what mad his breakout last year all the more surprising and special.
The righty from Cuba earned promotions from Quad-City to High-A Lancaster, and than on to the Double-AA Hooks, as he compiled a 3.53 ERA on the season with 140 strikeouts and 44 walks in 127 innings.
He looks to build on extremely successful 2016 campaign this season, as he continues to climb up the prospect’s leaderboards.
Everyone loves a nice underdog, came-out-of-nowhere story, and Armenteros is definitely looking like he could be the Astros’ next one. He has over-achieved at every level, and the five-pitch pitcher may just have what it takes to be a successful Major-League finesse pitcher. If he keeps it up, the Astros’ will need to consider fast-tracking his progression to the Majors.
Warm: JD Davis, 3B
Davis is off to a solid start for the Hooks, as he getting on base at a good rate with a .290/.405/.419 slash line. However, he needs to show more power at the plate to get Major-League consideration.
JD Davis is a power-hitting prospect, and has homered 62 times in 319 games over his first three professional seasons. He has impressive power and bat-speed, but struggles with strikeouts.
He has en ETA of 2017, but has Bregman in-front of him at 3rd, and he’ll need to compete with Moran and Reed for big-league at bats. It’s still very easy in the season, and he has plenty of time to convince Luhnow he is worhy of a promotion. He is off to a solid start.
Cold: Ramon Laureano, OF
Laureano, originally a late-round pick in 2014, has vastly risen his stock over the past couple of seasons. In 2016 he led the minors in on-base percentage, breaking out with a .319/.428/.528 with 15 homers and 43 steals in season split between High-A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi. This success carried into the 2016 Arizona Fall League, where he impressed with a .295/.340/.477 line in 50 at-bats.
Unfortunately, has not immediately picked up where he left off early into the season, as he is batting a paltry .176/.222/.235 through 36 plate appearances.
Luhnow won’t overreact to a slump in a very small sample size, but through the first week and half, Laureano isn’t exactly pleading his case. Laureano is a dark horse candidate for big league playing time in 2017, and he'll need to up his production if he wants to be seriously considered.