This far into 2017, the Astros have dipped into their farm system far less than they have in years prior. There has been no major elite prospect with an inevitable call-up date for fans to anxiously track, and as a result its been a relatively quiet year for the Astros' Minor-League system. James Hoyt has been the only call-up that has really stuck around, but catcher Juan Centeno, out-fielders Tony Kemp and Teoscar Hernandez, as well as relief pitchers Jordan Jankowski, Ashur Tolliver, and Dayan Diaz, have all received limited Major-League playing time so far this season.
A big reason for this is the Astros' depth, as with more than capable backups, Luhnow and Hinch have not needed to lean on their prospects to fill-in for injured players.
Thats why this year, perhaps more so than any other year, its important to track the farm system not only for development, but also for rising or falling trade value. The biggest contribution a prospect could potentially make this year is being a piece in a trade thats nets an All-Star calibre big-leagues player, as Jeff Luhnow could easily sell high on multiple prospects to maximize the Astros' World-Series chances this year.
With that in mind, here is the Minor-League Stock Watch, where we point out which Astros prospects are elevating their value, as well as which prospects are diminishing their value, based on their Minor-League production so far in 2017.
AAA: Fresno Grizzlies
Rising: Derek Fisher, OF
Derek Fisher, one of the Astros’ top prospects, is off to a tremendous start for the Grizzlies/Tacos. He is batting .323/.383/.550 with a .933 OPS and 10 homers in 189 AAA at bats. He also had a team-high 17 game hit-streak earlier in the season.
This is the second straight season Fisher has excelled at the AAA level, and Fisher has likely put himself on the top of the call-ups list if one of the Astros’ out-fielders were to be placed on the DL.
Falling: Francis Martes, SP
The Astros sure are hoping Martes picks it up soon, because he isn’t doing the franchise or himself any favors at the moment. Martes has a 4.55 ERA and 5.13 xFIP, and is walking an abysmal 7.28 batters per-nine. In his current form, Martes is not playable at the pro-level, and using him as an asset for a major trade would require selling Martes at his lowest possible value.
The good news is Martes is still punching-out a healthy dose of AAA batters out, as he has 36 strike-outs in just 29.2 innings pitched. Martes has a nasty strikeout combination of a high 90’s fastball and a devastating mid-80’s power-curve, but he’ll need to improve his control to get a shot at the Major-League level. He is also just 21 years old, and despite being the Astros’ top prospect, there is no need to rush his development.
AA: Corpus Cristi Hooks
Rising: Rogelio Armenteros, SP
Armenteros was featured as one of the “Hot” Minor-Leaguers in an earlier article, and he has not regressed a bit since then. The 19-year old right-hander has been dominating his AA competition, as he owns a 1.08 ERA in 41.2 innings over 7 starts and 2 relief appearances. He Is striking out a gaudy 11.88 batters per nine, and has only 14 walks on the season.
Armenteros has quickly climbed through the minors since he was signed to a $40,000 deal in 2014, and he may just be the Astros next long-shot success story. The righty has an impressive array of weapons, as he throws five different pitches. He has the tools to be a great finesse pitcher, and he is showing it this season.
Falling: Ramon Laureano, OF
It’s a shame that Laureano, originally a late-round pick in 2014, has had such a mediocre 2017 campaign. Laureano has vastly out-performed expectations over the past few seasons, and has rapidly risen the prospect leaderboards in his time with the Astros. He broke out last season in a year split between High-A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi, where he posted a .319/.428/.528 slash-line with 15 homers and 43 steals, all while leading all of Minors in on-base percentage. This success carried into the 2016 Arizona Fall League, where he impressed with a .295/.340/.477 line in 50 at-bats.
He was considered a dark-horse to be called up entering the season, but that can safely be ruled out at this point. He is leading his team in at-bats, and has an abysmal .570 OPS to show for it. He is batting .209/.288/.282, with only 2 homers and 7 total extra-base hits. Laureano will have to crawl his way back to recover from his poor start to the season, as his value is currently taking a big hit.
High-A Buies: Creek Astros
Rising: Kyle Tucker, OF
Tucker is still a whiles away from being pro-ready, but he is making positive strides in his development this season. He is batting .284/.372/.544 on the season for a .908 OPS. He also leads his team in homers (8) and stolen bases (12).
Originally drafted 5th overall in the 2015 draft, Kyle Tucker is one of the Astros’ top prospects. With his performance he is not only fast-tracking himself to the Majors, he is also raising his trade-stock for the Astros. If GM Jeff Luhnow wants to trade for an Ace or any other major piece to bolster the Major-League club, Kyle Tucker would most likely be a sell-high candidate.
Falling: Anibal Sierra, SS
Ranked the Astros 17th best prospect, Sierra has not been overly impressive since being signed by the Astros for $1.5-million during the 2016-2017 international signing period. He is batting .168/.237/.252 in 119 at-bats for Buies Creek since being called up earlier this season, and has a team low .489 OPS.
Sierra has good tools - he has good bat speed, decent power, and plays solid defense at short-stop. But he has not adjusted well to his move up to the Single-A level, as he has a .511 OPS on the season. The good news is its still early into his first real season of Minor-League baseball, and he has time to turn things around. The downside is he is already 22 years old, and he is not off to an encouraging start.
Single-A: Quad-Cities Bandits
Rising: Carson Larue, SP
Originally a 14th round-pick in 2016, Larue is off to a good start in his first Minor-League season. He has the second lowest ERA in the entire Astros’ farm system at 1.72, and has pitched in over 47 innings over 7 starts. He is going deep into games, and leads the Astros’ farm system with 6 wins on the season.
Larue can still be considered a Major-League long-shot at this point, but he has decent weapons and is putting them to good use so far. Larue has low-90’s speed with a solid mix of breaking balls, and despite originally being labeled a relief pitcher, he has proven to have fairly decent stamina for a pitcher at his level. If he keeps it up, he’ll slowly but surely rise the Astros’ Minor-League ranks.
Falling: Daz Cameron, OF
The former 2015 first-round pick for the Astros has struggled since joining the organization. He struggled in Single-A ball last year before ending his season prematurely with a thumb injury, and things have not picked up for him this season. He is batting .180/.254/.333 for a paltry 68 wRC+.
Cameron, drafted out of high-school with a $4-million signing bonus, has a long ways to go in terms of player development. At only 20 years old, Cameron possesses an impressive combination of defensive skills, speed, and bat-on-ball ability. But he’ll need to start producing at the professional level, as the Astros #9 ranked prospect continues to fall.