Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each organization and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in each farm system. Next up in our 2022 Organization All-Stars series are the Houston Astros.
2022 Organization Summary
Triple-A Sugar Land: 73-75
Double-A Corpus Christi: 63-74
High-A Asheville: 62-69
Single-A Fayetteville: 55-75
FCL Astros Orange: 26-28
FCL Astros Blue: 15-38
DSL Houston Orange: 36-23
DSL Houston Blue: 23-37
Overall record: 353-419 (.457 winning percentage, 27th among MLB organizations)
Astros Organization All-Stars
Catcher: Yainer Diaz
The third-ranked Astros prospect has done nothing but hit for most of his professional career, and that production was rewarded with his first Major League promotion in September. Prior to that, Diaz tore through the two highest levels of the Minors to finish with a .306 average and 25 homers. The only other catcher prospect to bat at least .300 with 20 homers this season was the Pirates’ Endy Rodriguez.
“[Diaz] really skyrocketed through our system,” said Sara Goodrum, the Astros director of player development. “He has the ability to put the bat on the ball pretty much anywhere in the strike zone, which is super impressive just in general. So he really worked this year on just refining his approach a little bit, and the results really paid significant dividends.”
The 24-year-old has been one of the most consistent hitters in the Minors since he signed as an international free agent with Cleveland in 2016. Diaz, who landed with the Astros at last season’s Trade Deadline, owns the highest batting average among all 539 Minor Leaguers with at least 1,300 at-bats since 2017 at .321. He mostly played behind the plate this season, but he also saw significant time at first base while being tested in both corner outfield spots.
The Astros have depth of talent at the catcher position, including No. 7 prospect Korey Lee and J.C. Correa, who had an excellent season with Asheville in 2022.
First baseman: Joey Loperfido
The 2021 seventh-rounder had one of the best seasons among all hitters in Houston’s system, bouncing back from an inauspicious start to his professional career. Loperfido hit the injured list and was batting .119 after 19 games with Fayetteville following the Draft last year. But his return to the Carolina League yielded much more positive results, and he even produced better numbers after a promotion to Asheville. Overall, Loperfido finished with the best average in the system at .316 while maintaining a .900 OPS with 41 extra-base hits and 32 stolen bases across two levels.
“Joey is an incredibly hard working kid, really curious and invested in his development,” Goodrum said. “He really physically matured this year, gained some good muscle mass, became faster and stronger. And I think that was a huge driving factor in the success he had this year … he's really committed to his development plan.”
Loperfido was one of only eight players in the Minors to hit at least .310 with 30 stolen bases. Originally drafted as an outfielder, the 23-year-old saw time at five different positions but mostly stayed at first and second base.
Second baseman: Luis Santana
Santana had some very impressive showings in Rookie-level ball during his first three professional seasons. But he struggled through his first two years of full-season ball, which, incidentally, were also his first in the Astros system. But the 23-year-old seemed to find his stroke for Asheville in 2022. He produced a .297/.386/.472 slash line with a career-best 11 homers, 23 doubles, 62 RBIs, 58 runs and 102 hits. Santana, who landed in the Astros system as part of the January 2019 trade with the Mets that sent J.D. Davis to New York, was one of 12 players in the Astros system with at least 100 hits and more knocks than games played. Defensively, he played five different positions for the Tourists, seeing his first professional action in both corner outfield spots.
Third baseman: Corey Julks
The 26-year-old really found his power stroke this season in Sugar Land, leading the system with 31 long balls and 100 runs scored. He was only the fifth Astros prospect since 2006 to hit at least 30 homers in a season and one of only 20 total Minor Leaguers to reach the 30-homer plateau in 2022. Julks also stole 22 bases this season and was one of only two players in the Minors with at least 30 homers and 20 steals. The club’s No. 30 prospect also finished with 89 RBIs, the third-most in the Astros’ system, and a .503 slugging percentage. At the behest of the organization, the 2017 eighth-rounder took a more aggressive approach at the plate. While it may have led to a career-high 128 strikeouts, he more than doubled his previous career high of 14 homers. Julks, who was born in the Houston area and went to the University of Houston, was left unprotected by the club ahead of next month’s Rule 5 Draft.
Shortstop: David Hensley
The 26-year-old contributed to the Astros’ World Series victory and earned a spot on the 40-man roster after an excellent debut in the Majors. But before getting his first career call to The Show in August, Hensley put together an incredible season with the Space Cowboys. He led the Astros system with 80 walks and his .420 on-base percentage tied with 19-year-old Sandro Gaston as the best among the club’s qualified Minor Leaguers. Hensley also set career highs in batting (.298), slugging (.478), OPS (.898), homers (10), doubles (30), triples (four), RBIs (57), runs (80) and stolen bases (20). At 6-foot-6, Hensley is taller than the average shortstop, but he mostly played his natural position at Sugar Land while also seeing time at first, second, third and left field.
Outfield: Justin Dirden
Dirden went unselected in the pandemic-shortened 2020 Draft and had an impressive debut season at both A-ball levels last year. But the 25-year-old hit another gear across the two highest levels of the Minors in 2022 to produce what was arguably the best offensive season among all Astros prospects. Dirden led the system with a .942 OPS, 144 total hits, 40 doubles, five triples and 101 RBIs.
“Justin is a really strong physical player that jumped onto the scene, offensively,” Goodrum said. “He dominates fastballs, he's working and continuing to improve on the breaking pitches. ... He's really committed to his development process. He's really curious and wants to learn and wants to get better.”
Dirden batted .309 overall, doing most of his damage at Corpus Christi, where he hit .324 with a 1.027 OPS in 92 games. The Astros’ No. 11 prospect was one of only five Minor Leaguers with at least 40 doubles. Dirden saw time at all three outfield positions this season, but mainly stayed in center field, where he regularly made some highlight-reel catches.
Like Garcia, the 22-year-old Corona struggled in his first year in the Astros system following a trade from the Mets. But Corona, who was acquired in the deal for Jake Marisnick after the 2019 season, found his stroke in his second tour of the Carolina League and actually produced better numbers after a promotion to Asheville. Corona was elevated to Asheville in June and batted .290 with an .871 OPS in the final 62 games of the season. He finished with a .278 overall average and .857 OPS with 19 homers, 28 stolen bases, 24 doubles, 67 RBIs and 88 runs scored. The 5-foot-11 right-hander was the only player in the organization to reach his homer and stolen base totals.
Hamilton earned a pair of midseason promotions in his first full season, finishing the year with Corpus Christi. The 24-year-old played his best ball with Asheville, where he batted .321 with a .966 OPS in 42 games following his first promotion in May. The club’s No. 28 prospect batted .280/.396/.461 overall with 17 homers, 28 doubles, 68 RBIs. 81 runs scored and 27 stolen bases. Hamilton made a name for himself in his final year at Wright State and was selected by the Astros in the fifth round of last year’s Draft. He split time pretty evenly across all three outfield spots but mostly stayed in center this year.
Right-handed starting pitcher: Hunter Brown
MLB Pipeline’s No. 68 overall prospect will likely be a traditional starter in his future. But his workload in 2022 prepared him for the role that he played to help the Astros win the World Series. Brown made 23 total appearances and 14 starts for Sugar Land before joining the big league club in September. His usage was similar in the Majors, where he was somehow even better than his dominant production at Triple-A.
“I definitely think [his workload] was very well thought out. And obviously, hopefully, it's part of the reason why he's in the situation he's in right now,” Goodrum said during the Astros playoff run. “It’s also just a testament to him. … it's great to see that he can be put in different situations and continue to succeed.”
Brown made seven appearances and only two starts for the Astros in September and was used as a reliever three times during the postseason. He allowed just two runs in 24 total Major League innings, including the postseason. But prior to his promotion, Brown was also one of the best pitchers in the PCL, managing a 2.55 ERA with 134 strikeouts in 106 innings.
“He showed up to Spring Training, probably with some pretty high expectations,” Goodrum said. “And it was really impressive to see him work and stay the course the entire year.”
Brown made 15 appearances in the Minors during which he allowed one or no runs. He also held opposing hitters to a .186 average and will likely fit in Houston’s rotation on Opening Day in 2023.
Left-handed starting pitcher: Colton Gordon
The Astros’ No. 24 prospect had an impressive debut professional season after Tommy John surgery cut his college career at Central Florida short in 2021. Gordon didn’t make his season debut until June but quickly climbed from the FCL to Fayetteville before finishing the season in Asheville and pitching for Surprise in the Arizona Fall League.
“Colton showed this year that he's a workhorse,” Goodrum said. “He throws a lot of strikes. And he's got a unique delivery with the low release and crossfire action that he has. He's a tough pitcher to hit. It's been really exciting to get him in the system and get him on the mound and throwing.”
Gordon went 2-1 with a 2.35 ERA over 15 total appearances, 11 starts, while striking out 78 and holding opposing batters to a .182 average in 53 ⅔ innings. He completed at least five innings in four outings this season and only had one appearance in which he allowed more than two runs.
Reliever: Enoli Paredes
The veteran right-hander shouldered a heavy workload for Sugar Land. Even though the 27-year-old made just three appearances for the Major League club, he earned a spot on the 40-man roster. Paredes, who has pitched for the Astros in each of the past three seasons, sported a 2.63 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 54 ⅔ innings over 50 appearances with the Space Cowboys. Among the 55 total Minor Leaguers to make at least 50 appearances this season, Paredes was one of only two in the Astros’ system.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.