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Astros' farm system still bubbling at the top

Upper-level talent could help sustain Major League success
Shay Whitcomb was one of only two Minor Leaguers with at least 25 doubles, 20 homers and 30 stolen bases in 2021. (Ken Inness/MiLB.com)
@Gerard_Gilberto
November 18, 2021

Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club. The Astros have undeniably been among the sport’s most successful organizations in recent

Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club.

The Astros have undeniably been among the sport’s most successful organizations in recent years. With three World Series appearances and one championship in the past five years, Houston has put together a string of success built largely with homegrown talent stockpiled during a total rebuild.

They’re likely to lose some extremely important pieces to free agency this offseason -- namely two potential Hall of Fame pitchers and a franchise shortstop. However, under the present rules, there's still a significant portion of their 2021 World Series roster that's at least three years away from free agency. Combine that core with some successful prospects at the upper levels, and the Major League club could still be in good shape for a while longer.

Triple-A Sugar Land was the only Astros affiliate to finish with a winning record (71-49) as the organization’s six Minor League clubs combined for a .486 win percentage. After years of boasting more than a handful of the game’s top prospects, Houston is one of two teams without a player in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100, and this list of Organization All-Stars features just one player from the club’s Top 30.

There’s time to replenish the depth in the system, and those top prospects of yesterday have become postseason regulars. Expect to see more touted names on next year’s list, but in 2021 the honors go to a group largely consisting of Minor League veterans and players who have flown below the prospect radar.

Astros Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Luke Berryhill, Low-A Fayetteville (35 games), High-A Asheville (28 games), Double-A Corpus Christi (nine games): The Astros actually have some impressive depth at the catcher position. Berryhill earned a spot on this list by outshining the club’s top prospect -- Korey Lee -- and No. 13 Yainer Diaz, who was acquired from Cleveland along with Phil Maton at the Trade Deadline.

Houston named the 23-year-old Berryhill their Minor League Player of the Year after leading all qualified Astros catcher prospects with a .295 average, .413 on-base percentage, .561 slugging percentage, .974 OPS, .401 BABIP, 159 wRC+, 15 homers, 20 doubles and 54 RBIs.

"He's a really physically gifted guy," Astros assistant general manager Pete Putila said. "He made a big swing adjustment. He had a lot of movement pre-swing, but he was able to quiet some of that down for more consistency of contact and quality of contact."

The organization is working with Berryhill to improve his arm strength. The 2019 13th-rounder out of the University of South Carolina got in 35 games behind the plate across three levels and threw out nine of 41 would-be base stealers.

First baseman -- J.J. Matijevic, Corpus Christi (31 games), Sugar Land (78 games): The 26-year-old did not miss a beat after a lot of missed time between the pandemic and a 50-game drug suspension in 2019.

Matijevic belted a career-best 25 homers, 67 runs and 75 RBIs -- all of which ranked in the top five in the system -- while batting .254/.341/.512 with 23 doubles and three triples. The No. 75 overall pick out of the University of Arizona in 2017 was able to retain his power and post similar numbers in 2021 to what he displayed in his first three seasons while also climbing to the Minors’ highest level.

"I think there's still more there offensively, but it was just easy power," Sugar Land manager Mickey Storey said. "It was just pretty consistent with him getting the ball in the air and being able to maximize his swing and his power by elevating the ball. I think he can be a little bit more of a complete hitter, but the home runs seemed to come pretty easy this year for him."

Matijevic mostly played first base this season but also saw some time at all three outfield positions, with most of that action coming in left field. He played almost an identical number of games between first base and left field at Sugar Land.

Second baseman -- Enmanuel Valdez, Asheville (75 games), Corpus Christi (23 games): At 5-foot-9, 190 pounds, Valdez probably wasn’t anyone’s pick to lead the system in home runs and RBIs. But the 22-year-old did just that in his fifth professional season.

Valdez went deep 26 times and drove in 90 runs while batting .255/.326/.534 with 63 runs scored and 22 doubles. The explosion of power was most certainly out of character for the native of San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic. He entered the season with 25 total homers in 268 games in the Minors.

"He's got a really efficient swing," Putila said. "He was able to elevate the ball, and he kind of has a knack to go to all fields. Smart hitter. He's always competed at the plate."

Valdez’s slugging percentage, .860 OPS and 122 wRC+ were tops among the system’s second baseman. He posted five multi-homer games -- four with Asheville -- this season and reached a career high with seven RBIs against Bowling Green on May 26.

Defensively, Valdez has split time between second and third base throughout his career. He committed eight errors in 51 games at second in 2021.

Third baseman -- C.J. Hinojosa, Sugar Land (104 games): The Houston native seemed comfortable back at home this season after a slow start out of the gate.

Hinojosa landed with the Astros on a Minor League deal in January after five seasons in the Giants system and a half a year with the Brewers. The 27-year-old had never played at the Minors’ highest level before but managed to put together one of the best seasons in the system in his first try.

He led all Astros Minor Leaguers with 131 hits, 85 singles and 35 doubles while batting .316/.351/.481, swatting 11 homers and driving in 67 runs. His career year came despite a 4.1 percent increase in his strikeout rate and 3.3 percent decrease in his walk rate from his 2019 campaign at Double-A.

"He just really bolstered our offense for a good portion of our year," Storey said. "[He] showed a ton of bat-to-ball skill and really a knack for hitting. It was incredible, he just, he had the hit tool."

A natural shortstop, Hinojosa really got a chance to show off his versatility with the Skeeters. His defensive innings allotment was dispersed almost evenly between second, third and shortstop. He committed one error at second, seven at the hot corner and eight at short.

Shortstop -- Shay Whitcomb, Asheville (58 games), Fayetteville (41 games): The Astros were limited to four selections in last year’s Draft, and the final pick led them to Whitcomb, who provided an immediate payoff in his first professional season.

The UC San Diego product led the system with 81 runs scored and 30 stolen bases while batting .293/.363/.530 with 23 homers, 25 doubles, 78 RBIs, 137 wRC+ and .384 BABIP. He and top Yankees prospect Anthony Volpe were the only Minor Leaguers with at least 25 doubles, 20 homers and 30 stolen bases in 2021.

The Astros' No. 20 prospect signed for just $56,000 but was lauded for his ability to make hard contact in college. At 6-foot-3, 202 pounds, his power should remain his loudest tool as he progresses through the Minors.

"Really, the back half of the year, he had some huge average exit speed," Putila said. "He's a pretty big, strong kid, but he showed quite a bit of power already early on in his career."

Whitcomb stayed true to his profile and pulled the ball on more than 50 percent of his contact this season. Putila said the organization is working to help him cut down his strikeout rate, which was around 30 percent this season.

The 23-year-old is a bit bigger for the position, which bought him some time at third and second base. He was not known for his defense as an amateur, and he committed 18 total errors this season, though Putila noticed some improvement over the course of the year at shortstop.

Outfielders

Jake Meyers, Sugar Land (68 games), Houston (49 games): The 25-year-old’s season ended with a strong showing in the ALDS against the White Sox, in which he had three hits in eight at-bats and appeared in each of the four games.

Meyers proved he was ready for the big leagues in Sugar Land, then earned his first big-league promotion after Myles Straw was traded to Cleveland in the deal that landed Maton and Diaz.

The 2017 13th-rounder batted .343/.408/.598 with 16 homers and 51 RBIs for Sugar Land. He led all Astros outfield prospects with at least 200 plate appearances in average, slugging percentage, walks (56) and OPS (1.006).

Meyers finished out the regular season with the big-league club but did not appear in the ALCS or World Series. He batted .260 with six homers, eight doubles and 28 RBIs down the stretch for Houston.

Jose Siri, Sugar Land (94 games), Houston (21 games): Always incredibly talented while struggling to put it all together production-wise, Siri made himself a new home with the Astros.

Siri played seven seasons in the Reds' system after signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2012. He then bounced from the Mariners to the Giants during the pandemic year and landed with the Astros on a Minor League deal in December.

"He felt wanted by the organization. He felt loved by his team and his coaching staff and he really fed off it," Storey said. "I spent a good amount of time with him early on at the training site in Corpus to try and get him to be himself. He's always had a great deal of success in winter ball. And I wanted him to be able to play free and be able to mirror the player he is over there."

The 25-year-old finally got over the hump and earned his first big-league promotion. He even started in center field during Game 6 of the World Series. Siri had two hits in 14 at-bats during the postseason, but he lit up the Minors before his first call to The Show on Sept. 3.

Siri finished first among the system’s outfielders with 115 hits, 29 doubles, 70 runs, 24 stolen bases and a .436 BABIP. He batted .318/.369/.552 with 16 homers and 72 RBIs for the Skeeters.

He finished the year very strong in the Majors, batting .304 with a .956 OPS, four homers and nine RBIs in 46 at-bats with the Astros. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound outfielder batted just .186 in his first taste of Triple-A ball with Louisville in 2019. This past year’s effort should provide him even more big-league opportunities.

Marty Costes, Corpus Christi (61 games), Sugar Land (40 games): A 22nd-round pick in 2018, Costes proved to be one of the best contact hitters in the system.

The 25-year-old rose to the highest level of the Minors and batted .306 with an .847 OPS. He led all Astros outfield prospects with 75 singles, a .419 OBP and 17.4 percent strikeout rate.

"He's a very physical guy. He's got an all-fields type of swing with well-above average power," Putila said. "When he gets to the pull side, he can find power there. Great plate discipline, great contact skills. Just working on refining some things on the defensive side of the ball. But he's continued to improve."

Costes also added six homers, two triples, 18 doubles, 49 RBIs and 57 runs to his breakout season. He started pulling the ball a lot more after his Aug. 2 promotion to Sugar Land. But he went to the opposite field more than 45 percent of the time with the Hooks.

The 5-foot-9, 200-pounder played in all three outfield spots but mostly stayed in the corners. He's finishing out the year with Cangrejeros de Santurce in the Puerto Rican Winter League.

Right-handed pitcher -- J.P. France, Corpus Christi (eight games), Sugar Land (17 games): The 26-year-old was an unlikely strikeout artist this season. France’s 157 punchouts put him in a tie with fifth-ranked Giants prospect Kyle Harrison for the eighth-most in the Minors.

What's uncommon about France being that guy was his not so overpowering repertoire. The Mississippi State product throws a low-90's fastball with a changeup, curveball and sweeping slider -- all of which are on the slower side.

"It's not the stuff you're accustomed to seeing, but when you watch him pitch, it almost plays as if he's throwing mid to upper 90s," Storey said. "He throws strikes, he attacks, he's not afraid of anyone, he challenges guys. And his uniqueness of being able to throw that super change and fastball atop the zone at about 88 to 91 [mph] to strike out that many guys and generate that many whiffs was pretty remarkable and likely speaks to him being able to perform at the next level."

He started just 18 of his 25 games but compiled a 9-3 record with a 3.79 ERA over 114 innings across two levels. His 12.39 K/9 ranked ninth among all Minor Leaguers to complete at least 100 innings. The 2018 14th-rounder didn’t post tremendously impressive numbers with the Hooks -- 4.28 ERA in 33 2/3 innings -- before being promoted on June 22. But he really figured things out with the Skeeters.

By the end of the season, France had yielded two runs or fewer in all but seven of his outings, and he recorded two double-digit strikeout games. His year got off to a hot start as he set a career high with 11 punchouts in his first start of the season on May 5 against San Antonio.

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Jonathan Bermudez, Corpus Christi (18 games), Sugar Land (seven games): Much like France, Bermudez figured out how to be very effective without being overpowering, and the 26-year-old parlayed that into the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year honor.

"He's somebody who's got above-average command. He works to both sides of the plate," Putila said. "Throws breaking balls in any count, any situation. Velo crept up throughout the year, I think there is probably still more in the tank there for him, but he's a true pitcher. Not the highest velocity but throws a lot of strikes and gets ahead in the count and has a good mix."

Overall, Bermudez posted a 5-6 record with a 3.24 ERA and 146 strikeouts over 111 innings. Bermudez, France and third-ranked prospect Hunter Brown were the only Astros Minor Leaguers to complete 100 innings this season.

The 6-foot-2, 237-pound southpaw set a career high with 10 strikeouts on May 12 against Frisco, and he matched that figure a month later against San Antonio. Bermudez only completed six innings twice, but he recorded an impressive eight scoreless outings during the year.

Relief pitcher -- Nick Hernandez, Corpus Christi (32 games), Sugar Land (one game): The Astros benefitted from more local talent with Hernandez’s dominant season.

The Missouri City, Texas, native and University of Houston product sported a 1.61 ERA and converted six of seven save opportunities with 69 strikeouts in 56 innings across two levels.

"He's somebody who's always had a good changeup -- more of a swing-and-miss changeup than most," Putila said. "He's got a good four-seam and he misses bats with that and his slider."

Hernandez’s ERA was the best among Astros pitchers to complete at least 40 innings this season and 0.60 lower than the next name on that list.'

Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.