TDG’s Triple Play: Houston Astros!
The Triple Play is back for a fourth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Paul Monte and a rotating panel of writers. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Cristian Javier, Age: 24, Position: SP
Analysis by: Ben Sanders
Javier was ranked as our No. 122 starting pitcher this offseason. I wrote his profile for those rankings, and really couldn’t figure out what to make of him. His 2020 stat line was full of extremes and didn’t match his minor league numbers.
He looked to be putting my concerns to rest in April. He made four starts and posted a 0.87 ERA and 0.82 WHIP, with 26 strikeouts and six walks in 20.2 IP. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to sustain that success in May, with a 5.71 ERA, 18 K and 8 BB over 17.1 innings.
SLIDE TO THE RIGHT
Javier’s slider has been fantastic this season. It’s clocking in at 81.3 MPH, a healthy jump from 78.6 last season, and producing a 53.3% whiff rate. That and his fastball are all he needs to dominate righties, who are slashing just .127/.232/.225 against him. Facing lefthanders, however, he’s a much different pitcher, throwing just seven sliders in seven starts. He relies instead on a curveball and a changeup, and the results have been mediocre, as lefties hit .230/.304/.410 off him. Significant splits like that aren’t ideal for long-term success as a starting pitcher.
Javier is not a lock to remain in the Astros’ rotation. Even during his strong April, he was briefly demoted to the alternate site. Injuries to Framber Valdez, Jake Odorizzi and Jose Urquidy have given him job security for now, but all are expected back soon.
UP IN THE AIR
Javier has a .221 BABIP so far this season, actually up from his .194 mark a year ago. At first glance, it looks like he’s been extraordinarily lucky on batted balls, but there’s more to it than that. His BABIP was just .253 over 377 minor league innings. Helping to keep it low are his extreme flyball tendencies – his flyball rate so far in the majors is an even 50 percent. That may be good for BABIP, but it’s not so good for preventing home runs. He gave up 11 last season in 54.1 IP, and while he somehow didn’t allow any in April, four have been hit off him in May.
YOU’LL JUST HAVE TO WAIT
Javier is a promising young arm. He’s only 24, has a dominant slider, and has had some success at the MLB level. He’s probably earned a nice bump up the SP rankings from that 122 in the offseason.
However, he is not a finished product. He needs to improve his other secondary pitches to better deal with lefties and avoid a move to the bullpen. If someone else in your dynasty league believes he is already breaking out, it would be a great time to trade him. If not, hang on and hope he can continue to make strides.
Kyle Tucker, Age: 24, Position: OF
Analysis by: Aaron Cumming
Do you suffer from Prospect Fatigue? For a list of symptoms, please refer to the great Craig Goldstein’s piece back in 2013. Then and now, this hurdle is difficult to recognize, let alone overcome. In the case of Kyle Tucker, this phenomenon has allowed some evaluators to overlook the skills that this 24-year-old has brought to the Astros lineup.
Houston made Tucker the fifth overall pick of the 2015 draft, and he was able to get 63 games of Rookie ball in that year. In 2016, he showed his impressive speed by swiping 32 bags across two levels. 2017 was the turning point for both the player and the franchise. While the Astros made the leap in their rebuilding process from sneaking into the playoffs to winning the World Series, fans were clamoring for them to bring up their top hitting prospect. That season, Tucker was breaking out with a 25 homerun/21 steal campaign in 120 games between High-A and Double-A, and many felt he could’ve cemented the team’s rise. Nonetheless, he remained in the minor leagues. Any future revelations aside, the club’s championship run proved that this front office knew what they were doing, and if they didn’t think it was best to bring up Tucker, then maybe he wasn’t the player we all thought he was.
Tucker continued his torrid pace at Triple-A in 2018, finally earning his callup to the majors in July of that year. His putrid performance in 28 games was a highly visible scuff on his prospect sheen. Nevermind that he was the youngest player in the AL that year. Nevermind that he showed good plate discipline (18.1% K-rate & 8.3% BB-rate). Nevermind that he bookended that debut with a 24 home run, 20 steal, .332 batting average season at Triple-A. The fans and scouts saw a winning team, and he made them worse that season.
The Straw That Broke The Kyle’s Back
Near the end of May in 2019, George Springer went down with a hamstring injury, and the Astros recalled Myles Straw to replace him on the roster, instead of bringing Tucker back up. Again, in the midst of one of the most successful stretches in franchise history, the fans were left to trust that the club knew something we didn’t. Tucker proceeded to hammer 34 home runs to go along with 30 steals that season. He was given another chance in the majors with a September call-up, and showed his potential with 4 home runs and 5 steals. He then proceeded to hit terribly during sparse action in the playoffs, ending an otherwise great year on a sour note.
Finally, 2020 would bring with it a regular starting role for Tucker. And then the sign stealing controversy broke out! And then a pandemic struck! MLB was scrambling to keep up awareness, but even for those that remained engaged, the Astros were the villians of the league. He played in 58 regular season games, and performed admirably. He showed his power and speed, and had a 126 wRC+. On any other team, that would be something to celebrate; on an Astros team that the fans of 29 other clubs preferred to ignore, that wasn’t enough to garner much notoriety.
“A Conclusion Is The Place Where You Get Tired Of Thinking”
I’m pretty sure Martin H. Fischer wasn’t referring to baseball prospects when he said this, but he perfectly summed up “prospect fatigue” with this quote.
If you’ve read this far, you may be thinking, Wow, is this guy ever going to talk about what to expect from Kyle Tucker? He’s just been rambling about the details and frustrations of fans over the course of the last few years.
That’s the point! That’s prospect fatigue! Kyle Tucker is still just 24 years old, was a first round pick, has an incomparable minor league track record with scouting reports to support it, and has been a very good player already in just under a full season’s worth of major league games. He has improved his strikeout rate and walk rate 3 years in a row. He has a deep red Statcast page, and is among the league leaders in xwOBA, xSLG and xBA, despite some bad batted ball luck this year (.225 actual BA vs. .294 xBA so far). Everyone has treated Tucker like he’s a good player, but we all know he is a GREAT player. It’s time we start treating him that way. He is a top 15 hitter in almost any format, and could be the anchor of a great dynasty team.
Prospect Pedro Leon, Age: 22, Position: SS/OF, Level: Double-A
Analysis by: Paul Monte
The (no) information game
Evaluating a prospect is always a tough thing to do. Many fantasy owners, myself included, rely on evaluations from scouts or fantasy analysts we trust. Others will take any positive report they see online and run with it to be the first in their league to claim the prospect. International players are especially difficult to evaluate as the level of competition fluctuates wildly and the volume of scout and analyst reports dwindle. We are forced to make decisions with very little information behind them. If you are in an open universe league (which I highly recommend) and players are available as soon as they enter the player pool or earlier you are likely adding the international players when they are 15-16 years old. If they are part of a first-year player draft, the information on the American players is readily available and you need to determine where the international player fits into the rankings.
Filled with helium
There is usually one player who gets the most attention and is drafted at the top. 2019 brought us Jasson Dominguez who was likely the only first-rounder unless Robert Puason went early. 2018 had clear-cut superstar Victor Victor Mesa (ouch) going in the top 5 of most drafts and the next up were second-rounders Marco Luciano, Malcom Nunez, and Orelvis Martinez. International prospecting is a tough gig. Back to 2020 where Ha-Seong Kim would technically be considered the top international prospect and he was followed by a trio of young shortstops. Further down the list, you could find a 22-year-old Cuban SS/OF who had signed with the Houston Astros for 4 million dollars. He could be 23 years old by the time you read this as his birthday is May 28th.
Leon last played professional baseball in 2019 in Cuba and he was just 20 years old then, a decade younger than the league average, and hit .383/.467/.789 with 15 home runs and 7 stolen bases for the Huracanes de Mayabeque. He is of smaller stature measuring in at 5’10” and 170 pounds so his hit tool will need to carry him. He was sent directly to Double-A because of his age and experience but the assignment has not gone as planned. So far in his first 10 games, he has struck out 17 times in just 35 at-bats. I don’t need to reach for my calculator to tell you that’s not good. In the 18 at-bats that he didn’t strike out, he has managed just 4 hits, 1 home run, and 1 stolen base for a triple-slash of .114/.244/.229.
Don’t be no dumb guy
Judging Leon off of 35 at-bats would be dumb. I try not to be dumb whenever possible, it’s a struggle sometimes, but we battle on. I won’t worry about him yet and if others start to panic and he hits the waiver wire I won’t hesitate to take a stab at him. There are some of my favorite analysts who have high hopes for him, some even thought that a 2021 major league debut could be possible. We may not get to see that debut, and if the slump that has started his US career persists people will panic. Give him some time to settle in and check back in July to see how he has adapted.
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