- Ominous news for Astros fans tonight, as both Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman exited the game with injuries, per a pair of club announcements. Altuve was lifted from the game due to discomfort in his right oblique, while Bregman exited early due to right hamstring discomfort. Julia Morales of ROOT Sports tweets that both players will be re-evaluated on Friday — the Astros have an off-day tomorrow — but manager A.J. Hinch isn’t optimistic that either will be able to play in the series opener in Seattle on Friday. Houston topped the Rangers in an 8-4 win tonight, but the loss of either Altuve or Bregman would be devastating, particularly with a critical series against the Mariners on tap. Seattle is currently ahead of Houston in the Wild Card standings, though the Mariners themselves are currently two games back in the race.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr., the younger brother of Astros infielder Yulieski Gurriel, hosted a showcase for 60 to 70 Major League scouts today in Panama City, per a pair of reports from MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez and El Nuevo Herald’s Jorge Ebro.
The Marlins had a pair of scouts on hand to watch Gurriel, per Ebro, while the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan reported yesterday that the Astros would be in attendance as well. And earlier this month, FanRag’s Jon Heyman reported that the Cardinals were planning on attending the workout, too. Realistically, though, given the number of scouts reported to be in attendance and the fact that the younger Gurriel brother is one of the most well-regarded prospects on the international scene, it’d probably be more notable to list the teams (if any) that didn’t attend his showcase. Heyman said that roughly 20 teams were likely to be represented, and it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if that number ended up closer to 30.
Gurriel, 22, is currently subject to international bonus pools. That, however, will change next month on Oct. 19 when he celebrates his 23rd birthday. Despite his relative youth, Gurriel spent parts of six seasons playing in Serie Nacional, Cuba’s top league, meaning he’ll have the requisite experience to qualify as a professional upon turning 23, thus exempting him from bonus pools and allowing him to a Major League contract with any team for any amount and length.
Gurriel began his pro career in Cuba at just 16 years of age and batted .277/.362/.426 in 305 games from 2010-16, including an impressive .344/.407/.560 with 10 homers and eight steals across 59 games in his final season on the island. Capable of playing both shortstop and center field, Gurriel showcased his skills at both positions today, per Sanchez, fielding grounders and turning double plays from the shortstop position while also catching fly balls and making throws from center field. He also took four rounds of batting practice, two rounds against live pitching and ran a 6.65 in the 60-yard dash (all via Sanchez’s report). Sanchez writes that Gurriel’s physique and strong arm drew praise, though some teams felt he could use some more work against live pitching.
From here, the likeliest step for Gurriel will be to conduct private workouts for teams with interest in signing him. Because he’s unlikely to sign before his birthday, the Wasserman client should have ample time to allow multiple clubs to make an evaluation before agreeing to terms with a team. In the above-linked piece from the Houston Chronicle, Kaplan spoke to Baseball America’s Ben Badler about Gurriel’s overall skill set, with Badler explaining that the soon-to-be 23-year-old could open next season in Double-A or Triple-A, suggesting that a reasonably quick rise to the Majors is possible.
Earlier today, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reported that the Astros have reached an agreement with Cuban southpaw Cionel Perez on a $5.15MM signing bonus (which will cost the team a total of $10.3MM after luxury tax considerations). Ben Badler of Baseball America provides an updated scouting report on the newest member of the Astros’ farm system, noting that since leaving Cuba he’s added a two-seam fastball to his repertoire and made improvements to his slider. Badler also adds that Perez had been slated to pitch in the Dominican Winter League this summer, though it’s possible that the new signing could impact that schedule. Moreover, Badler reports that Houston has already reduced the bonuses of two high-profile international prospects — Anibal Sierra and Freudis Nova — after their physicals revealed some causes for concern. With Perez’s deal still pending a physical, it’s possible that his bonus could change.
- ESPN’s Buster Olney opines that even with the postseason eligibility deadline having passed, the Astros should pursue trades for rotation upgrades to help ensure that they’re even able to reach the playoffs. With the Pirates recently suffering a sweep and falling six back in the NL Wild Card race and the Marlins presently five back in that same hunt, Olney suggests right-handers Ivan Nova and Andrew Cashner as possible targets for Houston. Of course, neither would be likely to make more than three starts for Houston anyhow, and the Astros themselves aren’t in much better shape than Pittsburgh or Miami. Houston currently sits 3.5 games back in the AL Wild Card race, and they’re trailing Baltimore, Toronto, New York and Detroit in the standings at the moment.
The Astros have agreed to sign left-handed pitching prospect Cionel Perez for a $5.15MM signing bonus, reports MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (via Twitter). The 20-year-old Perez, a client of Octagon according to Sanchez, was declared a free agent by Major League Baseball just last week after having left Cuba back in May of 2015. Due to his age and limited professional experience, Perez qualifies as an international amateur, meaning he is subject to international bonus pools. The Astros are already over their $2.197MM pool allotment, so the signing of Perez will come with a 100 percent luxury tax, thus making this a $10.3MM expenditure for Houston.
Perez currently rates fourth on Sanchez’s list of top 30 international prospects at MLB.com. Perez currently has a fastball that sits 92-95 mph, per Sanchez, though there’s room to add to his growing frame still, so some scouts feel the velocity will tick up another couple of miles per hour. Baseball America’s Ben Badler wrote back in December that Perez had shown some improvements with his once-fringe breaking pitch, which at the time was flashing the potential to be an average or better offering. He’s also added a changeup that he’s still working on since leaving Cuba.
Per Sanchez’s report, the Astros were joined by the Orioles, Padres and Reds in their pursuit of Perez, but it’ll be Houston who adds the intriguing young arm to its farm system. The aforementioned report from Badler noted that Perez could be ready for Low-A ball, but it’s of course possible that he begins his pro career in the United States a level higher now that he’s a year older — especially if he puts in some work over the winter. Perez appeared in just two seasons in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, logging 139 innings with a 2.20 ERA, 6.5 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 in his age-17 and age-18 seasons.
It was 50 years ago today that Nolan Ryan made his Major League debut, tossing two relief innings (and recording three strikeouts) for the Mets during an 8-3 loss to the Braves. Ryan spent his first five big league seasons in New York, including winning his only World Series ring as part of the 1969 Miracle Mets squad. Still, Ryan is probably much better remembered for his stints with the Angels, Astros and Rangers during his legendary career. Here’s the latest from around the AL West…
- This weekend’s Cubs/Astros series has led to some reflection about Houston’s decision to pass on Kris Bryant in the 2013 draft, but ESPN.com’s Jesse Rogers looks back at another connection between the two clubs. In January 2015, the Astros traded Dexter Fowler to Wrigleyville for Luis Valbuena and Dan Straily, a deal GM Jeff Luhnow said the two sides discussed for over a month before Straily’s inclusion clinched things. While Fowler has been a star over his two seasons for the Cubs, Luhnow has no regrets, given that Fowler was a year away from free agency and Valbuena has been a pretty solid player for the Astros. (This isn’t mentioned in Rogers’ piece, but moving Straily may actually be the bigger loss for Houston. Straily was traded to San Diego in March for Erik Kratz, and the righty developed into a good rotation piece for the Reds this season.)
- Some members of the Astros are frustrated that the team didn’t deal for a top starter at the August 1 trade deadline, but GM Jeff Luhnow says the team ultimately didn’t make a big acquisition because teams were requesting big hauls in return, including players already contributing at the big-league level. Rosenthal notes that the Astros had previously had a surplus of starters, leading them to deal Dan Straily and then, months later, Scott Feldman for minimal returns (or perhaps seemingly minimal returns, since it’s way too early to get a clear read on Lupe Chavez, the very young pitcher the Astros got from the Blue Jays for Feldman). With Lance McCullers and Dallas Keuchel now hurt, though, the Astros might not have enough top starting pitching.
The Astros have more than their share of highly talented young players, but one player they don’t have in their system is Cubs masher Kris Bryant. Houston had the chance to take Bryant with the first pick in the 2013 draft, but they decided on righty Mark Appel instead, and the Cubs snagged Bryant with the next selection. Appel, now 25, has yet to make his big-league debut, and was traded to the Phillies in the Ken Giles deal last offseason. Bryant, meanwhile, leads the NL in home runs, runs scored and OPS+ while anchoring an intimidating Cubs lineup.
The Cubs and Astros are currently playing a series, so Astros GM Jeff Luhnow fielded questions about the Bryant-Appel decision. Here’s some of what he had to say, courtesy of Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.
“There’s a history lesson to be learned about the risk with pitchers vs. position players,” says Luhnow, referring to the tendency of position players to be better bets in the early stages of the draft. “[T]hat’s a history lesson that’s been laid out over a long period of time. Having said that, if you want an impact pitcher, you have to gamble.”
The Astros have had plenty of experience selecting both position players and pitchers with top picks in recent years. Of their ten first-round picks from 2011 to 2016, six were position players, and three of those (George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman) clearly look to be significant parts of their future. Another, outfielder Derek Fisher, was a later selection who doesn’t look like an impact player, but who has consistently hit well in the minors. The others, Kyle Tucker and Daz Cameron, were drafted last year and are still teenagers. Cameron has struggled so far in his pro career, but Tucker’s is off to a fast start, as he’s already advanced all the way to Class A+ Lancaster.
Meanwhile, two of four pitchers the Astros have selected in the first round, Appel and Brady Aiken, have suffered significant speed bumps even though they were both first overall picks, and the Astros famously didn’t even sign Aiken due to a disagreement regarding the Astros’ concerns about his health. One of their other first-round pitching picks was this year’s 17th overall selection, Forrest Whitley, about whom it’s way too early to pass judgment. Even granting the Astros’ success with 2012 supplemental pick Lance McCullers, their experience does seem to bear out the maxim that there are considerable risks to selecting pitchers at the top of the draft.
Nonetheless, Luhnow says the Appel/Bryant decision doesn’t keep him up nights. “We’ve got Carlos Correa. We’ve got Alex Bregman. We’ve got Lance McCullers. Our scouting department has done a nice job with the draft,” he says. “You can always look back and say I should have taken this player instead of that player, but there’s no reason to really dwell on it.”
Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel is shut down at the moment with shoulder issues, but he said today that he has been cleared of structural concerns, as Mark Berman of FOX 26 reports (Twitter links). Tests showed inflammation, but he says the club’s training staff is confident that “a little bit of time” is all that’s needed to heal the joint.
If the issued had arisen earlier in the season, the ’Stros would surely have less immediate concern, as Keuchel could take his time getting back to full strength and embark upon a rehab stint. Plus, it would be easier to fill innings with an outside addition.
As it stands, though, there’s less than a month to go in the regular season and Keuchel’s absence will tell for a club that’s fighting to stay in the Wild Card hunt. Whether he can make it back by season’s end, or for a hopeful postseason run, is “hard to say at this point,” GM Jeff Luhnow tells MLB.com’s Alyson Footer (via Twitter). It doesn’t help that the southpaw won’t have an opportunity to pitch in the minor league system on a rehab assignment.
At this stage of the season, the organization is likely limited to the arms it already has on hand (see the Houston depth chart here) to fill the void in the rotation. Youngster David Paulino received his first major league start recently, but lasted only three innings and coughed up four earned runs with two walks, two wild pitches, and no strikeouts. The Astros received somewhat more promising results from just-activated righty Brad Peacock in his outing, as he allowed one earned in 3 2/3 frames, but he did permit five base knocks and managed only a pair of Ks.
The Astros will be without shortstop Carlos Correa for at least two games as he travels back to Houston to get his ailing shoulder examined, manager A.J. Hinch told reporters, including Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle. Correa is believed to be troubled by some inflammation in his shoulder, and despite his leaving the team, the injury doesn’t appear to be serious in nature just yet, as Hinch said the team’s expectation is that Correa will play at some point this weekend. If that’s the case, it’s a minor hiccup for the Astros, but a more prolonged absence is something the Astros can ill afford as they sit two games back in the American League Wild Card hunt. With Correa absent, Alex Bregman saw his first Major League action at shortstop last night.
- Just-signed righty Vladimir Gutierrez was also pursued by several other clubs before agreeing with the Reds, Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports (Twitter links). The Rangers and Astros were the two primary pursuers who were willing to strike a deal right now, but three other organizations tried to convince the Cuban youngster to wait until the following July 2 signing period to put pen to paper. Meanwhile, Cinci GM Dick Williams says that the club likely won’t be making any other big-dollar signings in the near term.