- The Astros announced the signing of second-rounder Grae Kessinger, a shortstop from Ole Miss. The 68th overall pick, Kessinger received $750K – down from a $953K slot value. Kessinger may move into a second base/utility role in the pros, Callis and Mayo write. Houston also signed fourth-rounder Colin Barber to a deal worth well above slot, Callis relays. Barber, the 136th pick ($410K slot value), received $1MM. The California high schooler and former Oregon commit profiles as a hard-hitting right fielder, Callis writes.
- Speaking of center fielders in fine form, the Astros’ Jake Marisnick departed their game Friday with left knee discomfort, Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle reports. It’s unclear whether the issue will force the Astros to send yet another player to the IL. Marisnick, 28, has paired above-average offense with his usual excellent defense en route to 1.3 fWAR in 156 trips to the plate this year.
The latest out of Houston…
- It has widely been expected that the Astros will target rotation help at the deadline, though Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle wonders if the club could also look at acquiring a reliever. There isn’t much wrong on paper with the Astros’ relief corps, as they rank first in the league in bullpen WHIP, second in hits/9, and third in bullpen ERA, though there is some uncertainty at the back end. Josh James has been inconsistent this season, while Rome notes that Hector Rendon didn’t pitch well down the stretch in 2018. There also isn’t much left-handed depth beyond Cionel Perez and reverse-splits specialist Will Harris.
- Speaking of James, he left last night’s game for what he described as “a precautionary move” due to lat tightness, Rome tweets, and James didn’t consider the issue to be serious. The 26-year-old has a stunning 14.4 K/9 this season, usually operating as a multi-inning weapon out of Houston’s pen, though James has had troubles with the long ball (1.7 HR/9) and his control (5.9 BB/9). As a result, James only has a 4.71 ERA to show for all his missed bats.
- The Astros are close to getting a lot of notable stars back from the injured list, which Rome feels could lead to something of a roster crunch. Tyler White could be the odd man out, as he hasn’t hit this season and offers little defensive value apart from his current status as the Astros’ only backup first baseman. These issues also make the out-of-options White difficult to trade, though given his strong minor league numbers and the .888 OPS he posted for the Astros over 237 PA just last season, one would think another team would make a claim if White was indeed designated for assignment. Tony Kemp is another player whose role could be diminished once Houston’s regulars are healthy, though Kemp’s on-base ability and defensive versatility seemingly give him the leg up on White if a choice had to be made.
- In a separate piece from Rome, he writes about the Astros’ attempts to free up enough room within their $5,355,100 draft bonus pool to sign fourth-round pick Colin Barber. The 136th overall pick has a $410.1K slot price, though Barber reportedly wants more to break his commitment to the University of Oregon. Barber’s asking price isn’t known, though Houston has already carved out approximately $645K in pool space thanks to a few below-slot signings, much of which ($507.3K) came from first-rounder Korey Lee’s contract. Of course, not all of that extra money is earmarked for Barber, given that the Astros have also gone above-slot to sign a couple of their other picks.
The Astros are calling up right-hander Rogelio Armenteros for his big league debut, according to the Pelota Cubana blog (hat tip to Las Mayores’ Francys Romero). Outfielder Derek Fisher is headed back to Triple-A as the corresponding move, as per several outlets. The move will be made official prior to tomorrow’s game.
Signed out of Cuba in 2014, Armenteros has a 3.35 ERA, 3.08 K/BB rate, and a 10.0 K/9 over 475 career innings in Houston’s minor league system (85 of 98 games as a starter). He hasn’t been as sharp at Triple-A this season, with a 5.00 ERA over 45 frames, though it could just be a short-term promotion. GM Jeff Luhnow said (via Mark Berman of FOX 26 News in Houston) that Armenteros is being recalled to give the Astros some extra pitching depth after going to extra innings in three of their last six games, including a 14-inning affair on Wednesday.
MLB.com rates Armenteros as the 22nd-best prospect in the Astros’ farm system, with a “tumbling changeup” that rates as his only plus pitch. Armenteros has hit 95mph on his fastball on occasion, though generally throws in the 88-92mph range, relying more on disguising his four-pitch arsenal. “He has little margin for error and survives by not making many mistakes,” as MLB.com’s scouting report puts it.
Fisher heads back to Triple-A after his latest brief stint in the majors, as he was recalled back on May 25 when George Springer hit the IL. Formerly a top-100 ranked prospect, Fisher has yet to deliver much in parts of three MLB seasons (.201/.282/.367), though with just 312 total plate appearances to his name in the big leagues, he has hardly received much of an extended opportunity to prove himself. It remains to be seen if such a chance, however, will ultimately come given the Astros’ crowded outfield picture when everyone is healthy.
Injured Astros stars Jose Altuve and George Springer are close to returning to game action. Altuve’s on track to begin a rehab assignment this weekend, according to manager A.J. Hinch, and Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle reports Springer may do the same. Ditto for right-hander Collin McHugh. Meanwhile, catcher Max Stassi will begin a rehab assignment Thursday, per Rome (links: 1, 2).
The 29-year-old Altuve originally went to the IL on May 11 with a left hamstring strain – an injury which is no longer an issue. However, shortly after Altuve embarked on a rehab assignment May 25, the Astros shut him down following a setback in his surgically repaired right leg. The normally durable Altuve has now missed the Astros’ past 30 games, and he didn’t perform up to his usual standards before landing on the IL. Across 164 plate appearances, the six-time All-Star has slashed a still-solid .243/.329/.472 (117 wRC+) with nine home runs – though that pales in comparison to his output from 2014-18 – and has stolen just one base after swiping no fewer than 17 in any season since 2012.
Springer, also 29, put himself in the early season AL MVP conversation before suffering a Grade 2 left hamstring strain May 25. Prior to that injury, Springer hit .308/.389/.643 (172 wRC+) with 17 homers in 216 trips to the plate.
McHugh went to the IL with elbow discomfort May 21, continuing a brutal contract season for the normally effective hurler. After thriving out of the Astros’ bullpen in 2018, the 31-year-old McHugh began this season in their rotation and logged a 6.37 ERA/5.19 FIP in 41 innings, though he did post 9.22 K/9 against 3.07 BB/9. The Astros then shifted McHugh back to their bullpen, and he made two appearances in relief before going to the IL.
Perhaps Houston will give McHugh another crack at starting eventually, considering it hasn’t been able to establish a fifth starter behind Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Wade Miley and Brad Peacock. McHugh’s immediate successor, Corbin Martin, was even worse before the team sent him back to Triple-A Round Rock on June 4. The Astros replaced Martin with Framber Valdez, who shut down the Orioles over seven innings in his first start June 8. He’ll take the ball again Saturday against Toronto.
The light-hitting, defensively adept Stassi has been out since May 26 with a left knee injury. The Astros called up prospect Garrett Stubbs to take Stassi’s spot, though starter Robinson Chirinos has gotten almost all of the work.
Even with their myriad injuries, including to franchise shortstop Carlos Correa, the Astros have continued to roll. At 46-23, they boast the majors’ top record. Of course, their already formidable roster will look far more imposing once their reinforcements return. That’s a frightening thought for the rest of the league.
The Astros announced Wednesday that they’ve signed first-round pick Korey Lee. The now-former Cal catcher will receive a $1.75MM bonus that checks in a bit more than $500K south of his No. 32 overall slot’s $2,257,300 value, per Jim Callis of MLB.com (Twitter link). He’s represented by the Boras Corporation, per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link).
The selection of Lee, 20, came as a surprise to some. He wasn’t ranked as a likely first-rounder and drew varying reviews on pre-draft rankings from Fangraphs (No. 45), MLB.com (No. 119) and Baseball America (No. 173). Lee posted a whopping .340/.422/.619 batting line with 14 homers in his junior season, but he’d never hit close to that level in the past. He draws praise for his improved receiving, plus power and arm strength, though he’s considered a below-average runner.
Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen note in their report at Fangraphs that scouts got plenty of looks at Lee when they were on hand to watch his teammate, No. 3 overall pick Andrew Vaughn, and that some clubs picking near the top of the draft were eyeing Lee with their second pick. The Astros clearly were high on Lee themselves and may have feared that he wouldn’t last until their second selection; beyond that, the fact that he’s perhaps viewed as a reach surely helped the team to sign him to an under-slot deal, which will give them extra funds to sign their remaining picks.
- Yordan Alvarez enjoyed a dream debut in the majors today, going 1-for-3 with a walk and his first MLB home run, a two-run blast that proved to be the winning score in Houston’s 4-0 win over Baltimore. The young Astros slugger is considered one of the game’s most promising young bats, though there is far from a consensus on his overall value as a prospect, The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan writes (subscription required). Alvarez is largely seen as a bat-only player, with limited defensive value as a left fielder or first baseman despite some solid athleticism for a man of his size (6’5″, 225 pounds). “Any projection of Alvarez’s future value will take a hit by an evaluator who doesn’t believe he can stick in left,” Kaplan writes, and he speaks to several writers from sites such as Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, and MLB.com about why Alvarez received a pretty wide range of rankings.
- Astros shortstop Aledmys Diaz, who is currently rehabbing from a left hamstring strain, has suffered a setback, according to Jake Kaplan of The Athletic. It’s unknown how long the setback will keep Diaz, who hasn’t played since May 26, on the shelf, but with Carlos Correa out of the lineup, the Astros would like to get Diaz healthy sooner than later. By and large, it’s been Myles Straw and Jack Mayfield seeing the most action at short with both Diaz and Correa sidelined, and while they have filled in capably, neither can match Diaz’s above-average .831 OPS.
TODAY: Alvarez is in today’s lineup as a DH, hitting fifth. In corresponding moves, southpaw Reymin Guduan has been optioned to Triple-A and Lance McCullers Jr. was shifted to the 60-day IL, as per multiple reporters.
SATURDAY: The Astros are set to promote top infield/outfield prospect Yordan Alvarez from Triple-A Round Rock in advance of Sunday’s game, Jake Kaplan of The Athletic reports. Alvarez isn’t on the Astros’ 40-man roster, which is full, so they’ll need to make a corresponding move to create a spot for him.
Alvarez, a soon-to-be 22-year-old from Cuba, joined the Astros in an August 2016 trade with the Dodgers for reliever Josh Fields. Since then, Alvarez has developed into one of baseball’s premier prospects. The lefty-swinging Alvarez has slashed a ridiculous .343/.443/.742 (175 wRC+) with a minor league-leading 23 home runs and 49 walks (including 11 intentional passes) against 50 strikeouts in 253 plate appearances at the Triple-A level this season.
MLB.com is among the outlets with a high opinion of Alvarez, ranking him as the game’s 23rd-best prospect while lauding his offensive upside. At the same time, MLB.com notes the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Alvarez won’t provide much (if any) defensive value. Alvarez has lined up at first base and left field in the minors, and he’s likely to divide his time between LF and designated hitter in his first taste of the majors, per Kaplan. The Astros are in excellent shape in left with Michael Brantley, though they haven’t gotten much production from primary DH Tyler White.
Despite White’s paltry output, the Astros’ offense entered Saturday with the majors’ sixth-most runs and its second-highest wRC+. They also boast the American League’s top record (44-22) and a nine-game lead in their division. However, injuries to Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Aledmys Diaz have taken a bite out of the Astros’ lineup of late, so Alvarez could help in that regard.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Astros have been going without injured offensive cogs George Springer, Jose Altuve and Aledmys Diaz of late. All three are progressing in their recoveries, but they’ll each have to embark on minor league rehab assignments before returning to Houston’s lineup, Daniel Kramer of MLB.com reports.
Springer, who has played just one game since May 20, went on the IL on the 25th with a Grade 2 hamstring strain. Manager A.J. Hinch said then the outfielder would be out for “a while,” but Springer’s now making the most progress of this injured trio, according to the skipper. It remains unclear when Springer will be back, however.
Altuve, down since May 10 with left hamstring and right leg issues, just took batting practice in back-to-back days for the first time since suffering a setback May 28. Diaz, whom the Astros tabbed to replace Altuve at second base when the latter initially went to the shelf, suffered a left hamstring strain May 26. He fielded grounders for the first time Tuesday, per Kramer.
Even with the injury-forced absences of Springer, Altuve, Diaz and star shortstop Carlos Correa, among others, Houston owns the AL’s second-best record (42-20). With a potentially insurmountable 10-game lead over the Rangers in the AL West, the Astros aren’t under pressure to get any of their missing players back soon. As the club continue waiting for their wounded standouts to come back, it’ll keep relying on the likes of Jake Marisnick, Derek Fisher, Tony Kemp, Myles Straw and Jack Mayfield to hold down the fort. Aside from Mayfield, who’s off to a slow start in the first 23 plate appearances of his career, the group has done just that.