March 28, 2023

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No. 21 prospect clubs first two-homer game

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Welcome to the Astros prospect update, where you’ll find news, promotions and standout performances, all year long.

Brewer notches first multihomer game (April 17)
In 65 games last season, Jordan Brewer clubbed six home runs. In six games this season, he’s already halfway to his 2021 total, thanks to his first career multihomer game in High-A Asheville’s 10-9 loss.

The No. 21 prospect saw one pitch to lead off the bottom of the first before smacking his second homer in as many games over the left-field fence to give the Tourists an early lead. He very quickly added a second long ball in the very next frame, parking an 0-2 pitch to the same spot in left. Brewer didn’t get another hit in the game, but he added a walk and scored on a home run to complete his day. The outfielder has collected seven hits in the past three games and owns a .364/.481/.909 line with six RBIs, four walks and four steals to begin the season. — Stephanie Sheehan

Brown finds his groove out of relief (April 12)
Right-handed pitching prospect Hunter Brown’s second outing for Triple-A Sugar Land this year completely flipped the script from his first time on the hill when he walked five batters. The Astros’ No. 3 prospect took on a relief role Tuesday and slung 46 of his 63 pitches for strikes, compiling seven strikeouts over five scoreless innings.

The Astros’ top-ranked pitching prospect boasts a top-tier curveball on the scouting grade scale, one which he deftly displayed in the club’s home opener against Round Rock.

After racking up 11.8 K/9 IP across Double-A Corpus Christi and Sugar Land last season, Brown is off to a similarly potent start to 2022 with 11 strikeouts across his first two appearances. — Jesse Borek

Peña off to a hot start in the bigs (April 8)
Jeremy Peña, the Astros’ No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, wasted no time acclimating himself to the Majors as he launched his first home run — while his parents were being interviewed — on a three-hit night. Story >

Peña caps Grapefruit League slate with two blasts (April 3)
Jeremy Peña, the Astros’ No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, homered in back-to-back innings in Houston’s 9-6 loss to Washington on Sunday. “You always want to leave spring feeling good, especially at the plate, and the swing feels pretty good,” he said. Story >

Leon made great impression on Baker (March 30)
Before the Astros informed infielder-outfielder Pedro Leon that he was being reassigned to Minor League camp on Wednesday, manager Dusty Baker delivered a message: “I just told him he did a great job. He impressed us big time, and just stay on the same path and program that he’s on.”

Leon, the 23-year-old Cuban ranked the team’s No. 4 prospect by MLB Pipeline, will begin the year in Triple-A, where he will continue to split time between shortstop and center field with Sugar Land, but he could be knocking at the big league door later this year. Leon, who signed for $4 million in January 2021, was 3-for-8 in the spring with a homer off Adam Wainwright.

“We made a few adjustments and changes in his swing and his leg kick,” Baker said. “We felt it was too high. That’s what we’re here for, to help him get things straight that aren’t right, and the rest of it is up to them to do it. … I think he’s one of the best we have out there. I only have one vote. I’m just hoping the young man continues to progress.” — Brian McTaggart

Leon takes veteran ace Wainwright deep (March 23)
Pedro Leon, the Astros’ No. 4 prospect as ranked by MLB Pipeline, made a solid impression in Wednesday’s 10-3 win over the Cardinals by hitting a long home run off Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright in the second inning. Leon, the 23-year-old Cuban defector who signed for $4 million last year and was billed by the club as a “rapid mover to the big leagues,” isn’t expected to make the team out of camp, but he could push for playing time in center field or at shortstop later this year. — Brian McTaggart

“I feel really good about it, because I can tell what I did with the hitting coaches in the offseason is working,” Leon said. “All the Cuban guys have been helping me a lot and telling me there’s no pressure and to go play and have fun.”

Manager Dusty Baker praised Leon’s work ethic and is taking notice of Leon’s positive results at the plate.

“The young man is supposed to feel good about it, because we feel good about it,” Baker said. “He’s worked hard. He’s worked real hard at short and center field. Today he was in center field and he makes all the plays. And he’s getting better.” — Brian McTaggart

Adjustments pay off for Julks (March 17)
The second-half surge last year by outfielder Corey Julks with Double-A Corpus Christi wasn’t a fluke. After a so-so first half, the Astros sent him to West Palm Beach for a couple of weeks in July to break down and refine his swing. The goal was to produce more power by cleaning up some of his movements to help him start elevating the ball more.

Julks, 26, slashed .272/.320/.412 in his first 147 plate appearances and .297/.369/.545 in his final 225 plate appearances. It added up to a .287/.350/.491 slash line (.841 OPS) with 14 homers and 36 RBIs at Double-A Corpus Christi.

“Initially, it was tough,” he said. “But the coaching staff did a great job telling me to keep working. Just work through it, keep my head down, don’t worry about stuff. And then, with that being done, I was able to work without worrying about actually playing in the games and stuff, so I could just focus on working.”

Julks, who is working out at third base this spring, has always had good plate discipline and contact skills, but he was going to have to hit for more power to reach the big leagues. If he can keep up the power production at Triple-A to start the season, he could be in the big leagues this year.

“He made some adjustments using his lower body better, and really had immediate results,” Astros assistant general manager for player development Pete Putila said. “You never know what’s going to happen with a player working on something, especially in the middle of the season, but I give him a lot of credit for buying into it and putting in the work. Not only putting in the work, but immediately being able to transfer it onto the field. We saw higher exit velocities and the production was there, as well. He has a really solid profile now.” — Brian McTaggart

Confidence the key for emergence of Bermudez (March 15)
At 26 years old, Astros pitcher Jonathan Bermudez isn’t ranked among the team’s top 30 prospects by MLB Pipeline, but the club thought so much of the left-hander that it added him to its 40-man roster in November after he was named the club’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2021.

Bermudez posted a 3.24 ERA in 25 games last year split between Triple-A Sugar Land and Double-A Corpus Christi. He struck out 146 batters and walked only 34 in 111 innings. His 4.29 strikeout-to-walk-ratio was the best of any Astros Minor Leaguer to throw at least 70 innings, and his 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings was second best among that group.

Bermudez credits his personal pitching coach in Dallas, Omar Washington, with helping him build his confidence.

“The offseason work [prior to 2021] was big for me, with my pitching coach,” Bermudez said. “I’ve got to thank him a lot. He helped me work on my mechanics and my focus. I think that was one of the big parts for me last year.”

Once things began to click for Bermudez following the first month of the season last year, his confidence took off and he was able to earn a promotion to Sugar Land in August. Bermudez, who’s in his first Major League camp, has a vast repertoire that includes a fastball, a curveball, a slider, a sinker, a cutter and two changeups.

“A little bit of everything,” he said. “I don’t throw 99 [mph] so I’ve got to make my fastball look hard.”

The Astros selected Bermudez in the 23rd round of the 2018 Draft from Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla. — Brian McTaggart

Whitley making progress following TJ surgery (March 14)
One year removed from undergoing Tommy John surgery, former Astros top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley is throwing twice weekly in the bullpen and is tentatively eyeing a late May or early June return to game action. Whitley hasn’t appeared in a Minor League game since 2019, losing the ’20 season to COVID-19 and last year to the elbow injury.

“I knew my elbow had been messed up for years,” Whitley said. “It never felt right, ever since 2017, ’18 — just kind of was up and down, and I hurt it that one time definitively during the summer camp in 2020. I knew things weren’t right in my elbow, and so then once I tore it, it was almost like, ‘Finally.’ I know that sounds weird, but I got the surgery and did the rehab and honestly couldn’t be in a better spot right now. I feel really, really good.”

Whitley, the team’s No. 5-ranked prospect, initially hurt his elbow in 2020 and underwent rehab the entire offseason. Things were going well until he blew out his elbow while throwing his first live batting-practice session last spring. He underwent surgery March 17. Whitley, 24, said the 2022 season will be about getting healthy.

“Just getting the elbow right and making sure that doesn’t happen again and kind of getting my feet wet again really,” Whitley said. “At the same time, it would be great to help the team contribute to some wins up there, but the main focus this year is staying healthy.”

In 2019, Whitley posted a 7.99 ERA across four Minor League levels, including a 12.21 mark at Triple-A Round Rock, before being placed on the injured list with shoulder fatigue. In 2018, he was suspended 50 games for a violation of the Minor League drug prevention and treatment program and sustained two oblique injuries. The year prior, he appeared in 23 games across three levels while posting a 2.83 ERA with 143 strikeouts over 92 1/3 innings. — Brian McTaggart

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