MLB.com Columnist

Jim Callis

Astros' instructs showcases remarkable outfield depth

Astros' instructs showcases remarkable outfield depth

The Astros won't face a shortage of outfield options anytime soon. George Springer already is one of the cornerstones on the big league club. Jake Marisnick is a gifted defender, albeit with a light bat. Derek Fisher and Teoscar Hernandez are 20-20 threats on the verge of claiming full-time jobs in Houston.

There's another impressive wave of Astros outfielders behind that group, many of whom are on hand at the organization's instructional league camp in Kissimmee, Fla. Kyle Tucker, Daz Cameron, Gilberto Celestino, Ronnie Dawson, Stephen Wrenn and Myles Straw are part of a 54-player contingent that reported on Sept. 16 and will receive postseason instruction through Oct. 14.

• Astros' Top 30 Prospects list

For a guy who was considered the best pure high school hitter in the 2015 Draft and went fifth overall, Tucker flew somewhat under the radar during his first full pro season. That wasn't because of a lack of performance, however. He batted a combined .285/.360/.438 with 41 extra-base hits (nine homers) and 32 steals in 117 games between two Class A stops at age 19.

Astros Top 30 Prospects at instructs
2. Kyle Tucker, OF
3. Forrest Whitley, RHP
6. Daz Cameron, OF
11. Miguelangel Sierra, SS/2B
14. Jonathan Arauz, SS/2B
15. Gilberto Celestino, OF
18. Ronnie Dawson, OF
20. Anibal Sierra, SS
23. Guadalupe Chavez, RHP
24. Jake Rogers, C
25. Stephen Wrenn, OF

"People don't realize how young he is and how special it is to play like that," Houston farm director Pete Putila said. "For me, he's a contact machine who wouldn't strike out at all if he wanted to. It's just a matter of turning on balls and using his body more to put more of a charge into the ball. He just needs to get more at-bats and refine his approach to get pitches to drive."

Cameron, who matched Tucker's $4 million bonus as a supplemental first-round pick in the same 2015 Draft, is making up for lost at-bats after a broken left index finger ended his first full pro season in early July. Straw, a less-heralded 2015 draftee taken in the 12th round out of St. John's River (Fla.) CC, is working on driving the ball more consistently after leading the Minors with a .358 average.

Dawson (second round) and Wrenn (sixth round) are college products from this year's Draft who mix power (Dawson's best tool) and speed (Wrenn's best). Celestino, the youngest player in Astros camp at age 17, signed for $2.5 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2015 and reached the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League during his pro debut this summer. As a quality defender despite just average speed, he garners comparisons to the Cubs' Albert Almora Jr.

"Coaches rave about how natural his jumps are and how quick he is to the ball," Putila said. "Offensively, he's still growing into his body, but he had a very successful Dominican Summer League debut and held his own when he was promoted to the GCL."

Whitley focusing on delivery

Of the nine players Houston signed in the top 10 rounds of the 2016 Draft, all are taking part in instructional league, with one exception. Fourth-round left-hander Brett Adcock is rehabbing after having surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee.

First-rounder Forrest Whitley, a high school right-hander from Texas, won't pitch in any games, but he will work on his mechanics. He has all the ingredients to become a front-line starter, from stuff (beginning with a lively mid-90s fastball and a power curveball) to size (6-foot-7, 240 pounds) to command to mound presence.

Top Prospects: Whitley, HOU

"As a high school pitcher, we had an innings cap on him, though he'll throw some live bullpen [sessions]," Putila said. "He's really honing in on his delivery. He's a really smart kid with great makeup, very humble. He has really incredible stuff. I'm looking forward to seeing what he does next year."

The Astros drafted Abraham Toro-Hernandez in the fifth round as a third baseman, but they are using the instructional league to give him some time behind the plate. He did get some catching experience at Seminole State (Okla.) JC, where he ranked among the national juco leaders this spring with 20 homers and an .849 slugging percentage.

"Toro has a good arm and he's athletic," Putila said. "Mark Bailey, our catching coordinator, is working with him. He's a super-makeup guy who really has a lot of tools, which makes him all the more intriguing."

Dominican arms worth watching

None of them have cracked MLBPipeline's Astros Top 30 Prospects list yet, but there are several impressive young Dominican pitchers in Houston's instructional league program.

Right-hander Jorge Alcala might have the best combination of stuff and polish, with a 93-95 mph fastball and a power slurve that he can locate in the strike zone. Righties Enoli Paredes and Hector Perez are still figuring out control and command, but they can hit 96 mph and uncork some nasty sliders.

The top lefty in Astros camp is Framber Valdez, who owns a heavy 91-96 mph fastball that misses bats and elicits ground balls, a curveball that ranks among the best in the system and a promising changeup. While righty Cristian Javier can't match their stuff, working at 88-92 mph with decent secondary pitches, he does have advanced pitchability for a teenager.

The hardest thrower in Kissimmee is righty Jorge Guzman, who can operate at 97-100 mph and peak at 103. He's making strides with his low-80s slurve and with toning down his delivery so he can throw more strikes.

"He's working on being under control a little more," Putila said. "We'll tell him to throw at 60 or 70 percent and he'll hit the mitt every time. He'll say he's not throwing hard and then we'll show him the gun, and it's an easy 96-97."

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.