Major League Baseball's offseason is in full swing, and that means everyone is thinking about the future. In most cities, that means next season; in some, though, it means the bigger picture, the next three to five years. You're either selling wins or you're selling hope, the old saying goes. We here at CBS Sports like to provide as much hope as we can around this time of the winter by evaluating each team's farm system.
Of course, that doesn't mean every team has an equally good farm system -- some, as you'll find out throughout this process, are lacking in that respect. It does mean, nevertheless, that CBS Sports will be spending the next few weeks examining the top three prospects in each organization. We define "prospects" as retaining their rookie eligibility for the 2023 season, so if a young player is missing that's likely why.
These lists and evaluations are formed following conversations with scouts, analysts, and player development types. There's also firsthand evaluation and bias thrown into the mix. Keep in mind that player evaluation is a hard task, and it's fine if you disagree with the rankings. These are opinions, and they have no real bearing on the future..
With that in mind, let's get to it by dissecting the Houston Astros.
1. Hunter Brown, RHP (2023 seasonal age: 24)
Brown made his debut last September, joining Blue Jays reliever Anthony Bass as the only players from Wayne State University to appear in the majors since 1990. He made a good first impression while working primarily out of the bullpen, striking out 22 batters in 20 innings. Brown's mid-to-upper-90s fastball led the way, though he also chucked his swing-and-miss curveball more than 30 percent of the time and deployed his slider often enough to keep batters honest. The big question with Brown is whether or not he has the command to start. The Astros have the rotation depth to provide him with additional reps in Triple-A if they so desire. Even if he ends up pitching in relief, he should be able to contribute in a high-leverage role.
2. Yainer Diaz, C/OF/1B (2023 seasonal age: 24)
Acquired from the Guardians in 2021 as part of the Myles Straw-Phil Maton swap, Diaz made his big-league debut in September. He appeared in six games after spending the season battering high-minors pitching to the tune of a combined .306/.356/.542 slash line. Diaz seldom walks, but he has above-average strength and he's shown enough feel for contact to keep his strikeout rate in check. The Astros have limited his exposure behind the plate, letting him crosstrain at first base and in the outfield throughout the last season and a half. It stands to reason that's how Houston will employ Diaz in the future, having him ping-pong around to secure at-bats. Given his offensive upside, that could make him one of the league's most interesting utility types.
3. Drew Gilbert, OF (2023 seasonal age: 22)
The Astros drafted Gilbert with the 28th pick last July, making him their first first-round pick since they selected catcher Korey Lee with the 32nd pick in 2019. (They were stripped of their top picks in 2020 and 2021 as part of their punishment for the sign-stealing scandal.) Gilbert's a high-energy center fielder from Tennessee who batted .362/.455/.673 last spring with more walks than strikeouts. Unfortunately, he appeared in just 10 professional games before his year ended because of a dislocated elbow he suffered in a collision with an outfield wall, though he's expected to be ready for spring training. Scouts believe in his defensive ability, but have questioned if his bat will translate enough for him to serve as more than a fourth outfielder type.