The Houston Astros are nearing a month into scheduled games of the Grapefruit League. With that, there has been plenty of opportunities for prospects to play with the Major League club and show what they can do. Below are a few prospects that stood out to Jimmy Price and Kenny Van Doren.
Hitter – Justin Dirden
Dirden has been on this list before, but it is hard to not have him here. The left-hander has put together a phenomenal spring so far. He has played in 16 games and has a slash line of .391/.517/.783 with three doubles, two home runs, three RBI and one stolen base. He has also done well in the field with a couple highlight plays in the outfield. Putting these numbers together with his 2022 season, Dirden has continued to rise in the system.
“(Dirden) has that quiet confidence. He can play all three outfield positions, he can run, he can throw,” manager Dusty Baker said, per Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. “There’s not much he can’t do on the baseball field. He’s been impressive from day one.”
The way Dirden has performed this spring, he has made it tough for the Astros to not have him on the Major League club at some point in the 2023 season. -Jimmy Price
Honorable Mention: Korey Lee
Hitter – Corey Julks
After playing all of last season in Triple-A and going unselected in the Rule 5 Draft, Julks has continued to mash into a second spring training as a non-roster invitee. The Houston product is now 9-for-33 this spring with three doubles, one triple, one home run and 10 RBI through 15 games. Julks also broke out two three-run doubles this past week.
Corey Julks 3 run double today. He leads the team with 10 RBI during Spring Training. #Astros pic.twitter.com/eRxFQux0wN
— Astros Future (@AstrosFuture) March 22, 2023
“(Julks has) been impressive, because he’s getting better and better,” Baker said, per McTaggart. “He had a heck of a year last year, down a little bit the year before, but he’s getting better. He’s getting more confidence and getting more comfortable.”
On top of power at the plate, he also stole one base in the past week and a half. Julks stole 22 bags on 27 attempts for Sugar Land in 2022, becoming the first player in club history with 30 or more home runs and 20 or more stolen bases. Defensively, Julks has only played the outfield this spring, showing off his cannon in right field Wednesday. -Kenny Van Doren
Honorable Mention: Kenedy Corona
Pitcher – Ronel Blanco
Following a consecutive scoreless Dominican Winter League campaign this offseason, Blanco entered spring training, battling for the last spot in the Astros bullpen. Earlier in Spring, general manager Dana Brown hinted on an AT&T SportsNet Southwest broadcast and an ESPN broadcast he’d like to see more of Blanco in an extended role, sarcastically asking why Blanco isn’t a starter.
Blanco has continued to be stretched out going 3.1 innings and 3.0 innings over his last two outings. The dominant numbers have continued for him. He hasn’t allowed a run since March 6 and has 17 strikeouts to just 14 innings this spring. Blanco has shown his value this spring, both as a one inning guy or a multi-inning reliever. Houston scheduled him to start Monday against the Sugar Land Space Cowboys at Constellation Field. -Jimmy Price
Honorable Mention: Hunter Brown
Pitcher – Jairo Solis
Taking the mound in lieu of Brown on Wednesday, Solis made his first recorded start since Aug. 1, 2018. Two Tommy John surgeries, a lost season in 2020 and other setbacks plagued a promising career for Solis, who found himself on the 40-man roster in 2021.
Cutting his toe into the rubber for his second Grapefruit League outing Wednesday, Solis showed maturity. Following a four-pitch walk to New York Mets third baseman Eduardo Escobar, he generated two flyouts and struck out Francisco Lindor on three straight fastballs.
After two innings of work, Solis finished with 24 pitches, 15 being for strikes. The righty didn’t allow another base runner, striking out another batter in his outing. His fastball, which he threw 14 times, sat 94.8 mph, as he mixed in curveballs, cutters, sliders and a sinker, according to Baseball Savant. -Kenny Van Doren
Honorable Mention: Jose Betances
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