The deadline for teams to add players to their 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 draft is later tonight, and the Astros have made a set of moves to protect eligible prospects Cristian Javier, Enoli Paredes, Taylor Jones and Nivaldo Rodriguez. All four would have been likely to be selected if left off the 40-man.
The biggest name of the group is Cristian Javier, a right handed starting pitcher who enjoyed one of the best statistical seasons of any hurler in the minor leagues this past season. Pitching across three levels, Javier accumulated 170 strikeouts in just 113 and 2⁄3 innings, against 59 walks. Javier’s unique delivery attacks hitters from a bit of an angle, and he brings an arsenal of five legitimate offerings. These traits in combination make Javier very difficult to step in against, and thus far minor league hitters have been unable to solve him. He flirted with a big league call-up in 2019, and could be given a real shot to break camp with the Astros in 2020 depending on what moves they make in the pitching market.
Enoli Paredes also had a very strong season on the farm, and possesses perhaps the best raw stuff in the system now that J.B. Bukauskas is with the Diamondbacks. The wiry, 5’11” hurler possesses mid-90s velocity that touches higher, a curveball that has drawn 7 grades, a strong changeup and a slider that he will mix in occasionally. His arsenal is that of a starter, and he’s worked primarily as one with the Astros thus far. However, his slight frame and max-effort delivery have him ticketed for relief in the eyes of many, and he’s close to ready to throw in the majors in that role. With that in mind, he was very likely to be selected in the Rule 5 if unprotected, and would’ve had a good chance to stick with his new club to boot. After throwing 94 innings in 22 appearances in 2019, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Astros shift him exclusively to short relief in 2020, but they may prefer him in a hybrid multi-inning role, where he’d have the stuff to succeed.
The lone position player of the group, Jones had a breakout 2019 campaign and was perhaps a single injury away from joining the Astros last season. A 19th round pick in 2016, Jones comes from a basketball background, unsurprising considering his 6’7” frame. After an illustrious two sport career in the Washington state prep ranks, Jones joined the Gonzaga baseball club, where he worked as a pitcher early on. Having struggled with control on the mound, Jones was transitioned to first base as a junior, a role in which he enjoyed great success. After hitting .358/.414/.545, the Cubs took a stab on him in the 35th round, but Jones decided to head back to Spokane and seek to bolster his stock as a senior. His numbers actually took a bit of a step back in his senior year, but the Astros liked what they saw and popped him early on day 3 of the draft.
Early in his pro days Jones largely struggled, but had encouraging strikeout and walk rates, and showed signs of a breakout in Double-A in 2018, hitting .314/.409/.528 for Corpus with 13 home runs. Jones was notably old for the level at age 24, but given his lack of experience as a hitter compared to his peers, his advanced age was a bit less concerning than it would be typically. His upward trajectory continued into 2019, when he clubbed 27 home runs across Double and Triple-A, with 22 of those coming in Round Rock. After hitting 15 home runs across 2016 and 2017 in the pros, Jones appears to have made the necessary adjustments to tap into his considerable raw power, and should get a chance to prove he has a future as a big league bat in 2020. He’s more or less ready to go and would likely be first on the list for a call-up if the Astros suffered an injury to a corner type.
The last player protected was right handed pitcher Nivaldo Rodriguez, who enjoyed a very strong 2019 across the Low and High-A levels. Across 95 innings, Rodriguez struck out 114 against 35 walks and 28 earned runs. Rodriguez lacks the high level velocity of a Paredes, but has been able to confound hitters with a plus curveball and strike-throwing ability. Rodriguez hasn’t pitched very high on the ladder yet, but has had success everywhere he’s been assigned as has impressive polish for a pitcher who is yet to reach the upper minors. It’s very easy to envision Rodriguez as either a #4-5 starter or a middle relief type depending on how impactful his command is and how his sinking change develops, and he shouldn’t need much more seasoning to reach most of his potential.
The Astros’ 40 man may be finalized at this point, but if history is any indication, we shouldn’t be surprised if they make another move later today ahead of the deadline. The 2019 Rule 5 draft will be held December 12th.
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