Friday’s reports that the Houston Astros are among teams interested in acquiring right-handed pitcher Luis Castillo from the Cincinnati Reds – from WFAN’s Sweeny Murti and Newsday’s Erik Boland, among others – left many Reds fans wondering whether Cincinnati might look to acquire any of the Astros’ top prospects in exchange for the National League All-Star.
Earlier this week, a report from MLB Network’s Jon Morosi that the Los Angeles Dodgers have had preliminary trade conversations with the Reds about Castillo put the Dodgers’ top prospects on the radar for Reds fans.
MLB Pipeline ranks just one Astros prospect – right-handed pitcher Hunter Brown – among its most recent top 100, checking in at No. 83. Brown, 23, is 6-3 with a 2.38 ERA and 1.111 WHIP – with 97 strikeouts and just three homers allowed in 72 innings – for the Triple-A Sugar Land Space Cowboys this season. He was a fifth-round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft.
MLB Pipeline analysis of Brown:
Scouting grades: Fastball: 65 | Curveball: 65 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 45 | Control: 45 | Overall: 55
Brown’s only college offer as a suburban Detroit high schooler came from nearby Wayne State and he didn’t become a full-time starter at the NCAA Division II school until his junior season. He dominated that spring and went in the fifth round of the 2019 Draft, matching Anthony Bass as the Warriors’ highest pick ever. After making huge strides with his curveball during the pandemic shutdown, he made his full-season debut in Double-A last May and earned a promotion to Triple-A three months later.
Brown showed that he could maintain premium velocity in college and continued to do so over a long pro season in 2021, when he still sat in the mid-90s and hit 99 mph with some riding action on his four-seam fastball in September. But his most devastating weapon is a power curveball that sits in the low 80s and seems to drop off the table coming out of his high three-quarters arm slot. He also has a mid-80s slider with more horizontal action and a fading changeup with similar velocity that’s most effective when he leverages it down in the zone.
While there’s no question about Brown’s pure stuff, he’s still working on his feel for pitching. He doesn’t fully trust his changeup or repeat his delivery consistently, though his control did improve during his two months in Triple-A. The Astros love his work ethic, citing the gains he made while pitching off a homemade mound in his backyard during the 2020 layoff.
More from MLB.com about the four players who round out the team’s top five prospects, including analysis from the website:
Catcher Korey Lee, age 23
Scouting grades: Hit: 45 | Power: 55 | Run: 40 | Arm: 70 | Field: 50 | Overall: 50
Lee went from posting a .724 OPS as a part-time player in his first two college seasons at California to batting .337/.416/.619 in 2019 while batting behind No. 3 overall pick Andrew Vaughn. Though most teams evaluated Lee as more of a third-round talent, the Astros bought into his raw power and arm strength and selected him 32nd overall, where he signed for a below-slot $1.75 million. After losing a year of development to the pandemic layoff, he moved from High-A to Triple-A during his 2021 full-season debut and demonstrated improvement on both sides of the ball.
SS/OF Pedro Leon, age 24
Scouting grades: Hit: 45 | Power: 50 | Run: 70 | Arm: 80 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45
A Cuban defector who was declared a free agent in December 2019, Leon waited until January 2021 to sign for $4 million, the largest bonus in the 2020-21 international class. The Astros pushed him aggressively in his U.S. debut, starting him in Double-A, promoting him to Triple-A after 10 weeks and playing him primarily at shortstop despite most of his prior experience coming in center field. He batted just .220/.339/.369 with a 31 percent strikeout rate, though that came after a two-year layoff and against far more advanced pitching than he had faced previously, and he was starting to take off before breaking his left pinky on a slide and missing nearly two months.
RHP Forrest Whitley, age 24
Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Curveball: 60 | Slider: 55 | Cutter: 55 | Changeup: 60 | Control: 45 | Overall: 45
Whitley has gone from the game’s top pitching prospect to its most enigmatic. He reached Double-A and seemed on the verge of the big leagues one year after the Astros made him the 16th overall pick in 2016 Draft out of a Texas high school. But he almost all of his success since then has come in two dominant Arizona Fall League stints because he has missed time with a 50-game suspension for violating the Minor League drug program plus minor oblique and lat injuries (2018), right shoulder inflammation and command issues (2019), the pandemic shutdown and elbow soreness (2020) and Tommy John surgery (2021) that will sideline him until mid-2022.
OF Colin Barber, age 21
Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 50 | Run: 55 | Arm: 50 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45
Barber’s combination of power potential and speed earned him an over-slot $1 million bonus as a fourth-round pick in 2019. Because of the pandemic shutdown in 2020 and labrum surgery on his right (non-throwing) shoulder in 2021, he accrued just 141 at-bats in his first three years as a pro, including only 42 in full-season ball. The Astros still have high hopes for him and believe his tools and work ethic will allow him to rebound from all that lost time, and one club official likens his intensity to Alex Bregman’s.
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This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Reds may seek Astros’ top prospects in Luis Castillo trade talks