TALENT ON DISPLAY

Korey Lee makes his debut as Houston Astros young guns continue to shine

Korey Lee got his first big league at-bat Friday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The future remains bright for many of the Astros' young talents getting their chance to shine on the big stage. On Friday, the Astros called up their number 2 prospect, Korey Lee, a catcher they drafted 32nd overall in 2019. The move came after Houston moved Jason Castro to the 10-day IL, leaving them with only Martin Maldonado at the position on the active roster.

Catcher of the future?

Lee, a 23-year-old from Escondido, California, has quickly advanced through Houston's farm system. He began his minor-league career in single-A in 2019, then after no season in 2020, he resumed play in 2021, where he quickly moved up to double-A, then ultimately received his promotion to triple-A Sugar Land where he spent the last nine games of the season. In 2022, he's been doing well for the Space Cowboys, most recently hitting .271 in June with a .822 OPS.

He brings to the table what the Astros have sorely needed from their catcher's spot: a decent bat. In his minor-league career thus far, Lee is a .258 hitter with 24 homers and 113 RBI in 801 at-bats. Maldonado and Castro are batting .145 and .115, respectively, a low mark that has unfortunately created a soft spot in an otherwise potent lineup. Should Lee get some decent time behind the plate during Castro's IL stint, and he can produce similar numbers at the major-league level, it will be interesting to see how the Astros navigate the rest of this year and beyond with Castro heading to free agency at the conclusion of 2022.

Javier continues to deal

Meanwhile, Houston has a young pitcher that has blossomed into a bona fide force on the mound recently. Cristian Javier has shown plenty of potential in the last three years, maintaining a respectable ERA whether he's been asked to start or come out of the bullpen. His most recent two starts in particular, though, have been magnificent.

Unless you're disconnected from some of sport's leading headlines, you probably heard that the Astros put together a combined no-hitter against the Yankees on June 25th. Javier was the cornerstone of the accomplishment, holding one of the league's most dangerous lineups without a hit over seven innings of work, before Houston's bullpen backed him up with two more.

He followed that up Friday night against the Angels with another gem, this time allowing just one hit, a first-inning solo homer by Shohei Ohtani, over seven more innings of work. Not only did that bring him to 14 total innings with just one hit, but he has also struck out 27 batters over those fourteen innings, nearly two per inning while issuing just one walk. His stuff has been nearly unhittable, putting an excellent problem in front of the Astros as other pitchers like Jake Odorizzi and, eventually, Lance McCullers Jr. get healthy, and they figure out how to build the best rotation.

More young guns putting in work

Speaking of returns from injury, the Astros were able to have Jake Meyers return to the active roster after suffering a shoulder injury in the 2021 playoffs. He's done well in his seven games so far, most recently going 2-for-4 Friday night with a solo homer and two-RBI single that helped lead the Astros to their 8-1 victory.

Another top prospect putting in rehab work right now is Forrest Whitley, who is somehow still only 24 despite feeling like Houston's most coveted prospect for nearly a decade. He's made three shortened starts so far in 2022 across the lower levels of the minors, giving up three runs in the first game but posting back-to-back games with no runs across five innings of total work. He's set to make his return to triple-A on Monday, making a start for Sugar Land to further test where he stands in his recovery from Tommy John surgery.

The trade deadline looms

As is the case every year, speculations run rampant regarding what teams are looking to do as the deadline to make trades nears. We are a month away from 2022's deadline of August 2nd, meaning things are starting to ratchet into gear. Teams, like the Astros, will likely be using the month of July to see where their young talent stands, not just for personal gain should they need to make call-ups or fill their roster in the second half of the season, but to have potential bait to lure in partners for deals to bring some veteran talent to a team that might need that extra push.

Houston should absolutely be engaged in talks to improve the team this season while their championship window remains open. But, how much value will they be willing to part with to get it? We should find out within the next month.

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