It’s hard to imagine that we are less than a decade removed from seeing the Astros lose to the White Sox in the 2005 World Series. Yes the same Houston Astros that have reeled off three consecutive 100 loss seasons were once the franchise that featured the likes of the Killer B’s (Bagwell, Biggio, and Berkman), the Rocket, Andy Pettite, and Roy Oswalt. These days the Astros are more known for Youtube gems -like Jonathan Villar’s “Butt Slide”- than they are for winning.
But things are starting to look up in Houston.
One of the (few) benefits of being a perennial cellar dweller is being able to stockpile high draft picks and build a strong farm system, and the Astros have arguably one of the best minor league systems in the game today. When the Astros made the decision to go into full rebuild mode during the 2010 season they did so by beginning to sell off whatever veteran assets they had in exchange for prospects. Franchise stalwarts like Roy Oswalt, Michael Bourn, and Hunter Pence were dealt for the likes of Johnathan Singleton, Jarred Cosart, and Brett Oberholtzer. Those moves, combined with three straight years of futility and 100 loss seasons, ensured the Astros the #1 pick in the past two MLB Amateur drafts; a third straight #1 pick to come in the 2014 MLB Draft.
The Astros cash crop of collected prospects begin to pay off with the MLB debuts of starting pitchers Jarred Cosart and Brett Oberholtzer in 2013 and Wednesday nights debut of highly touted OF prospect George Springer was the most recent of what looks to be an express lane to Minute Maid Field. The 24 year old Springer enjoyed a monstrous season in the minor leagues in 2013. In 492 plate appearances split between AA and AAA Springer batted .303 with 37 HR/108 RBI and 45 stolen bags. Minor leagues or not, those are video game numbers. Springer showed a glimpse of his plus speed when he legged out a swinging bunt for his first career MLB hit. Springer would finish the game 1 for 5.
Now with apologies to Jose Altuve, Dexter Fowler, and Jason Castro; Springer has the tools to immediately become the Astros best player. I know that’s not saying a whole lot considering what the Astros lineup looks like but Springer definitely has the tool set to be an impact type of player. Hopefully he remembers to bring his toolbox though.
With Springer making his debut on Wednesday the question now becomes “Who is next?”
We might not have to wait that long to find out the answer.
The two most “major league ready” of their prospects are big sluggling 1B Jonathan Singelton and SP Mark Appel.
Singleton was acquired by the ‘stros from the Phillies in the Hunter Pence deal back in 2011. Despite being considered “major league ready,” Singleton has yet to appear in an Astros uniform because of his inability to lay off the weed. Singleton had to sit out the first 50 games of the 2013 season for his SECOND failed drug test for Marijuana. Singleton has recently admitted to having a “problem” and has even had Josh Hamilton reach out to him. Hopefully for both Singleton and the Astros he has the ability to overcome his addiction. They could sure use his big power bat at 1B, especially with the open casting call they are currently having at the position.
The Astros had passed up the chance to draft the Stanford righty back in 2012 but opted to go with Carlos Correia instead. Appel, in turn, fell to the Pirates with the 8th pick, and made the decision to head back to school and re-enter the draft in 2013. It was a good decision for both Appel and the Astros as they selected him 1st overall in 2013. Appel is an advanced pitching prospect as far as make-up and pitching repertoire. The Astros are in no real rush with Appel but a lack of impact starters could have Appel in Houston sooner rather than later.
The Astros best prospect -Carlos Correia- is still a couple of years away but he may have the highest ceiling of all the prospects. The Astros surprised the baseball world when they picked the 17 year old SS ahead of Byron Buxton and Mark Appel; making the 17 year old Correia the youngest player ever drafted 1st overall. In his first season in the minors Correia did not disappoint. In 450 plate appearances he hit for a .320 AVG and added 9 HR and 86 RBI; and his .872 OPS led the Midwest League. Although he is big for a SS (6’4) his strong arm, good range, and soft hands should keep him at the position once he hits the majors. Correia is still a few years away from an everyday gig but you could see him make an appearance as a September call up in 2015.
With the Astros slated to select 1st overall for a third straight year it looks like there already deep farm system will only get stronger. The prize prospect in this years draft is N.C State LHP Carlos Rodon and the Astros have already been rumoured to have been in talks with him.
Another losing campaign looks all but a sure thing for the 2014 campaign but the silver lining for the Astros and their fan base is that it is another chance to add a piece to the puzzle.