Eight short years ago, the Astros were the best team in the National League and in their first World Series in franchise history.
But, those eight years feel like an eternity for Astros fans. All of those players from the World Series team are long gone. The Astros are not even a member of the National League anymore as they switched leagues to become a punching bag for teams in the mighty AL West. Last season they completed their third straight 100 plus loss season, and have not finished better than fourth place in the past five years.
Taking a look at the current Astros things look bleak. Every veteran is gone, and the longest tenured player on the team is catcher, Jason Castro, who made his debut in 2010.
However on the bright side, there are three Astros that will play a big part in their future. First is pesky leadoff man, Jose Altuve. At 5’5, the second baseman is one of the smallest players in the league, but that doesn’t mean that he is an easy out. Altuve is a great bat who gets on base at the top of the order. A second player, who impressed last year with his power, was first baseman Chris Carter. The 26 year old Carter drove the ball all over the park last season and mashed 29 homeruns. The down side of Carter is the strikeouts. Last year, he led the league with 212 strikeouts, an epidemic that much of the team had last season. Finally pitcher, Jarred Cosart, gives them something to smile about on the mound. Cosart, a key piece of the Hunter Pence trade, made his debut last year and was very successful. Cosart’s blazing fastball was able to help him keep his ERA under two for his ten starts. He is expected to be a long lasting top rotation starter.
While these players are strong, the key to the Astros’ success is the development of the top prospects in the minor leagues during the next few seasons.
40-40 players in baseball are very rare at any level, and George Springer almost made that happen last year while playing two levels of minor league ball. Springer stole 45 bases, and hit 37 homeruns. He also showed solid awareness at the plate by hitting .303 and having a .411 OBP. His glove is also one of the system’s best. Former Major League Scout, Bernie Pleskoff, raved, about his defensive prowess saying Springer has “Outstanding range in all directions…and Springer’s arm strength is above Major League average.” He says that he will soon become a “Gold Glove defender.” His only drawback as a player so far has been his strikeouts. He has struck out over 150 times in each of his past two minor league seasons. With his plate discipline improving, these strikeout numbers should see a decline. Springer played the final months of last season in AAA and should be expected to patrol centerfield with the big club by June 2014 at the latest.
Shortstop, Carlos Correa, was selected with the first pick of the 2012 draft, and is now currently rated as the number one prospect in the Astro’s system by MLB.com. At just the age of 19, Correa dominated the Midwest League, batting .320 with nine homeruns. As he matures his power numbers should continue to rise. Like Springer, Correa has an above average glove and throwing arm that were both rated the best in the Astro’s system by Baseball America. The sky is the limit for Correa as he climbs the ladder to the big leagues.
In 2012, many around baseball thought that Mark Appel would be taken with the first overall pick by the Astros, instead of Correa. Appel, instead was passed, and taken eighth by the Pirates. Appel decided to go back to school and finish his senior season, and was selected number one overall a year later by the Astros. Appel showed in college he had dominating stuff by averaging 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings in his senior season. He was very impressive in his minor league debut as well, holding opposing batters to just a .236 batting average in his ten starts. He is certainly on the fast track to the major leagues, and with Cosart, the Astros have a legitimate 1-2 combination soon.
Counting on prospects can be a very risky proposition, but these three players all seem to be heading in the right direction. If they can perform the same way when they get to Houston, fans may start to forget about the struggles and look toward the future pennants.
Stats Compiled By Baseball Reference