Jim Crane

Spring is approaching, and with it comes the Major League Baseball season.

For the last several years, that statement has not brought very much excitement to fans of the Houston Astros.

The Astros, or “Lastros” as many Houston fans have come to know them, have posted at least 100 losses and finished in the division cellar each of the last three seasons.

This year, the Astros and their fan base have plenty of reason to be excited. The organization has slowly assembled the top ranked farm system in all of baseball.

When Jim Crane took over the organization in late 2011, the game plan was to cut payroll by trading big names like Hunter Pence, Lance Berkman, and Carlos Lee for young prospects – rebuilding from the ground up.

Unloading the team’s best talent certainly did the job. The Astros plummeted in the standings, earning high first round picks in the MLB Draft over the last few seasons.

Now, Houston is beginning to realize the fruits of its labor. Outfielder George Springer and shortstop Carlos Correa are widely regarded among the top prospects in all of major league baseball.

Springer has noticeable power and won’t stay in the minor leagues for too much longer. He posted a .303 average with a staggering 37 homeruns in 2013 for the Corpus Christi Hooks and Oklahoma City Redhawks, the Astros’ AA and AAA affiliates.

Springer will make Astros fans forget all about the loss of Hunter Pence in 2011. He’s the same type of player – tons of power when he makes contact with the ball, and plenty of speed around the bases to go along with it.

That said, few people are talking about starting pitcher Michael Foltynewicz of the Corpus Christi Hooks. Foltynewicz posted a sub three ERA in over one hundred innings last season in Corpus.

That seems typical for minor league players with decent talent, but what makes Foltynewicz so special is his fastball, which tops out at over 100 mph.

It’s clear that the Astros have talent everywhere, exceptional talent. To put the impact of it’s rebuilding process in perspective, here is a look at what Houston’s roster could look like within the next three years:

 

Starting Lineup:

1. 2B Jose Altuve – Current Astros second baseman

2. SS Carlos Correa – 2012 first overall selection

3. OF George Springer – 2011 11th overall selection

4. 1B Jonathan Singleton – Acquired from the Phillies in the Hunter Pence trade 

5. C Jason Castro – 2008 10th overall selection

6. 3B Matt Dominguez – 2007 12th overall selection

7. OF Delino DeShields – 2010 eighth overall selection

8. OF Domingo Santana – Acquired in the Hunter Pence trade

Pitching Rotation:

Mark Appel – 2013 first overall selection

Carlos Rondon – 2014 projected first overall selection

Michael Foltynewicz – 2010 19th overall selection

Jarred Cosart – 1.95 ERA in 10 games in 2013 

Brett Oberholtzer – Acquired in Michael Bourn trade

 

If all of these players took the field today, the average age of the Houston Astros would be 23.

Jim Crane and his front office have done an excellent job of keeping all of the young stars under contract with big signing bonuses and lucrative minor league deals.

General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Crane are waiting to bring all of the key players up together. Once that happens, Crane is expected to fork out a little more money for a few key free agents to put his club back into contention. 

The Houston Astros’ Jose Altuve gets his first major league hit in the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals on Wednesday in Houston. It was Altuve’s first game with the Astros after being brought up from the Corpus Christi minor league team.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

It wasn’t too long ago that star players such as Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt were the backbone of the Houston Astros, but the pair, part of the 2005 World Series team, have since left for other teams, and once again the Astros are searching for their identity.

With the MLB trade deadline looming, more players could be on their way out of Houston as owner Jim Crane prepares to rebuild his new team. There are murmurs that even Hunter Pence could be in for a change of scenery by the July 31 deadline.

On Tuesday, Jeff Keppinger became the first Astro to be shipped off — sent to San Francisco for minor league pitchers Henry Sosa and Jason Stoffel. Along with the acquisition of these two promising pitchers, the Astros also purchased the contract of second baseman Jose Altuve from Double-A Corpus Christi. Keppinger had been used often at second base, as well as multiple other spots in the infield, but his departure clears the way for Altuve, one of the Astros’ top prospects.

The 21-year-old has a combined .389 average between Single-A and Double-A clubs this year, and was Houston’s representative in this year’s Futures Game during the All-Star break. At 5-foot-7, Altuve conjures images of other diminutive infielders such as Dustin Pedroia and David Eckstein, both of which have enjoyed prolonged success at the major league level. With his high batting average, Altuve should bring a sense of consistency to the lineup — something that has gone by the wayside this year for the Astros. In his major league debut Wednesday, Altuve went 1-for-5 and cleanly fielded all four balls that were hit his way.

Sosa and Stoffel will most likely spend the majority of the season at the Double or Triple-A level, as the team’s pitching staff is a full house right now. Sosa, 25, is a right-handed starter who split the season between Double-A Richmond and Triple-A Fresno. He had a 5-2 record and 2.68 ERA in eight games at Richmond, and combined to post an 8-3 record with a 5.51 ERA between the two teams. Stoffel, 22, is a right-handed reliever who owned a 3.98 ERA with 13 saves in 32 games at Richmond.

Both pitchers provide viable options for use in the starting rotation and the bullpen at some point down the road. They are the first steps in the long process of replenishing a weak farm system. Expect more moves to occur in the coming week as Crane has made it clear that the rebuilding in Houston has started.