Earlier this week, in a Twitter Q&A with Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, there was a question about the five-year plan. In his response Luhnow stated “phase 1 went well.” Though his plan will obviously continue to “ever evolve” over time, one may speculate what exactly Phase 2 will entail.
First off, I want to congratulate Jeff Luhnow on the work he has done so far. All things considered the minor league system appears to have a flowing pipeline of talent. Only time will tell who will ultimately be part of the Astros long-term future. So perhaps this is a little too obvious but I think phase 2 includes the promotion of top prospects to the big league club.
With rumors of contract extensions the organization appears to be content with several players. These “cornerstones” will be complemented by the future faces of the franchise. Pitchers like Jarred Cosart and Brett Oberholtzer have to continue to develop in their sophomore campaigns. But the organization and fans alike are anxiously waiting for Mark Appel, Mike Foltynewicz and Vincent Velasquez, to name a few. And of course there are the position players: an elite shortstop in Carlos Correa, the power and speed of George Springer, and the highly touted first base prospect Jonathan Singleton.
Though those players stand out to most by their elite prospect status, the minor league system does not end there. Some players like Asher Wojciechowski, Josh Zeid, and Max Stassi were acquired via trades. There are many, many more players in this now deep farm system. As these players mature through the system they will also develop chemistry. The Quad Cities and Tri-City rosters from the 2013 season featured some top-flight prospects. Keeping these guys together throughout their transition to the major leagues could be an x-factor toward creating a World Series Champion.
Recent years have been brutal to the Astros’ fan base. The third consecutive 100-loss season gave opportunities to players who likely would have played AAA with another organization. Fifteen players ultimately made their MLB debuts for the Astros in 2013. This will continue for the next couple of seasons. Again, Singleton and Springer are very likely to be with the big league club soon. MLB Pipeline Central as well as MLB Depth Charts both feature an “estimated time of arrival” column for the prospects that have showen enough to be ranked. Though we cannot expect each prospect to become MLB ready, 2015 looks to be a strong class of rookies. Time will only tell if Domingo Santana and Mark Appel will make their 2014 debuts. Many people believe that they deserve the playing time sooner rather than later.
This team is still not really playoff ready. Who knows? They could “shock the world” as Cosart has said multiple times. But I would rather hold off on some players until the 2015 season rolls around. The Astros are going to continue to allow players to have an extended spring training or try out scenario for this season. With so many players expected creating a wave-like callup system is logical. And as the system continues to develop through the draft, international signing, and international academies in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, the organization will continue to keep its pipeline stocked and flowing.
Jeff Luhnow’s plan is in place. I am excited to see the end result. He often alludes to the bright future in Houston and I doubt he is talking about the sun. Since becoming the general manager in December of 2011, and claiming to be a year ahead, perhaps phase 2 will be quick. I am expecting this process to last until at least the mid-2015 season. Perhaps by then the team will be in position for Luhnow to BUY at the trade deadline.
Offseason spending was just a glimpse of what is to come. The $44 million given to two starting pitchers and a few relief pitchers will probably play dividends. The implementation of phase 2 has already started.
During spring training guys like Cesar Izturis and Raul Valdes were with the club. Though some thought they would begin the season on the Opening Day roster, neither did. Instead the team has elected to go with young players to give them playing time. These moves play consistently that the development is ahead of schedule.