The 2015 Houston Astros are looking to be the first club to be competitive since 2008, and it’s a glorious feeling for baseball fans.
Baseball has fallen on hard times in the fourth largest market in the country ever since the grand plan to tear down the remnants of the Killer B squads, and start fresh from the ground up was initiated. It has been a long and painful process for fans who became disconnected from the Astros and therefore Major League baseball in general.
First, it was the lack of familiarity with the players that drove people from the park. Bagwell and Biggio retired and Pence, Oswalt, and Berkman were shipped off for parts. The “Process” had begun and with it came a lot of losing. Houston had become used to a competitive product from the mid-90s through the mid-2000s, a run that we were all proud of.
But watching fringe major league players fumble their way to 100 loss seasons made even the most passionate baseball fans look away. Add to that an excruciating and frustrating television deal that kept the majority of the public from watching at home and you have what we have now. A generation of kids and young adults who do not know what it is like to see the Astros win.
Fortunately, it appears that the long wait for competitive baseball in Houston is finally over. There is a buzz, not only with the hardcore fans, but even the fair weather/bandwagon fans that plague our city. The time to nudge the guy next to you and say “Hey, they’re back” is upon us. “You wanted us to wake you when it was over. Well, wake up!!”
General Manager Jeff Luhnow’s plan to restock the farm system and build a competitive team from the ground up finally took shape at the big league level this winter when he used prospects to upgrade the heart of the lineup with Evan Gattis. He then traded Dexter Fowler for Luis Valbuena to shore up third base, and signed Jed Lowrie to play shortstop until Carlos Correa is ready. He also got the go ahead to spend a little bit of money on the bullpen and turned a weakness into a potential strength with the signings of Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek. Suddenly, this organization has a strong farm system AND a major league ready team.
We all know about Jose Altuve’s fantastic 2014 campaign that saw him become a leader and a batting champion. We saw a glimpse of what to expect from George Springer in his injury-shortened debut season and Chris Carter was one of the best power hitters in the game in the second half of 2014. If you believe that he can sustain this success, then the Astros have the potential to be very exciting in the coming season.
Newcomers Colby Rasmus and Evan Gattis will add another level of depth and productivity to an already up-and-coming lineup. There will be fireworks galore and the train will be busy at Minute Maid Park.
So, now that we believe the bullpen has been solidified and the lineup is potentially beastly, the only other question is starting pitching. Houston did not do much to improve in this area since the end of last season. Instead, they are relying on continued success from breakout pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh as well as veteran Scott Feldman, signed before the 2014 season to be the de facto ace of this young staff.
Contributions from their highly-touted farm system will also play a key role in their attempts to keep the Astros in games. Asher Wojciechowski, a promising arm in the Astros organization appears to be healthy and will either compete for a rotation spot or be a part of the strong bullpen. Dan Straily, acquired from Chicago in the Dexter Fowler deal, is also in that same position.
The biggest shot to the arm of the Houston staff may be former number one overall pick Mark Appel who appears to be on the cusp of joining the big league club. Whether he gets the chance to break camp with the Astros remains to be seen, but he should be up at some point in 2015.
So, now the “Process” appears to be successful. You have a solid big-league club and a talented farm system to look forward to. All indications are that Houston will be willing to start spending some money to fill in the gaps in the coming offseasons and potential superstar Carlos Correa is waiting in the wings. The Astros are on the rise and if you want to get in on the ground floor of what could be a statement year, you’d better be learning all these names. Competitive will turn into contending in no time at all.
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