There are multiple ways to maintain a strong farm system, which is what the Astros have exactly done in recent years.
In case you haven’t noticed, the Astros have six top-100 prospects per MLB Pipeline. That’s quite good, especially considering there are only two teams with more top-100 prospects in baseball.
Here is the current list of Astros featured in the MLB Pipeline Top 100:
7. RHP Forrest Whitley
8. OF Kyle Tucker
44. 1B/OF Yordan Alvarez
62. RHP Josh James
81. Corbin Martin
97. J.B. Bukauskas
While the prospect rankings are partially subjective, the Astros are the only team among the top six to truly contend in the past two seasons. The Padres have been rebuilding for a while along with the White Sox. The Blue Jays finally started their own rebuild in earnest last season, which already features some notable young talent. The Rays, like the Braves, were a surprise in 2018, but both clubs weren’t exactly knocking on the door in 2017.
The Astros, however, managed to win the World Series in 2017 followed by an ALCS appearance last year. By comparison, the Red Sox, the defending champions, only have one top-100 prospect heading into Spring Training. That said, top-100 prospects does not necessarily translate into long-term organization health. But it is fair to speculate that the Astros do have a bit more to pull from internally than other clubs.
The current status of Houston’s farm system does speak how general manager Jeff Luhnow has run the front office since his arrival earlier in the decade. The Astros at the start of the decade were a laughingstock and the minor league teams did not exhibit much in the way of quality prospects. In other words, a lousy mess. But Luhnow and his team were able to change the club’s fortunes by concentrating on the farm system and taking reasonable chances when the opportunity arises on the trade market. Sure, he and the club took their lumps — some deserved, others not — while the parts all came together to form a cohesive unit. Although the club hasn’t picked highly in the MLB Draft in recent years, it has replenished its own minor league system by wisely using their draft picks, shrewd trades, and seeking out quality international talent.
While a strong farm system could entice trades for notable talent, it also means that the Astros have a solid base to build upon in future seasons. Depth is vital to any club over the course of a 162-game season, then hopefully followed by a postseason run. Also, most clubs simply can’t afford to buy or trade for all the talent that they require. For example, Houston will need to develop another top of the rotation arm under Luhnow, preferably sooner rather than later. When free agency does arrive for certain Astros, the front office will need to rely upon its depth to fill in the holes. Heck, we’ve already seen evidence of this approach during the current offseason.
While championships are the commonly touted as the number one goal to the public, maximizing the long-term competitive window is the actual endgame. The Astros’ farm system is considered one of the better ones in baseball today, and it is a big part of the club’s endgame as we head into the next decade.