Photo Credit: Brant Ward, San Francisco Chronicle
They’ve had 106 losses in 2011, 107 losses in 2012 and a whopping 111 losses in 2013. When you get right down to it, everything is going according to plan for the Houston Astros, who decided a few years ago to rebuild the franchise from the ground up. The bad news is that the Astros look like they’re in for another beating in the American League in 2014. The good news is that they’re building a deep, talented farm system, they’re developing young players on the big league level and there’s nowhere to go but up. The future looks bright in Houston and there’s plenty for beleaguered Astros fans to look forward to.
2013 record: 51-111, 5th place in AL West
Spring training: Pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 15, everyone else reports on Feb. 19
First spring training game: Feb. 28 vs. Atlanta Braves at 5:05 p.m. CST
Opening Day: April 1 vs. New York Yankees at 6:10 p.m. CST
NOTABLE OFFSEASON MOVES
Coming: Outfielder Dexter Fowler, starting pitcher Jerome Williams, starting pitcher Scott Feldman, relief pitcher Chad Qualls, relief pitcher Jesse Crain, relief pitcher Peter Moylan, pitcher Anthony Bass, relief pitcher Matt Albers
Going: Starting pitcher Jordan Lyles
THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN 2014
* Spring training NRIs and life on the farm: With top prospects Mark Appel, Carlos Correa, Delino DeShields and George Springer coming to spring training as non-roster invitees, fans should be able to get a quick look some of the high-ceiling talent working its way up to the big leagues. With a well-respected minor league system and the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft, the future for the Astros looks promising. While 2014 will probably be another relatively dismal year on the major league level for Houston, the team’s fans can gain some hope for the future by keeping a close eye on how some of the franchise’s top-ranked prospects are faring.
* There’s nowhere to go but up: When the Astros rebuild they don’t fool around. Losing 111 games in 2013 gives this team nowhere to go but up. “Up” may not mean an escape from the cellar in the challenging AL West but it should at least mean an escape from the doldrums of being a 100-loss team. The Astros should at least be able to scratch out 70+ wins and come out of 2014 with a real shot at being a .500 team in 2015.
* Chris Carter: As an Oakland A’s fan I’m admittedly biased toward Carter. I always wanted to see him get the shot at full-time at bats in Oakland that he finally got with the Astros last year. As I expected, he hit a ton of homers and struck out a lot. But it’s fun to watch the big guy take his hacks and he could easily homer his way into a top 5 finish in the American League this year. After belting 29 long balls in 2013, it isn’t hard to imagine Carter knocking 35 to 40 out of the park this season. He’s also a good bet to lead the AL in strikeouts for the second year in a row. After whiffing 212 times in 2012, Mark Reynolds‘ single-season record of 223 is well within Carter’s reach. It’s going to be another long summer in Houston, but Carter should be good for plenty of cheap thrills.
* The trade deadline and offseason: As long as general manager Jeff Luhnow has his eyes on the future, halfway decent veteran players in Houston will be on the trading block in exchange for young talent around the All-Star break. Offseason acquisitions Jesse Crain, Chad Qualls, Jerome Williams, Jesus Guzman and Pete Moylan all have the makings of minor trade chips for younger, cheaper players who can help Houston a couple of years down the road. As for the offseason, with the lowest payroll in the majors, the Astros have plenty of flexibility to spend boatloads of money if the timing is right to make a run at top-tier free agents. If some of Houston’s young players take a big step forward this year, the offseason could be the team’s opportunity to make aggressive moves to supplement the young core they’re developing.
* One season closer to being good: Houston placed 7 players on MLB.com’s list of 100 top prospects and with the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft there’s more young talent on the way. The Astros have made the hard decision to rebuild with homegrown talent and the stacked farm system is an indication that the pieces are slowly falling into place. If there was ever a good time to let the competitive AL West pass them by and shoot for contention in a few years this is it.
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