With the Astros clinching the number one draft pick tonight to the slumping Texas Rangers, this is question that is on every Astros fan’s mind. Those die hards that have stuck around throughout this three year debacle are wondering if there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The answer is yes, finally. In 2010, the Houston Astros finally realized that this team was paying for players that had no potential to be a part of a contending team in the future. Houston fans had grown to love players that were the faces of the franchise such as Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence. These three players alone brought many fans through the turnstiles for years, and ultimately it was time to go. Fans, especially my age, grew up idolizing Lance Berkman as he posted MVP caliber seasons since he arrived in Houston and it was a hard pill to swallow seeing him go. The word “rebuild” was never in owner Drayton McLane’s vocabulary and it held this franchise back for years.
Let’s take a look back at that year. The Astros were on the verge of being a terrible team for most of the year until a second half push propelled this team into only mediocre, en route to a 76-86 record and 4th place in the National League Central. For the majority of the season, many Astro fans had begun to wonder if this would be the year they finally lose 100 games, an abysmal feat that no Astros team had ever seen. Then general manager Ed Wade realized this is a sinking ship and it is time to rebuild. How he got Uncle Drayton on board with this is anyone’s guess. The first player to receive the honor of being traded to a winner was Roy Oswalt. Oswalt was the team ace since his rookie season in 2001. Oswalt was even the Astros ace with pitching staffs that included Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, so it’s understood that seeing him go was tough on a fanbase. Right before the July 31st trading deadline, Oswalt was dealt to Philadelphia for youngsters JA Happ and Brett Wallace. Unfortunately for the Astros, neither player has worked out. As if losing the staff ace wasn’t tough enough, the Astros continued to pour salt on the wound by dealing Lance Berkman to the New York Yankees for young pitcher Mark Melancon and infielder Jimmy Paredes. Meloncon has since been traded again and the book is still out on Paredes, who is only 24 years old. If delusional Astro fans thought this was the end of the rebuild, they were sorely mistaken, as this was only the beginning.
2011 brought the Astros first ever 100 loss season, and it was tough to come to the realization that this team was FAR from contending again. The Astros continued their rebuilding efforts as we saw franchise cornerstone Hunter Pence get dealt, also to the Philadelphia Phillies. This one deal could have been the greatest return a team could ever imagine, as the Astros received top first base prospect Jonathan Singleton, top pitching prospect Jarred Cosart, and reliever Josh Zeid. Singleton is still the number one first base prospect in the game and should be on the opening day roster come 2014. Jarred Cosart came up to the show in July, and dazzled in his MLB debut, tossing a no hitter into the 7th inning against American League East contender Tampa Bay Rays. Cosart finished his year with an unbelievable 1.95 ERA and appears to be one of the best young arms in the game today. Zeid is also on the big league roster, as one of the future anchors of the bullpen. Back to 2011 though. 2010 trade returnees Mark Melancon, Brett Wallace, and Jimmy Paredes all received significant playing time in 2011. Jimmy Paredes recorded a more than solid .286/2 homeruns/ 18 RBI’s batting line and all things considered, had Houston fans salivating about his future. Two days after the Hunter Pence trade, center fielder Michael Bourn was traded to the Atlanta Braves for outfielder Jordan Schafer and young pitchers Paul Clemens and Brett Oberholtzer. Clemens is currently on the Astros roster as a starter/reliever swingman and Brett Oberholtzer is absolutely tearing up Major League hitting, posting a 2.65 ERA and only issuing SEVEN walks across 54.1 innings pitched. Oberholtzer could be the steal of that deal for the future rotation. Lastly, Jordan Schafer did not work out with the Astros, accumulating a .220 average with the club and was released following the 2012 season.
Following the 2011 season, the Astros fired Ed Wade in favor of general manager Jeff Luhnow. In what might have been the greatest hire the Astros have ever had, Luhnow has completely turned this franchise around. Admittedly, he has received plenty of help from Wade, but that does not hide what Luhnow has done with this team. His first day on the job, Luhnow traded Mark Melancon to the Boston Red Sox for Jed Lowrie, who was eventually swung to Oakland for three young pieces who could play pivotal roles with the future club. As the July 31st trading deadline rolled around, Luhnow somehow traded Carlos Lee to Miami for their number one prospect, Matt Dominguez. Dominguez is flourishing as the Astros everyday third baseman, hitting .231 with 21 homeruns. People will look at his average, but most people don’t understand that he is only 23 years old, and to have that many homeruns while playing excellent third base is huge for a rebuilding team like the Astros are. The Astros finished 2012 with their second consecutive 100 loss season.
General Manager Jeff Luhnow is full steam ahead with rebuilding and continues to trade veteran pieces for young talent. The current season is a lot of the same thing, as the Astros officially have their third consecutive 100 loss season, and the fans in Houston who do not fully understand the process are vastly dwindling. The fact that the Astros do not have a TV deal outside of Comcast is greatly hurting the fan base, and with the Houston Texans playing so well, nobody really cares to show up to games anymore. That is, until this team is relevant again. This summer, the Astros traded pitcher Bud Norris to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for outfielder LJ Hoes and young minor leaguer Josh Hader. Luhnow also received an extra first round draft pick in 2014, which could prove to be huge.
Along with all the trades and furious dealings over the last three seasons, the Astros have drafted extremely well. in 2011, the Astros drafted current top outfield prospect George Springer as their first round pick, and is proving to be a steal as ten other teams passed on Springer. Springer hit a combined 37 homeruns with 55 stolen bases with AA Corpus Christi and AAA Oklahoma City. Springer appears to be ready to take over center field in Houston on Opening Day 2014 when the Astros take on the New York Yankees at home. In 2012, the Astros got creative with their draft picks, taking Carlos Correa number one overall, saving a couple million dollars not taking Byron Buxton or Mark Appel (who was eventually drafted by the Astros, but more on that later). Correa is widely regarded as the best shortstop prospect in the game. By saving that money, the Astros were also able to take Lance McCullers Jr 41st overall, and could be a fixture in the Astros rotation for many years to come. Mark Appel fell to eighth overall to the Pirates, who failed to sign him. Appel went back to Stanford, and continued to refine his mechanics and was the Astros number one pick in 2013. Appel, like McCullers, Appel figures to be a huge, huge piece to this giant puzzle the Astros have started to piece together.
So what does all this mean? Well, essentially the Astros will be a force to be reckoned with. They went from dead last in farm system rankings to number four, according to Keith Law of ESPN. According to Baseball America, they have the number one overall farm system, and while clinching yet another number one pick, it will continue to improve. As of right now, the best overall talent in college baseball is left handed pitcher Carlos Rodon of NC State. If the Astros do indeed draft him, the process will look that much better. For those fans who don’t know what this whole process is all about and only looks at the current team’s win-loss record, well they are in for a pleasant awakening come 2015. Until then, enjoy the ride of future hope. One day I can just about guarantee we will all look back at the 2011-2013 years and laugh. Come on down Mr. Rodon, you’re next. Stay tuned.