I’m sure you’re aware by now, but just in case you didn’t catch the changes in the offseason, the Houston Astros will be changing leagues and joining the American League West.
With that in mind, FanSided’s Astros site, Climbing Tal’s Hill, is making the rounds, saying hello, and getting acquainted with American League teams. We offered a few answers to help their fans learn more about the Kansas City Royals, and asked a few questions of our own. Helping out is CTH editor Greg Thurston.
Houston’s an interesting team because they went full rebuild last season, loading up on prospects and young, cheap players. They’re also a team that’s not opposed to new ideas, hiring baseball writers for front office jobs and embracing statistical analysis.
The Royals will take on the Astros for the first time as AL foes on May 20 in Houston. Here’s some background before that matchup:
ME: The Astros brought in a guy in Jeffrey Luhnow who isn’t afraid of the stats, but also has a scouting background, then he went and got two baseball writers to join him in Mike Fast and Kevin Goldstein. How’s the fanbase accepting that? Is there a difference among the more casual fans vs those who hang on every bit of info they can find?
GT: There is definitely a big split among the two types of fans. While many of the casual fans have fallen by the wayside, the majority of the hard-core followers have embraced Luhnow as the savior of the franchise. The former regime had been pinching pennies for years in the areas of the draft and player development. Fast and Goldstein are a couple of the more interesting (and some might say risky) hires that Luhnow has made. He also brought in Sig Mejdal from St. Louis as the “Director of Decision Sciences”. The new G.M. is unquestionably an outside of the box thinker and it will be interesting to see how successful his approach turns out to be. If it works we could see a lot of teams adopting more of a “new school” philosophy. If it doesn’t we may see Astros fans jumping from the upper deck at Minute Maid Park.
ME: Part of the rebuild involved turning about any big leaguer into a prospect. That’s a tough process to go through as a fan. How patient with the fanbase be?
GT: True. Bud Norris is about the only veteran player left on the team and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him dealt any day now. Again, the fanbase is pretty much split on this one. There are those who claim to have sworn off the team forever. The rest of us are trying to project a strong facade while deep down inside we are worried that the once successful franchise may have already turned into the Pittsburgh Pirates of the last 20 years.
ME: With that rebuild going on, who are your top five Astros prospects right now?
GT: That list is going to vary depending upon who you ask. You asked me, so here’s the official Greg Thurston list of Astros top 5 prospects.
1. George Springer – The Astros first round pick in 2011 is a five tool centerfielder out of the University of Connecticut. Springer finished 2012 at AA and will most likely be headed back there to start the 2013 season. His ascent through the ranks is likely to accelerate and a September callup isn’t out of the question.
2. Jonathan Singleton – If you asked me a couple of months ago I probably would have ranked Singleton number one. The 21-year old first baseman is currently serving a 50-game suspension for marijuana and I’m a little worried that this sort of thing could become a lingering issue. If the youngster is able to learn from his mistake and put it behind him he has a bright future as a left-handed power hitter who can also hit for a high average and defend his position.
3. Carlos Correa – The sky is the limit for the first overall pick in the 2012 draft. The 18-year old shortstop out of Puerto Rico stands 6′ 4″ and weighs 190 pounds. Obviously he is still a few years away from the big leagues, and given his size he could develop into a third baseman before arriving in H-town.
4. Lance McCullers Jr. – McCullers was the 41st player selected in the 2012 draft. Luhnow did a tremendous job by signing both Correa and McCullers and still having enough money to get a couple of outstanding prospects later in the draft. The son of a former big league pitcher, McCullers is only 19 and was a man among boys in high school in the Tampa area.
5. Delino DeShields Jr. – Another son of a former big leaguer, DeShields racked up more than 100 stolen bases in the minors last season. The 20-year old second baseman will start the season at High-A.
ME: Switching leagues doesn’t happen that often. How do you see the Astros responding this year and over the next few years?
GT: It looks like it’s going to be another long season for Astros fans. Although the roster appears to have more talent than last year, I think the league change will prove to be a difficult transition. New manager Bo Porter seems like the type of guy who is going to demand his players give their best at all times. I think Porter will quickly weed out any bad seeds and the team will be able to turn the corner and show some improvement in the win column in 2014.
ME: What timeframe is the organization looking at to get back into playoff conversations?
GT: With three of those top five prospects still a few years away from the majors it looks like it could be a while. But if they all pan out and ownership decides to spend some money on free agents the ‘Stros could become contenders as early as 2016.