The Houston Astros own the American League’s best record. That’s a sentence you’re going to see a lot in coming years. While the Astros are having a great amount of success today, they are poised to keep improving. There are a multitude of factors that make teams successful: high draft-picks panning out, strong player development in the minor leagues, free-agent signings, smart trades, depth off the bench, a resilient bullpen and a pitching staff that can give your team a chance to win every night. Most successful teams only have a few of these components; bad teams rarely have any. The Astros have them all.
Looking at the Astros lineup, there are three names that stand out: Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer.
Houston’s first steps began in 2011 when the Astros selected outfielder George Springer out of the University of Connecticut. In the same year, the Astros signed Jose Altuve, a second baseman from Venezuela. The Astros proceeded to go 56-106 in 2011, locking up the first pick in the 2012 MLB draft, where they selected a shortstop out of Puerto Rico named Carlos Correa. They then chose Florida high school Starting Pitcher Lance McCullers Jr in the sandwich round of the 2012 draft. With those picks in place, the Astros drafted a foundation to build upon.
While it’s imperative to sign, develop and see your top-picks pan out, Houston has excelled at finding gems in the later rounds. The Astros drafted 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel in the seventh round of the 2009 MLB draft. Coupled with McCullers, that makes for a dynamic one-two, which is a requirement to go deep in the playoffs.
Having top talent alone isn’t enough to win championships. Depth off the bench is also a necessary component for success. With the injury of Carlos Correa (out 6-8 weeks with a torn ligament in his left thumb), the Astros plugged in utility infielder Marwin Gonzalez, who carries a .321 average with 18 HR and 60 RBI in only 268 at-bats. If an outfielder were to go down, Jake Marisnick, .248/11/26 in 153 at-bats is a valued replacement. Even someone like AJ Reed, who’s mashed 21 long-balls in AAA this year, is a plug-and-go replacement if something happens to first basemen Yulieski Gurriel.
The next area the Astros have a leg-up on the competition is with their young prospects. Correa’s injury cleared space for 2013 first round infielder Colin Moran, who has produced throughout his minor league career since leaving the University of North Carolina, capped off by a .308/18/63 slash in 79 games at AAA prior to his call-up.
The last piece of the championship puzzle is the bullpen; Houston ranks 18th in the MLB in ERA (4.23). With a surplus of minor league talent, like Reed, Tony Kemp, Derek Fisher, Kyle Tucker and Francis Martes, the Astros are in a position to leverage these prospects to bolster their bullpen. Or they could deal them for a top pitcher, say, Sonny Gray, to add another arm to their rotation.
Houston has done an incredible job of development, but the front office is also unafraid to add from outside. The Astros went out and acquired catcher Evan Gattis from the Atlanta Braves in 2016. They also signed key outfielders Carlos Beltran in 2016 and Josh Reddick this past off-season.
All of this bodes well for Houston and its longterm plans to maintain success and win a championship, especially with so much offensive punch up the middle. With Springer, Correa and Altuve up the middle, Houston is able to maintain solid defense and provide power in prototypical non-offensive positions. As we’ve seen lately in the MLB, there is no shortage of corner infielders and outfielders that can produce offensively.
Look for Houston’s trio of stars, strong starting pitching, solid bullpen, a surplus of up-and-coming prospects and a bias-for-action to acquire missing pieces to allow the Astros to claim the mountaintop of the AL West for the foreseeable future. The Astros are already scary good, and they’re only getting better.
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