… in 2018 or something like that.
The Houston Astros have a team that may have the least amount of talent ever on a Major League Baseball team, but it didn’t use to be that bad. They were in the World Series in 2005. It has all gone downhill since then. The team made a variety of moves in that off season. They signed an outfielder and moved Lance Berkman to first base, which signaled the end of Jeff Bagwell‘s career. They tried to compete for the next couple of seasons, but failed miserably. They haven’t been to the playoffs since that World Series appearance. They started dealing their best players for prospects. They continually tried to gather talent in the off-season to compete. They made a deal in the off-season prior to the 2008 season with the Phillies, which could be looked at as their first deal looking towards the future. They dealt Brad Lidge and Eric Bruntlett to the Phillies for Michael Bourn, Geoff Geary and Mike Costanzo. They continued to give away players for decent prospects. Specifically, they gave Hunter Pence and Roy Oswalt, in different deals, to the Phillies as well and never got Domonic Brown in return. Some people believe that happened because Ed Wade was with the Phillies prior to working for the Astros. The only guy that has had an impact in the majors from those Phillies deals, so far, is Michael Bourn. Bourn grew into an on-base and steals machine in Houston. They Astros were able to flip him in 2011 for Jordan Schafer, Brett Oberholtzer, Paul Clemens and Juan Abreu.
In November of 2011, the Astros were purchased by Jim Crane and announced they would move to the American League in 2013. Crane hired Jeff Luhnow as his General Manager. Luhnow came in with a plan to basically completely trade away all their valuable talent, and sign guys to short term contracts. They cut costs and started to stockpile valuable minor league talent. Their minor league talent will probably turn into an incredible core in a couple of seasons.
There was plenty of talent in the system before Jim Crane purchased the team. They had Delino DeShields Jr. (Son of Delino DeShields), Michael Foltynewicz, George Springer, Jonathan Singleton, and Jarred Cosart. DeShields, Foltynewicz and Springer were drafted by the Astros and Singleton and Cosart were given to the Astros by the Phillies in exchange for Hunter Pence. These players should be valuable for the Astros with Singleton and Springer being middle of the order bats. DeShields will be at the top, or bottom, of the order with plenty of speed. Foltynewicz as a project starter, and Cosart, who was supposed to be an ace, looks to be a potential closer.
Their 2012 and 2013 drafts were two key moments in acquiring talent. Their 2012 draft decision turned out to pay major dividends in 2013 and they had NO idea it would. Mark Appel was the top prospect heading into the 2012 draft. He was a junior at Stanford University. With the leverage of going back to Stanford, Appel was asking for the full allotment of bonus dollars given to the team with the first round pick (this amount was 7,790,400 in 2013). Teams do not have to give the full amount of bonus money and can spend more money on picks later in the draft. A high school player that falls into the “sandwich round” could be paid more than his bonus allotment to convince him to go pro instead of attend college. The Astros were not going to be pushed around by Appel and try to deal with Scott Boras, Appel’s agent. So, they went in a different direction and drafted the best position player on the board in Carlos Correa.
Correa, from Puerto Rico, wanted to play professional ball and was able to sign a contract within a week or so and start playing in short season ball for the Astros. The kicker in this one is that he only signed for a 4.8 million dollar bonus. The Astros were able to save able 3 million dollars for their other draft picks. When high school star pitcher, Lance McCullers Jr, fell to them in the “sandwich round” (explanation of “sandwich round”), they selected him knowing they could pay more than the allotted bonus and convince him to play professional baseball. They signed him to a 2.5 million dollar bonus, the Astro’s 4th largest bonus at the time. Correa looks to be the best bat in the Astros future line up and McCullers will, most likely, end up being a top of the rotation starter.
Now back to Appel, he was drafted 8th overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates. They did not have the amount of money to offer Appel to convince him to go pro. He turned down their contract and went back to Stanford. He decided that he would reenter the draft in 2013. Turns out, the Astros had the number 1 pick again! Appel had lost his leverage because he could not go back to school and who wants to go play in the independent league when you’re that talented? He was the top prospect, again. And this time, the Astros took him number 1 overall. He just signed this past week with a signing bonus between 6 and 6.5 million dollars. The Astros took a different approach this draft and chose to get the clear top prospect and a future ace. Appel could fly through the minors and be in the majors by the end of the year, but the Astros do not want to lose years of service time before he can get to free agency.
The Astros will also have a really high pick in the 2014 draft, but probably not the number 1 overall (that honor goes to the Marlins). If they trade the rest of their older MLB talent and continue to draft well at the top of the draft, the Astros are looking like a future World Series winner. I would be willing to bet they win one before 2020. They have to deal with 2-3 years of being the worst team in baseball, but it could lead to 7-10 years of being one of the best. I am excited to see this line up in 3 years. It is going to be one that is feared. Struggling teams are going to start following the Astros strategy of selling everything and building from the bottom up. Then again, some teams can build a good farm and be amazing, like the St. Louis Cardinals. This strategy is one of many used in baseball to build a team, and I think it is going to work out extremely well and will be competing for their first American League Pennant and their first World Series title.