After showing a 19-game improvement in 2014, the slowly rebuilding Astros boast several intriguing fantasy options.
The 2017 World Series champs? Well, that’s what one publication boldly predicted earlier this year. Maybe that prediction was based on all the previous BP staffers on the current Astros payroll, maybe not, but while a 2017 World Series appearance may seem like a stretch for a team that has averaged 104 losses the past four seasons, and has only appeared in one World Series in their 53-year team history, there is reason for optimism for Astros fans. The next wave of top prospects—Carlos Correa, Mark Appel, Colin Moran, among others—should arrive in Houston over the next couple of years to join an already young nucleus of talented players.
The Astros did lose 92 games last year, but on the flipside, they improved by 19 games in 2014 with their core of young players. They also accomplished that 19-game improvement despite having players lose 902 games to the DL and a bullpen that blew a league-leading 25 saves. They are a young team that does swing and miss a bunch, but it’s an exciting roster and one that could yield multiple fantasy contributors.
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What are we talking about when we talk about disappointment?
"(A box score) doesn't tell how big you are, what church you attend, what color you are, or how your father voted in the last election. It just tells what kind of baseball player you were on that particular day." –Branch Rickey
If only it were still that simple. Back when Rickey was making personnel decisions for major-league organizations, and those last three traits were actually factors in how people were judged, it was a lot easier to evaluate a ballplayer without knowing too much about him. But with phones and tablets now as essential to the scouting toolbox as a stopwatch, with three different prospect rankings appearing on players’ Baseball-Reference pages, with signing bonuses public (and publicy debated), with the conversation about some players’ draft stock now rivaling the lifespan and intrigue of a presidential primary, that’s no longer the case.
Colin Moran is not a bad baseball player. The University of North Carolina doesn’t recruit bad baseball players. Bad baseball players don’t get popped sixth overall in the major-league draft. And bad baseball players don’t hit .296 between High- and Double-A, as Moran did in 2014, his first full year among the professional ranks.
Yet to hear many evaluators talk—to hear me at certain points during this season—you might think Moran is just terrible. Throughout a season of sitting behind home plate, I saw no player inspire more head shakes, shoulder shrugs and eye rolling than Moran. "How was this guy the sixth-best amateur player in the country last year,” I heard from more than one scout. I wasn't terribly kind in my initial write-up of Moran, saying "I came away feeling very underwhelmed with the player."
The Astros have lost a lot by design. Are they going to pay an on-field price?
Well, the Astros made news again last week by firing manager Bo Porter. According to media reports, which is the adult way of saying “I heard it from Larry in algebra class,” it was due to disagreements between Porter and general manager Jeff Luhnow. There seems to be a lot of that around nowadays. The Astros will break their streak of consecutive 100 loss seasons this year, but there’s no doubt it’s been rough for the past few years on the Gulf Coast of Texas. Luhnow is now the wampeter of the baseball karass (a billion points for that reference) and, strangely for such a mild-mannered guy, might be the most polarizing figure in the game today. Whether it’s fair or not, a narrative has developed around the Astros that their ruthless rebuild, while it may eventually prove effective, is an exercise in masochism. Sure, they needed to be rebuilt and rebuilds involve pain, but aren’t they playing Breaking Madden with a real live baseball team?
Buster Posey goes for MVP consideration, the Angels pound their way to the top of one leaderboard, Nelson Cruz makes a run for a HR crown, and, in an Oakland ninth inning, the best fun fact of the month.
The Weekend Takeaway
After Friday’s game, Chris Carter now has 36 home runs on the year, putting him hot on the trails of Nelson Cruz and Giancarlo Stanton for the MLB lead. The A’s, who shipped Carter to the Astros on February 4, 2013, as part of a package to acquire Jed Lowrie, don’t mind that. They just kindly request that the 27-year-old Bay Area native stop going yard against them.
The Astros promote a triple-digit arm to throw heat out of the bullpen.
The Situation: In order to manage his innings workload and give him a well earned taste of the majors, the Astros promoted Mike Foltynewicz from Triple-A and will use the flamethrower out of the bullpen.
Background: Foltynewicz was selected 19th overall in the 2010 draft, a horrid first-round class—save for Harper, Machado, Harvey and Sale—that featured far more bust than boom (Colon, Loux, DeShields, McGuire, Skole, Simpson, Josh Sale, Vitek, Wimmers, Deglan). You get the point. The class was bad.
Will the Astros salvage the first-overall pick they did sign?
Take a moment to forget about the Brady Aiken mess and think about last year’s first overall selection. Mark Appel was supposed to be on the fast track. You aren’t supposed to struggle if you’re the first overall selection, and the 6-foot-5 right-handed starter with a prototype body had the look of a player who would move quickly, stopping only briefly in Lancaster and Corpus Christi to humble inferior hitters with his mid-to-upper-90s fastball. If you’ve been paying attention to his season, you know this hasn’t exactly gone as planned.
What has happened
First, appendicitis in January sidelined him for most of the spring. Regardless, the Astros aggressively sent him to Lancaster to begin the season. I was able to catch an early start of his, on April 10th, and was impressed with the raw stuff he brought to the table. Then 22, Appel showed a fastball that touched 98 mph, and paired it with a sharp, bat-missing slider (scouting report). Immediately after this start, on April 14th, Appel’s velocity dipped and only touched 91 mph. As has been well documented, the Astros installed a tandem or “piggyback” pitching rotation, where two “starters” would pitch back to back in the same game. Also, some pitchers would be subjected to only three days of rest, which happened to Appel in these two starts. This obviously took a toll on Appel, and there were rumors of shoulder soreness after the second start. He was sent to extended spring training to get some rest and have proper time to build stamina for the season. After returning, he had the worst start of his season on May 31st, surrendering 10 earned runs in 1 1/3 innings. Five days later, he was diagnosed with tendinitis in his right thumb and scratched from his next start. After getting the standard four days of rest (and sometimes more), he continued to struggle. Recently, the Astros made it public that Appel had a right wrist issue and received a cortisone shot. It’s unclear whether the thumb tendinitis is connected. I took in his start on July 10th with intentions of pin-pointing his problems.
The Astros had a plan that was too good to fail. So good, in fact, that they left no room for what would happen when it did.
As the clock struck seven on the evening of June 5th, the Houston Astros stared with wide eyes at a deep draft board. The organization held a handful of early picks and $13,362,200 in available spending, the most of any team, putting it in an position to load up its minor-league system with high-level draft talent. But 42 days and 22 hours after the Astros announced the first selection of the 2014 draft, the front office somehow found itself with one of the lightest pulls of the draft, a bruised reputation, and public scorn from both the MLB Players’ Association and one of the game’s most high profile agents.