Have the Astros Reached the Point Where They Will Find and Maintain Success?
Houston Astros 2014
Big month of May for a highly touted rookie
Rookie phenom right fielder, George Springer made his debut on April 16th, but his career got off to a slow start in his first two weeks in the big leagues. When the calendar turned to May though, something clicked for Springer and the results were spectacular. Springer's strong performance led the Astros to their first winning month of baseball in quite some time, and his strong play led to resurgent efforts by some of his teammates. The Astros are still in last place in the American League West, but they are now playing good baseball after a poor month of April put them into the basement of the division standings. The Astros strong play has carried over to the month of June, which marked the arrival of another key rookie for Houston. First basemen Jonathan Singleton made his major league debut for the Astros by hitting a homerun in a win. Singleton like Springer will face somewhat of a transition at the highest level of baseball, but the combination of young talent and youthful energy, has the Astros surprising many teams recently.
Putting key pieces in place
In the offseason the Astros made a key to put their franchise centerfielder in place to build around. Houston traded starting pitcher Jordan Lyles and outfielder Brandon Barnes for their starting centerfielder Dexter Fowler. While Houston lost a decent young arm in their starting rotation and a reserve outfielder, they gained the player who is holding down centerfield and the leadoff spot in their lineup for the years in which they hope to contend. Dexter Fowler had recently emerged as an above average centerfielder with the Rockies, and he was blocking good players from getting a chance with them. At age 28, Fowler is just entering his prime at the point where the Astros are prepared to put impact rookies on the field around him. The move for Dexter Fowler has worked out well for the Astros so far and he has played a key role in helping them to play better baseball in the last month or so.
George Springer's huge month of May after his slow start to the season, took some people by surprise, but this is the kind of production that can be expected from him. As a player who has centerfield speed, Springer could be one of the rare players that truly has five tools in the big leagues. His outstanding power was put on display in May when he hit 10 homeruns and drove in 25 to pace the Astros offense that suddenly was taking off on a regular basis. Springer has put his speed and throwing arm on display with rangy plays to go along with great throws from the outfield, but in a run producing position in the lineup, he has not attempted many stolen bases. This highly touted rookie's heroics should make the Astros a fun team to watch throughout the rest of the season, especially after the Astros add more of these guys from their talented rookie class.
Jonathan Singleton signed a significant long term extension before making his major league debut with the Astros. The Astros showed a lot of confidence in this young man, as he will look to lock down the first base position long term, which has not been done for Houston since the departure of Lance Berkman. Singleton rewarded their confidence by hitting a homerun in his first big league game on June 3rd, but this was also accompanied by two strikeouts in that same game. For an impact rookie like Singleton, the process of learning at the big league level will not always be smooth, but he definitely has the talent to produce at the highest level. Right now, gaining experience is a key factor for Singleton as he finds his comfort zone in a run producing role for the Houston Astros. Singleton looks very strong defensively and appears to be the complete package as a prototypical big league first basemen who has a chance to become a star at the highest level of baseball.
Resurgence on the pitching staff
Like other areas of the team, the Houston Astros are also quite young collectively on their pitching staff. While the Astros younger pitchers, Brad Peacock and Jarred Cosart have faced a transition process early in their big league careers, two pitchers approaching their prime years are breaking out for the Astros. Left handed pitcher Dallas Keuchel and right handed pitcher Collin McHugh have broken out early this season for the Astros. Keuchel has made 11 starts for the Astros so far. He is 6-3 with a 2.50 earned runs average and a 1.03 walks plus hits per inning pitched. Collin McHugh has made eight starts so far. He is 4-3 with a 2.52 earned runs average and 0.96 walks plus hits per inning pitched. Both pitchers are striking out close to a batter per inning pitched, or more in the case of Collin McHugh. With both pitchers being 26 years old right now, they could help to lead a strong pitching staff for the Astros as they move into the years where they hope to contend for playoff position and championships again.
The Astros recent strong play gives them hope for the future as they hope to play good baseball consistently for full seasons starting with next year and beyond. While this year may not be a season in which the Astros make a playoff appearance, they can gain valuable experience by playing an extended stretch of good baseball with their young stars being put in place. Having Jose Altuve and Jason Castro in place already, adding their young stars to the mix makes the Astros a strong offensive team already. The athleticism on this young team should allow the pitching staff to have strong defense played behind them, as well as offensive support. Ultimately the Astros are now in good position with a strong farm system that will keep supplementing the talent they now have on the field.