With bevy of young talent, Astros poised for liftoff

Posted Saturday, Jul. 12, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

Youth movement

A look at the Astros’ top 10 prospects entering the season, according to Baseball America, and their progress so far:

1. Carlos CorreaSSHigh AOne of game’s top three prospects out for season (leg)
2. George SpringerOFAstrosSpent two weeks in Triple A before promotion
3. Mark AppelRHPHigh AFirst full season has started terribly (8.91 ERA)
4. Mike FoltynewiczRHPTriple ATrying to survive, develop in hitter friendly league
5. Lance McCullers Jr.RHPHigh ANext-generation pitcher has terrific breaking ball
6. Vince VelasquezRHPHigh A2010 second-rounder pitching well after early injury
7. Jon Singleton1BAstrosOff-the-field woes behind him, Singleton is finally in majors
8. Domingo SantanaOFTriple AWas overmatched in brief call-up, but .300 in minors
9. Michael FelizRHPLow A20-year-old from same hometown as Neftali Feliz
10. Asher WojciechowskiRHPTriple AOlder prospect (26) derailed early by lat injury

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For the fifth straight season, the Houston Astros will be represented at the All-Star Game by the minimum one player.

Such is the fate of last-place teams, or teams whose past stars have decayed away, or teams whose rosters have been stripped down as they await their farm systems to start cranking out the talent.

The Astros have a check mark next to their name in all three of the aforementioned categories.

So, only Jose Altuve, the diminutive second baseman who leads the American League in average and steals, will be wearing an Astros uniform Tuesday at Target Field for the 85th Midsummer Classic.

But the sense around the game is that will be changing soon, and that was before Houston pulled a three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers.

The Astros’ farm system was ranked fifth in the majors by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus before the season, and already prospects from those publications’ top 10 lists have made their way to the majors.

Top prospect Carlos Correa, the first overall pick in 2012, is out for the rest of the season with a broken bone in his right leg, but he is one of the top three prospects in the game.

The Astros have a deep list of pitching prospects, headed by 2013 No. 1 overall Mark Appel. Then there’s Dallas Keuchel, one of the five players in the Final Vote after going 9-5 with a 3.20 ERA in the first half.

Sports Illustrated called Houston the 2017 World Series champs. The Astros make a similar boast, but they can sense change is coming, too.

“Next year and years from now, we’re going to have a lot of players that are going to go to All-Star Game,” Altuve said last week.

“They’re improving and they’re working hard. I see a lot from these guys right now. Obviously, we have a young team, but we’ve got talent.”

Altuve mentioned Keuchel and rookies George Springer and Jon Singleton, two highly regarded prospects who have left the minors behind, as burgeoning stars.

Springer has wowed with his power and defense, which was evident Tuesday and Wednesday at Globe Life Park, and Singleton flexed his muscles Monday with a 425-foot three-run homer off Miles Mikolas.

Both are expected to hit for far better averages than what they’ve shown.

While the potential is evident, they are also dealing with pitfalls that young players fall into. Each player is averaging more than a strikeout per game, and Singleton’s defense at first base isn’t a finished product.

The good news is that know they have work to do.

“You want to learn and develop in every aspect of the game,” Springer said.

“There isn’t one thing that I can say I’ve got figured out, or anybody in here can say they’ve figured out. This game constantly changes. There are adjustments that have to be made, and that’s what you’ve got to do.”

Springer said that he can’t worry about looking toward what might be ahead for him and the franchise, which has been to only one World Series (2005).

Survival is his primary goal.

But that didn’t stop the Astros from approaching him in spring training with a contract extension, which he turned down.

Singleton signed a team-friendly deal last month, and Altuve a four-year extension last year.

Altuve can see the vision of general manager Jeff Luhnow, who stripped down the big-league team last year and started giving prospects a chance.

The start-from-scratch, build-from-within plan has advanced this season in the face of lower-than-low expectations.

“After a year like last year, we are showing people that we can win games,” Altuve said.

“We’re playing well, we’re playing together and some of these guys from the minor leagues are obviously helping the team. We’re really close to being the team everyone wants us to be.”

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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