Thursday, March 1, 2012

2012 Astros: Why Should You Care?

Pretty much everybody in the Houston media is using the first signs of Spring as an excuse to crack on the hometown Astros. "Will they win 40 games? If no fans are left, does anyone hear the outrage over moving to the American League? Can we start football season in April?" etc. etc. etc. The thing is, there are still a lot of die hard Astros fans like myself that I have met over the last few months and the common thread between most of us: growing optimism. Call me crazy (you wouldn't be the first), but I am more excited about the start of this baseball season than I have been in several years. Here's my top 5 reasons why:

1. New Ownership. Everything I have read, seen, and heard about the trio of Crane, Postolos, and Luhnow has me believing that the Astros are in much better hands. Let's get one thing straight.....I HATE moving to the AL, but that was never an option for Crane and co. (they were forced by Darth Selig). It now seems like the Astros have real plans in place to contend again. There is an emphasis on things like player development, statistical analysis, and a strong minor league system which is refreshing given that the previous regime seemed to think those things were all inconsequential. We are going to have even more reasons to get out and enjoy beautiful MMP with the reduced prices, and I think we'll be bringing our own snacks into the juicebox very soon to see a team competing in the deep AL West.

2. Prospects. Prospects. Prospects. Baseball unlike other sports has the ability to get fans excited about players who won't play on their team for several years. The previous administration didn't have the faith to believe that fans would buy into an all out youth movement/rebuilding effort. The more I talk to Astro faithful, the more I think we're ready to not only buy into a youth movement, but EMBRACE I would imagine Carlos Lee embraces the last taco of a Grande Meal. We have more prospects in the minors than we have in a while thanks to some end of regime Ed Wade deals, but don't take my word for it. Check out my man Andy's top ten Astros prospects blog over at The Houston Sports Counterplot. If that doesn't get you excited for the future then maybe the upcoming inaugural draft for Luhnow and company will. The Astros have committed far more than the $5.75 (rough guesstimate) they have been spending on draft picks in recent years AND the silver lining of last year's debacle is they get the #1 overall pick. Should be the most exciting draft I can remember as an Astros fan!

3. The Young Guns. The aforementioned youth movement got a head start last season. There will be a LOT of young faces at the big league level this year, and that will make for a very interesting season. Lyles, Bud, Martinez, Altuve, Castro, Wallace etc. These will all be names the big league club is counting on in 2012. The two names I will be watching the closest are Bud Norris and Jason Castro. Bud has shown flashes of being a top of the rotation guy, and if he can become an anchor for that rotation the Astros rebuilding effort will take a major step forward. Q is really an underrated catcher. Nothing great, but he gets the job done. However you know what you're getting with Quintero, and Snyder for that matter. Castro was a former top prospect, and if he returns from injury in 2012 to show signs of being an above average bat who can also handle a big league staff.....then again, the rebuilding efforts take a major step forward. In my opinion, if just two of the youngsters who will start out as everyday players in April can show that they can be part of a contending team in a few years.... then the Astros will be happy. Hopefully we are seeing the first wave of what will be a steady stream of young talent coming to the bigs.

4. Luhnow Trade Skills. This may be #4 on the list but could be #1 on my interest-o-meter. What will the first Jeff Luhnow trades garner the Astros? Will this regime have a knack for seeing talent in other teams' systems? Obviously most fans would like to see the Astros turn Wandy, Myers, and possibly others into yet more young talent for a club at least a few years away from serious contention. Admittedly, I have been cool towards the recent news that Myers will be the team's closer. I guess I was hanging onto a pipe dream where Brett resembled 2010 Myers for a few months and tricked teams into over bidding for his inning chewing services. I'll be the first to hop on board though if a) it means more innings for the previously mentioned young arms b) Myers garners more attention as a closer and creates a wider trade spectrum for he and Wandy (separate markets for starter/closer) and c) if it means he grows the goatee 4 feet longer to become a more menacing presence out of the bullpen. If Luhnow were somehow to turn Carlos Lee by the trade deadline (I'm thinking something like the deal Stillwater got for Penny Lane in Almost Famous), then I would probably begin the petition to get a Luhnow statue erected outside MMP.

5. End of an Era. Speaking of the big fella, this should be the end of the Carlos Lee era in Houston. Despite silly rumors of him DHing next year(if there's ANY truth to that I will carve my eyeballs out with my Biggio starting lineup), there should be NO WAY he is in Astros discussions at this time next year. That my friends is encouraging news. Every game this season means we are one game closer to Adios Caballo.

Although win/loss record won't be a very good indicator of how this season goes, I will predict the Astros to finish 70-92. You may look at that and decide the Astros aren't worth your time(you probably were only a huge fan during a few months in 2005), OR like myself you may choose to look at the reasons I've outlined above to be excited about our Astros. They can take us out of the NL(BUD!!!!!), they can make us play home games in Milwaukee, they can even refuse to let one of the great 1b of all time into the HOF.....but they can NEVER take the Astros away from the fans. AL West here we come!

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