Better luck next year, Houston Astros

What went wrong with Houston? Did anything go right? What can fans look forward to in '14? Photo: Jason Castro watches his ball fly/AP

CHICAGO, September 9, 2013 — Tagging Up will look at each team as it is eliminated from playoff contention to see what went right this year, what went wrong and what to look forward to in 2014. This series begins with the team that will likely have the worst record in baseball for the third straight year, the Houston Astros.

What went right: The Astros have a long term plan in place and seem to be executing it well. The Astros have focused their energy on rebuilding a farm system that has gone from 26th, according to Baseball America, entering the 2011 season to eighth entering this year.

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The team has achieved this in a couple of ways. First, it is willing to trade essentially any player for prospects, as it did at this year’s trade deadline when Bud Norris, Justin Maxwell and Jose Veras were all traded for prospects. Secondly, the Astros are spending an amazingly small amount of money on their big league club, $26 million this year, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, which allows them get high draft picks while seeing if prospects, castoffs and former prospects can perform at the big league level when given a shot. The Astros will likely have the first pick in the draft for the third year in a row in 2014 which will further allow the team the chance to improve its farm system.

As far as player performance, Jason Castro and George Springer both had breakout seasons. Castro has posted a .276/.350/.485 slash line from the catcher position with 4.4 WAR, according to baseball-reference. That type of production from a player who will not be arbitration eligible until after this year is extremely valuable for a team. George Springer posted a .303/.411/.600 slash line across AA and AAA with 37 homeruns and 45 stolen bases. Springer will likely get a cup of coffee with the big club after the AAA playoffs and will likely be the 2014 starting center fielder. Springer will just be the beginning, as starting pitching prospect, Mark Appel, this year’s number one overall draft pick, could join him next year.

What went wrong: Jose Altuve took a step back. While much of the lineup is being used for auditions the Astros locked up Altuve to a four year 12.5 million dollar extension in July with two club options. Altuve posted a .290/.340/.399 slash line last year with 3.3 offensive WAR last year but has dipped to a .277/.310/.352 line with 0.9 offensive WAR.

In addition, the Astros have not been lucky enough to find a huge breakout from the players to which they have been offering playing time. Matt Dominguez, Brett Wallace and Trevor Crowe are who other teams thought they were, while Chris Carter took a step back. Carter has hit 27 homeruns, but he leads the league in strikeouts with 189 and is striking out in 36.8% of his at bats compared to 31.9% last year. Chris Carter’s walk percentage has also dropped to 12.1% from 15.0% last year.

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On the mound, Jordan Lyles has yet to take a leap forward. After breaking into the majors at 20 years old, Lyles has posted a 5.08 ERA this year on the heels of a 5.09 ERA last year with his strike out percentage continuing to hover around a pedestrian 15%. Lucas Harrell, on the other hand, took a giant leap backwards this year. His ERA has ballooned to 6.01 after posting a 3.76 ERA last year. His strikeout percentage has dropped to a career low 12.5%, while his walk percentage has jumped to 12.5%, which is his highest since his rookie year.

What to look for in 2014: The Astros will likely continue to trade players for prospects and develop the farm system as it seems unlikely they will look to sign free agents being so far from contending. Springer will likely debut in centerfield and Mark Appel will likely debut at some point in the season as well. Watching the development of minor leaguers like Carlos Correa (first overall pick in 2012), Jonathan Singleton and Delino Deshields Jr. will likely be a big part of watching the Astros in 2014. Astros fans may also want to begin watching North Carolina State games, in which Carlos Rodon pitches. A hard throwing lefty, Rodon is the likely to be first pick in next year’s amateur draft.

FREE AGENTS: Erik Bedard

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Steve Adler

Steve Adler was born and raised in NH in a town called Westmoreland. He currently resides in Chicago, IL with his wife and daughter. He has worked in Commodities and Banking. Steve has been a sports columnist for The Washington Times Communities since July 2013.

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