Breathe deep. Soak it in. Can you smell that glory? Fresh cut grass, pine tar, sunscreen – Spring Training is officially here. And nobody should be more excited than a Houston Astros fan. Why the excitement, one may ask, when the Astros did little this winter to alter a team that finished 76-86 and fourth in their division in 2010? The answer lies in one very loaded word: youth.
Coming into this year’s camp without longtime fan favorites and franchise cornerstones Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, the Astros are looking for an identity, and a new face of the franchise. (While recent arbitration victor Hunter Pence is the man on Houston billboards, the one-time All-Star is one of those players whose potential is to be really good, not great.) This, however, could prove to be an unexpected, but welcome, benefit to the Astros in 2011. Instead of aging stars coming into Spring Training, camp this year is full of young, energetic ballplayers looking to prove themselves in order to make this team.
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For the first time in about a decade, thanks the GM Ed Wade (somewhat) revamping their previously decimated farm system through trades and the draft, the Astros finally have some depth to choose from. Not too much, but when ‘stros fans have watched nothing but busts come up through their system since the ‘90s, any inkling of legitimate talent inspires hope at this point. Plus, many young players made their way into a few games in the second half of the 2010 season (for anyone who was still watching), and helped the Astros finish above .500 after the All-Star break. Here are some of those young names who could really make an impact for the 2011 Astros team. A few are hoping to make the team in Spring Training, but don’t be surprised if we see any or all of them split time between the big leagues and the minors. Hopefully this year the Astros will still be relevant by the time they get a chance to shine.
Jason Bourgeois, OF: The Michael Bourn clone. Like Bourn, Bourgeois is a Houston native who is lightening fast. He appeared in 69 games for Houston last year, tallying 123 AB with a measly .220 BA. However, his speed is his main asset on the bases and in the outfield. Imagine Bourn, Bourgeois, and Pence all roaming the outfield when Carlos Lee needs a night off. Would a ball ever drop? Could also be a major asset as a pinch runner or bunter in close games down the stretch. Keep an eye out for him to bounce back and forth between the minors and the big leagues like he did last year.
Brian Bogusevic, OF: Hasn’t come around as fast as the Astros would have liked, but he’s at Spring Training and hoping to make the club. While his chances aren’t as good as Bourgeois’, especially since they both play the outfield, Bogusevic has a little more pop in his bat and could be a solid player off the bench like
Jason Castro, C: It’s his job to lose behind the plate, but the top player in the Astros system the last couple of years has to start hitting to keep it. Especially with J.R. Towles trying to win his job back after he apparently peaked on September 9, 2007 when he hit eight RBIs in one game to set a team record. Towles only hit eight RBIs total in 2010, so Castro has a low bar to hurdle. Astros fans are wary of being burned again because of Towles, but their is still a strong hope that Castro develops into the player everyone thinks he can be.
Jordan Lyles, SP: All-everything pitching prospect for the Astros, the twenty year old has a heavy portion of the Astros future resting on his shoulders. More specifically, his right shoulder. People are so high on Lyles that most fans want to see him in an Astros uniform this season, and while it is possible, it is also risky to call him up too fast. Regardless if he makes the team this year or not, his impressive minor league numbers and stellar pitching has created a buzz around the organization.
Jimmy Paredes, 2B: The longest shot of any to be seen in an Astros uniform this year, but Paredes is on the 40-man roster, so you never know. This speedy twenty-two year old second baseman came over from the Yankees in the Berkman deal last summer, and in 133 games combined minor league games last year, Paredes hit for .287, 34 doubles, 65 RBIs, and notched 50 SBs. Again, he is unlikely to be called up this year unless the turnstile of middle infielders go down, but Paredes is one to keep a sharp eye on for the future, especially since Bill Hall and Clint Barmes are short-term solutions at second base and shortstop, respectively.
A rotation and lineup breakdown for the 2011 Astros will come as games get under way and the final roster starts taking shape.