When two teams are dealing in triple-digits losses it's hard to think about a brigher future. But Astros and Cubs fans certainly have much to consider in the next few years as their organizations bear the fruit of minor league cultivation.
In some ways, the series is a race to see which team can avoid futility marks. The Cubs are seeking avoid a 100-loss season while the Astros are bent on averting a franchise-worse 107th loss.
The Astros finished the month of September with a 13-14 record their, most-productive month since a 13-15 run in May.
Is it right to be cynical about each of these soon-to-be former NL Central rivals? Sure. Triple-digit losses tend to bring a sense of hopelessness. But for fans of both teams, believe it or not, this season could very well mark the darkness before the dawn. Each team has learned about itself and some of its prospects. The Cubs finally got around to calling up their top prospect in Anthony Rizzo. He has all the makings of a future all-star.
The Astros, meanwhile, are learning about their own players such as Jose Altuve, Bud Norris, Jordan Lyles and Scott Moore. These are players who could play a role in a transplanted American League West version of the Astros.
You have to believe, whether the Astros end up with 106 losses or more, that this is rock bottom. From here, it’s a climb toward .500 and, some day, playoff contention. If that is to happen, it will be done with several key players already on the roster and a minor league system that’s been re-stocked with talent and hope.
Jose Altuve is an all-star caliber second baseman. He will enter the AL as the fourth-most productive second baseman. His .743 OPS would put him behind only the Yankees’ Robinson Cano (.904), Boston’s Dustin Pedroia (.790) and the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler (.758). The intrigue of a potential Altuve vs. Kinsler comparison will add an element to the future Astros-Rangers rivalry.
Lucas Harrell managed 10 wins and a 3.88 ERA to lead the club in both categories. Home vs. Road consistency will be key for Harrell as he booked a 2.34 ERA at Minute Maid Park and a bloated 5.05 on the road. Still, Harrell scored six wins at home and four on the road, which is fairly balanced.
Bud Norris pitched like a No. 1 pitcher last week vs. the Cardinals. Interim manager Tony DeFrancesco said that Norris has the ability to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. His main problem was overcoming some health issues this year and developing some consistency on the road. Norris was 4-1 with a 1.71 ERA in Houston, but suffered through a 2-12 record and a 7.71 ERA on the road. Developing a routine and comfort level when you’re living in a hotel or dealing with strange stadiums will be a key for Norris and the rest of this young pitching staff.
Jordan Lyles is fresh off a four-hit, complete-game shutout in Milwaukee. He’s just 21-years old. When you see an outing like that, visions of a No. 1 starter can dance through your mind. Lyles went 2-2 with a 3.58 ERA in September.
DeFrancesco said that Scott Moore has made a case for a serious look in spring training next season. The 3B/OF’er racked up a 1.056 OPS in September. He’s hit only two home runs in 21 games, but he certainly looks like a player who can get on base and do some damage with his bat.
And then there is the farm system:
1B Jonathan Singleton had a productive season at Double-A. He delivered 24 homers and 79 RBI and an .893 OPS and looks to be a season or two away from the bigs, although jumps from AA to the majors are not uncommon. The Astros will want to bring him along quickly enough so as to not frustrate, but so slowly enough to preserve his confidence at the plate. This spring training will be an important yardstick for Singleton.
SS Carlos Correa, the Astros No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft put 44 games under his belt. He has all the tools, unusual height at 6-4 for a shortstop and potential for power. He will be brought along slowly and the Astros will want to get 100 or more games on his ledger at High A or more next season. But scouts have called him a potential Derek Jeter in the making.
OF George Springer is a Top 50 MLB Prospect and ranked Top 10 among outfield potentials by MLB.com. He slugged his way to a .955 OPS, 22 HR’s and 82 RBI with Class-A Lancaster in the California League.
RHP Jarred Cosart is working his way through the Astros system. He moved to AAA Oklahoma City on July 26 and excelled with a 1-2 record and 2.60 ERA (down from a 3.52 at Double-A). He pitched 27.2 innings, allowed 26 hits and struck out 24. Not a bad effort after moving up from the Texas League. He's got a plus fastball and seems to be discovering command.
2B Delino Deshields comes from MLB stock as his dad enjoyed a long career. He has a combination not unlike Altuve with blinding speed on the basepaths and decent power. In 135 games at A and Advanced-A, he slugged 12 homers, drove in 61 runs and stole 101 bases. Yes, ONE HUNDRED ONE BASES. However, with Altuve ahead of him and Correa currently playing shortstop, the Astros will have to find a way to fit him onto the roster. They won’t have to make a decision for a number of years, however, as Deshields still has to work his way through several layers of the minors.