The average age of the Houston Astros is 25.9 – they’re the youngest team in Major League Baseball.
They’re oldest player is the recently acquired 34-year-old Carlos Pena, who has already become an assumed leader of the team because of his age. Pena is one of just three players on the current roster over 30.
With the youth on the roster, the Astros didn’t really have much veteran leadership in 2011 and they lost 100 games for the second straight season and were once again the worst team in baseball.
“I can’t really tell you because I’ve never had veterans,” said 25-year-old J.D. Martinez when asked if not having veterans hurt the team last year, “so I can’t tell you what that would be like.”
For the 2012 season, the Astros will have another new manager. This time, former Major League player Bo Porter will take control of the team. At 40 years old, Porter is the youngest manager in the league.
“While Bo is a first-time manager,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said, “he has a tremendous amount of experience as a leader and as a motivator and as a teacher and I think he in some respects feels like a guy who has managed for 15 years because he commands such respect immediately from the players and we haven’t played our first game but I’ve watched him a lot during the offseason.”
Porter spent the last two seasons with the Nationals as their third base coach.
While the Astros don’t have a big veteran presence from players in the clubhouse, they’re hoping Porter and the rest of the coaching staff will be able to fill that void. In fact, the organization consciously thought about that when they put together a staff.
“I think the way that we designed the coaching staff was with that in mind,” Luhnow said when asked about Porter filling in for a veteran player. “We knew that we didn’t have a lot of veteran leadership relative to a lot of other clubs in baseball so to be able to have a Bo Porter who was a player not that long ago, Eduardo Perez, who played many years in the big leagues and isn’t that far from his playing days and Dennis Martinez too.”
And it isn’t just that the coaches and manager might try to help their young players as any veteran clubhouse leader would, they’re going to be expected to do so. It’s going to be a part of their jobs with the Astros.
“They know that they’re going to have a little more responsibility than they might with another club,” Luhnow said. “They are going to have to mentor some of these players because that mentorship might not be there because we don’t have that veteran leadership.”
Porter’s last MLB season came in 2001. Perez, 43, a bench coach, last played in 2006. And Martinez, 57, last played in 1998. Furthermore, Doug Brocail, the pitching coach, last played in 2009 and first-base coach Dave Clark last played in ’98.
“They went through the grind. They experienced what we did,” said 29-year-old Justin Maxwell, who considered himself one of the leaders on the young team. “You can always go look to them for advice because they experienced those things. I think sometimes when you have a manager who really didn’t play that much, it’s hard to relate to them as a player.”
And so far, without games and before spring training, Porter has been able to relate to his players. Maxwell and Martinez said they have both had long chats with their new manager and think he’ll be exactly what the team needs.
“I think it does,” said Porter when asked if being younger gives him an advantage. “I’ve been coaching for eight years now and I’ve never had a problem relating to veteran players as old as Matt Stairs or younger players as young as Bryce Harper. Players just want to know that you care. Players could care less about what you know until they know how much you care.
“I am an extremely compassionate person and I am in it for the players and I let that be know to them and I also show them. My No. 1 job as a manager is to help them play to their potential because we have a talented group of players. They may be young but they’re talented.”
And now they have a veteran presence.
Even if it’s the manager.