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Houston Astros sporting new look set to play same tune as last year

Staff Reporters

Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 00:01

Associated Press

Associated Press

There have been plenty of offseason changes for the Houston Astros in an attempt to start a new era for the club. An overhaul of team colors and uniform changes, as well as a move from the National League Central, will mean the Houston Astros will at least feel like a different team than in years past.

This is only year two of the total rebuilding project that started when General Manager Jeff Lunhow and new owner Jim Crane assumed command of the ball club. Then began the process of rebuilding a once proud franchise that regularly competed for playoff appearances.

Lunhow has accomplished his first task in building a long-term plan that will allow the Astros to compete for years down the road. He has unloaded all contracts of pricey veterans such as former players Carlos Lee and Michael Bourn.

The team now has no big money tied to any one player, allowing them to spend in free agency, or to lock up those players whom the team wishes to protect from free agency in the next couple of years. The bonus of making so many trades is that the farm system (minor league teams) for the Astros has been completely replenished. Once the team was known for having one of the worst farm systems in all of baseball, now the minor league affiliated teams are teeming with prospects.

Although some are not expected to see playing time with the Astros for a few years, some prospects are expected to make appearances at some point during the upcoming regular season.

Players like Jonathan Singleton, Delino Deshields Jr. and Jarred Cosart are expected to get their chance to show GM Jeff Lunhow what they can accomplish on the big stage in the next year or two. Some prospects have already made their mark and are expected to be key building blocks for the Astros for years to come. These players include position players Jose Altuve, who has already established himself as a certifiable pro at second base, J.D. Martinez and Justin Maxwell.

Pitchers include Lucas Harell, Dallas Keuchel and Jordan Lyles. These players are expected to form a solid nucleus that the club can build around. The only question is when the other pieces fall into place, which won’t be truly answered until other prospects are called up to the big leagues. The Astros, however, are not simply hoping that these players will learn on the fly and figure things out for themselves.

Key veterans have been signed during the offseason to show the youngsters how to act like a big leaguer. Carlos Pena, who has hit 277 home runs during his major league career, is expected to fill a slot needed at DH until younger prospects are ready to take over. Other vets who were signed this winter include Erik Bedard, who has a 63-64 overall record as a starting pitcher for three different teams and outfielder Rick Ankiel, who is a 10-year veteran and started out as a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals before becoming an outfielder. These players will help to teach the young players how to become consummate pros and contribute to a winning ball-club.

The major change that everyone is talking about is of course the move from the NL Central to the AL West, where they will compete inter-divisionally with the Texas Rangers. Those who think a change of division foes will bring more wins won’t like the facts. Of the four other teams in the AL West, the Seattle Mariners had the worst overall record in the American League and they finished 20 games above Houston’s 55-107 over all record, according to ESPN.com. They did finish 5-8 against AL teams, but they faced no teams that finished with a winning overall record besides the Texas Rangers.

Overall the coming season appears to be another rebuilding year with a lot more downs and losing streaks than there will be wins. The prediction for the Houston Astros is another year of trying to find players who can be solid pros and contribute. Astros fans should then prepare for a possible run at relevancy two or three years down the road.

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