MLB Insider: Houston seeing signs of hope

  • Article by: LA VELLE E. NEAL III
  • Updated: August 9, 2014 - 8:45 PM

The Astros’ rebuild finally appears to be bearing fruit.

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Jon Singleton was an eighth-round pick by the Phillies, but they dealt him to Houston for Hunter Pence in 2011. Now Singleton has reached the majors, as have other top Astros prospects.

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And now here’s Mike Foltynewicz.

Foltynewicz, a righthander who can fire a baseball 99 miles per hour, was called up Aug. 1 by Houston for his major league debut. He will be an option out of the bullpen when the Astros play host to the Twins for a three-game series that begins Monday.

George Springer, the marvelously talented outfield prospect who hit two home runs during a June series at Target Field, should be activated from the disabled list.

Jon Singleton, a power-hitting first base prospect, is already there. Domingo Santana, another of Houston’s top prospects, was called up Tuesday.

Houston went where no organization dared to go. The Astros tore down everything. They lost 100 games three years in a row. They have had the top pick in the draft three years in a row, which had never happened. Some of their games have failed to generate any local television ratings — 0.0.

But the Astros are starting to see the benefits of their patience. Their farm system is stocked. Their pitching is coming around. And they might not lose 100 games this year — they entered the weekend on pace for a Twins-like 66-96 record. And they might not finish last in the AL West, as they entered Friday 1½ games ahead of the floundering Texas Rangers.

“I don’t think there are many teams in recent history that have tried to do what Houston’s done,” Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson told the New York Post earlier this season. “In baseball, it’s usually not a recipe for success, but in this case, that’s a strategy they’ve pursued. It appears they’ve gotten through the worst of it. I applaud them for carving a strategy and sticking with it.”

It’s hard to do. It’s a massive leap of faith for a franchise to be so committed to rebuilding a farm system that it will absorb so many losses on a major league level. Teams talk of rebuilding, struggle for a year, then start sprinkling in veterans the following season.

There was one other team in recent years who tried it, the Carl Pohlad-led Twins. Coming off a 70-92 season in 1998, Pat Meares, Bob Tewksbury, Mike Morgan, Otis Nixon and others weren’t retained. Cristian Guzman, Eric Milton, Joe Mays, Chad Allen and Jacque Jones were some of the 17 rookies who played in 1999. The Twins lost 97 games.

The Twins played 17 rookies again in 2000 and lost 93 games. But those players formed the core of the division-winning teams of the 2000s.

Houston used 21 rookies in 2013, second-most in franchise history, and has used 12 so far this season.

“As a team, we’re heading on the right path. As an organization, it’s the same thing,” Springer said last week during a rehabilitation assignment in the Midwest League. “We’ve shown that we’ve got some talent. It’s starting to play itself out.”

One difference between Houston’s teardown and the Twins’: The Astros might have ended up with more heralded prospects. The Twins will see a bunch of them this week at Minute Maid Park.

Central Intelligence

You can’t blame the Tigers for signing Jim Johnson to a minor league contract. Johnson, who led the AL in saves in 2012 and ’13 but was released last week from Oakland, threw for Detroit on Wednesday before heading to Class AAA Toledo, where he will make a few starts.

“He looked very similar to the guy we’ve seen the last couple of years,” Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said.

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