ASTROnomical Expectations!

The Astros and Rangers are center stage to launch the 2013 MLB season. Photo Courtesy: Darryl Briggs
The Astros and Rangers are center stage to launch the 2013 MLB season. Photo Courtesy: Darryl Briggs

By Will Martin

While it appears Nolan Ryan stays put for now in Arlington we are now days away from the inaugural Opening Day in Houston with the Astros as part of the American League.

With so many naysayers willing to poo-poo the idea of switching a National League team over to the American side I am reminded this is the first such switch since the Brewers did the same in 1998.

This after once leaving Milwaukee as the the Braves then going back as Brewers in the late 60’s. American first and now National.

Speaking of Nationals that is where skipper Bo Porter was coaching before getting signed by Jim Crane and GM Jeffrey Luhnow. It has been an interesting spring in Kissimmee, Fla. as the Astros slowly begin to put the pieces together.

If one were to look into the proverbial crystal ball your 2013 Astros lineup might look something like this:

Starting pitching should be a quintet of 1.Bud Norris 2.Lucas Harrell 3.Philip Humber 4.Longshot Brad Peacock and 5.Jordan Lyles. In the event that you don’t see that quintet rest assured some of these young bucks will do just fine in Oklahoma City or elsewhere.

Carlos Pena and Rick Ankiel are two new faces that will provide poise and leadership in a very young clubhouse. The return of Jose Altuve is guaranteed to make exciting things happen at bat and on the base paths.

Texas has been hammered with names that will electrify in Arlington. Russ Grimm, Mike Olt, Tanner Scheppers and Jurickson Profar without question will make the Rangers competitive for years to come.

I remind you that Jeff Luhnow and Bo Porter have made building the minor leagues a huge priority. In the name of prospects I present you with Jonathon Singleton, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Jarred Cosart, Lance McCullers, Delino Deshields, Mike Foltynewicz, Rio Ruiz, Nick Tropeano, and yes Brad Peacock.

Do not be surprised if a few, some, or half of these names get the call-up to play in Houston sometime this year. If not, it’s only a three hour drive to OKC and 20 minutes to Double A Frisco when the Corpus Christi Hooks come to town.

With a June First Year Player Draft on the horizon GM Jeffrey Luhnow has been seen scouting the young talent. And not your normal approach, either.

“I’m going to wait until the season starts to go back out, but it’s always fun to get back on the scouting trail,” said Luhnow, who oversaw the Cardinals’ scouting department during much of his tenure in St. Louis.

Any revelations as to what’s catching your eye?

“I try and take advantage and meet the parents or players or whoever I can and form a more complete picture,” he said. “I focus on players that are likely to be our top Draft picks, whether it’s 1-1 or 41 [overall]. I don’t have the luxury of going too deep down the list, so days off are usually good days to do that.”

Back to pitching the Astros will also have the services of one time Ranger (and now pitching coach) Doug Brocail and Roger Clemens to helpĀ assist with the younger bucks. Skipper Bo Porter-while aware of four off days in the first three weeks of the season-will stick with his plan for a five man rotation.

“I’m a proponent of you take the off-days,” he said. “You can’t duplicate the intensity we’ll have once we get to Minute Maid ballpark. That’s not to say that Spring Training, the preparation part of it, isn’t difficult, but you can’t duplicate that energy. Early in the year, I’ve always leaned on the side of giving the guys the extra off day, and later in the year if you have to skip a guy, we’ll skip a guy at that point.”

April will be an immediate test as the Astros will begin 2013 playing the first 15 and 18 of 21 against the A.L. West. Home games were certainly kind to Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell in 2012. Both had ERAS under 2.35 as starters at Minute Maid Park.

“Those are all factors that, from a managerial standpoint, you take those things into consideration,” Porter said. “You look at your opponents, you look at your division and you want to have your best guys going against division foes. You want to see your rotation stack up for the long haul where you have your best guys going against your division foes.”

Bo Porter strikes as one who will not be afraid to take chances or be aggressive in his play-calling. One can only imagine the amount of knowledge gained by friend and mentor Davey Johnson.

Doug Brocail puts it more succinctly-Throw Strikes!

“My theory is one of the first two pitches has to be a strike,” Brocail said. “We just need to get out there. Guys are in their third times through [the rotation] and are probably going to go through a little bit of a dead arm phase right now. Hopefully, that’s what it is. If it’s not, we need to buckle down and start throwing more strikes and trust our stuff and attack the hitters.”

We are days away and the fun starts for real. Rangers, A’s, Angels and Mariners getting all excited about a bunch of easy wins in theory.

Personally I ask, ‘Who are these guys?’