How Sports Illustrated Predicted the Houston Astros back in the year 2014 would eventually become World Series Champions in 2017 with George Springer gracing the cover. Obviously the magazine isn’t actually declaring the Astros the 2017 World Series champs, just making an audacious point about a perennially bottom-dwelling club that is, by almost all accounts, moving in the right direction.
Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow is widely credited for an incredible run of player development in his role as a St. Louis Cardinals vice president from 2003 to 2010. The Cardinals won World Series in 2006 and 2011 and have reached the postseason in four of the past five seasons behind an excellent crop of homegrown talent largely drafted and developed in Luhnow’s tenure.
Since joining the Astros, Luhnow has made a series of innovative front-office hires and fostered a farm system now considered one of MLB’s very best. Again: The magazine’s claim may sound crazy, but it’s not hopelessly optimistic.
Still, despite all those efforts, the Astros sit in last place in the American League West, a division that features a couple of typically well-run franchises in the Oakland A’s and Texas Rangers and a couple that have shown deep pockets in the Los Angeles Angels and the Seattle Mariners.
And the heroics of coverboy George Springer aside, most of the Astros’ ballyhooed prospects remain only prospects. Of the players currently on their roster that are under team control through 2017, only Jose Altuve has really established himself as a good Major League player. Springer has been great for his 225 at-bats, and starters Dallas Keuchel, Jarred Cosart and Collin McHugh have all had success this season.
Even if all those guys maintain their success, that’s five pieces of a 25-man roster.
There’s no doubt that shrewd drafting and player development is the safest way to create a sustainable winner in the Majors. But the Kansas City Royals frequently received the same type of praise the Astros now get just a few years ago, and most of the players involved just didn’t become superstars.
Before the 2011, Baseball America named four Royals among its top overall 20 prospects: Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Wil Myers and Mike Montgomery.
Myers and Montgomery helped net the Royals a solid starter in James Shields in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, then Myers went on to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2013. Hosmer has been, at best, about a league-average first baseman since his Major League debut in 2011. Moustakas has been something less than that at third base.
And that’s only one cautionary tale. Ask fans of the mid-90s Mets how “Generation K” worked out.
So yeah, the Astros seem to be doing things the right way. But it’ll be way easier to buy them as 2017 World Series champs when more of their prospects prove they can hack it in the bigs. Baseball’s really hard, and 29 other teams are working to be the 2017 World Series champs, too.
By Sports Illustrated (Ted Berg)