The past few seasons, the Houston Astros have been the laughing stock of Major League Baseball, but that may not last for long. Things are looking up in Houston, as the Astros continue to grow and learn in their rebuilding process.
Players like Jose Altuve and Jason Castro are beginning to show glimpses of their tremendous potential. New ownership and management are in place to get this organization on the right track.
The farm system for the Astros is on the rise, as more and more talented prospects join the organization via trades and draft picks.
Expectations for the Astros this year were very low, which gives this team the opportunity to improve in a comfortable, positive environment without any pressure or distractions.
Here are the 10 biggest reasons to be optimistic about this young team's future.
The Houston Astros were sold in 2011 to businessman Jim Crane. Crane's purchase of the franchise led to realignment, which moved the Astros to the American League West.
The move to the AL was one of many changes to the Astros following the purchase. Crane has tried to create a new atmosphere in this Houston organization.
Crane has made several changes to many different aspects of the team. He hired his own personnel to handle the day-to-day operations. He made changes to the stadium in downtown Houston. He even changed the team's uniforms and colors.
Crane is an aggressive owner, and he will do what he thinks is necessary to turn this team around and build a contender. He has the necessary assets to do so.
A New Start
After missing out on the playoffs the past seven seasons, the last couple not even close, the Astros decided to start a drastic rebuilding process. They tore everything down and now have the opportunity to start fresh.
The switch to the AL, along with the new uniforms, symbolizes the beginning of a new era of Houston baseball. After numerous trades and firings, there are hardly any recognizable faces left on the payroll.
The Astros are trying to move on to bigger and better things, which means leaving the past behind.
The Astros have been through a handful of managers the past several seasons. Bo Porter was hired before this season to be the new manager and to usher in the new era in Houston.
Porter was hired because of his positive attitude and uplifting managerial style. This is Porter's first stint as a manager, and he understands the circumstances in which he was hired.
He is not expected to win games or championships; rather, Porter's job is to maintain a positive atmosphere full of development and encouragement for the young players.
So far this season, it seems that Porter is the right man for the job. The Astros are not winning very many games, but the environment in the locker room is promising for a struggling team. Porter will help make the transition from rebuilding to contention a smoother one.
There may not be a lot of wins for this young team, but when they do win, the players rejoice. The positive environment in the clubhouse says a lot about the attitude of this team, which will come in handy looking forward.
Unlike most other players, the Astros young players are happy just to be playing baseball in the majors. These guys show up excited for spring training, unlike veterans who would rather prolong the offseason.
These guys know they are not going to make the playoffs this season, probably not even the next one or the one after that. However, they do know that the rebuilding stage is still an important one, and they have the right attitude looking forward.
The city of Houston understands that the Astros are undergoing a process, and they support the team. There is not a lot of pressure on the team or management right now, which allows them to comfortably continue to develop.
This season, third baseman Matt Dominguez has been a pleasant surprise for the Astros. Dominguez was acquired last season from the Miami Marlins in a trade for outfielder Carlos Lee.
This year, Dominguez is batting only .239, but with nine homers and 32 runs batted in. As a top prospect, Dominguez was favored for his glove more than his bat, but his power has been an appreciated bonus for the Astros lineup.
Dominguez is only 23 years old and has a bright future ahead of him. The next time the Astros make the playoffs, he may be a role player in the lineup.
No, he's not the man pictured above, but that's his father. Reid Ryan was named as the new president of operations for the Astros organization in May. Nolan Ryan, Hall of Fame pitcher and former Astro, is currently the CEO of the rival Texas Rangers.
Before his stint as Astros president, Reid Ryan was the CEO of minor league teams Round Rock Express and Corpus Christi Hooks, which are affiliated with the Rangers and Astros, respectively.
His second day on the job, Ryan brought in former Astros pitcher and manager Larry Dierker as his special assistant. The community welcomed Dierker’s return to the organization.
Nolan has brought success to the Rangers organization. In the past three seasons, they have two World Series appearances and are consistent contenders each season. The Astros are hoping Reid can bring some of the same knowledge and fortune to Houston that his father has for the Rangers.
Over the past few seasons, the Astros have traded any veteran with trade value in order to obtain prospects. They have received quality prospects for former players such as Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Carlos Lee and more. This year should be no different.
When the trade deadline approaches, the Astros will be aggressive sellers. Any player they think they can trade will be dealt.
There aren't as many options this season as in years past, but the Astros still have a couple options to trade in exchange for some new prospects.
Jordan Lyles was one of the top prospects in the Astros organization when he was called up in 2011. He is only 22 years old, and he is already having a solid season in the starting rotation.
Lyles, so far, is 3-1 with a 4.30 earned run average. There is definitely room for improvement, but he's just a kid with a ton of potential and plenty of time to continue to develop.
The next time the Astros are contenders, Lyles should be a key cog in the rotation. For now, he should keep working on his game patiently, and when the time comes, he will be ready.
As the Astros continue to trade away veterans, they receive dozens of prospects in return. As a result, the farm system has improved dramatically.
The Triple-A Oklahoma City Redhawks are second place in their division in the Pacific Coast League. The Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks are leading their division in the Texas League. The Single-A Advanced Lancaster Jethawks also lead their division in the California League.
According to the SB Nation Farm System Rankings, the Astros are currently ranked 10th. Only one year ago, they were ranked 25th.
The sudden improvement can be attributed to numerous trades as well as a quality draft class in 2012. With a consistently good farm system, it won't be long before the major league team benefits from its resources. Hopefully, the Astros will improve along with their affiliates.
The 2013 season has been Jason Castro's coming-out party. The Astros drafted the catcher out of Stanford with their first-round pick back in 2008.
By 2010, Castro made his much-anticipated debut, but he did not live up to the hype right away. He has struggled with injuries and consistency at the plate the past couple seasons, but this season has been different.
Castro is hitting a respectable .272 with eight home runs and 19 runs batted in. He has been one of the most lethal bats in the Astros' lineup, so far, this year and has a legitimate case to become Houston's All-Star in July.
It seems that Castro will be around in Houston for a while, and he may even be a star when the Astros return to the postseason.
With the numerous trades and quality draft picks, the Astros have built up a solid list of prospects, per MLB.com, in their farm system. These are the guys who will determine the future of the franchise. Over the past couple of seasons, the prospect list has upgraded substantially.
The top prospect right now is first baseman Jonathan Singleton. Singleton is currently playing for Double-A Corpus Christi, but he should be in the major leagues by the end of the season because of his tremendous power. Singleton was acquired in a trade in 2011 from the Philadelphia Phillies for outfielder Hunter Pence.
Second on the list is last year's first overall pick in the draft, shortstop Carlos Correa. Correa has a fantastic glove and a solid bat, currently playing for Single-A Quad Cities. He is definitely a part of Houston's future.
Houston was bad enough to also get the first pick in this year's draft, which they used on Mark Appel. The ace was drafted by Pittsburgh last year, but he decided to return to Stanford for his senior season. The scouting report, provided by Bleacher Report's Mike Rosenbaum, suggests that this kid is the real deal.
Other big-time prospects on the list include outfielder George Springer, pitcher Jarred Cosart, and second baseman Delino DeShields. All of these players could have an impact on the Astros in the near future.
It's not very common that a 5'5" player is the face of the franchise, but that is exactly what the Astros have. Second baseman Jose Altuve has been a quality player ever since he was called up in 2011.
This season, Altuve is hitting .297 with a .335 on-base percentage. For such a small guy, Altuve is a natural hitter with a big swing, and he is quick on the basepaths. He also has solid range in the field at second base.
Altuve was the Astros' lone All-Star last season, and this season may be the same. He is clearly the franchise player in Houston. He will be a leader both on and off the field over the next several seasons. Keep in mind, he is only 23 years old.
Altuve will carry this team through the rebuilding stage and into contention.
Jeff Luhnow was brought in as the new general manager in 2011. He had been a scouting director for the St. Louis Cardinals previously, and he did a spectacular job. The Cardinals won the 2011 World Series with many of his draft picks as key players on the roster.
As a franchise, the Cardinals have consistently had a top-ranked farm system while also contending in the major leagues. They are a model franchise, and a lot of that recent success can be attributed to Luhnow.
On Opening Day 2013 around the league, according to Baseball America, Luhnow led all scouting directors with the most draft picks on a major league roster to begin the season. Luhnow had 21 draft picks in the major leagues on several different rosters to start the year.
It's fairly evident that Luhnow has proven his worth in the past with the St. Louis organization, and now he is cementing his credibility in Houston. He has already made several big moves in his stint with Houston in only a short time.
Luhnow has acquired dozens of prospects through the draft and trades who will define the future of the club. This stockpiling of talent has great potential to turn this team around, and quicker than most would think.
The Astros currently have the lowest payroll in all of baseball, according to ESPN, and it is not even close to second. The highest-paid players on the roster, Bud Norris and Carlos Pena, are likely to be dealt at the deadline, and they only make about $3 million each per year.
The talent is developing in the farm system, the money is saved up, and the right GM is in place to take the Astros to new heights, only a few years after they have been to new depths.
Luhnow is looking ahead to a bright future, and it's about time that Astros fans do the same.