The Houston Astros are rebuilding and there is no questioning that. They have one of the worst records in Major League Baseball and are going through growing pains with a number of their young prospects.
In any rebuilding project there is one key step that every organization needs to do to get them through the rebuilding phase. Every front office needs to identify the players that they want to build their team around that will lead them to a championship.
Looking at the Astros' roster, there are ten players I believe who can build a strong foundation for a championship caliber team.
Jason Castro is the future catcher of the Houston Astros and would have been the present catcher if it was not for a season ending knee injury that he sustained in Spring Training this year. Castro was the Astros' first round pick in 2008 and made his major league debut only two years later.
He did struggle the last half of 2010 only hitting .205 with two home runs and eight RBI but is a great defensive catcher. Baseball Beginnings' scouting report on Castro describes him as a "plus-plus defensive catcher" and has a "chance to be the best defensive player at his position"
I think he still has the potential to be an average to above average major league hitter and will hopefully be the Astros' catcher in 2012 and beyond.
Brett Wallace came over to the Astros last year in a spin-off trade of the Roy Oswalt trade and has been the starting Astros' first baseman ever since. He struggled in 2010 but has been the Astros' second best hitter this season and at 24 years of age looks like a fixture on this team for years to come.
This season he is hitting .318 with four home runs and 18 RBI and while you would like to see better power numbers from your corner infielder, I think these numbers will improve over the next few years. While it is nice to see his improvement at the plate, the reason I think he is a core player is his improvement in the field.
Wallace was drafted by the Cardinals as a third baseman and his defense was always a question mark for him. Well the Blue Jays moved him to first base and he has put in a lot of extra work at the position and it has showed. If he continues to improve he will be a big part of the Astros' organization.
The Astros should be set at both corner infielder positions as Chris Johnson, along with Wallace, looks like a core player the team can build around. Johnson has seen playing time at the Major League level since 2009 but this is the first year he has been given the third base job permanently from the start of the season.
He finished 2010 strong, hitting .308 with 11 home runs and 52 RBI over the final 94 games. This season though he has regressed and is only hitting .227 with six home runs and 28 RBI but at 28 years of age he still has time to develop and I believe he will. I expect him to provide some stability at the position, which is something the Astros have not had since the years of Morgan Ensberg.
Michael Bourn has been the Astros starting center fielder since 2008, when he came over from the Phillies in the Brad Lidge trade. He had some growing pains in 2008 but has been a good lead-off hitter for the Astros the past three years.
This season he is hitting .273 with one home run and 20 RBI and is on pace to set a career mark in this category. His real value though comes on the basepath and in the field. He currently leads the Major Leagues with 25 steals and has only been caught twice so far this year.
Bourn has been able to use his great speed to his advantage in becoming a very good defensive center fielder. Not to mention he has developed a good relationship with Tal's Hill out there in center field, something many center fielders can't say.
This is a plea to Astros' management to lock this player up to a long term deal now. Pence is one of a few Astros currently on the roster who has worked his way up through the minor leagues. He has become a fan favorite with the people of Houston and let's not forget he is in the top of a number of statistical categories in the National League.
He is currently ninth in the National League with a .313 batting average, and fifth in RBI. He has more RBI than hitters like Ryan Braun and Albert Pujols. He also is second in the National League in hits, ahead of current NL MVP Joey Votto.
The guy is having a career year but has been one of the most consistent batters over the past few years. He has hit exactly 25 home runs each of the past three seasons. There is no reason this guy should not be one of the core players for the Astros to build around.
At 31 years of age, Wandy Rodriguez is the oldest player on this list but I believe he still has a number of good years left since he is only in his sixth season with the Astros. He was off to arguably his best start of his career before landing on the DL but will be coming back soon and hopefully can pick up where he left off.
He is the only player still remaining from the 2005 World Series team and has been one of the only constants in the rotation since then. This season I think he has become the ace of the staff as he eats up innings and has been the best performer to this point. He is a much better as a second or third option in the rotation but is definitely a player the Astros could use in building a championship team.
J.A. Happ was the main player that came over in the Roy Oswalt trade and the Astros were hoping they got the runner up in the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year race. He has struggled in 2011 but the potential is there to be a top of the rotation guy and should be a core player for the Astros.
This season he has a 3-7 record with a 4.65 ERA, over a run higher than his career ERA of 3.54. He is only 28 years of age and has only four years of experience so there is still time for him to develop into the pitcher many envision.
Bud Norris is in his second season as an Astros' starter and has become a strikeout machine. He currently is top five in K/9 strikeout ratio and recently took a no hitter into the seventh inning against the St. Louis Cardinals.
He does have a 3-4 record but no Astros starter has a very good win-loss record. He does have an ERA of 3.67 and like Wandy has become an inning eater, which is good considering the bullpen has been subpar. He is another young arm at only 26 years old and should have many good years in front of him, hopefully with the Astros.
Jordan Lyles only has two major league starts but should be considered one of the core players for the Astros. He was the Astros' top prospect and at only 20 years old looks like he will be a great pitcher for years to come. He had one strong outing against the Cubs and struggled against the Padres in his last start on Sunday.
When Wandy comes back from the DL, it looks like Lyles will be sent back to the minors but I don't think it will be for long. He will be back with the Astros at some point this season and then should be a fixture for the foreseeable future. In the minor leagues this season he was 3-3 with a 3.20 ERA and has gone 0-1 with an ERA of 4.91 in his two major league starts.
Mark Melancon came over in the Lance Berkman trade last season and was thought of more as an afterthought. He has however taken over the closer role from Brandon Lyon and has been the best arm in the bullpen this year.
He has six saves with only two blown saves and a record of 4-1. His ERA stands at 1.78 and he has a K/9 ratio of 8.28. I think Melancon can be a very good closer and hopefully will hold onto that position for years to come.