Why the Houston Astros will be title contenders for years to come

Perhaps you are the kind of Houston Astros fan who likes to fret. The kind of fan who takes no pleasure from the Astros clinching their fifth division title in six years because you remember the Old Days when the Astros were either losing 100 games or getting swept by the Braves in the NLDS. The kind of fan who spends their time simply surviving this Golden Era of Houston Baseball as you wait for the shoe to drop. The kind of fan who shakes your head at the Astros’ farm system being ranked 29th out of 30 by MLB.com. How long can the Astros expect to simply win divisions and make the ALCS with such a poorly-regarded farm system?

First, what you need to know about the Astros’ farm system is that it has done what farm systems are supposed to do: Houston has used it to provide Major-League talent either through trades or development. The Astros’ farm system is ranked as low as it is thanks to trades for Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke within a two-year period. It’s low thanks to the graduation of Jeremy Peña from prospect to perfectly acceptable Major-League shortstop. No one raises banners or throws parades for having the most highly regarded farm system.

When looking at the Astros’ farm system, one should also consider the opportunities available at the Major-League level. The lineup that clinched the division Monday night will be around for quite a while: Only DH Trey Mancini, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, and catcher Christian Vazquez are scheduled to hit free agency after the World Series, and there’s a 2023 mutual option for Trey Mancini should he and the Astros want to run it back next season.

Otherwise, Justin Verlander has to decide if he wants to exercise his $25 million player option in his Age 40 season, or seek a richer deal elsewhere. Michael Brantley will be a free agent, but he only played in 64 games this year before undergoing season-ending surgery, and will be 36 next year. Reliever Will Smith has a $1 million buyout or a $13 million team option. Reliever Rafael Montero will also be a free agent, but other than Verlander, we’re not talking about anyone in the running for Team MVP.

Relievers Hector Neris, Ryne Stanek, Phil Maton and catcher Martin Maldonado won’t be free agents until after the 2023 season. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Ryan Pressly are under contract through 2024. Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Cristian Javier, and Kyle Tucker are under team control through 2025. Lance McCullers Jr’s and Luis Garcia will be Astros through 2026. Yordan Alvarez will be an Astro through at least the 2027 season. Jeremy Peña won’t hit free agency until 2028.

So how much opportunity, really, is there for a top prospect? Hunter Brown has only had three outings—and two of them against the Rangers and Tigers—but the right-hander certainly feels like the real deal, especially given his numbers over the season at Triple-A Sugar Land. Here are some other names to watch as GM James Click plots out the rest of this Golden Age:

Zach Daniels

The left-fielder, a 2020 fourth round pick out of the University of Tennessee, just wrapped up a 23 homer, 22 stolen base season at High-A Asheville, hitting .282/.371/.522 in 95 games.

Drew Gilbert

Sticking with the Volunteers theme, the Astros only first round pick since 2019 hit .362/.455/.673 for the Vols in the 2022 season, solidifying his first-round status. Gilbert played 10 games in the Astros’ system this summer before dislocating his elbow while running into the outfield wall.

Spencer Arrighetti

The Astros’ sixth round pick in 2021 out of Cinco Ranch High School struck out 152 batters in 106.2IP for Asheville and Double-A Corpus Christi. His other dashboard stats aren’t as impressive as Hunter Brown’s, but Brown had “only” struck out 134 batters in 106IP at Sugar Land.

Jacob Melton

Houston went after collegiate outfielders with their first two picks in the 2022 draft, as those guys are more refined than the teenage draft picks. Melton, Houston’s second round pick this summer out of Oregon State, hit .360/.424/.671 for the Beavers, with 17 homers and 21 stolen bases. In 19 games for the Fayetteville Woodpeckers this summer, he hit .324/.424/.578.

Edinson Batista

The 20-year old Batista just finished up a season split between Fayetteville and Asheville, where he was 1.7 and 3.0 years younger, respectively, than his competition, and turned in a combined 2.67 ERA / 1.12 WHIP performance where he struck out 127 batters in 107.2 innings.

There are only so many spots on the Major-League roster, 26 to be precise, and the front office under Jeff Luhnow and James Click, spending Jim Crane’s money (though perhaps not as much of it as Crane would wish) has turned the Astros into a perennial powerhouse who promise to keep their foot on the neck of the AL West for years to come.

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