The Houston Astros, as expected, were laughably bad last year, finishing 51-111 and last in the American League West.
While the Astros likely won’t turn the corner from cellar dweller to contender overnight, they do expect to be better – perhaps even considerably better – in 2014.
“I’ll tell you what: This is a franchise that’s going under a lot of change,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said on The Morning Show. “There’s only player (left) that was here on the Opening Day roster two years ago, and there’s obviously been a big turnover in personnel.”
It hasn’t just been in the clubhouse, either. Rather, it has started from the ground up.
“Our main focus over the past two years has been to rebuild the entire system, and our farm system has gone from one of the worst in baseball to one of the best – if not the best – in the last two years,” Luhnow said. “And that’s going to really help us down the road. I think this is the year that we start to turn the dial on the performance at the big-league level, and I really think that’s going to happen in a couple ways.”
Those ways include young players getting better, rookies making an impact and veterans providing leadership and a stabilizing influence.
The Astros will need all of that and more if they hope to keep pace with the Rangers, Angels, Mariners and Athletics.
“I know our division’s gotten tougher; it could be the toughest division in baseball,” Luhnow said. “But we’re going to be a lot tougher this year too.”
If they are, it’ll be – at least in part – to a series of strong drafts.
“We know what the draft can do for a major league organization,” Luhnow said. “The Astros have been picking first the last (few years). It’s an opportunity to fundamentally inject just an incredible amount of talent that can have an impact in short order.
That talent would certainly help attendance, which has dwindled in recent years.
“We’ve been very open and honest with the fans about where we are, where we’re going and how quickly it’s going to take to get there,” Lunhow said. “And we’ve also been promoting our minor league players.”
Among the top prospects? Outfielder George Springer, shortstop Carlos Correa and right-handed pitcher Mark Appel.
“(Fans) know the future is bright,” Lunhow said. “I think ultimately we need them to come back and support us by coming to the stadium and coming to games. We’re hoping that dynamic will start to kick in this year and eventually the stadium will fill up.
“I worked for the Cardinals when we faced the Astros in the NLCS two years in a row, and I know what Minute Maid Park is like when it’s full, and I know how good a sports town Houston can be. We’ll get back there. We just need to do a little more to put a winning product on the field, and the fans will return.”