Here we are, folks: the first edition of the End of Season Post-Mortem series. If you're new here (which about 50% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from playoff contention, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated. Also, for the first ten teams eliminated, we're going to post a series called "Hope for the Hopeless", which is going to be an expanded version of the "What Went Right" portion of the Post-Mortem series pieces.
We knew that the Astros' season in 2013 was going to probably be a massive disappointment. And now, while the season isn't officially in the books yet, we know that Houston's season won't continue into October. That doesn't necessarily mean it was all a lost cause, though.
Preseason prediction: I think the Astros will play about the same as they did in 2012: really, really badly, but not historically bad. I think Pena (and maybe even Wallace) plays well enough to get a decent return from a contender at midseason to bolster the team's farm system even more, and that Singleton gets called up once one of those two is dealt. Once Singleton reaches the majors, I think the team and their fans will finally begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and that things will finally start falling into place in 2014. Yeah, Houston will probably lose 105 games again in 2013, but they'll be in better shape for 2014 than a lot of clubs out there.
What Went Right: Houston's rebuilding efforts went well – really well. All of their farm teams are playoff contenders, and their farm system is ranked as one of the top five best in all of baseball. The major league club has started seeing dividends from that farm system this year, but the best is still yet to come.
At the major league level, there were some huge hits for the Astros, most notably catcher Jason Castro, who has become one of the AL's best catchers at age 26. Houston also locked up second baseman Jose Altuve through his arbitration years (and possibly beyond) to a bargain basement contract extension. Chris Carter has thrived in the middle of Houston's lineup, and is looking like a prime trade candidate this offseason. Speaking of trade candidates, Houston traded Justin Maxwell, Bud Norris, and Jose Veras in July, getting solid returns for all three.
There's also the infusion of young players to the majors that were impressive in 2013, including shortstop Jonathan Villar, outfielders LJ Hoes (acquired in the Norris trade) and Robbie Grossman, and starting pitchers Jarred Cosart and Brett Oberholtzer.
What Went Wrong: Well, a lot of the veterans Houston signed to fill holes didn't really do much. Carlos Pena stunk and was released in July. Rick Ankiel was hideous, and lasted a little over a month with the club. Houston wasn't able to deal Erik Bedard at the deadline. Brett Wallace is striking out nearly 40% of the time, walking half as much as Carter with similar power.
Altuve started his year hot, but completely fell off a cliff following a subluxation of his jaw in May. Jordan Lyles, still just 22, hasn't been able to take the next step in his career just yet. The bullpen has been terrible, but that should have been expected. Cosart has been fine in the majors, but he's also walked more than he's struck out, which is not a good sign going forward.
Most Surprising Player: I think I'll go with Castro. Yes he was a former tenth overall pick, but his major league career had failed to live up to expectations thusfar thanks to a torn ACL in 2011 and a torn meniscus in 2012. Well this year, Castro has played in 113 games for the Astros and is hitting .282/.358/.498 with 18 homers. The only catchers in the majors with more homers than Castro are Wilin Rosario, JP Arencibia, and Matt Wieters (two of whom have sub-.300 on base percentages), and the only catchers having better years at the plate offensively are Yadier Molina, Joe Mauer, and Buster Posey (all of whom I'm sure you've heard of). He's been incredible, and a true bright spot for Houston.
Most Disappointing Player: I think Altuve has to be the choice here, all things considered. He was expected to take a step forward, but after doing exactly that in April, he came back to Earth in prompt fashion. The good news is that he's just 23, and hopefully a healthy 2014 will send him back in the right direction.
The Future: Houston's future is bright, possibly brighter than any team in the AL West. George Springer is currently murdering AAA, and is just three homers away from a 40/40 season between AA and AAA. I have little doubt that the UConn product will be in Houston on Opening Day 2014. Jonathan Singleton has struggled this year after missing the first 50 games following a silly marijuana suspension, but has turned it on in Oklahoma City in August and is a likely choice for Houston's Opening Day first baseman next year. On the mound, go ahead and pencil in Asher Wojciechowski for the pitching staff next year along with Cosart and Oberholtzer. When you go ahead and throw in LJ Hoes, Max Stassi, and Jonathan Villar to that bunch, Houston is going to be very exciting to watch in 2014, and I haven't even mentioned Domingo Santana or Mark Appel yet. Good god, the word "stacked" applies to no other team than the Astros going forward.