Astros Full Of Potential, Not Wins

added 9/8/2012 by Bob Hulsey

Darrell Royal, the esteemed former head coach of the University of Texas football team, often had his pick of the vast state high school litter when recruiting back in the 1960s and 1970s. A lot of heralded freshmen came through Austin and he had the same words for each of them.

"Potential just means you ain't done it yet."

On the current Astros roster are a lot of guys who haven't done it yet and probably more than a few will never live up to their old press clippings. There are a lot of former first-round choices throughout the system and one thing they all have in common is that they haven't done it yet.

When you look at the 40-man roster, probably five might be considered legitimate major leaguers. Yes, of course, many of the others are playing in the majors but they're playing for a team so deep at the bottom that the majority wouldn't smell the 25-man roster of most other big league clubs.

Are Jose Altuve and Lucas Harrell just "one year wonders"? Will Jed Lowrie ever play a full season in the majors? Is Bud Norris closer to revival or collapse? Will Jason Castro survive in the bigs?

And those, ladies and gents, are the best players on the club. The rest of the roster (we'll exclude Francisco Cordero who is stuck in some sort of baseball worm hole until November) are guys with probably less than a 20% chance of making an impact in the majors.

Some I think will be gone even by next spring, among them possibly Jordan Schafer, Brian Bogusevic, Brandon Barnes, Scott Moore, Matt Downs, Fernando Rodriguez, Fernando Abad, Enerio Del Rosario and Chuckie Fick. Thanks for coming, guys, but your services are no longer needed.

It will be time for some new faces in Houston. By clearing out the veterans and beefing up the farm system, Jeff Luhnow now has an expansion franchise to enter American League play with next year. It will be entirely his show.

There is some outward bubbling about the accomplishments of some of the farm teams and the potential (there's that word again) of some of the players. Congratulations are in order to Chris Devenski (acquired in the Brett Myers deal from the White Sox) for his 16-K no-hitter for Lexington recently, to Delino DeShields Jr. for stealing 101 bases this season between Lexington and Lancaster and to Tyler Heineman for winning the NY-Penn league batting title. Those guys are all down in the low minors.

Closer to home, it's not clear what sort of free agent infusion Luhnow has in mind this winter but he has tried to tamp down expectations of any major acquisitions. Expect more Chris Snyders.

The 1962 expansion team needed eight years just to reach the .500 mark. If the Astros continue on the course of cheap talent acquisitions, it might take until the end of the decade before those great rookie league and A-ball talents get to Houston and put a few notches on their belts.

One thing you have to remind yourself is that the trading frenzy by Ed Wade that Luhnow continued this year wasn't acquiring the best prospects of other organizations. What we had to trade wasn't going to pry loose the best of other farm systems. Outside of Jonathan Singleton (acquired by Wade in the Hunter Pence trade), there's nobody who looks like a sure thing to star in the majors.

Wade and Luhnow wanted depth with (dare I say it again?) potential. They hoped that, by adding quantity, a few of them might also blossom into quality. You rarely get top-line talent that way and that's the sort of talent needed to realistically challenge the Rangers and Angels in years to come.

To get top-line talent, without spending a fortune in free agency, you either have to be so terrible as to get high choices (see Washington Nationals, 2008-2009) or you have to get lucky. Right now, the Astros are terrible. The question is whether the new scouting chiefs will help them get lucky.

Despite their feigned shock that the Astros are this bad, Luhnow and owner Jim Crane can't really be surprised. They had a 106-loss team and traded away all their veterans. That almost always means the team will get worse. Set fire to a house and it usually burns to the ground.

The parent club is currently a burned-out husk. With few big league talents on the roster and fewer at AAA, the wait will be a long one if the Astros expect the farms to make them competitive. In my mind, Luhnow has yet to demonstrate that he can spot major league talent the way he has shown he can find minor league talent.

There's a difference between the two and that difference is potential. The minor leaguers "ain't done it yet".

Houston fans should show some patience but not inexhaustible patience. The American League Astros are being built on half-premise and half-promise by people who "ain't done it yet". At some point, the fans will need to hold them accountable. Judging by the empty seats, many fans already are.