Let's get right to the punch. The best case scenario for the Astros in the 2011 season is they win the World Series, that's it.
Yup! Looks good. PRINT IT!
What's that, David? You want more?...but there is no....ow ow ow, you're hurting my arm! Okay fine! No need for the whip...
Baseball Prospectus has the Astros with a .2% chance to make the playoffs this upcoming season. No, that period is not a typing error. Point two percent is the Astros chance to make the playoffs, .1% to win the division and 0.0% to win the Wild Card. Now that I've thoroughly thrashed your optimism for this season, I'm here to tell you that the worst case scenario article will be tomorrow.
Realistically, what is the Best Case Scenario for the Astros this season?
I've been back and forth over two scenarios, competing this season or working towards the future. Typically when you think "best case scenario" you're talking about competing. Is it really better for the Astros to be competing? Every win just moves the organization down the draft board. That's how the Rays have appeared to do it. The Royals farm system is looking really good, and the Pirates...uh...well supposedly there going to finish ahead of the Astros so there ya go.
I do not subscribe to this train of thought however. The Ray's recent success in the draft appears to be a change of personnel in the organization. They've only recently begun plucking Major League players out of the draft for the last half decade. The Royals haven't picked outside of the top 15 since 1995 and the Pirates haven't since 2000. Having the right scouts and development personnel trumps draft slot every time. I like to think with Ed Wade and Bobby Heck coming from organizations who had success in the draft that we shouldn't have to worry too much about draft slot.
With that in mind, the best case scenario for the Astros is not to totally bomb out, or even make the playoffs. The best case scenario is to continue the development process with an eye towards the future while being competitive wouldn't hurt either.
Another year under Brad Arnsberg could do wonders for a pitching staff that found its groove in the second half of the season, and it's vital for both competing and the rebuilding process. I don't think it's secret that having a strong pitching staff is vital to a contending team. The Giants won it on pitching last year, and the Phillies appear to be the favorites with their four-headed monster. More important than pitching well is staying healthy for the course of the season. If any one of the top four starting pitchers go down, the replacement candidates are Ryan Rowland-Smith, Anuery Rodriguez, and Jordan Lyles. While I like all three, minimizing their innings would be necessary for both now and the future.
The other benefit of pitching well is that the Astros would then have the opportunity to possibly move someone at the deadline. A Brett Lawrie is rare, a Jeff Bagwell is even rarer, but being in any type of position to improve the farm system would be ideal.
Speaking of the farm system, having another solid draft in June with South Carolina's Jackie Bradley Jr. being the first new farm hand selected would be amazing. Of course, I'm a bit biased being from that part of the country. If we're talking best case scenario, the Astros hit it out of the park with this draft. They've had a solid few drafts now, but pulling the lever on the draft slot machine and taking the right players in a deep draft would push the organization one step further to respectability. We won't know how well the Astros truly did until a few years from now.
Best case for the hitters? New hitting coach Mike Barnett improves the offense from below average to just an average one; Carlos Lee bounces back; Clint Barmes proves the humidor is working; Bill Hall post his first back-to-back OPS+ over a 100 since 2006; J.R. Towles and Brett Wallace start realizing their potential while Chris Johnson continues to defy the statistics saying he's a fluke. That's a lot of question marks that have to be answered for just an average offense.
More important for the Astros is the continued development of the young players, primarily Chris Johnson and Brett Wallace who have issues of their own to overcome. For Johnson, it's coming down from the high he produced last year. How far he falls and how he handles it, if it even happens, has yet to be seen, but overcoming this would be a step in the right direction towards solidifying his position as a legit big league hitter. Wallace, on the other hand, has some mechanical issues to overcome. Mechanical issues that several have already said would be very difficult for him to overcome. If this spring is any indication, Wallace might have a huge year in the works.
But let's not forget one Jason Castro's who will be rehabilitating his knee, in an effort to be ready for 2012. All thumbs up for his rehab assignment with a possible September appearance would be ideal. As for the replacement, Towles finally filling out his offensive potential would allow me to writet an "I told you so" post about the Astros inability to give this kid a shot. He'd also make a nice trade piece, or provide a nice compliment offensively to Jason Castro in 2012.
Finally, let's talk about something not dealing with the Major League team at all. On the farm system, another good year out of the Minor League system would be crucial to the future success of the organization. A bounce back year from Jiovanni Mier would be amazing. Ben Heath showing off his guns again would help to improve the Astros catching depth. Another J.D. Martinez emerging (Dan Adamson, anyone?), Dallas Keuchel quietly continuing his thing at another level, Jonathan Villar and Jimmy Parades showing why the Astros were willing to let Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman go, would all be best case scenarios.
As you can tel,l this is not your typical best case scenario for a baseball team. Some will tell you what needs to go right for this team to make the playoffs, but that's just a bonus. More important would be the Astros continuing their youth movement. Spring is here and thankfully so is baseball.