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Astros Minors: Those Who Can't Remember

George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Take heed, Astros' fans. Historical examples do not foretell a star-studded 2017 roster comprised of current Astros' prospects.

Jerome Williams is not an Astros' prospect.  And yet, he's on the roster anyway.  HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?
Jerome Williams is not an Astros' prospect. And yet, he's on the roster anyway. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?

2017 Opening Day Lineup:

C: Jason Castro
1B: Jon Singleton
2B: Jose Altuve
3B: Rio Ruiz
SS: Carlos Correa
LF: Delino DeShields Jr.
CF: George Springer
RF: Domingo Santana
DH: Preston Tucker

SP: Carlos Rodon
SP: Mark Appel
SP: Mike Foltynewicz
SP: Lance McCullers Jr.
SP: Michael Feliz

CL: Jarred Cosart

OH EMM JEE, the Astros are going to be BOSS. Look at all those can't-miss, sure-fire, first-round prospects who will all compete (against each other) for league MVP's and Cy Young awards!

The Astros have Six Top 100 prospects on Baseball America! Seven on! Five on Baseball Prospectus!

Isn't listing fun?

Hold those horses, because they're about to stampede in a hysteria-driven fantasy of soon-to-be-crushed expectations. I read lots of lists in the TCB comments, and they're fun thought exercises. But history shows that they are not realistic.

There is no question that the Astros have assembled a top-flight minor league system, one which should feed the parent clubs for years to come through both high-level prospects and necessary depth. It is something the club should be proud of and that the fans should anticipate with eagerness.

But history teaches us to temper expectations of baseball prospects, and every fan base of every club in history likes to conveniently ignore the realities of how difficult it is to play the game of baseball at the highest level. Here's a soul-crushing blow to the gut (or is that a gut-crushing blow to the soul?):

That link is the 2011 Royals' farm system. Hosmer. Myers. Moustakas. Lamb. Montgomery. Colon. Duffy. Dwyer. Crow. Eibner. That was the year the Royals featured NINE prospects on Baseball America's Top 100. Fangraphs speculated that the Royals of that season had "the best farm system of the decade". Here's ESPN's take:

ESPN's Keith Law ranks the Royals' farm system as the best in baseball.

SI weighs in as well:

"The time is also coming for Mike Moustakas, Wil Myers, John Lamb, Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, Chris Dwyer and the K.C. Kids who are drawing bigger raves than The King's Speech. Said Jim Callis of Baseball America, which ranked the Royals' crop of prospects as the best in baseball, "The Royals have one of the deepest and most talented farm systems in recent memory." Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein proclaimed it the best farm he'd ever seen."

That's the same Kevin Goldstein who works for the Astros now.

Fast forward three seasons, and that list doesn't look like it was the "most talented farm system in recent memory". I've asked a lot of pessimistic questions lately, and these might be the worst ones.

  1. Are we totally overrating the Astros' farm in terms of MLB future?
  2. Two of the Royals' 2011 farm are now stars (Hosmer and Myers) and neither of them look like potential MVP candidates, though both should have several All-Star seasons. Of the Astros Top 10, which two (and only two) would you pick to begin their careers as well as Myers and Hosmer have? Throw the rest away. Who you taking?
  3. Only two others of the Royals' Top 10 have become regulars (Crow and Moustakas) but really haven't been much to write home about. Pick two more from the Astros' Top 10 who will be major league regulars, but won't be special.
  4. The other six on the Royals' Top 10 have all seen their careers fall apart due to poor performance, injury, or are still on the farm but have had serious shine taken off their prospect status. Those six are still eligible for prospect lists but are NOT on the Royals' 2014 Top 10.
This should be a lesson to not place all one's hopes on a farm system to turn a roster around. Successful major league rosters should have a core of home-grown talent, but those may not be the guys we identify as future stars right now. Maybe Appel goes all Montgomery and comes back from his appendectomy to throw a 6.00 ERA in AA and AAA. Maybe Springer's contact questions are real issues that limit his ceiling to "Chris Carter with wheels". Maybe Andrew Aplin becomes the next Willie Mays.

The Astros' process is intelligent in that it's not an all-or-nothing system. It's built on depth, and that is the one thing that should encourage Astros fans the most. It's not just Springer on the top of the outfield depth chart. It's the guys behind him - DeShields, Santana, Tucker, Vasquez, Hernandez, Aplin, Martin, Ramsay, Phillips, etc, that make the Astros stand the best chance of "growing from within."

I'm genuinely curious about your answers. Pick two studs from the current Astros' Top 10. Pick two regulars. Toss the rest away. Who you got?

Remember the Alamo Royals. Lists are fun, but it takes more than gambling on minor leaguers to assemble a roster. My guess? The real Astros 2017 Roster will look like this:

3 or 4 position players who are "prospects" right now in the Astros system, and a half-dozen guys acquired in trades or free agency between now and then. 2 or 3 starting pitchers from the Astros' current system, plus a couple free agents.

And that might be optimistic.