Think back to the 2006-07 seasons for the Houston Astros. They were coming off being swept in the 2005 World Series by the White Sox and were beginning the post-Jeff Bagwell world. Many Astros stars such as Roger Clemens and Andy Petitte left, and Craig Biggio was slowly winding down his career. Many of the good Astros prospects were traded away over the years to add to the big league roster. But one name Astros remember hearing about is Hunter Pence, who will play against the Astros tonight for the Rangers.
Twitter was just getting started in 2006, and I’m not sure how widely it was used back then to talk about sports. If it was, you could imagine fans would be @-ing Tim Purpura screaming for a Pence callup. Back in those days, fans would call into radio stations to get their voice heard. Pence was one of the last good prospects in the Astros depleted farm system. He would eventually make his debut on April 28, 2007.
Through the years of the Astros rebuild dubbed as the process, we saw the team very reluctant to bring up the top prospects. Why bring them up so early when the team is not ready to win consistently? Pence was already traded early in the process, but there was another emerging superstar outfielder in George Springer out of the University of Connecticut.
The fans’ have a voice now.
Fans now had a voice and were expressing their frustration with the Astros not calling up Springer in 2013. “He’s ready!” As fans would proclaim via any method imaginable. This was also the time where fan blogs were becoming more popular, at least when I started paying attention to them. Fans saw Springer as the light at the end of the tunnel, a glimmer of hope. Springer would eventually make his MLB debut on April 12, 2014. Now the fans watched Springer play and waited for the next can’t miss prospect in Jon Singleton.
Carlos Correa was the next highly anticipated prospect after he was drafted first overall in Jeff Luhnow’s first draft as the Astros GM in 2012. Once again, the fans were clamoring for Correa in 2014 before he suffered a gruesome injury to his legs in the minor leagues. Like Springer, the Astros were hesitant to bring him up too early but elected to bring him up in 2015 where he debuted on June 8th, 2015. Correa would win the rookie of the year award that season.
Don’t forget about Alex Bregman. His rise was quicker than most people expected. However, watching him play now, you can tell that it was his pedigree and determination that helped him debut a year after he was drafted. We have seen the same stall techniques with players such as Derek Fisher, A.J. Reed, and Kyle Tucker among others.
The Astros tried to offer some players extensions in exchange for calling them up to the big leagues. They first tried with Springer, but he believed in himself and said no. Singleton accepted the Astros extension which never panned out quite as the team hoped. They are still paying Singleton to sit at home from that extension. Thankfully, Matt Dominguez and Robbie Grossman didn’t accept their rumored extensions.
Why Alvarez will not be playing for the Astros anytime soon.
That was a long way to bring up Yordan Alvarez, who is the next “it” prospect. After a hot spring at the plate, impressing manager A.J. Hinch, he is batting .391 with 14 homers and 40 RBI. Even with fans calling for his promotion, don’t look for the Astros to do so anytime soon. Here are eight possible reasons why, I discussed some of these on Locked On Astros.
1. Alvarez is just 21 and still learning how to be a good outfielder. With Yuli Gurriel handling first base, that position does not appear open. Even with a loaded outfield with Josh Reddick, Springer, and Michael Brantley, the outfield appears to be where Luhnow and Hinch see him play.
2. When a rookie is called up, he has to adjust to major league pitching. For every Correa and Springer who get off to hot starts after their debuts, you have someone like Bregman or Kyle Tucker who struggle out of the gate. It took Bregman 32 at-bats to get in a rhythm, which is about eight or nine games. Fisher came up on fire but then cooled off quickly. At least you know what Tyler White can offer with his OPS and the second half of 2018.
3. Luhnow said they are waiting for the right opportunity to call Alvarez up. In this writer’s opinion, that encompasses the following things. Is he hitting well in Triple-A? Would he play regularly with the Astros or ride the pine?
4. That leads into the next reason, which player would the Astros have to expose to waivers to call him up? The 40-man roster is full (correction, the 40-man roster is set at 38). You would have to put White, Tony Kemp, or Max Stassi on waivers to make room on the 40-man roster? Jake Marisnick still has an option, but Hinch likes his defense in centerfield. It is too early to make proper evaluations of the players. They would need to wait till closer to June before the judge their players. One of those would likely have to go down with the risk of losing them to another team.
5. Correa’s promotion semi set a standard for when the Astros could call up their top prospects. It’s too soon to wonder if Alvarez would be a Super 2 player, but the date is sometime at the beginning of June. If the Astros thinking continues, June 8th sounds like a more realistic date than anytime soon.
6. If he is called up before June, it’s likely because of an injury to one of the players on the active roster or they decide to move on from a player. They don’t need Alvarez at the moment, but that can change at any moment. Even then, they may call up someone currently on the 40-man roster first.
7. While people may not be sold on White as the DH, the Astros don’t want an everyday DH at the moment. With the outfield producing at the moment and Gurriel’s contract and ability to make contact, there is no way that he can play regularly. They want to be able to rotate their stars into the DH slot to get a day off from the field.
8. The biggest reason I saved for last on purpose, despite the struggles of White, Kemp, and Stassi, the Astros offense is near the top in most categories. They demolished the Angels for two games and the Royals for two of three games. They rank third in runs in the AL with 188, first in batting average, and second with 65 homers.
While any of the above reasons could not be a big deal, this gives you some possible reasons why Alvarez hasn’t been called up yet. These are not all linked together or all of the above. If the Astros go on an extended slump offensively, they could call up Alvarez as a spark plug as they did with Correa.
The Astros are well aware of what Alvarez is doing, and according to JJ Cooper, he is on pace to hit 59 homers in Triple-A. Don’t worry; he will be hitting some of those homers in Houston, just not soon. Things could change at any time. Count me as one of the millions of fans screaming for Alvarez, but stay patient.