It is my favorite time of the year: the boys of summer are beginning Spring Training. Before the Astros embark on their season-long journey to #TakeItBack, let’s all understand that Astros fans are living in Baseball Paradise right now. You think that’s a bold statement? Read on!
First, let’s define a Baseball Paradise. What would it look like? A series of visions that look like this might help.
- Your team is excellent today and has loads of talented players. The only thing you question is how deep in the postseason you will go.
- Your team has reinforcements in prospects to keep your team good for at least the next three years – maybe even longer. Your minor league teams are extremely good because they are filled with talent ready to fill in or take over.
- Your front office makes wise decisions. They balance filling potential short term weaknesses with protecting the future. They don’t limit future financial flexibility by overpaying free agents, and they don’t make stupid trades.
- Your manager and coaches are respected and loved by the players and well regarded by their peers. Other teams promote your coaches, and your ex-staff poses your best competition to you.
- Your players love playing for your community. They are good citizens and role models. Some of your players are the face of the league.
- Other players desperately want to join your team. Players whose contracts have expired do not want to leave.
Now that is Baseball Paradise. Think about the Astros and the last two years. Soon one realizes all of those things are true to at least some extent for the Astros and their fans.
At a later point I may come back and revisit the other aspects of Baseball Paradise, but today let’s focus on the first two.
The best of times today and the best of times tomorrow
The biggest part of Baseball Paradise is to know your MLB team is excellent.
For the 2019 Astros, here are some projection data points:
- Fangraphs predicts 94 wins with a 10-game lead over the Angels.
- Baseball Prospectus predicts 98 wins with an even more comfortable 18-win margin over the Angels. This is the best win total projected.
That would make for a much more relaxing season than in 2018. So let’s accept the premise the Astros team is excellent today. (Before we are done we will examine just how excellent.)
Let’s dig into vision number two before we amplify on the team today. Many fans of great teams have to adopt a “go for it now” mentality. How bright does the future look like for the Astros?
The future: Prospects
In the last few weeks, the major baseball websites have announced their lists of the top 100 prospect in the MLB:
- MLB Pipeline Top 100
- Baseball America Top 100
- Website (subscription required)
- Baseball Prospectus Top 101
For each of these different sources the Astros have five to seven highly-rated prospects. These are the names Astros fans likely already know. All of these players are likely to start the season no lower than in AA Corpus Christi for the Astros. On a lesser team, most of them would be expected to take major roles. It is worth noting that Whitley is the number one pitching prospect in all of the MLB. The Astros and the Twins are the only two teams with two prospects in the top ten. These five to seven prospects, along with others in AAA, are already or soon will be ready to play in the big leagues.
How do these top Astros prospects compare to the best in other MLB organizations? The MLB Pipeline article uses the concept of Prospect Points. Basically, the #1 prospect is assigned 100 points, #2 is assigned 99 points, all the way down to #100 being assigned 1 point. Applying this system to the MLB Pipeline rankings of the Astros top 100 prospects would look like this:
How does a prospect point total of 307 compare to the other MLB teams with the MLB Pipeline rankings? See below.
The 307 prospect points of the top six prospects in the Astros system ranks the team the fifth best in baseball. It is remarkable, when the Astros are so good at the major league level, that their minor leagues can be considered to have the fifth best crop of prospects ready to call up. Also shown in the final column of this table is the overall ranking of the available talent on each team’s total minor league organization (from the Baseball America podcast). Not only is the top talent highly rated, but the entire system is deep with prospect talent.
Therefore, vison two of a baseball paradise is set for Astros fans. The Astros have the necessary prospects to reinforce the team for at least the next three years- maybe even longer. The minor league teams are extremely good because they are filled with talent ready to fill in or take over.
The Present: Stars
The future is bright, and the current team is excellent, but how many stars does the current team really have, and how does that compare to the other teams? Championships often come down to a team’s stars outperforming the other stars. This week MLB Network announced the Top 100 Right Now. There are seven Astros on the list this year. Many of the current stars have been on this list for the prior two years as well.
Five of the current Astros stars have not even hit age 30 yet. It is scary for others to consider that Bregman and Correa may not have reached their peaks yet. For this list, let’s assign “Star Points” as we did “Prospect Points” earlier.
So how does 482 star points compare to other MLB teams? As shown below, the Astros are not only the best in baseball, but also lead the second-place Indians by over 28%. Only four teams have six or more stars on this list. Only the Yankees have more players ranked in the top 100, but the average rank of the Astros’ seven players is 31 while the Yankees’ average is 59. The average ranking of 31 for the Astros’ stars is the best of any team on this list. It truly is the best of times for star-level players on the Astros.
There are six teams on the bottom of this list that have no stars in the Top 100 Right Now. Reviewing this list, combined with the prospect rankings from the first part of this article, puts the full view of Baseball Paradise in Houston in focus. None of the other top 10 teams in the MLB (in terms of star power) have the prospect base the Astros do. The Braves have the prospect base of the Astros but have less than half as many star points. The Astros truly are great now and should be for the next several years.
Why worry when you are in Paradise?
Some current Astros fans still have a hard time grasping that they truly are in Paradise, as they fret over losing stars to free agency at the end of 2019. This is where it is important to link the current elements of the current Baseball Paradise for the Astros.
- The Astros are predicted to have a commanding division lead in 2019.
- The Astros have two aces who can both become free agents after the 2019 season.
- The Astros have five top-rated pitching prospects that can fill the void if one or both of those aces leave.
- The Astros should have enough of a division lead in 2019 to allow those young arms the opportunity to prove if they can fill that potential void.
- The Astros have great coaching to guide young pitching to the next level.
- The Astros have a great front office, capable of using the team’s additional prospects to trade for other pitching for 2020 if necessary.
- The Astros have financial flexibility to sign top free agent pitching before the 2020 season.
It truly is Baseball Paradise in Houston. The only question is how long it will last.
The other teams that may mistakenly believe they have it as well as the Astros include:
- Red Sox: The 2018 Champs are headed to a payroll luxury tax Armageddon. They have one of the worst farm systems in baseball. Their good times may be short.
- Yankees: New York is probably in the best position to compete with Astros in the AL for the next several years. The Yankees can always spend their way into competing.
- Indians: Cleveland is already showing signs of financial challenges. Will they be able to keep their stars over the next three years?
- Rays: Tamp Bay may be the sleeper team to compete with the Astros in the near future, as their wave of prospects arrives.
- Blue Jays: Transformative talent is coming to Toronto. Will it be enough to make them competitive soon?
- Dodgers: Los Angeles is also in a position to compete with the Astros. The current stars appear to be one notch below the Astros.
- Nationals: Washington may prove to be a real challenge for the Astros for the next few years as well. A Harper return could lead to some epic postseason battles.
- Cubs: Chicago underperformed in 2018. The pitching staff is aging. Free agency also looms for many of the young stars that won it all in 2016. The minor leagues are depleted.
- Braves: Atlanta and the Astros may have epic games sooner than you think. Atlanta is probably one year behind the Astros. This means they may be the closest to Paradise.
- Brewers: Milwaukee is well run but needs pitching to compete.
- Padres: Barring a prospect meltdown, San Diego is coming. While there is no top 100 talent today, it is on its way. The Padres are probably two years behind the Astros. Harper or Machado could accelerate them. San Diego may be the next closest to Paradise.
There is one team I cannot resist pointing out is in the Baseball Hell the Astros knew in 2011-2012. The Rangers have zero top-100 players, and their minor league system is horrible. It is a rough time in the Metroplex. At least there will be a new stadium.
Texas fans may want to rally to the Astros in the near term. The Astros have an amazing opportunity for the next couple of years – to be excellent as an MLB team and have strong reinforcements coming. Astros fans have it the best. Enjoy Baseball Paradise, Astros fans!