There’s a buzz around baseball that Houston’s minor league system is so stocked with impact players that it’s just a matter of time before the Astros are a viable playoff contender.
First baseman Jon Singleton is the latest highly touted prospect to realize his major league dream. The Astros promoted Singleton on Monday, signing the former RedHawk to a five-year, $10 million deal that could be worth $35 million over eight seasons if Singleton reaches incentives.
Tom Lawless, the Astros roving minor league instructor who filled in as interim manager while RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco was undergoing cancer treatments, said the master plan of building around young players is starting to bear fruit.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun for everyone in the organization when all this comes together,” Lawless said. “Some are already up. There are a lot of kids here in Oklahoma City that will help the Astros, and there are a lot more coming from the lower levels.”
Singleton slammed 14 home runs with 43 RBIs, compiling a .397 on-base percentage the first two months of the season with the RedHawks. He former RedHawks teammate, outfielder George Springer, who was promoted in April. Springer already has 10 homers with the Astros.
“The future is very bright here in Oklahoma City,” DeFrancesco said. “We have a very young team, but we’re among the league leaders in pitching, which is what every Major League team is looking for. The organization is going nowhere but up right now.”
While undergoing treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, DeFrancesco sensed optimism growing at Minute Maid Park.
“Every night, I was either watching an Astros game or watching the RedHawks on the internet,” DeFrancesco said. “The young guys here are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. The more experience they get, they’ll be on their way to becoming big-league players.”
Other players currently on the RedHawks’ roster might help the Astros later this season.
Mike Foltynewicz, who can hit 100 mph on a radar gun, is 4-3 with a 3.40 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 55 innings. Foltynewicz might not be far from earning a promotion to Houston after going 3-2 with a 2.24 ERA his last nine starts.
Asher Wojciechowski, who was 11-8 with a 3.32 ERA last season, has returned after missing most of the first two months rehabbing a strained lat muscle.
Max Stassi, 23, is a highly thought of power-hitting catcher (.249, 5 HRs, 29 RBIs). Domingo Santana, a 21-year-old outfielder, is off to a hot start in OKC (.292, 9 HRs, 36 RBIs).
“Hopefully he can finish strong,” DeFrancesco said. “He’s looking to fill one of those power-hitting corner (outfield) positions that you look for. I was also glad to see (Robbie) Grossman get a chance to go back up to show them what he can do.”
More talent is on the way. Three major league caliber outfielders (Preston Tucker, Delino DeShields and Andrew Aplin) are among several prospects at Double-A Corpus Christi, each possibly earning a promotion to Oklahoma City at some point this season.
Former No. 1 overall picks Carlos Correa, a 19-year-old shortstop, and right-hander Mark Appel, the former Stanford star, are playing at high-A Lancaster. They might pass through Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
The Astros have lost 111, 107 and 106 games the past three seasons. With Springer contributing at the big-league level, and players like Singleton working their way through the system, the Astros slowly are turning things around.
Houston is 24-34, including 13-8 the past month. The Astros recently had seven-game win streak snapped.
“You never know what might happen once they get to the big leagues,” Lawless said. “That’s the crapshoot of professional baseball. It’s a different world at the major league level. One of our jobs is to help them be prepared for that.”
It probably will take another year or two for the Astros to evolve into a serious playoff threat, but there are signs that better days are ahead.
“I love my job of helping young kids try to get to the big leagues and help the Astros build something special,” DeFrancesco said. “It’s a great time to be part of this organization.”