Spring is in the air and all the position players have reported to camp. As practice begins in earnest, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the players who will make or break the Astros’ playoff hopes in years to come.
The Astros farm system has produced superstars like Roy Oswalt, Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman, and those that got away like Bobby Abreu, Johann Santana, and Freddy Garcia.
The Astros were the first MLB organization to tap the Venezuelan pipeline. It garnered them players like Abreu, Santana, and Hidalgo. The future for the Astros is still in Venezuela as catcher Hector Gimenez, pitchers Fernando Nieve, Juan Gutierrez, and Paul Estrada go through the workouts in Kissimmee and try to impress manager Phil Garner.
In recent years however, the Astros have also tapped into the homegrown talent pool by signing prospects from Texas such as Lance Berkman (New Braunfels), Hunter Pence (Dallas), Troy Patton (Tomball), Matt Albers (Sugarland), Koby Clemens (Houston), and Chris Sampson (Channelview).
They have also signed and traded for major leaguers from Texas or with Texas ties like Woody Williams (Houston), Brandon Backe (Galveston), Jason Jennings (Dallas), and Carlos Lee (owns cattle ranch southwest of Houston). There is always a chance that the "Katy Rocket" will put on the Astros pinstripes for one more year in June.
Believing greatly in giving second chances to hometowners, the Astros have invited quite a few players with Texas ties to spring training this year. Among those given an invitation to the big league camp are pitchers Stephen Randolph (Houston), Kevin Walker (Irving), and Venezuelan-born, but part of the Astros family, outfielder Richard Hidalgo.
Of course, not all of the non-roster invitees or young Venezuelan and Texan prospects will make the 25-man roster this year. Next year, however, after staff ace Roy Oswalt, the Astros could very well have an all-Texan rotation in Jason Jennings, Woody Williams, Brandon Backe and either Matt Albers or Chris Sampson. Of course, a Clemens return could make it Oswalt and the all Texas team this year too.
For 2008 and beyond, it will be up to the youngsters in the organization like Pence, Patton, Nieve, Gutierrez, Gimenez and others like Luke Scott, Chris Burke, Chad Qualls, Dan Wheeler, Brad Lidge and Morgan Ensberg to show they belong in the same clubhouse as proven performers like Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee. If these players can be as good as the Astros believe they can be, they will make the Astros a truly elite organization and a perennial playoff team.