Houston's young players are impressing in September

Young talent continues to shine for the Astros

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At the beginning of the month, the Astros took advantage of the current rules allowing teams in September to expand their major-league roster by bringing up some key players from their AAA affiliate, the Round Rock Express. Bringing them up was beneficial for both the Astros and the players, as it gave the team a chance to rest key players down the stretch, fill some holes due to injury, and provide these young prospects a chance to show what level of performance they are capable of producing in the big leagues.

While Houston had a disappointing stretch of games this past week by dropping three-straight to division-rivals Oakland, this month has otherwise been very successful for the Astros. They continue to inch closer to their magic number to clinch the division, as well as staying in step with the Yankees for the best AL and overall record to secure home-field advantage for the playoffs. The success in September, in part, has been a result of these young stars being available and ready to contribute when called on.

Toro and Straw have taken advantage of their opportunities

Let's first take a look at some of the guys who are not as high-profile as the other two we'll get to later. Abraham Toro joined the team in late August to fill an infield spot while both Carlos Correa and Aledmys Diaz missed time with injury. His most exciting moment so far was when he delivered the only runs in a tightly contested game in Toronto against the Blue Jays, a two-run home run in the top of the ninth which would ultimately be the difference in a no-hitter for Justin Verlander.

While that was one of his most significant offensive highlights, he has also been solid on defense, filling in at third base while Alex Bregman has covered shortstop for a recovering Carlos Correa. While he likely doesn't make the postseason roster, Toro has shown that should the Astros need a third baseman, whether due to injury or possibly in the years to come with players moving on to other clubs, that he could be their guy.

Another contributor this month has been Myles Straw. While I originally had him on the outside looking in with my playoff roster predictions, the frequency at which Houston has used him as a pinch-runner has shown that they consider him an asset for his speed on the basepaths. Straw alone has scored seven of Houston's 90 runs this month, many of which coming after he was put in as a runner late in a game. That's not to say that's his only strength; he's 4-for-9 at the plate this month and has shown strength on defense as well. Considering the bullpen is starting to get healthy, he could very well find himself on the Astros' bench in the playoffs.

Kyle Tucker has finally broken through 

Many, including myself, were highly anticipating Kyle Tucker's call up in 2018. It, unfortunately, did not live up to the hype; as Tucker would end up going 9-for-64 and a .141 average, no home runs, and just 4 RBIs in his 28 games played in the second half of the 2018 season.

This year is an entirely different story, though, as not only did he have another terrific year in AAA to warrant another chance on the major-league roster, he has finally translated his minor-league success to the big leagues. He already has more hits (13) in his thirteen games in September as he did in his 28-game 2018 debut.

Not only has he been able to notch more hits, but he has also recorded his first and second career home runs along with six other RBIs to double his total from last season (eight versus four). Whether it was some bad luck or improved mechanics, the 2019 version of Kyle Tucker is vastly superior to what we saw in 2018.

Yordan Alvarez is simply unreal

While the players mentioned above are all great in their own right, there is still one young player that has stolen the spotlight on Houston's roster. That is Yordan Alvarez. We're running out of superlatives and records for him to exceed. Had Alvarez been with the Astros from the start of the season, we may not only be talking about the best rookie season ever but one of the best overall seasons by a player, period.

Sure, roughly half of Alvarez's dominance this year came against minor-league talent, but he has been just as dominant in the majors since his debut on June 9th. When you combine his overall statistics between the minors and majors this year, you see an incredible .333 average, 48 home runs, and 146 RBIs. For perspective, although he has spent some time away with injury, the absolute best player in the game, Mike Trout, currently sits with a .291 average, 45 home runs, and 104 RBIs.

He has already locked himself in as the sure American League Rookie of the Year, but now the question is: what can he do with a full season in the major leagues? I am looking forward to seeing how he steps up to the big moments he could be put in during the playoffs this year. Can he deliver these same numbers against the absolute best in the game? I think so, but we will have to wait until October to know for sure.

While the Astros certainly have one of the best set of veterans in the game, the last few months have been a chance to see what may be on the horizon for some of Houston's young talent that will likely be contributing towards more success for their team for years to come.

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We could see some changes to the Astros rotation. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Happy New Year! Baseball New Year that is with Astros’ pitchers and catchers having gone through their first spring training workout Thursday, six weeks to the day ahead of the March 30 regular season opener. One non-critical question to be answered, how will Dusty Baker line up his starting rotation to begin the season. Barring injury or some other fly in the ointment arising, presumably the Opening Night start goes to Framber Valdez. New 64 million dollar man Cristian Javier should get the ball for game two. Then Lance McCullers, Luis Garcia, and Jose Urquidy.

As Major League Baseball further explained the new rules for this season Garcia in particular does have a notable adjustment to make. His heretofore protracted multi-step windup will no longer be tolerated. Pitchers get one step backward and one step forward as part of their motion and that’s that. Anything more is an automatic ball. As a creature of habit it will be an adjustment for Garcia, but really shouldn’t be a big deal.

There is no urgency to get a contract extension done with Valdez since he is under Astros’ control for this season and two more. Still, with Javier now locked in for the next half-decade and new General Manager Dana Brown clearly having brought from Atlanta the “lock up young core guys” philosophy one wonders what numbers it would take to lock in Framber beyond 2025 (Javier also would have been eligible for free agency after 2025). Forgetting money and going purely by what they will do on the mound, if you could only have one for the next five years: Javier or Valdez? Plenty no doubt would go Javier, but note that had the Astros not done the extension his salary would have ranged from three to 3.5 million dollars this season. Valdez is inked at 6.8 million, so with that as the baseline for negotiations it presumably would take more than 64 million if a five year deal is to be struck.

Mr. October

There are Yankee fans who find it heretical that the great Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson is affiliated with the Astros. “Mr. October” has been a Special Advisor to Jim Crane the past couple of years. Reggie is in town this weekend as the Astros Foundation hosts the inaugural Cactus Jack HBCU Classic at Minute Maid Park. If unfamiliar, Cactus Jack is the name of rapper Travis Scott’s record label and own foundation. Anyway, among the sidebars to the event, Jackson is relaunching the “REGGIE!” bar. Back in the day it was billed as “Chocolaty covered caramel and peanuts.” ChocolatY? Whatever. As a kid I thought it was tasty. It was distinctively shaped more like a large praline than, say, a “Baby Ruth” or “Snickers” bar.

Reggie Jackson had a famously/notoriously huge ego. The man walked the walk an awful lot. In his superstar days with the Oakland A’s Jackson once said that if he played in New York they’d name a candy bar after him. After the 1976 season Jackson signed with the Yankees as part of the first offseason of free agency in Major League Baseball. Reggie signed for an outrageous three million dollars over five years. Three million total, not per year. Yes it was 46 years ago but three mil in 1977 inflation-adjusted is still only about 15 million in 2023 dollars. Jackson had an outstanding first season with the Yanks, capping it with the crowning game of his career when he hit three home runs on three consecutive pitches off of three different pitchers as the Yankees closed out the Dodgers in game six of the 1977 World Series. And sure enough just a few months later the candy bar named after him happened.

Jackson showed more flair for the dramatic by homering in the Yankees’ home opener in 1978, at which the fan giveaway was a “REGGIE!” bar. After Jackson connected in the bottom of the first, the field was showered with “REGGIE!” bars.

One of my favorite sports books of all-time is former Yankee relief pitcher Sparky Lyle’s “The Bronx Zoo,” which is an excellent and funny read as basically a long form diary of the 1978 Yankees’ season. In the book Lyle quotes the late Hall of Fame pitcher “Catfish” Hunter as saying about the “REGGIE!” bar, “Don’t ever put a “REGGIE!” bar in your pocket or you’ll get mustard all over your pants,” and “When you unwrap a “REGGIE!” bar it tells you how good it is.” Classic stuff.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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