Houston's young players are impressing in September

Young talent continues to shine for the Astros

Rich Schultz / Getty Images

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.

Houston accused of more wrongdoing

New report of illegal sign-stealing puts Astros back under scrutiny

Jason Behnken / Getty Images

Back in 2017, the Houston Astros could be considered the darlings of the MLB. They helped pull a Harvey-ravaged city out of despair and into a celebration in a matter of months with the acquisition of Justin Verlander and subsequent World Series victory. The young team full of potential suddenly had the attention of not only fans but other MLB clubs and the league's front office.

On Tuesday, that attention reared itself yet again in a severely negative way, with the Athletic reporting (subscription required) that former-Astro Mike Fiers was alleging and confirming that his former team used illegal means to steal signs in their 2017 championship season. Fiers, along with three other anonymous sources with the team in 2017, claims that the team used cameras and other technology to monitor opposing catchers to relay signs to batters in real-time. The Astros have released the following statement:

"Regarding the story posted by The Athletic earlier today, the Houston Astros organization has begun an investigation in cooperation with Major League Baseball. It would not be appropriate to comment further on this matter at this time."

While GM Jeff Luhnow had this to say:

Another negative blow to the team's reputation

This is not the first time the Astros have been under a microscope in recent years, the most recent being less than a month ago when assistant general manager Brandon Taubman taunted reporters in the Astros clubhouse following their ALCS series-clinching win. The Astros fumbled that event, coming out with a rebuttal against the reporter, which would eventually be retracted, and Taubman terminated from his employment.

Neither is this the first time the Astros have dealt with accusations of sign-stealing and other forms of cheating. In this year's ALCS, the Yankees complained about a "whistling" noise from Houston's dugout they believed to be a method of relaying pitches to batters at the plate. Also, in the 2018 postseason, the Astros found themselves under fire for having an employee taking photos of the opposing team's dugout.

It's just part of the game until it's not

Both pitch tipping and stealing signs are things that are nearly unavoidable in baseball. With the catcher having to relay a sign to the pitcher 60.5 feet away using his hands, the opposing team will inevitably try to decipher what's coming. The same is true of tipping, where if a pitcher has a tell before a specific pitch, that information will quickly spread through the dugout.

However, there is a line teams should not cross, and that comes by way of utilizing technology to aid further the ability to steal signs, and using that to give an immediate advantage to a batter amid an at-bat. The Astros are not the first team to be alleged of this type of grievance, as the Red Sox received a fine after utilizing a smartwatch to try and steal signs.

It's a widely known and accepted fact that teams will try anything within reason to get a leg up on their opponent. However, with technology ever improving both for organizations to use and be caught by, it's no surprise that this is becoming an issue that the MLB will have to deal with, and soon.

Ramifications could loom large

Will the Astros be found guilty and made an example of to deter other teams for trying similar tactics? It appears we will have to wait for the conclusion of this investigation to find out. While it may not be an indictment of the entire team, it will bring into question the integrity and character of many of the team.

Still, no matter the outcome, the report alone and continued negativity surrounding the Astros organization has made them villains of many, a role that many would not have expected this team to play if asked just two years ago.

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