Feb 21, 2013; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Houston Astros center fielder Justin Maxwell (44) during photo day at Osceola County Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Getting To Know The Houston Astros

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With the Houston Astros making the jump to the American League this year, I decided to catch up with Greg Thurston of Climbing Tal’s Hill in an effort to learn a little bit more about their upcoming season and help familiarize ourselves with AL’s newest franchise.

What’s the feeling among Astros fans? Are they frustrated with the apparent lack of major league talent, or do they trust Jeff Luhnow’s rebuilding process?

Greg: Attendance figures would suggest that many fans have abandoned ship. But most of the die-hards, including myself, are buying into Luhnow’s plan.

Is the roster tear-down complete, or will Houston look to move someone like Bud Norris — an arbitration eligible player who’s making a few million dollars — to further stock the farm system?

Greg: At $3 million Norris is the highest paid player on the team and frankly I’m surprised that he hasn’t already been dealt. Rumor has it that he is still being shopped around. Carlos Pena was signed for one year at $2.9 million and I also expect him to be moved before the trade deadline.

The strength of the Astros right now is probably their minor league depth. When is that depth going to hit the major leagues, and which players will make the biggest impact?

Greg: We should start to see some of the top prospects arriving as early as 2014. Center fielder George Springer is a five tool player who I think will have a big impact on the team. Jonathan Singleton is a power hitting first baseman who could also be ready next season. Springer and Singleton are the top two prospects in the system but starting pitcher Jarred Cosart might beat both of them to the big leagues. We could see Cosart in an Astros uniform this September.

Most baseball fans know Jose Altuve‘s name (and also Carlos Pena), but can you talk about another everyday player that could break out and make a name for himself in 2013?

Greg: The player that I think could be ready to take the next step and establish himself as a solid major leaguer is Jason Castro. The Astros catcher has battled injury problems early in his career. If he can stay healthy Castro should have a nice year. A couple of other players to keep an eye on are Justin Maxwell and Chris Carter.

Competing in the AL West looks to be a daunting task right now with the way the Rangers, Angels, and A’s have been playing (and/or spending money). What’s the target year for when the Astros will be in the mix there as well?

Greg: Jeff Luhnow refuses to put a time table on the reduild but I would expect to start seeing gradual improvement over the next few years. With Springer and Singleton on the way, 2014 should be better. But I wouldn’t expect the ‘Stros to be a contender until 2015 or 2016 at the earliest. At some point, Jim Crane is going to have to spend some money on free agents to supplement the in-house talent. The timing of that decision will be another factor on how long it takes to get back into contention.

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