Catching Up with the Astros: Crawfish Boxes

In the spirit of the Nationals series with the Houston Astros, I spoke with Evan Hochschild of Crawfish Boxes, one of the top Astros blogs on the net, to ask some questions regarding the transition period the team is going through and what to expect from the young players for the future.

TNB: Brett Myers has had a surprisingly productive season after a rocky tenure in Philadelphia. Do you think he can continue his success for next year and beyond?

Crawfish Boxes: I do. Not to the extent that he will be a top 10 Cy Young candidate like this season, because that would mean he would have to limit the home run ball which has proven difficult for him over the course of his career. I do think he can pitch competently, and in the NL Central that can translate to a good deal of success.

TNB: The departure of Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt signified the end of the the playoff contending Astros from the mid 2000’s. How much longer until the team become competitive again?

Crawfish Boxes: Well, if you believe ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume, then next season. For those of you that haven’t heard, the Baseball Tonight host went out on a limb and predicted that the Astros will win the NL Central in 2011. I’m not as optimistic as Berthiaume, but I do think that with an upgrade at short stop and improvements from rookies Brett Wallace and Jason Castro, a .500 record isn’t absolutely out of the question.

TNB: J.A. Happ came over in the mid-season Roy Oswalt deal and has put up impressive numbers since his arrival. Do you see him evolving into the future ace of the staff?

Crawfish Boxes: J.A. Happ doesn’t exactly have “ace stuff”, and his biggest strength to this point in his career has been outproducing his sketchy K;BB ratio. Like the Astros pitching staff as a whole, Happ may not be a number one starter, but he is above average and is a cost controlled option for the Astros to utilize for seasons to come. Joining Myers and Happ are Felipe Paulino, Bud Norris and Wandy Rodriguez. Top prospect Jordan Lyles will be the talk of Spring Training, but shouldn’t make the team right off the bat. A September call up is not out of the question however for the 20 year old.

TNB: Hunter Pence has been a quietly productive player since arriving in 2007, do you feel people overlook his true value?

Crawfish Boxes: I do. He is not a super star, or possibly even a star. I don’t know if his on base skills will ever improve enough for him to be rated as a true stud, but he is a tireless worker who is above average at most facets of the game. A lot of teams would like to see .280, 25 HR, 90 RBI, 15 SB from their right fielder, and that’s just about what Pence gives Houston year in and year out. As Pence enters the prime of his career, it will be interesting to see what the Astros do with Pence in terms of his contract. Do they go the arbitration route again, or possibly sign Pence to a multi year contract?

TNB: How would you rate the job done by first year manager Brad Mills?

Crawfish Boxes: It’s so difficult to grade a manager, but if I had to give one I would say a solid “B”. Mills was handed a talent deficient roster with no hope to contend in 2010. After getting off to an 0-8 start, he’s had the team play above .500 baseball. GM Ed Wade has pressed more right buttons than wrong, and the result has been that Mills has a better roster to work with now than in April. Brad’s handling of the bullpen, foresight to shift Carlos Lee to first, and transitioning of the team from the old guard of Berkman/Oswalt to the new guard of Pence/Bourn has been seamless.

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