06/15/11 8:15 PM ET
Astros transitioning to promising future
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
The Astros began their rebuilding mode nearly a year ago when they traded away Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman, and the young kids carried Houston to a strong finish in 2010. The youth pipeline hasn't dried up, with Lyles creating a buzz at Minute Maid Park after making his Major League debut in May.
Lyles has already survived the first roster move that involved taking a starting pitcher out of the rotation, and he figures to have a good chance to stick in the rotation for the rest of the year. At 20 years old, he's the youngest player in the Major Leagues, and has a world of potential.
Lyles isn't the only young pitcher to watch in the team's rotation this year.
Bud Norris, who won nine games a year ago in his second season, is another player to keep a close eye on as the season unfolds. Norris, 26, came out of the gate as, arguably, the team's best pitcher, going 4-5 with a 3.48 ERA in his 14 starts.
"He's just in the process of getting more experience at the Major League level, getting more innings, more starts and more appearances," Astros manager Brad Mills said.
Then, there's Hunter Pence, who's blossoming into a star. On the heels of a 23-game hitting streak that ended on Tuesday, Pence was leading the team in batting average (.320), home runs (nine) and RBIs (50) -- and appears poised for a huge second half.
Brett Wallace, who was one of four rookies who was thrown into the fire last year after he was acquired in the Oswalt trade, has been among the league's leaders in batting average all season, sitting at .313 entering play on Wednesday. The Astros are still waiting for his power numbers to arrive, and if they do in the second half, look out.
Of course, the future of the Astros could be in different hands by the All-Star break.
Astros owner Drayton McLane signed a sales-purchase agreement last month to sell the team to a group led by Houston businessman Jim Crane. The deal is awaiting approval of Major League Baseball, which could come as early as next month.
Crane, who played college baseball, said he has big dreams for the Astros.
"As the new owner of the Astros, I want to let you know I love baseball," Crane said at the news conference to announce he was buying the club. "Baseball has had a big impact on me -- from the time I was little, and for the better. From that moment, it's taught me and helped me gain confidence, taught me discipline, taught me to work hard and be a team player. I will use all of those lessons moving forward with the Astros. But my love alone would not have allowed me to be here today, if not for all the partners I have in this deal."
Crane didn't provide much insight on his specific plans to get the Astros on track, but he hopes better days are ahead.
"I don't think anybody in this room is happy where we're at," he said. "We want to work with what's here. We want to make good decisions, and certainly we'll have a philosophy of how to get that done -- and we'll share that when we take over."
McLane, 74, purchased the Astros in 1992 for $117 million, and guided the franchise through some of its most successful periods in history -- including six playoff appearances, the 2005 National League pennant and the opening of Minute Maid Park in 2000.
Some of the most magical moments in the 50-year history of the franchise have happened under McLane's watch, including Craig Biggio reaching 3,000 hits in 2007 and, of course, the club's first and only World Series appearance in 2005.
Perhaps Crane will foster some more memories.
Sure, the Astros have spent most of the season in last place, but recent history has proven that Houston has been a solid second-half club. The Astros, with four rookies in the lineup on most nights, had the fourth-best winning percentage in the National League (.548) last year, which perhaps provides an indication that the immediate future is, indeed, bright.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.