As hard as it may be to hear, the Texas Rangers could learn a thing or two from the Houston Astros who chase their second World Series in three years.
It’s a hard pill to swallow for Texas Rangers’ fans. The Houston Astros, considered little brother for much of the past decade, have flipped the script and become arguably the best team in baseball over the past few seasons. They won a World Series in 2017, were a contender in 2018, and will compete for a World Series once again this year.
While it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth giving the Astros some credit, they’ve developed a formula that has blended young talent with acquired stars to build a team that has a real multi-year window of being division favorites and on the World Series shortlist. And if we can take a step back, there’s a lot the Rangers could do, and are doing, to modeling the future after Houston.
Stock-Piling Young, Talented Prospects
This process and comparison between the Rangers and Astros isn’t a paint by the numbers. It isn’t going to be identical and nor should it be. When it comes to stock-piling young talent, frankly, the Rangers aren’t going to be bad enough to do what Houston did. The Astros had five Top 5 picks between 2012-2015. We can say four if we want to not count Brady Aiken since he didn’t sign and the compensation for that was the #2 overall pick in 2015. So even if we settle on four Top 5 picks, the Rangers have not had a stretch close to that nor will they. In fact, the Rangers have had just one Top 5 pick, Dillon Tate at #4 overall in 2015, since they took Mark Teixeira with the #5 overall pick in 2001. Hitting the draft lottery and getting Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman just three years a part isn’t in the cards for Texas, but being able to craft a system with young talent is.
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This step is one the Rangers have already started taking dating back to last year. What was once a thin system top to bottom now can be boasted as one of the deepest in baseball despite the lack of top end talent. This formula is one that can work. While every club needs elite prospects with the hopes that one or two become All-Star caliber big leaguers, having a large pool of big league talent opens the door to trades as well as acquiring the star power with the surrounding pieces coming from in house.
Focus on Player Development
Player development is a focus that is becoming a vital characteristic for organizations league-wide and the Astros are at the forefront. Yes, they were able to draft a couple of elite prospects like Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman, but they also developed guys who weren’t highly though of into quality players and even an MVP. Jose Altuve was not an “elite” prospect when he joined the Astros organization. But he was an incredibly hard worker, with a good instinct. Pair that with great player development and you’ve got one of the best players in baseball over the past five years.
Texas is already pursuing this model as they’ve made a number of organizational leadership changes over the past year That starts at the top with manager Chris Woodward who is a guy looking to create a culture change within the club. The Rangers are also looking to reshape their minor league system getting away from guys with one or two elite tools but who are overall very raw prospects with high-ceilings but low floors, to guys who may not have the “elite” tools, but who are all-around good players and further along on the development curve. See Josh Jung and Davis Wendzel, their 2019 first round picks as example. No, the perceived ceiling might not be as high for these guys, but the floor seems to be a big league contributor at best. While these guys may not make the headlines as prospects, they are easier to develop and the risk level is limited.
Don’t Be Afraid To Spend When It’s Time
While the Astros have built their core around players developed in house like Altuve, Bregman, Correa and Springer to name just a few, they also have broken out the check book when it’s the right time. Once the core was there, Houston made a big deal to acquire Justin Verlander from the Tigers. Detroit ate some of his salary but Houston still has over $20 million committed per year for this season and next. They also paid up in terms of prospects giving up two organizational top 10 guys to get it done.
The Astros followed that up with trading for Gerrit Cole adding yet another Cy Young caliber pitcher to their rotation. This season they capped off arguably the best rotation in the game by trading for Zack Greinke at the deadline signing up to pay the 36-year old $20 million-plus per year for the next two seasons. While the Rangers likely aren’t handing over any top prospects this winter as they look to take the next step, paying some big time money in free agency is a real possibility and one the Rangers shouldn’t be against if they feel that they have the surrounding pieces at or near the big leagues in 2020.