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Better know the Astros! – Q&A with Climbing Tal’s Hill


Hey guys!

Could you all say “Hello” to Greg Thurston, please?

He’s the editor of Fansided’s Houston Astros’ blog Climbing Tal’s Hill (You probably know what Tal’s Hill is, even you don’t realize it). His favorite team just joined the American League, and was tossed into a rather competitive division known as “The West.” It’s not really a good time for such a transition, since the ‘Stros are still in the challenging portions of a complete franchise rebuild and coming off of back-to-back 100-loss seasons.

Greg was nice enough to propose a fact-finding mission about one another’s teams. He’s gearing up for another long summer but optimistic for the future, he’d rather not go over the ’05 World Series again but appreciated that Lucas Harrell DFA a great deal

You can read my answers to his White Sox questions here, and Greg’s answers are below:

Who’s left to watch on the MLB roster? Bud Norris is still around, right? But seriously, is this another 100-loss season with an eye for the future, or is there a chance this team can be interesting this year?

Norris is still around, but maybe not for long. I think the transition to the A.L. will be tough and I’m bracing myself for another 100-loss season.

The Jed Lowrie trade sent away what I thought was a piece who would be around for when things turned around? Does that indicate that it’s farther away than realized? Who on the team right now is a long-term mainstay, or has the potential to be?

The Lowrie trade could turn out to be a good one. Astros G.M. Jeff Luhnow had his eye on Chris Carter and he could turn into the type of player that becomes a key figure for the Astros’ future. There are a number of prospects who are about a year away and we could see a drastic improvement in the win column in 2014. Right now Jose Altuve is the face of the franchise and I expect him to be here for a while. Another guy that should be a big part of the future is someone you might remember, but we’ll talk more about him later.

What’s with all the former White Sox? Philip Humber is a worthwhile project, but John Ely seems like a guy whose departure signals when your rotation is finally serious. Lucas Harrell always had good velocity and snap on his breaking stuff, but never had the command to make it matter. What’s he like in Houston?

Hopefully the change of scenery will be good for Humber. Of course, he played college ball in Houston (at Rice University) and coming home could be just what he needs.

Ely had a tremendous amount of success when the Dodgers first brought him up to the big leagues – but it was short-lived. Last year he was the PCL Pitcher of the Year, so I’m hoping he’s ready to take the next step.

Harrell is my favorite player on the team. He doesn’t get a ton of strikeouts, but he has a great movement on his pitches which makes it hard for hitters to square up. Harrell is a groundball machine (57.2% GB rate last season). He went 11-11 on a team that only won only 55 games and got shutout in seven of his 32 starts. He pitched in the #2 spot all year and could be in the #1 spot this season.

The organization has made some showy hires of people that the internet baseball community has a lot of reverence for. What was your reaction to bringing Kevin Goldstein and Mike Fast on board, and is there any way to see the dividends of having them yet?

Luhnow is definitely an outside-the-box thinker when it comes to the hiring of staff members. It’s hard to tell what impact these guys have had at this point. I guess we’ll have to give it some time. If it works, other organizations are sure to follow suit. If not, Luhnow will be run out of town. I’d be willing to put my money on the former. I’ve had the chance to talk with Luhnow a couple of times and he seems like an incredibly smart individual.

Also, Goldstein follows our CTH twitter account (as does Luhnow) and Fast often interacts with fans there. So until something bad happens, I like these guys.
What is there to know about new manager Bo Porter besides that he started a fight with the Cubs bench coach one time? Did Brad Mills need to go, or was it simply the case of a new regime wanting their guy?

Porter is a motivator. He is working hard to instill a winning attitude to a young team that desperately needed a change. Mills definitely had to go. I don’t think the players respected him. Porter was a two sport All-American at Iowa and brings a football mentality that demands respect (and occasionally results in a brawl with the opposing bench).

Are there any trades of recent that you really loved or really hated?

Former G.M. Ed Wade’s best trade was the one that sent Hunter Pence to Philly for Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Domingo Santana and Josh Zeid. The first three are among the Astros top prospects and Zeid looks like he will eventually make it to the majors as a late inning reliever.

My favorite Jeff Luhnow trade would have to be the unloading of an aging Carlos Lee in exchange for Matt Dominguez and Rob Rasmussen. Dominguez is already a tremendous fielder at the hot corner and is also showing improvement at the plate. He will be given every chance to win the starting job this year and has performed well, thus far, in spring training. Rasmussen was flipped for the aforementioned John Ely.

If Clemens and Bagwell are healthy and the world is just, do the Astros win the 2005 World Series?

You had to go there, didn’t you James. Injuries are part of the game and I’m not going to make excuses. Much like Frank Thomas, Bagwell was a non-factor for the bulk of the ’05 season. After starting the season 15-30 the Astros turned it around and beat some quality playoff opponents just to get there. Any of those four games could have gone either way, but the best team eventually came out on top.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan and follow Climbing Tal’s Hill @astrosCTH