By Brett Dolan

Lance Berkman turned 38 years old today. That doesn’t make me feel old as much as it is another reminder that the Astros glory days have been several years in our collective rear view mirrors.

I am not even done discussing the Hall of Fame merits of Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell and now Lance has been added to that mix. USA Today’s Sports Weekly even ran a piece last week titled, “Will next stop be Cooperstown?” in regards to Berkman.

The Puma finished just shy of some big round statistical accomplishments including 400 home runs and 2000 hits despite a fantastic 15-year career. The fans are left to debate which one of their favorite “Killer B’s” should be getting more Hall of Fame votes, rather than who is their favorite current player.

Ah, the good ole days.

A dwindling Astros fan base is left to ponder who might be the next Biggio, Bagwell or Berkman. Even more importantly, when will the next wave of legitimate talent reach Minute Maid Park? The 2014 season will be imperative for the Astros to begin to answer some of the questions.

With spring training camps opening around Florida and Arizona, most of the major league teams will audition top prospects in borderline meaningless March games hoping to gauge when these players could help the parent club. The Astros will do the same but it will take on a different level of importance. Instead of looking to add a player or two to a nucleus of veterans and established players, the Astros are trying to find a competitive basis from which to show real progress after three straight 100 plus loss seasons.

I don’t know if it even matters if it is George Springer, Jon Singleton, Michael Foltynewicz or someone else, as long as there is a potential of major league talent on a major league field, sooner than later.

Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow said today that the club is ahead of schedule on their plan right now.

“I think we are doing pretty well,” he offered. “In two years we have turned it from one of the worst to one of the best farm systems.”

Most of the experts who evaluate such things would agree. ESPN’s Keith Law recently judged the farm systems and gave the Astros his number one ranking of all 30 teams.

That would be definitive progress from just a few years ago. But the biggest step is yet to come.

“Now it is time to show the results at the big league level and I think we are going to start to see that this year,” Luhnow said.

Astros fans hope the GM is right. Prospects don’t always take direct routes to the majors. Injuries happen and sub-par seasons occur. The Bryce Harpers and Stephen Strasburgs don’t come around in the draft every year. A little bit of luck doesn’t hurt. The club still needs to sell tickets and generate interest in their television product all the while competing in the juggernaut American League West.

Luhnow gave a message to the fans telling them this is the time to be active in the project and not to disengage. “This team is going to be a very, very good team in short order and it will be fun to say I was there when I saw it come around and happen in 2014.”

Time will soon tell if that prediction is right, even magnifying the importance of the upcoming year for the Astros.



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