The 2011 regular season took several twists and turns for the Houston Astros, who ultimately became very active leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline and elected to make a full commitment toward rebuilding by triggering an exciting youth movement.
Houston had 16 rookies (10 pitchers and six position players) on the active roster down the stretch in September en route to finishing a major league-worst 56-106, which unfortunately set a new franchise record for most losses during a regular season.
Overall, the highs and lows of 2011 took place alongside the ownership status of the organization, as longtime chairman and CEO Drayton McLane Jr. announced on May 16 during a news conference that he reached a purchase agreement to sell the ballclub for a reported $680 million to a group led by Jim Crane.
The following represent the Top 10 moments from 2011:
10) Assistant general manager/director of scouting Bobby Heck comes through with a stellar 2011 First-Year Player Draft class led by first-round pick George Springer.
-Springer, a first-team NCAA Division I All-American outfielder and the 2011 BIG EAST Player of the Year, may arguably be the most talented player selected by Heck during his Astros’ tenure.
-The organization wound up signing 35 of their 50 Draft picks, including their first 13 draftees, as well as 22 of their first 24 selections.
9) Catcher Jason Castro, the team’s projected starter, suffers a right knee injury during Spring Training and undergoes season-ending surgery to repair a large tear of the medial meniscus and a reconstruction of the ACL.
-The injury delayed Castro’s first full-season in the big leagues.
-“The saddest moment was in Spring Training when Castro had a routine ball to the pitcher,” McLane said. “The pitcher was going to put him out and he tried to dodge it. He tore his ACL.
“That altered our season as much as any one thing.”
8) Closer Brandon Lyon has an awful meltdown on Opening Day in the bottom of the ninth against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park by surrendering three earned runs on six hits to set the foundation for a rough season.
-“A low point was in the first game of the season against the Phillies, probably the best team in the majors,” McLane said. “We had a two run lead going into the bottom of the ninth and blew that.”
-Lyon battled chronic arm pain over the first three months of the season and underwent season-ending surgery in June on his right shoulder.
7) Starting infielders Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson, as well as left-hander J.A. Happ, are optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City in order to work on issues and restore confidence.
-General manager Ed Wade stated that opposing teams had better advanced scouting reports on Wallace and Johnson, and further indicated that both infielders were struggling to make adjustments, thus contributing to their demotions on July 31.
-Wallace and Johnson returned to the Astros in September, with Johnson posting a .314 average in the final month, while Wallace belted the longest home run (448 feet) by an Astros player at Minute Maid Park this season on Sept. 24 against the Rockies.
-Happ posted a 2-1 record with a 2.43 ERA in six starts down the stretch to justify a horrid 4-14 mark and 6.26 ERA prior to his demotion.
6) Houston fires pitching coach Brad Arnsberg
-Arnsberg admitted to being unhappy over the final month of his tenure leading up to his dismissal on June 14 and wasn’t apparently on the same page Brad Mills, as the organization classified the firing as “philosophical differences” between both parties.
-Former Astros reliever Doug Brocail, who had been serving as a special assistant to the general manager, took over as interim pitching coach.
5) The Astros fully commit to rebuilding by trading Jeff Keppinger (Giants), Hunter Pence (Phillies), as well as Michael Bourn (Braves) prior to the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
-Houston acquired a total of 10 prospects (seven pitchers and three position players) as the final result of the three trades, with center fielder Jordan Schafer joining right-handers Juan Abreu and Henry Sosa in seeing action with the Astros down the stretch.
-First baseman Jonathan Singleton and right-hander Jarred Cosart, both acquired from Philadelphia as part of the Pence trade, became the top two rated prospects in the Astros’ farm system.
4) Jose Altuve, J.D. Martinez and Jimmy Paredes create strong optimism in Houston by kick starting the youth movement.
-The trio became the first three position players to get called up by the organization from Double-A Corpus Christi, as the Astros eventually featured the youngest roster in the National League.
-Altuve was named the 2011 Astros’ Minor League Player of the Year, while Martinez turned heads with a stellar 28 RBI in August — a franchise record by a rookie over the course of a calendar month.
3) Former first-round pick Brian Bogusevic crushes a pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam off Carlos Marmol in the bottom of the ninth on Aug. 17 to defeat the Chicago Cubs 6-5.
-Bogusevic’s remarkable feat was just the 26th time in Major League Baseball history in which a walk-off grand slam took place.
-The 27-year-old Bogusevic didn’t make the Opening Day roster and had multiple big league stints throughout 2011, yet finds himself in position to potentially earn a starting job next season.
2) The Astros finish 56-106 to set a franchise record for most losses in a regular season, beating the previous mark of 97.
-With the slow start, in addition to trading Keppinger, Pence and Bourn, as well as utilizing several rookies to fill everyday roles, it was inevitable that Houston would likely surpass the 100-loss mark.
-On the bright side, the worst record in franchise history gives the Astros the top overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.
1) Drayton McLane Jr. announces that he reached a purchase agreement to sell the Astros to a group led by Jim Crane.
-McLane and Crane were highly optimistic that Major League Baseball would approve the sale prior to the All-Star break, but that wasn’t the case, as MLB issued a statement Aug. 15 announcing their intent to delay the transfer of ownership for the time being.
-Although the prospective transfer of ownership has opened the door to rumors and speculation about Crane, McLane recently told knotmove.com that he fully expects Major League Baseball to finalize the sale sometime over the next three to four weeks.
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