Astros begin process of rebuilding

Nick Cremona

It wasn’t too long ago that star players such as Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt were the backbone of the Houston Astros, but the pair, part of the 2005 World Series team, have since left for other teams, and once again the Astros are searching for their identity.

With the MLB trade deadline looming, more players could be on their way out of Houston as owner Jim Crane prepares to rebuild his new team. There are murmurs that even Hunter Pence could be in for a change of scenery by the July 31 deadline.

On Tuesday, Jeff Keppinger became the first Astro to be shipped off — sent to San Francisco for minor league pitchers Henry Sosa and Jason Stoffel. Along with the acquisition of these two promising pitchers, the Astros also purchased the contract of second baseman Jose Altuve from Double-A Corpus Christi. Keppinger had been used often at second base, as well as multiple other spots in the infield, but his departure clears the way for Altuve, one of the Astros’ top prospects.

The 21-year-old has a combined .389 average between Single-A and Double-A clubs this year, and was Houston’s representative in this year’s Futures Game during the All-Star break. At 5-foot-7, Altuve conjures images of other diminutive infielders such as Dustin Pedroia and David Eckstein, both of which have enjoyed prolonged success at the major league level. With his high batting average, Altuve should bring a sense of consistency to the lineup — something that has gone by the wayside this year for the Astros. In his major league debut Wednesday, Altuve went 1-for-5 and cleanly fielded all four balls that were hit his way.

Sosa and Stoffel will most likely spend the majority of the season at the Double or Triple-A level, as the team’s pitching staff is a full house right now. Sosa, 25, is a right-handed starter who split the season between Double-A Richmond and Triple-A Fresno. He had a 5-2 record and 2.68 ERA in eight games at Richmond, and combined to post an 8-3 record with a 5.51 ERA between the two teams. Stoffel, 22, is a right-handed reliever who owned a 3.98 ERA with 13 saves in 32 games at Richmond.

Both pitchers provide viable options for use in the starting rotation and the bullpen at some point down the road. They are the first steps in the long process of replenishing a weak farm system. Expect more moves to occur in the coming week as Crane has made it clear that the rebuilding in Houston has started.