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Astros Sunday Roundup: In Lyles, Villar And Altuve Fans Glimpse Not Too Distant Future

How soon can the Astros start building a new team around the likes of Jose Altuve and Jonathan Villar?

Apart from the last two games, where the Astros have fallen to the Padres, it has been a good week for the franchise. 

Yes they may still own the second worst record in the majors behind the Minnesota Twins, but they welcomed back Jeff Keppinger and Jason Bourgeois this week while saying goodbye to Bill Hall. Their top prospect Jordan Lyles had a solid debut on Tuesday and two of the farm's most exciting prospects Jose Altuve and Jonathan Villar were bumped up to Corpus Christi. 

Despite sweeping the Cubs, however, the Astros are still falling short in too many winnable games. They trailed 3-2 in the late innings before Enerio Del Rosario fell to pieces after catcher's interference was called on J.R. Towles

Hall has not been the unmitigated disaster that Pedro Feliz was 12 months ago. But offensive input has been few and far between, and he has looked rusty at second base. 

True, Wade's idea to bring in Hall was pretty bad, but look at what Clint Barmes has done recently. He's only been on the club six weeks and he has a bWAR of 1.2 and an fWAR of 1.1. Solid defense at shortstop, a smattering of power and he is proving to be of value to the club. So we will chalk a strikeout and a bloop single to Boffo on those two at bats. In his last 17 gams he has posted an OPS of .744, which is pretty good from his position. 

Hunter Pence meanwhile may have a 16-game hitting streak going, but that can't buy him any votes for the biggest joke of the baseball calender - the All-Star Game. Even Carlos Lee seems to have finally remembered how to hit. Shame he's hitting for no power, still can't walk, is terrible at running the bases and plays shaky defense. 

Seven years ago Jeff Kent garnered the most votes at second base thanks in large part to a 25-game hitting streak lasting from May 5th to June 14th. That does not look like happening to Pence. 

Despite everything that has been said about this lineup, it is sixth in the NL in runs scored. Sixth? True, there are a lot of teams bunched up together in the middle of the pack, but if you take away the Cardinals, Reds and Diamondbacks, there are seven teams within 16 runs of each other. 

The same cannot be said for our pitching unit. Part of the 4.52 ERA is down to some horrific defense, a high HR/FB ratio, Mills leaving starters out longer than he should, and a young and inexperienced bullpen. This number should start to fall as it did mid-way through 2010. 

Scouts have constantly profiled Lyles as a mid-rotation starter, whose polish, command and easy delivery have been his strengths coming through the system. His first start was a dandy, but it was against the Cubs, who are not having the best of seasons, and he flirted with disaster several times with runners on third base. 

And while it would be flat out dumb to compare a rookie with one major league start under his belt to Greg Maddux, it is a comparison that has gained a lot of traction with some observers in the way the 20-year-old approaches opposing hitters. 

In a nice bit of symmetry Lyles faced Carlos Zambrano on Tuesday, a pitcher who made his debut at 20, and the first hit he surrendered was against Starlin Castro, the man he displaced as the youngest player in the majors. 

While it is worth getting excited about Villar and Altuve, neither will be ready until 2013. Villar's athleticism seems to wow scouts, and he sneaked into Baseball America's top 100 prior to the season's start, but he needs to cut down the amount of errors he makes at shortstop. Altuve's success meanwhile is due to a meteoric BA, and a hit total in Ichiro territory. Still, with great speed, a decent eye and some pop, he is more than a singles hitter.

Did I mention he's listed as 5' 7''? That's another pound in the Altuve Jar, which operates much like a swear jar, except you have to put in every time you make reference to the second-baseman's height. 

Norris, Lyles, Aneury Rodriguez and J.A. Happ might be a decent rotation in a year or two's time. A lineup with J.D. Martinez, Altuve, Villar, Brett Wallace, similarly so. My point is we are still lacking something. A bit of star power, a difference maker. 

Can tomorrow's draft provide that, or will Boffo really confound everyone and draft Chris Reed with the 11th overall pick? 

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.