Bandits, Astros ink agreement

Originally Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2012, 2:53 pm
Last Updated: Sept. 24, 2012, 6:36 pm
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By Daniel Makarewicz,

Houston, we have your affiliate.

In announcing a new two-year player development contract with the Quad Cities River Bandits on Monday afternoon, Houston Astros farm director Fred Nelson told those gathered at a news conference inside Modern Woodmen Park the organization is "thrilled to death to be here."

Truth be told, the Bandits have the same feeling.

"So exciting," Bandits general manager Stefanie Brown said. "It's nice having a new partnership and one that we're excited to move forward with."

Reuniting with the Astros, who spent the previous decade with Lexington in the South Atlantic League, for the second time in franchise history, the Bandits have a partner that carries familiarity. Houston had its Midwest League affiliate in the Quad-Cities from 1993 through 1998, an era that saw the franchise set an all-time attendance mark in 1994. Those years featured a farm system that helped the Astros claim three consecutive National League Central Division titles starting in 1997.

Another selling point was Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow's ties to the previous affiliation with the St. Louis Cardinals. Before being hired by the Astros last December, Luhnow was the Cardinals' vice president of player development and scouting, a position that had him working closely with the Bandits front office.

 "The fact that we have a very, very strong friendship with Jeff Luhnow carries a lot of weight with us," Bandits co-owner Dave Heller said.

Brown said the final decision was made on Saturday night after spending the day in Houston with Luhnow and other team officials. Dialogue between the two franchises started last Monday, Brown said.

The Astros were chosen from a pool of three finalists that included the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Oakland Athletics.

"It's going to be a really exciting time here in the next couple seasons to see this unbelievable talent come through," Brown said. "It's going to be a lot of fun baseball."

 In the end, the talent within the system makes this such an attrative decision.

Heller stated five reasons why the Astros were the right fit, but two stand out. The Bandits were enamored with the fact that Houston has the overall No. 1 pick in next June's draft, meaning it has the top selection in back-to-back seasons. Another positive indicator was the Astros' farm system has the top combined record in Major League Baseball.

Overall, their seven domestic affiliates finished 417-347. Only one compiled a record below .500.

"We're filtering in better, young players in the system," Nelson said. "(The Quad-Cities) will see some good players and guys who play hard."

The "rebranding and rebuilding" process the Astros have started as they move into the American League West Division intrigued Brown.

"Having a chance to talk with the different staff members, they're all so energetic and excited," Brown said. "They're excited about our vision, too. I was excited to hear they were excited."

There are multiple parts to the Astros' vision, but Nelson stressed community and winning. Those inside the clubhouse are expected to interact with the community both at the ballpark and away from it. They also will stress fielding a team that consistently can win.

"We win without jeopardizing development, but the object of the game when the lights go on and when you cross the white lines is winning," Nelson said. "We'll do all the development prior to that time. If things happen during the game that we need to talk about after the game, then we'll do it. But we don't want the feeling that it's OK to get beat because we're developing."

Within the last year, the Astros are developing and winning. The three teams that could potentially feed into the Bandits -- short-season low-A Tri-City, rookie level Greeneville and the Gulf Coast League Astros -- finished with a combined record of 115-88. Two players -- outfielders Preston Tucker and Andrew Aplin -- were named as Baseball American Classification All-Stars.

Not included in that list was shortstop Carlos Correa, the No. 1 pick in last June's draft.

"Our minor leagues are beginning to get stockpiled," Nelson said. "We've gotten bigger, stronger and faster."

That has the Bandits excited.

"When people see the quality of the players the Astros are bringing through the Quad-Cities, they're going to see quickly that they are a team that is very, very much headed in the right direction," Heller said. "It's not going to be a very long time before they're a perennial playoff contender. They have so many great young players in their system."


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