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Crane optimistic Astros will be better in 2014

HOUSTON -- It's been two years since Jim Crane's ownership group was approved by Major League Baseball to purchase the Astros, and it's certainly been a roller-coaster ride on and off the field.

The Astros lost a club-record 111 games in their inaugural season in the American League in 2013, and they've dealt with frustrated fans who haven't been able to watch games on television.

Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow have remained committed to the rebuilding plan they put in place and have been encouraged at the continued improvement of the team's Minor League system, which is now among the best in baseball.

"Certainly, there's some days that are better than others and it does wear on you, but we're proud to own the team," Crane said. "Our group is resilient. We're in it for the long run, and we want to put a good product on the field year in and year out."

While Crane tries to navigate his way through the stalemate with Comcast, which last week involved a lawsuit filed by Crane and his ownership group against former owner Drayton McLane over the value of the regional sports network, the club is ready to move forward on the field.

With the Minor League pipeline in good shape, Crane has said the club will spend money this winter with the goal of beginning to increase the win total yearly as it climbs toward respectability in the AL West.

"When you keep looking back on the last two years, I think if I had to say the mistake that I made, I underestimated how weak our Minor League system was and how important it was to be competitive year in and year out," Crane said. "Doing a lot of the homework with Jeff's crew helped, looking at some of the organizations that are consistently in the playoffs.

"We knew we had to make wholesale changes at the bottom to get the top focused. We feel we filled in all those holes. We have a good management staff on both sides of the business. But to stick to the plan takes some fortitude, and I told people we're going to stick to the plan. And we're sticking to the plan."

The Astros aren't saying how many wins they're shooting for in 2014, and it's hard to make those predictions now considering they've yet to make any significant player acquisitions. Needless to say, expectations will be higher next year on the field.

"We've done a lot of work to deepen the scouting, to deepen the training of the Minor League system and we think we have the foundation set for the team in the future," Crane said. "Nobody was happy last [season]. It was very difficult with everybody in the organization, and we want to turn that around."

Houston's future will depend upon its homegrown talent as much as anything else. Top prospects George Springer, Jonathan Singleton and Mike Foltynewicz could be in the Majors next year, and the Astros believe they've set themselves up to keep the talent coming in waves.

It can't come soon enough for Astros fans who are thirsty for a winner. The owner is thirsty, too.

"We think we have the Minor League system shored up, but we're playing Major League Baseball, too, and we have to start winning some ballgames," Crane said. "[Next year], to be candid, I would like to see us make a big stride in the win column, and I think with filling in some of the holes we had last year, we could have flipped around a lot of games we lost late. That's what we're focused on."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

Houston Astros