HOUSTON -- Astros manager Bo Porter believes his club is in a much better position than it was a year ago, when it was entering its first season in the American League West with a rookie skipper and a roster full of unknowns.
As a result, the Astros took their lumps, losing a club-record 111 games, including the final 15 games. The club spent money in the offseason and acquired some proven players, such as outfielder Dexter Fowler, starting pitchers Scott Feldman and Jerome Williams and relievers Matt Albers, Chad Qualls and Jesse Crain.
And with the game's best farm system figuring to bear more fruit this year, Porter understandably has a more optimistic outlook of what the Astros might be able to accomplish in 2014. The manager took time earlier this week to sit down with MLB.com to relay his thoughts on the upcoming season:
MLB.com: We're a few days away from Spring Training. What has you the most excited as you get ready to head to Kissimmee, Fla.?
Porter: One, I'm excited about the fact that you look at our roster as you fast-forward from last year to the 2014 roster, the additions that we were able to make, bringing in some veteran guys that are in their prime. And you look at our core group and the experience they were able to gain last year, I think will bode well as we move forward. You look at the excitement of having a lot of our top prospects that are going to be joining us in Spring Training year and their first taste of Major League camp. I think you look at those three components, and it really has you excited about the 2014 roster.
MLB.com: Not to take anything away from last year's team, but do you feel you have a more legitimate bullpen, a little more legitimate lineup, more bullets in your gun, so to speak?
Porter: I think we definitely added more proven Major League players. You look at our roster last year and we had a roster of guys that were trying to establish themselves as Major League players. That's always tough to put a roster together, and you have a lot of guys that they're just trying to survive and stay in the big leagues. Whereas you look at our roster this year, and we have guys that are proven to be everyday players and proven to be back-end-of-the-bullpen guys that have pitched high-leverage innings. So you look at the additions we were able to make to the roster, and you definitely feel much better about the 2014 roster.
MLB.com: You mentioned before about patience. How are you as a manager better prepared this year than you were a year ago when you came in with a lot of unknowns?
Porter: You look at one, I spent my entire coaching career in the National League. So one, adjusting to the American League and the American League West, that is. Two, I didn't know or have enough information on our own players, so it took basically going through the process in which we went through to be able to answer a lot of the questions where they're at in their career, what they're capable of doing, what they're not capable of doing. I think I have a better understanding of our players, I have a better understanding of the league. And you look at the component of the fact we're now bringing in players that have a track record and a history of playing well at the Major League level.
MLB.com: You talked about the young players, and obviously we saw some last year get their feet wet and probably more this year. Are there any youngsters the fans should look for that might have an impact in 2014 that didn't have an impact last year?
Porter: You look at our farm system, which was named the No. 1 farm system in Major League Baseball. George Springer is obviously on the cusp of being an impact player in the Major Leagues. You look at Jonathan Singleton, [Asher] Wojciechowski -- all those guys have put together quality, quality Minor League seasons, and we believe that they're going to arrive at the Major League level and really help our ballclub and impact the team.
MLB.com: Do you expect it for the fans to be more fun? [General manager] Jeff [Luhnow] has some internal projections that everyone expects us to be better. The division has gotten better. Do you expect a more competitive team, a team that will open some eyes? I know some people said you'll be the most improved team. Are those the kind of goals you're looking at at this point?
Porter: I think it's definitely a goal of our ballclub to set out to be one of the most improved teams in Major League Baseball. It's very attainable when you look at where we're coming from in 2013 to the roster in which we've been able to put together. And again, my No. 1 job as a manager is to put these guys into position to play to their potential. I believe that the potential of our roster is better, and I believe it's going to afford us to have more wins in 2014.
MLB.com: We still have Spring Training, but April 1 you play here against the Yankees. What can you tell the fans about what kind of baseball to expect this year from the Astros?
Porter: I think it's going to be exciting. I think you're going to see a fundamentally [sound] team that jells together rather quickly. We had a lot of players that stayed together this offseason and that did not happen in years past. I think our veteran guys are coming in with a great sense of where the organization is at and the role of which they're going to play within the organization. Baseball is a team sport, and I believe the quicker you come together as a team, the better chance you have of having success in that season. I think that our team is going to jell together rather quickly, and it's going to be an exciting 2014 season.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.