Porter growing with players as a rookie manager
Despite struggles on field, skipper believes organization is making strides
ARLINGTON -- With every difficult loss, every mistake committed on the bases and in the field, every hard lesson the young Astros endured during a difficult 2013 season, rookie manager Bo Porter was learning right alongside his players.
Porter, hired last year to take over a team undergoing a massive overhaul, knew the Astros were at least a couple of years away from competing when he took the job, but that didn't mean his first year at the helm of a team making its American League debut was any less challenging.
The task was this: keep the Astros -- the youngest team in baseball -- as competitive as possible while trying to evaluate talent the team could count on for the future. Houston will carry a club-record 108 losses and a 12-game losing streak into the final weekend of the season, but Porter's resolve is as strong as ever.
"If you get to the point you stop learning, you probably need to go home," he said. "I'm one of those who believes you should get better each and every day, each and every season. I'm going to keep getting better; I'm going to look to improve."
Porter, 41, infused the Astros with energy and inspiration from the moment he hit Kissimmee, Fla., for Spring Training, bringing the kind of youthful vibe he wanted to see from the players. They grew up together, learning from each other's mistakes along the way.
"I've learned a lot about my team, and I've learned a lot about myself," Porter said. "It's been very challenging, but at the same time, I would not change all the experiences which I've been through. I think we needed to go through them as an organization. I need to go through them as a manager.
"It's going to make all of us better as we continue to move far into the offseason. I think that as far as roster construction, there are things in which I would take form this season that will help my decision-making moving forward."
The Astros had 21 rookies see playing time at some point this season, including 16 players who made their Major League debuts. That included top prospects like starting pitcher Jarred Cosart and journeyman Minor Leaguers like catcher Cody Clark.
Porter appears to be the right man to bring it all together, considering the team's youth. Not to mention Porter has lived in Houston for years and has deep ties to the community.
"Bo did a terrific job," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "It's difficult to day-to-day manage a team that has so much youth and so many different people on and off the roster all year. There was a lot happening, and I think he did a good job of keeping everybody focused and going out and trying to win games every day while at the same time putting players in position to continue to develop and succeed. I think he was able to do that."
After the club traded away veteran reliever Jose Veras in July, Porter was left with a bullpen made up mostly of rookies, and the Astros struggled to close out games as a result. Houston blew 10 saves in August alone and will enter the offseason targeting some veteran help in relief.
"Coming out of Spring Training, I would not have thought, from a bullpen standpoint, that we would have had the struggles we had as a whole," Porter said. "I'm not talking about any particular point in the year. The number of leads we gave up. … We've all been around baseball a long time, and at some point you say, 'It's not going to continue.' That was a little shocking."
The Astros did manage to identify their third baseman of the future in Matt Dominguez, made a long-term commitment to second baseman Jose Altuve and saw catcher Jason Castro have a breakout year. The arrival of Cosart and fellow rookies Brett Oberholtzer and Brad Peacock to the rotation provided some hope the pitching staff could be improved next year.
"I think we have answers to a lot of the questions that were not answered when we started Spring Training," Porter said. "Now, as an organization, we have a pretty good idea of the guys we believe are going to be able to help us. We also know what it is we need to go get."
For all the disappointments and failures, there were moments that reminded Porter why he's here. One of those occurred on Sept. 13, when Clark, who wouldn't have even reached the big leagues if catchers Max Stassi and Carlos Corporan had not suffered concussions within two days of each other, picked up his first Major League hit following an 0-for-25 start to his career.
"It was awesome," Porter said. "I had tears in my eyes."
That's because Porter found himself caring about his players more so than he could have ever imagined. He became a de facto father figure to the players and cared about what was going on with them in their personal lives. After all, they're in this thing together.
"They're humans, they're emotional creatures," Porter said. "This is their career, but they have families and they have different things that are going on. If you're compassionate to those things, I think that goes a long way in relationship-developing as well. When you have a manager who cares, that helps."