Oklahoma City manager Tony DeFrancesco joined Houston's organization in November 2010, about a month before Jeff Lunhow was tabbed to be the Astros' new general manager.
"When I got here, the organization was in disarray," he said. "We didn't have that many prospects."
With Lunhow at the helm, that's changed quickly. The proof of that can be seen in the standings. All the full-season standings in the system, that is.
On Tuesday, the Astros' Triple-A affiliate knocked off Nashville, 5-4, to clinch the American Southern Division crown in the Pacific Coast League. The RedHawks became the fourth Houston Minor League franchise to lock up a playoff spot, joining Double-A Corpus Christi, Class A Advanced Lancaster and Class A Quad Cities.
Beyond the full-season leagues, the team's Class A Short-Season affiliate, Tri-City, is currently first in the New York-Penn League's Stedler Division, and Rookie-level squad Greeneville is leading the Appalachian League West.
"Jeff and the front office have done an awesome job of getting players into the organization," DeFrancesco said. "I think, eventually, the pipeline is going to come through, and you will see some great players up in Houston.
"I think, bottom to top, the adjustments that have been made and the players that are in the organization now, it's great. Now hopefully we can develop those guys and translate that into winning at the Major League level."
Oklahoma City clinched outright by moving to 79-59, putting them seven games ahead of Albuquerque and Round Rock in the PCL American Southern. The title is the first for Oklahoma City since 2010 and its seventh overall.
The RedHawks' second-half push was given a hefty boost when Houston's No. 3 prospect George Springer was promoted to Triple-A in late June. The 23-year-old has hit .307 with 18 homers, 20 steals and a 1.071 OPS with Oklahoma City. Between the top two tiers of the Minors, the center fielder has 37 homers and 43 stolen bases. On Tuesday, the University of Connecticut product went 2-for-4 with a triple, an RBI and a run scored.
Springer's performance has been backed by strong offensive seasons from Brett Wallace (.326 average, .952 OPS), Brandon Laird (.283, 16 home runs) and Jonathan Villar (.277, 31 stolen bases).
Unlike many Triple-A teams, the RedHawks have been driven by a core of young players. Five of the team's Top 20 Prospects have spent significant time with Oklahoma City, including Springer, Villar, Jonathan Singleton, Jarred Cosart and Asher Wojciechowski.
With such a youthful roster, getting leadership from veteran players has been key, and DeFrancesco said he's seen just that from Trevor Crowe.
"I think you have to tip your cap to Trevor," he said. "He started here on a rehab assignment and winded up staying. He's been an excellent role model for these guys as far as playing the game right."
The team's postseason run will be aided by the presence of Japhet Amador, a three-time Mexican League All-Star who was signed by Houston last week. Amador has played in just four games with Oklahoma City, but has made an immediate impact.
The 6-foot-4, 315-pound first baseman went 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run Tuesday, and he is 8-for-17 thus far in his stateside debut.
"He seems like a professional hitter," DeFrancesco said. "Right now, he's just kind of feeling us out, this style of baseball. It seems like he knows how to go up and get a hit right now.
"Once he gets loose and comfortable, he's doing to drive the ball out of the ballpark. His numbers in Mexico were off the charts."