Springer, pitchers taken early

Zachary Levine, Astros beat writer for the Houston Chronicle, tweeted this yesterday afternoon:

Six straight college picks for Astros after a run of five earlier in the round. @ValleyCats probably having a party.

Indeed, from the ValleyCats’ standpoint, the 2011 MLB Draft could hardly have gone better. As we mentioned on Monday, we were watching for college players in particular, since many of them will be future ValleyCats. Houston certainly kept us interested, taking 23 college players (three from junior college) with its first 30 picks.

If history is any indication, most of them will spend at least part of their summer in Troy – of the 20 college players drafted on the first two days last season, 15 played for the ValleyCats. Tri-City could almost field a complete team just from the ’11 draftees, as Houston’s selections covered every position.

On Monday evening, Houston took UConn outfielder George Springer with the 11th overall pick, eschewing some talented pitchers in favor of the best position player available. Springer was seen as a top-five talent entering 2011 but fell due to some struggles with his swing this spring; he still hit .350/.458/.624 this season and was named the Big East Player of the Year.

With good power and good speed, Springer is a potential 20-20 candidate in the major leagues; he’ll get every chance to play center field, but Houston scouting director Bobby Heck said there is a chance he’ll eventually move to a corner.

Springer would be a good bet to spend the summer in Troy if he signed quickly – the last two college players drafted on the first day, Mike Kvasnicka (33rd in 2010) and Jason Castro (10th in 2008) made their pro debuts with the ValleyCats. However, Springer has other things on his mind right now – his Huskies won their NCAA regional on Monday and will face South Carolina this weekend for the right to advance to the College World Series. If Connecticut wins, Springer’s college season may not end until the end of June.

The junior says that he wants to play professional ball, and he should sign with Houston eventually, but it may not be a simple negotiation; while he has not demanded a particularly large bonus, industry sources expect him to receive a deal slightly above slot money. It seems likely that Springer may follow the same path as Castro did three years ago – the catcher signed in July and debuted a month into the ValleyCats’ season, eventually appearing in 39 games.

The Astros went for pitching with most of their high-end picks on Tuesday, taking hurlers with their first four second-day selections and seven in the first ten rounds. Second-round pick Adrian Houser, a high school pitcher from Oklahoma, and fourth-round pick Christopher Lee, a very young juco lefty from Florida, will likely go to lower levels, but the other two highly-drafted starters could make an impact in Troy.

Vanderbilt righty Jack Armstrong was Houston’s third-round pick. A terrific athlete, Armstrong can be seen doing backflips or making diving plays into first base, and had first-round talent but fell due to injury concerns. He says he plans to play in the Cape Cod League this summer to prove that he is healthy, and if Houston likes what it sees, it could sign him at the mid-August deadline. He could make an impact for the ValleyCats down the stretch, although Houston could also decide to hold him out of game action until the spring to limit his workload.

Fifth-round pick Nick Tropeano also has strong connections to the Cape Cod League – he earned the victory for Cotuit in the deciding game of the 2010 CCBL championship series, throwing 6.2 innings without allowing a hit. Tropeano is no stranger to the northeast, pitching for Stony Brook, and seems a good bet to headline the ValleyCats’ rotation this year. He projects to potentially be one of the best pitchers in the NYPL – while many worry that the righty’s upper-80s fastball won’t be able to get hitters out at higher levels, his advanced approach and superb changeup should keep short-season hitters off-balance.

San Diego State outfielder Brandon Meredith kicked off a delayed run on college position players, as Houston took 12 of his kind on Day Two, including six in a row in rounds 20-25. The full positional breakdown:

HS hitters: 3

HS pitchers: 4

College hitters: 13

College pitchers: 10

Three of the college pitchers were taken from the junior college ranks, as Houston looks to possibly find another Roy Oswalt, who the Astros drafted in the 23rd round out of Holmes Community College.

According to Alyson Footer, Lee has already signed a pro contract, as has second baseman John Hinson out of Clemson. Hinson could very well man the keystone sack for the ValleyCats this summer.

We will have more coverage of the Astros’ draft picks later this week. In the meantime, the Ultimate Astros blog has some bios of the top 30 picks.

Kevin Whitaker

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