by: Gabe Cassillo
Next Monday, June 4th, Major League Baseball will hold its annual First Year Player Draft. The Astros hold the first overall pick warranted by their 56-106 record in 2011, and are currently weighing all their options. While there is no “Bryce Harper” or “Stephen Strasburg” transcendent talent this year, there are a handful of quality options worthy of the top selection. Let’s take a quick look at 5 of the possibilities for the Astros.
Mark Appel (RHP Stanford)
The player most linked to the Astros at number one overall is Stanford pitcher, Mark Appel. At 6’ 5’’, 190 lbs. the long right hander features a strong fastball in the 92-95 mph range with good movement, and a plus slider. While he is working on developing a changeup as well, Appel hasn’t dominated as much as his stuff indicates. Even though he already anchors a steady Stanford pitching staff, scouts feel his best is yet to come, projecting him as a pitcher with Justin Verlander-type potential. Appel is the most refined pitcher in the draft and probably the closest to the majors. His ceiling is high, and it’s very, very likely the Houston native is the selection here for the Astros.
Byron Buxton (OF Appling County HS, Ga.)
Perhaps the best overall talent in this year’s draft, Byron Buxton of Baxley, Georgia is less likely than Appel at number one, but still has a legitimate shot to sneak in as the top pick. At 6’ 2’’ and 170 lbs. Buxton flashes great natural ability and legitimate five-tool talent. His speed, potential power, and strong arm project him as a player ranging anywhere from Matt Kemp to the B.J. and/or Justin Upton brothers. Although still raw, Buxton has a simple swing with quick bat speed that scouts feel will give him the skills to hit not only for average, but for serious power. As the top High School position player in the draft, Buxton will not slip too far if he does not go number one to the Astros. Most likely, he will be off the board in the top 3 selections.
Kyle Zimmer (RHP San Francisco)
Zimmer has been a big surprise among scouts this year, truly coming on the radar following a strong showing in last year’s NCAA regionals and the famed Cape Cod League. At 6-foot-4, 220 lbs. Zimmer projects as a workhorse starter who can be a strong number 1 or 2 starter for Major League clubs for years to come. His fastball is at 94-96 consistently and has occasionally touched 99. His 12-6 curve is also a plus offering. Accompanying those two pitches is an average changeup with the potential to be a plus pitch in the future, and a little used slider that could become average down the road. Zimmer is extremely athletic and has a serious demeanor when on the mound. He fields his position well and is mechanically sound in his delivery. The margin between Zimmer and Appel is very slim, and should he not go to the Astros, he most certainly will not slip out of the top 5.
Kevin Gausman (RHP LSU)
Less likely as the top selection yet just as talented is yet another strong right hander, Kevin Gausman. In 2010, he was drafted by the Dodgers in the sixth round, but decided to pitch at LSU, and has since greatly improved his draft outlook. With a solid 94-96 mph for his fastball, and a 85-86 mph changeup as a second plus pitch, Gausman has strong potential. The jury is still out on his breaking pitches, however, including an upper-70s curve and an inconsistent slider. As just a sophomore, Gausman projects to have a lot of room for growth, and he has potential as a number one or number two starter in the not too distant future. Most likely he will be a top 5 pick.
Mike Zunino (C Florida)
As a dark horse for the top spot overall, the Astros could go with the best college position player in the draft, Mike Zunino. The leader of a powerhouse Florida Gators team, Zunino has impressed with his strong bat, power, defense, and leadership intangibles. Drawing comparisons to a young Jason Varitek, the 6-foot-2, 220 backstop would be more likely to be the first selection if not for the recent pick of Stanford Catcher Jason Castro (10th overall, 2008). Before starting his professional career, Zunino will attempt to lead the Gators to the National Championship, after losing in the College World Series Final to champion and rival South Carolina in 2011. He is also a finalist for this year’s Golden Spikes Award, given to the top player in College Baseball.
Who do you think the Astros will pick number one? Which player will look best in a ValleyCats uniform? Leave your thoughts below in the comments section!