After winning five of the last six Stedler Division Championships, it’s only natural for Tri-City ValleyCats fans to expect the big league club to draft well. The Astros, unlike most teams, have the luxury of taking the best available player in the 2016 MLB Draft for the first three or four rounds. This is largely because the team doesn’t have any compensation picks, and there’s a fairly large jump from the first selection (#17 overall) to the second round pick (#61 overall). If you’re a ValleyCats fan, you certainly don’t want the ‘Stros to take a high school kids because they get sent straight to the Greenville Astros, and very rarely see time in Troy.
There aren’t many glaring needs throughout the organization, other than maybe pitching, but you can never have enough good pitchers. Offense isn’t a problem at all. Of the seven teams in the Astros organization, five finished in the top three in their league in runs scored and RBI, four in home runs, batting average and stolen bases, and SIX in the top three in walks. Pitching was a little more inconsistent last year, with three of the affiliates finishing top three in ERA and strikeouts, but three affiliates finishing in the bottom three in both of those categories as well.
|Astros||.250 (21st)||.752 (2nd)||1363 (22nd)||729 (6th)||691 (6th)||230 (2nd)||121 (3rd)||486 (12th)|
|Grizzlies||.274 (8th)||.773 (5th)||1323 (10th)||804 (1st)||756 (1st)||124 (7th)||157 (1st)||606 (1st)|
|Hooks||.275 (2nd)||.768 (2nd)||1299 (2nd)||742 (1st)||665 (2nd)||117 (3rd)||148 (2nd)||569 (2nd)|
|JetHawks||.291 (1st)||.851 (1st)||1442 (1st)||888 (1st)||819 (1st)||174 (1st)||115 (5th)||588 (1st)|
|River Bandits||.265 (3rd)||.726 (2nd)||1216 (3rd)||659 (2nd)||589 (2nd)||72 (7th)||145 (4th)||560 (1st)|
|ValleyCats||.261 (2nd)||.712 (1st)||661 (4th)||365 (1st)||318 (1st)||38 (2nd)||78 (4th)||297 (1st)|
|Greenville||249 (9th)||.684 (9th)||553 (9th)||308 (5th)||274 (6th||31 (9th)||73 (1st)||232 (3rd)|
|Astros||3.57 (6th)||1280 (13th)||1.20 (5th)||40 (21st)|
|Grizzlies||4.43 (10th)||428 (3rd)||1.36 (7th)||12 (12th)|
|Hooks||3.39 (2nd)||419 (1st)||1.2 (6th)||20 (1st)|
|JetHawks||5.08 (10th)||412 (7th)||1.45 (9th)||14 (6th)|
|River Bandits||2.65 (2nd)||1075 (5th)||1.15 (1st)||46 (2nd)|
|ValleyCats||3.79 (10th||635 (1st)||1.32 (9th)||17 (12th)|
|Greenville||3.18 (2nd)||515 (6th)||1.23 (1st)||14 (6th)|
*= Final numbers (Position in league)
To give you a more comprehensive grasp on what’s going to go down this weekend, I asked The Crawfish Boxes Managing Editor Ryan Dunsmore to give his opinion on which players some draft pundits have picked to go to Houston.
Jordan Sheffield, Vanderbilt, RHP
Peter’s take: I’ve seen Sheffield taken as low as 23 to the Cardinals, and as high as 17 to the Astros in mock drafts. While I think Sheffield would be a serviceable starter, there will likely be better pitchers on the board (Zeuch, Hudson, Burdi). I watched him pitch in the Cape Cod League last year, where he finished with a 5.49 ERA, and 19/15 K/BB in 20 innings of work. His ERA with Vandy this season is sub-2.50, so maybe he’s turned it around.
Ryan’s take: Oh look, it’s another Vanderbilt starter at the top of draft boards. What a surprise? Sheffield is a bit short at 6’0” but he shows a mid-90’s fastball with late movement and two good-to-plus offspeed pitches. He projects to be two or three starter in the league at his peak. He reminds of Kent Emanuel (Drafted by the Astros in 2013 out of UNC) in potential.
Zack Burdi, Louisville, RHP
Ryan’s take: Zack Burdi is an interesting case. Relievers aren’t taken in the first round often, but Burdi may been an exception. Burdi’s fastball has been clocked at 101 MPH and he has an upper 80’s slider that he mixes well. He had an impressive 15.00 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9 in college but he has only pitched 67 innings at Louisville. Basically, he could be steal if you think he’s a starter — if not, he’s a reach in the first round as a reliever.
Peter’s take: Unlike many, I’m not opposed to taking relievers in the first round, and don’t necessarily think he should be converted to a starter. Last year, he finished with a 6-1 record with nine saves and a 0.92 ERA. Over the summer, he pitched in the Cape after a stint with USA Baseball, where he went 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 13.1 innings. Like Ryan mentioned, he throws his slider very well, which makes him an extremely valuable pick in the first round.
Alex Kirilloff, OF
Peter’s take: Kiriloff is an interesting prospect to follow. He’s home-schooled, but still plays for his local varsity high school’s baseball team, and intends to skip attending the draft to play in the Pennsylvania state quarterfinal. He’s got a pretty good head on his shoulders, and the .540 batting average and 17 walks with only one strikeout this season shows he has an understanding of the zone.
Ryan’s take: Alex Kirilloff is son of renowned hitting coach and Baseball 19 camp instructor Dave Kirilloff. Kirilloff is a left-handed hitting, left-handed throwing outfielder with marginal speed but solid tools otherwise. His biggest tool is his projectable raw power because of his loft off the bat and tremendous bat speed through the zone.
T.J. Zeuch, Pittsburgh, RHP
Ryan’s take: T.J. Zeuch seems like the kind of player that Astros lean toward in the draft. A solid college player with a high floor. Zeuch has been stellar for the Pittsburgh Panthers in his junior season, going 6-1 with a 3.10 ERA in 10 starts last season he struck out 74 and walked 19. He sits around 92-94 with his fastball and sports a decent slider, curve combo. Zeuch has the added benefit of being 6’7″ to give hitters a tough angle to pick up pitches.
Peter’s take: If Zeuch and Burdi were both available, I’d have a hard time deciding. Four of the seven Astro affiliates finished in the bottom half of their league in saves, but Ryan is correct in saying Zeuch is more of a typical Houston pick. In selecting Zeuch you’re essentially sacrificing the extra 6-7 mph on the Burdi fastball, and making up for it with the Zeuch curve.
Ian Anderson, Shenendehowa High School, RHP
Peter’s take: I had a chance to watch Anderson pitch for Shen in the state quarterfinal last weekend, and was impressed with his stuff. His fastball was touching 92 consistently, and his changeup was baffling hitters. Unlike most high school pitchers, though, he doesn’t have a lot of innings to his name, and his twin brother has been catching him for his whole career. I’d be interested to see how he does in a different setting, but for now seems too high-risk, medium-reward.
Ryan’s take: Ian Anderson, a high school pitcher out of Rexford, NY, now sports a 91-94 MPH, a mid-70’s MPH curveball and a mid-80’s MPH changeup. Anderson has had to battle terrible weather this season to get in front of scouts, so he may be cold-weather gem in line with Mike Trout.
Nolan Jones, Holy Ghost Prep, SS/P
Ryan’s take: Nolan Jones is a left-handed hitting high school shortstop out of Langhorne, PA. He shows raw power, arm strength and quickness. He has a big frame at 6-4, 200 pounds and it lends him to moving over to third base by the time he gets to the majors.
Peter’s take: Jones is a solid fielder, but also could be seen as a potential option off the mound, and that diversity should attract the Astros. Jones also showed off his athleticism on the mound at the Perfect Game National, he tossed a 1-2-3 inning, getting his fastball as high as 90 mph, and mixed in a curve as well. If the ‘Stros were to take an high school player, it should be Jones.
Dakota Hudson, Mississippi St, RHP
Peter’s take: With the amount of teams in need of pitching, I doubt a solid college pitcher like Hudson would be available, but if he is, the Astros should pounce. He’s 9-4 for State this year, with a 2.62 ERA and only 31 earned runs allowed in 106+ innings, to go along with a 109/34 K/BB.
Ryan’s take: Hudson has been solid all season long in the vaunted SouthEastern Conference. He has all the tools you want out of college pitcher: a mid-90’s fastball and a nice changeup mix. I would be surprised if Hudson is there at pick No. 17, but if he is I expect the Astros to snag him.
Will Craig, Wake Forest, 1B/DH/P
Ryan’s take: Craig has 60 power potential with the bat. He reminds me a bit of A.J. Reed, but he didn’t seem to show the ability to stay in the field every day. Is a DH or 1B worth a top 30 pick in today’s MLB?
Peter’s take: I’ll answer that question, Ryan, with a comment I made earlier. The Astros have the luxury to take the best player available. I had a chance to watch Craig for two summers – first in the Northwoods League in 2014, and last summer on the Cape. He’s everything he’s hyped up to be, and, like Jones, can pitch, but if he chooses to continue throwing, should be moved to the bullpen. If he’s on the board, Houston should nab him.
Forrest Whitley, Alamo Heights High School, RHP
Peter’s take: Whitley’s been linked to the Astros on more than a few mock drafts, but doesn’t have the pitch flexibility that other arms like Zeuch/Burdi/Hudson have.
Ryan’s take: Whitley is a 6’7” flamethrower out of Alamo Heights High School in the San Antonio area. He is the trendy high upside attached to the Astros, Whitley is obvious pick if he is there at 17 and the Astros want to go the high school route. Whitley’s best pitch was fastball sitting around 92-94 at the moment, he needs to work on his secondary stuff like every high school pick.
The MLB Draft will take place June 9, 10 and 11, with the first round beginning on Thursday night, June 9, at 6 p.m. ValleyCats broadcaster Peter Fiorentino will be hosting a live blog from 5-9 p.m., during the first round to answer fan questions and chat about the Astros selection. Visit catscorner.mlblogs.com on Thursday afternoon to get the link to the blog. Follow him on Twitter (@thefiorentino), and the Tri-City ValleyCats (@ValleyCats) for up-to-date information on the team.
Two more of Houston’s 2011 draftees will reportedly sign soon and debut with the ValleyCats this summer: 20th-round pick Matt Duffy and 24th-round pick Jesse Wierzbicki.
Duffy signed with the Astros last night, according to the Tennessee University athletics department, which tweeted this morning that he will likely play for the ValleyCats. If Duffy could follow in the footsteps of the last two 20th-round picks, he and the Astros would probably be very happy. In 2009, J.D. Martinez led the New York-Penn League with a .326 batting average and ranked second in slugging; he has continued to kill the ball at every level of the minors. Last year, Dan Adamson led the ‘Cats with nine homers and a .444 slugging percentage while stealing 11 bases.
A 6’3” third baseman, Duffy is no stranger to northeastern baseball. The native of Milton, Mass., spent two years at the University of Vermont, earning America East Player of the Year honors as a sophomore, before transferring to Tennessee when the Catamounts’ baseball program folded. Duffy hit over .300 in both seasons with the Vols, showing improved power numbers in 2011 despite the nationwide switch to less explosive bats.
Duffy seems a good bet to start at third base on Opening Day, one week from this evening.
Wierzbicki also indicated last night that he would sign and has been told that he will spend the summer in Troy. But his case is trickier – his North Carolina Tar Heels are still playing in the NCAA Tournament. Announced as a first baseman, Wierzbicki will reportedly spend some time in left field and at DH as the Astros try to find the best position for him; he may not be able to play first every day for Tri-City if 15th-round pick Zach Johnson signs and is assigned to the ‘Cats.
Of course, Wierzbicki cannot sign until his college season is over. That would be soon if the Tar Heels lose to Stanford this weekend, but if UNC wins the best-of-three series, it would advance to the College World Series. The eight-team, double-elimination championship tournament begins on June 18, one day after Opening Day for the ValleyCats, so Wierzbicki would have to miss the first week or two of the season.
You can watch the future ValleyCat play against Stanford today and tomorrow at 3 p.m. on ESPN3, and on Sunday afternoon if necessary.
Eighth-round pick Brandon Culbreath has signed; no official word has come out on where he has headed, but college pitchers picked in that range have almost always joined Tri-City in past years.
Sixth-round pick Brandon Meredith is still on track to be on the ValleyCats’ Opening Day roster.
Future ValleyCat John Hinson reportedly signed for much more than 13th-round money.
After three days and 50 rounds of drafting, the Houston Astros front office can now focus on signing the talent it just acquired and funneling those players into the minor-league system. We already have indications that two players will join the ValleyCats this summer.
13th-round pick John Hinson, an infielder out of Clemson, signed with the Astros last night; this morning, his dad told his hometown paper that Hinson will open the season with the ValleyCats. Hinson played both third base and second base in college, was announced at the latter position on draft day and seems a good bet to man the keystone sack at Joe Bruno Stadium on June 17.
Hinson was drafted in the same round by the Phillies last year but returned to school for another season. After missing all of 2009 to injury, Hinson hit .351 with 17 homers as a redshirt sophomore and batted .331 with nine longballs this year. The Tigers’ season ended on Monday evening, when UConn defeated Clemson in the regional finals.
Earlier this afternoon, sixth-round pick Brandon Meredith tweeted:
First meeting with the Astros last night went well… I should be getting a deal done early next week then off to the Tri City Valley Cats.
Meredith should hit in the middle of the ValleyCats’ order this year. A San Diego area native, he was the first high school player ever to hit a home run out of cavernous Petco Park, and he had two outstanding seasons for the San Diego State Aztecs, batting .383/.484/.542 as a sophomore, but struggled with blisters and less-powerful bats in 2011 and hit just .272. He should be fine defensively in left field, but from a hitter’s position, most of his value will have to come from his bat.
Fifth-round pick Nick Tropeano either has signed or will sign soon, as the Astros plan to fly him to their training complex on Sunday. There is an unconfirmed report that he signed already and will play for the ValleyCats, but the only source is, oddly enough, a basketball forum. A cursory Google search seems to indicate that this was originally posted on the Stony Brook Radio Sports blog but later removed. Even absent this rumor, it seemed likely that Tropeano would soon be a ValleyCat; he’s the type of advanced college pitcher who is likely to sign quickly, and college pitchers drafted in the top ten almost always debut in Troy.
(Edit: Scouting director Bobby Heck confirmed that Tropeano signed, though his minor-league assignment is not yet official.)
We’ll keep you posted as more players sign and learn where they are headed over the weekend. The 2011 ValleyCats Opening Day roster will likely be released on Monday, and the players come to troy on Tuesday to begin preparing for the season.
Astros Director of Scouting Bobby Heck on the first two days of his team’s draft:
We accomplished our goal in taking the best talent and just stayed true to our board as much as we could throughout the day. We feel good about what we were able to add to our stable here.
General Manager Ed Wade:
We’ve got more pitching depth in the system now and have continued to build that pitching depth through the draft. Our philosophy is to take the best athlete available at that point in time … So far, as things have gone, we’re pleased.
The Astros’ 40th-round pick will not be playing for Tri-City this year, nor any other professional team. Buddy Lamonthe, a top reliever at San Jacinto Community College, was paralyzed in a swimming accident one month ago, and the Astros drafted him as a symbolic gesture. His full story can be found on The Buddy Project Website.
Houston was not the only Texas team to draft a player for emotional reasons on Wednesday; in the 33rd round, the Rangers selected Johnathan Taylor, who was paralyzed after an outfield collision with Texas second-round pick Zach Cone this spring.
George Springer might want to check out former first-round pick Doug Glanville’s advice.
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.
Join us again at noon for Day Two of the 2011 MLB Draft, featuring rounds 2-30. Last year, 16 of Houston’s second-day selections played for the ValleyCats, and many of this year’s picks will also end up in Troy.
We can’t embed CoverItLive on WordPress, so come join our chat on tcvalleycats.com!
Welcome to our MLB Draft chat! We can’t embed CoverItLive on WordPress, so come join our chat on tcvalleycats.com!
The 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft begins tonight at 7 p.m., the first of three days of selections. For fans of the ValleyCats and other short-season minor league teams, this is a big event, because many of the players drafted this week will play in the New York-Penn League this summer. Of the 30 players on the 2010 NYPL Champion ValleyCats’ postseason roster, exactly half were selected in that year’s draft.
The ValleyCats will provide extensive coverage of this year’s draft, much as we did last year. We will host a live chat tonight for Day One, the first and supplemental rounds (Houston has one selection, #11), beginning at 7 p.m. And we will chat again throughout the afternoon on Tuesday, when many future ValleyCats are selected in rounds 2-30. ‘Cats Corner and tcvalleycats.com will feature recaps and analysis of the Astros’ selections and previews of who might be joining the 2011 ValleyCats.
What to watch for:
If you’re a fan of the Astros organization in general, you want Houston to pick up as much talent as possible, especially young amateurs with high ceilings. But if you’re rooting for next year’s ValleyCats, root for Houston to take a lot of college players. High school draftees usually take longer to sign, open the season at a lower level (Greeneville or the Gulf Coast League) and often jump to Lexington the following season, bypassing Tri-City entirely. College players, on the other hand, often make their debut in the New York-Penn League, as many did for the ValleyCats last season.
Here’s the breakdown of the players that the Astros selected on the first two days (30 rounds) of the 2010 draft:
High school position players: 5
High school pitchers: 7
College position players: 11
College pitchers: 9
Eight of the 11 college position players, as well as seven of the nine pitchers, played for Tri-City last year. Additionally, relievers Travis Blankenship and Mike Ness were drafted in the 31st and 33rd rounds, while Ryan Cole and Brian Streilein (who joined Tri-City for the postseason) were selected soon after.
Of the five exceptions last year, two did not sign with the Astros, choosing to complete their scholastic careers instead. 18of the first 21 college players that Houston drafted and signed wore a ValleyCats uniform at some point during the season.
The takeaway: most of the college players drafted on the first two days will spend some time in Troy this season.
After having three first-day selections in 2010, Houston will pick only once on Monday evening. After the 11th pick, the Astros will wait until #69, which falls in Tuesday’s second round, and draft once every 30 picks thereafter.
Projecting any rounds past the first is foolhardy, but several experts have released mock drafts of the opening round, including Houston’s first selection. Last year, rumors converged on Delino DeShields, Jr., as the Astros’ target at #8, leaving little suspense when Houston did indeed nab the speedy youngster. This year, there is no such consensus.
According to ESPN’s Keith Law, Houston’s preferred choice among players with a chance to be on the board is Archie Bradley, a high school pitcher from Oklahoma. Bradley has a scholarship to play quarterback for the Sooners but will almost certainly sign a pro contract to play baseball instead. Once thought to be a likely double-digit selection, Bradley has been rising up draft boards over the weekend and could go as high as #4, making it likely that Houston will be forced to look at other options.
One of those options is Francisco Lindor, a shortstop from Monteverde Academy (Fla.). A well-rounded middle infielder, scouts are almost certain that he will be able to play shortstop in the pros, making his bat the only potential concern. If Houston took either Lindor or Bradley, it would be the third consecutive year they took a high school position player with their first pick (DeShields; Jiovanni Mier in ’09), but they would likely have to pay a bonus over slot to sign either, which the Astros have been reluctant to do with top picks in the past. Many teams in the top ten also like Lindor.
The Astros have not tabbed a pitcher with their first-round pick since 2003. But most of the front-end talent in this year’s draft is on the mound, so if there was a time for scouting director Bobby Heck to break this pattern, it would seem to be now. The most-rumored name to fit this bill is Taylor Jungmann, a homegrown righty from University of Texas. Jungmann appears to be a top-20 talent in the draft (even after allowing seven earned runs in a shocking NCAA Tournament loss to Kent St.) and is a geographic fit, making him an easy name to pen into a draft, but Houston doesn’t appear to have any special affinity for him beyond what most teams see. Jungmann is the type of player that could play for the ValleyCats this season.
Finally, a wild card name to watch is Stanford southpaw Chris Reed. Frankie Piliere reported on Saturday that Houston was trying to make a deal with Reed, though the organization reached out to him to deny the rumor a couple of hours later. Reed is seen by most as a supplemental or second-round talent, not worthy of the #11 pick, so this would be a surprising move from the Astros. The rumor gained credibility largely because Piliere was first to report the Astros’ deal with DeShields last year, which was also a reach for a player that few thought was deserving of such a high selection.
Other players rumored to be in Houston’s mix are Georgia Tech lefty Jed Bradley, Connecticut righty Matt Barnes, high school righty Taylor Guerreri and Vanderbilt righty Sonny Gray.
Most other teams also have complicated draft boards even now, less than eight hours before the event begins, as nobody seems to have much of a feel for this draft after the first five or six selections. Tune in to MLB Network at 7 p.m. and follow our live blog to watch it unfold.