Results tagged ‘ Houston Astros ’
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.
My apologies for not finishing this sooner. This notebook is obviously a bit dated now, but hopefully it’s still of interest.
The ValleyCats had their best homestand of the season, sweeping a pair of games with division-leading Vermont. Tri-City hammered the Lake Monsters 10-1 on Monday night and pulled out a 5-3 victory on Tuesday, edging to within five games of Vermont in the standings.
Monday’s outburst was fueled by a two-homer, seven-run third inning, but Kiké Hernandez and Wilton Infante each tripled later in the contest. The last time the ValleyCats had two homers and two triples in a game was way back on July 22, 2004: Mario Garza and Kevin Vital homered, while Vital and Brandon Barganier tripled. The ‘Cats scored two in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game but ultimately fell to Staten Island, 6-5 in 13 innings.
If you had asked me three weeks ago who would rank second on the team in home runs right now, it would have taken me a long, long time to guess Jacke Healey. Yet that’s exactly where the shortstop lies right now after his leadoff blast sparked a seven-run third inning on Monday night. Exactly one month into the season, Healey was scavenging for playing time, hitting .129 as the clear fourth man in a middle-infield rotation. But he homered in consecutive games in mid-July and did so again this week, coming within a couple feet of hitting the giant inflatable Uncle Sam more than 400 feet away against Vermont.
Healey has been solid all year and made a nice play on Monday on a chopper over the second-base bag. But the bigger story has been his power surge. Healey is now slugging .571 in 13 games since July 19, which is very valuable combined with his good glove at short. He put on a laser show in BP before Tuesday’s game, hitting five homers and some more line drives.
This isn’t the first time Healey has shown a power surge – this spring, the shortstop set a Youngstown State University record with 12 homers. He also led the Penguins with 59 RBI.
I would have been much more likely to guess Dan Adamson, who homered later that same inning to remain tied with Healy at four. Adamson, of course, hit the big walk-off homer on Friday night, and has been in the middle of quite a few big innings for the ValleyCats. As of Thursday night, he leads the team with a .848 OPS (edging out Tyler Burnett), tied for first in slugging and second in OBP.
The outfielder has fanned 48 times in 182 plate appearances, an ugly number that leads the team by 10, but it’s not all bad as he also has 22 walks (second on the ‘Cats). He started the season in center field, was moved to left for Wilton Infante shortly thereafter, but he was shifted back to center two weeks ago. He has looked good patrolling the middle of the outfield; the shift has certainly been an improvement for the Tri-City defense. He ran down a fly ball to the deepest part of the warning track in the top of the third on Monday.
Adamson went 0-for-4 in four plate appearances on Tuesday, which was unusual – it marked the first time in 22 games this season that Adamson did not reach base at home. Only Brooklyn superstar Darrell Ceciliani has had a longer such streak this season.
But Adamson’s streak is nothing compared to what Tyler Burnett has done recently. Burnett leads the team in OBP at .397, in large part because he has reached base in every game he has played since June 30th: 30 consecutive games. His streak is the longest in the NYPL this season by six games, and the longest active one by nine. The ValleyCats have been three-hit once and four-hit three times in that span, including three shutouts, but Burnett has constantly been producing. He hit his third homer of the season on Tuesday, a no-doubter to right field that gave the ‘Cats a seventh-inning insurance run.
Burnett’s defense has been coming along nicely at first, while Mike Kvasnicka continues to improve at Burnett’s natural position, third base. Kvasnicka made a pair of great barehanded plays on drag bunts on Monday, throwing out Hendry Jimenez by a step in the first inning and getting speedy outfielder Chad Mozingo in the third. He made a poor play in the seventh inning, drifting on a popup that fell past his glove on the infield (Healey should have called him off but let Kvasnicka take the play the whole way, for whatever it’s worth), but has otherwise looked decent at the hot corner recently. (Kvasnicka recovered to throw David Freitas going for second on that play.)
Jake Buchanan, first five starts: 17 IP, 15 R, 6 BB, 19 SO, 6.88 ERA
Jake Buchanan, last three starts: 16.2 IP, 2 R, 1 BB, 9 SO, 1.08 ERA
Most of the damage came from a two-inning, seven-run start at Auburn on July 16, but he’s certainly turned things around since then with three dominant starts. Buchanan has lowered his season ERA from 6.88 to 4.01, and there’s no reason to think he won’t continue that trend. The righty allowed only two hits and one walk against Vermont on Monday; the hits, both clean singles, came in the second inning. He found his breaking ball after that and was unhittable from the third onward, fanning Hendry Jimenez with a hook in the third and freezing Jack Walker with a fastball to end the fifth. Buchanan’s best inning was his last one, as he got Connor Rowe to chase a curveball in the dirt for his third whiff, then induced a pair of easy ground balls in his third time through the top of the order. He was pulled after six scoreless innings and 73 pitches.
Alex Sogard wasn’t as dominant but pitched fairly well, scattering four hits for two runs in 3.1 innings. The lefty again went to his curveball often, even against opposite-handed hitters, and fanned Blake Kelso with a pair of hooks off the inside corner. He was pitching inside to righties with his fastball as well and getting ahead in counts – he went 0-2 on the first three batters and didn’t walk any. He allowed a home run to Justin Miller that was very, very wind-aided – I actually looked down because I was sure it was going to be an easy fly ball, but the wind from a nearby storm carried the ball over the wall and just beyond a leaping Infante’s glove. After the storm and some light rain had passed, star catcher David Freitas tagged a Sogard fastball in the fourth much harder, but without the wind it went for a double off the wall in left-center.
Murillo Gouvea had another good outing on Tuesday, allowing one run in 2.2 innings. He was living a bit dangerously at times – both his strikeouts came on high curveballs – but got the job done. Gouvea had a 12.78 ERA two weeks ago, but has allowed just one run in 10.1 innings since, fanning 15 batters in that span (3 BB).
With a one-run lead, two outs and a man on in the seventh inning, Jim Pankovits took out lefty Travis Blankenship and brought in Brandt Walker to face right-handed slugger David Freitas. Blankenship had walked the previous batter, but had only thrown eight pitches and Pankovits has generally been reluctant to play matchups with the southpaw. I was glad to see the change, as although Blankenship has actually been tougher on righties thus far (LHB .194/.390/.226; RHB .133/.278/.133), that screams “sample-size fluke” to me: Blankenship is the classic model of a LOOGY, relying heavily on breaking stuff from a low arm angle.
Walker retired Freitas to end the inning, and froze a pair of Lake Monsters in the next inning with fastballs on the outside corner. The ValleyCats’ other flamethrower, Jorge De Leon, came on to close the game out in the ninth. He fell behind his first three hitters 2-0 and brought the tying run to the plate with two outs, but Ben Heath made a nice sliding catch on a Jason Martinson popup to end the game.
Either Vermont has some great relievers or the ValleyCats are falling into a dangerous habit of giving up on at-bats late in games: Vermont’s last pitcher Kevin Cahill fanned five ‘Cats in 1.2 innings on Monday; and Tuesday’s final reliever, Mark Herrera, struck out four in 1.1 IP. So that’s nine outs, nine strikeouts to end games for the ValleyCats, who did have three singles scattered through those innings. I’m guessing it’s a combination of good pitching and poor approach, as I’ve seen this a little bit in the past from the ‘Cats.
Astros news: #8 overall draft pick Delino DeShields, Jr. has officially signed with Houston, for $2.15 million. Although it would be great to see DeShields in a ValleyCats uniform, it won’t happen unless the 18-year-old really, really lights up the Appy League out of the gate – he’ll be going to Greeneville next week.
Disclaimer: This blog
entry is really long. It is not for the faint of heart. You might want to get
some food, maybe something to drink (coffee, Red Bull), and get comfortable. I
did not expect this to be long, but things happen. Enjoy.
The Astros traded two players right before the deadline that
were pivotal parts of the World Series team in 2005 in Roy Oswalt and Lance
Berkman. Oswalt could have become the team’s all-time leader in wins, but was
traded to Philly before he could do so, and Berkman is one of the best power
hitters that the Astros have ever seen. Almost every Astros fan has mailed this
season in (you’re delusional if you haven’t – it would take an Athletic effort
circa 2002 and then some to save the season) and the front office seems to be
on the same page. Throughout the week the beat writers over at the Houston
Chronicle (Richard Justice, Bernardo Fallas and Zach Levine) have expressed
their gratitude for Oswalt and Berkman. Let’s face it, these are two of the greatest players Houston has ever seen. Berkman hit over 300 bombs
for Houston in his 12 seasons (hit 45 in ’06) and Oswalt had 143 wins over a
span of 10 years (including 20 wins twice). These guys were some of the most
dominant and feared players in the entire Major Leagues in the early part of
the 2000′s. But as much as it hurts, those guys are gone and might not ever be
back (even though Berkman has said he loves playing in Houston) so Ed Wade,
Drayton McClane, and the rest of the Astros front office need to look towards
the future. What does that entail? Oh, I’ll tell you.
Houston got a bevy of
players in these two deals, none of which I expect to land on the ValleyCats ever,
but some could have a huge impact on the Major League club.
The Astros got some quality back from the Phillies in the
trade for Oswalt. First, they got J.A. Happ, a guy that in his first full
season with Philadelphia went 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA, including three complete
games (two shutouts). He was the runner up for the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year
behind Chris Coghlan (who batted .321 in his first stint in the Majors – that’s
unbelievable). Kevin Goldstein of Baseball
Prospectus says of Happ:
succeeds on deception and location, placing his 88-90 mph fastball in all four
quadrants of the strike zone, adding and subtracting speed to keep hitters off
balance, and altering his release to add sinking or cutting action.”
So in a
word, he has the potential to be filthy (he showed that capability last
season). He does exactly what you want a pitcher to do. He can locate the
fastball, keep it down, has an arsenal of pitches, and can keep hitters off
balance by varying speed on all of his pitches. I’m not saying he is going to
be an ace, even though he could turn into one, but he would be a great number
three behind Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez.
Brett Wallace. Going into this season, Wallace was ranked the 20th
best overall prospect this year by ESPN’s Keith Law (who is one of my favorite
writers of all time) and 27th by Baseball
America. The Blue Jays traded Michael Taylor, a guy they got from Philly in
the Roy Halladay trade, for Wallace in the offseason, and Wallace did pretty
well playing for the Las Vegas 51′s (batted .301 in 95 games). With this
pickup, it seems like the Astros have their first baseman for the future.
According to KLaw, Ed Wade seems to have made a good decision:
“He’s an advanced hitter who has been
adequate in Triple-A this year but hasn’t raked as I would have expected, given
what a good hitter’s park that is. However, he has an outstanding swing and
controls the strike zone well, doesn’t show the platoon split so common in
left-handed hitting prospects and was just 23 in Triple-A. He’s twice as
valuable a prospect as Gose. Despite concerns over his lateral mobility, he’s a
capable first baseman who will hit for average, get on base and have enough
power to be an above-average or better player there.”
Melancon (I apologize to anyone that is a Yankee fan that listened to my
broadcast the other night – I murdered his name). Melancon is a power righty
that started his career in the New York-Penn League. He closed out the
championship game for the Staten Island Yankees in 2006, and has climbed the
ladder every year since. He doesn’t have the stamina to be a starter or long
reliever, but he could potentially be a great set-up guy to Matt Lindstrom. He
throws hard (92-95 mph) and his curveball is his strikeout pitch. Here’s Law’s
“Mark Melancon‘s arm action is a train
wreck, but he has power stuff, including a 92 to 94 mph fastball, a power curve
in the low- to mid-80s and a hard change. On the right night, he’ll show three
above-average pitches. He had good control throughout his minor league career
but has seen his Triple-A walk rate nearly triple this season. He’s already had
Tommy John surgery in 2006, and his delivery is not easy on the elbow, so I
wouldn’t be shocked if he got hurt again. But until then he’s a potential
late-game option for Houston, possibly even a cheap closer.”
So with these
trades it looks like the Astros picked up a mid-rotation starter (who could end
up being an ace down the road), the first baseman of the future (who hasn’t
reached his full potential yet), and a back-of-the-bullpen guy (who could be a
closer or burn out his arm). What this means is Houston has finally committed
to getting younger all around and are fully committed to player development, so
guys at any level could have a shot at making the big leagues. Look at everyone
here in Troy. Any of them could turn into the next big thing for the Astros.
It’s all wide open!
The infield is
replaceable with maybe the exception of Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson (a former
ValleyCat). Johnson has been a stud so far this season (.341 in 39 games this
season), so maybe third base is locked up if he can keep this going, but I want
to look at the middle infield.
Second base: Jeff
Keppinger is having a good season this year for the Astros at second (batting
.291), but he’s 30 years old. He is not the future. The second baseman for the
Round Rock Express (AAA affiliate of the Astros) is Matt Kata. Kata is having a
decent season so far in 2010. He is hitting .277 with 20 doubles in 104 games.
Here’s the problem: he’s 32 years old! If he even broke through to the Majors,
he’d play what, one or two good years, maybe? He is not the answer at second for
Corpus Christi has a guy named German Duran. In 64 games for the Hooks this
year he is hitting .284, but his slugging percentage is not much higher. And
again, he’s a little old for someone that is going to be the second baseman of
the future. Typically you would want someone that is going to be around for a
while. He has made it as high as AAA, but did not produce at that level. Let’s
say he has a good season with the Express next season. So he cracks the big
leagues at 28? Not the solution.
Here’s my point:
it looks like the future second baseman is coming from, at the highest,
Single-A (even if they sign DeShields). There is a whole mess of second basemen
in Single-A, including a ton of former ValleyCats (Barry Butera, Andrew
Simunic, and Jose Altuve). Right now Albert Cartwright leads all candidates. He
was just promoted to Corpus Christi after batting .319 with Lancaster JetHawks.
He had 26 doubles, 13 triples, and 10 homers, which are awesome numbers for a
second baseman. He is turning 23 in October, so age is not a factor, but he has
committed 20 errors so far this season (which is the most in the California
league by eight). But if I had to pick a runner-up, it has to be Kiké Hernandez. He is a great hitter, is creeping up for
the league-lead in doubles, is pretty good defensively, and oh yeah, he is only
18 years old! He has so much time and room for improvement. Power develops in
your 20′s, so imagine the numbers he’ll put up if he starts hitting home runs.
At this point, if
you are still reading this props to you. Typically blogs are not really wordy.
Like I said earlier, I did not expect this entry to be nearly this long. I got
caught up in the whole thing and ideas kept coming out. I can break down each
position for everyone depending on the reaction of the public. So positive
comments = break down position-by-position.
The Astros are
turning the page on this season and opening a new chapter to hopefully bring
this team back to a World Series. They traded some big contracts away, opening
up the books to sign high draft picks (like DeShields). It might take a while,
but the talent is out there. There is some right here in Troy that could
easily be playing in the Majors in a few years.
We’ll be providing plenty of information on each player throughout the season. In the meantime, here’s some more information on the roster:
A total of 14 college players will be making their professional debut with the ValleyCats, after being selected in last week’s amateur draft. Foremost among them is Michael Kvasnicka of Minnesota, taken with the 33rd overall pick and signed yesterday. Kvasnicka played the outfield and caught for the Gophers, but Houston sees him as a third baseman, so Tri-City fans will get to watch his transition to the hot corner firsthand. He’s also listed as a utility player, which means we’ll probably see some of him in the outfield, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets a few innings at second base. I wrote more about Kvasnicka after the draft.
A couple of other high draft picks will be joining Kvasnicka in Troy this week. Texas Tech pitcher Bobby Doran and Penn State catcher Ben Heath – selected in the fourth and fifth round, respectively – also were assigned to Troy. Two other pitchers taken in the first ten rounds will don ValleyCats uniforms this year: NC State righty Jake Buchanan and Xavier lefty Thomas Shirley. I also wrote about these Day 2 selections last week.
Buchanan should not be very lonely at Tri-City this year, as he joins a pair of former teammates on the ValleyCats. Left-handed pitcher Andrew Sogard was also drafted out of NC State this season in the 26th round. And first baseman Nick Stanley played for the Wolfpack before being drafted in the 25th round last season.
Eleven foreign players add an international flavor to this season’s roster. Five ValleyCats hail from Venezuela and five from the Dominican Republic, while pitcher Murilo Gouvea is from Brazil. Perhaps the most interesting of these players is Jorge De Leon. In his fourth professional season, the righty played 66 games between Tri-City and Lexington at shortstop, but batted just .206/.246/.286. This offseason, Houston decided to convert him to the mound, and he will be pitching for the ValleyCats this year. His fastball has reportedly been clocked at 97 mph this spring, making him one of the most interesting members of the pitching staff.
Five other members of this year’s roster spent time in Troy in 2009. Stanley played in 63 games for the ValleyCats in his first professional season, batting .230/.308/.354 at first base. Joining Stanley in the infield is middle infielder Ben Orloff, who batted just .165 in 97 at-bats before finishing the season at Greenville, and 1B/U Oscar Figueroa, who appeared in two games last season. Centerfielder Renzo Tello will also return to Troy after playing 45 games for Tri-City last year. The only true pitcher to return to the staff is Brendan Stines, who went 3-0 with a 4.93 ERA out of the bullpen in 2009.
Some other related links:
VCN was able to talk with Astros GM Ed Wade at Yankee Stadium last weekend, when Houston came to New York for interleague play. Here’s Wade’s take on the draft and what to expect at Tri-City in 2010:
The Hardball Times breaks down the 2010 MLB Draft. Houston split evenly between pitchers and hitters, but drafted 25 high school players, more than all but three teams.
John Sickels of Minor League Ball posted a review of Houston’s draft, with mostly positive impressions. Sickels is a big fan of one of our 2010 ValleyCats, fourth-round pick Robert Doran.
Former Astro Morgan Ensberg had an interesting piece describing what went through his head when he was drafted.
Tonight is the Rensselaer County Chamber of Commerce Baseball Challenge. The annual event lets Chamber members “be a ValleyCat for a day,” dressing in locker rooms, taking batting practice and then playing a seven-inning game at The Joe. VCN will be running a full-scale production of the game in preparation for Opening Day, so stay tuned tonight for a glimpse of the coverage we’ll be bringing you this season. (Update: Team Niagara wins, 2-0. Read about it here.)
The 2010 MLB Draft concludes today with rounds 31-50, but at this point the draftees are either organizational filler or unsignable high school players. Most of the interesting action happened on Monday and Tuesday, in the first 30 rounds. You can replay our live coverage of Day 1 and Day 2 here on ‘Cats Corner.
We’ll have much more information on Houston’s draftees later in the week, but here’s a general review of how the draft went:
The first pick, as everybody expected, was 17-year-old phenom Bryce Harper. But there was an element of surprise to the pick. Harper has grown up a catcher, and his position is part of the reason why he has been so hyped. Yes, he offers more potential at the plate than any prospect in years, but that becomes even more special if he can do it while playing the hardest position on the field. There were always concerns that Harper would be forced to a different position eventually, because players of his size generally break down after years of catching – but it was generally expected that the Nationals would try him out behind the plate first. However, there Bud Selig was up there on the podium, announcing Harper as a right fielder.
I tend to agree with the majority opinion on this one – the Nationals should have seen how he could handle catching first. Reasonable minds can disagree – Harper can get to the major leagues more quickly as an outfielder and might enjoy a longer career – but his offensive production would be so much more valuable if he could sustain it while catching 120-130 games.
It didn’t take long for more surprises to come. Jameson Taillon went #2 to the Pirates and Manny Machado #3 to Baltimore, as everybody expected. But with the fourth pick, Kansas City took shortstop Christian Colon – a player absolutely nobody had connected to them until an hour before the draft.
Then came a run on college starters, although ones with much different backgrounds. Cleveland took lefty Drew Pomeranz with the fifth pick, Arizona followed with safe and polished righty Barret Loux, and the Mets went with a riskier choce, Matt Harvey of UNC.
That brought Houston up at #8. The Astros had been tied to some highly-rated power hitters, Michael Choice and Josh Sale, but instead went took a player with the opposite profile: Delino DeShields, Jr. The son of the former major leaguer is possibly the fastest player in the draft, but even if he fills out a little, power will not be his strongest suit. The Astros say they see him as a second baseman long-term, but he will see significant time at center field as well.
The next ten picks were all over the place. Teams that got great value included San Diego at #9 (polished and projectable high school starter Karsten Whitson, one of my favorite players in the draft), Cincinnati at #12 (ACC Player of the Year Yasmani Grandal), the White Sox at #13 (LHP Chris Sale, a projected top-five pick as late as draft day) and Tampa Bay at #17 (Josh Sale). Meanwhile, due to financial restrictions and an unprotected pick, Texas took unheralded outfielder Jake Skole at #15, while the Cubs went way off the board and shocked everybody with Division-II starter Hayden Simpson with the sixteenth pick.
The Astros became the first team to pick twice, sitting at #19. They too went with an unexpected choice, high school pitcher Mike Foltynewicz. The righty is well-built and can already hit 96 on the gun, with good movement on his fastball, and combines it with a good changeup. But the lack of a strong breaking ball and a definite out pitch caused most scouts and analysts to expect Foltynewicz to drop to the supplemental or second round.
The back half of the round was full of surprises. St Louis finally ended the descent of Arkansas infielder Zack Cox – who was seen as the most big-league-ready hitter in the class and a projected top-ten pick until he came out with an outrageous bonus demand the day before the draft – while the Rays again got great value, nabbing high school catcher Justin O’Conner. The Angels took three Georgia high schoolers in the first round alone. The Dodgers turned a lot of heads by drafting potential LSU quarterback Zach Lee – the most cash-starved team in baseball taking the least signable player in the draft – while the Yankees went with an unexpectedly low-profile selection in Rochester-area shortstop Cito Culver.
Houston had one more first-day selection, the first pick of the supplemental round. The Astros chose Michael Kvasnicka, from the University of Minnesota. Kvasnicka’s position is still very much unclear – he played mainly right field at Minnesota, was seen as a catcher entering the draft and was announced as a third baseman – but he should be able to hit at a big-league level.
The second day was filled with some intrigue early on. Pittsburgh added to its stash of flamethrowing high school pitchers by choosing Stetson Allie at #52, seen by many as a top-15 talent. But some other big names fell much further. One of the top prep pitchers, A.J. Cole, fell to the Nationals at the top of Round 4 due to signability concerns. James Paxton, caught in limbo after the NCAA declared him ineligible to return to Kentucky and exiled to an independent league, was drafted by the Mariners with pick #132.
There were a few clear winners in this year’s draft. Although they went relatively safe with Ball St 2B/OF Kolbrin Vitek with their first selection, Boston then made it a point to sign a lot of over-slot players who dropped because of financial reasons. If they can sign most of these picks – including pitchers Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman, as well as outfielder Bryce Brentz – they’ll have the most talented group of prospects by far. St. Louis also had a very good draft, grabbing Cox and Tyrell Jenkins well after they were expected to be off the board and getting a potential ace reliever in the second round, Jordan Swaggerty. I was a big fan of Tampa Bay’s draft; they got some great prep talent in the first without committing too much money, as neither Sale or O’Conner are expected to be particularly expensive signings, and got some nice value in Day 2. And Pittsburgh’s top three picks were sensational; they got the two hardest-throwing pitchers in the draft, Taillon and Allie, plus a top-50 talent in Mel Rojas Jr.
The losers are a little harder to pinpoint. Neither New York team had a very good draft: the Mets went primarily for low-ceiling players after Harvey, while the Yankees spent three of their first five picks on players originally from upstate NY or the tri-state area – drafting local kids works okay if you’re the Angels or Braves, but doesn’t make much sense for a cold-weather team. The White Sox and Brewers played things fairly safe, while the Dodgers will sign very few players if they are as desperate for cash as they have acted over the past year.
How did the Astros fare? I was not a fan of their Day 1 performance, but they redeemed themselves in the later rounds and did a good job of adding talent to a very thin system. Houston loved DeShields all spring, but I thought there were better players they could get at #8, and although I like Foltynewicz a lot more than I did right after hearing his name called, other players could have offered at least as much value at that spot. Kvasnicka is a good pick at #33 if they see him as a catcher, less so if they’re serious about third base.
A couple signability picks have the chance to turn a solid Astros draft into a great one. I love Adam Plutko in the sixth round. He doesn’t have ace-caliber stuff, but his command was rated the best of all the high-school arms in the class. It’s not like he’s a complete softballer either; he can throw up to 93-94 and throws a very solid changeup. He dropped to the sixth round because of a strong commitment to UCLA that significantly raised his price tag, but if he really wants to play pro ball, three years in college isn’t going to do much to help the stock of a pitcher who’s already as advanced as Plutko. The other big-name pick is Jacoby Jones, a high school shortstop from Mississippi that dropped all the way to the 19th round. He has a strong commitment to LSU and will demand a large bonus – early reports had his price tag around $1.5M – but if the Astros are willing to pony up, they could have the steal of the draft.
Which future stars might be playing for the Tri-City ValleyCats in 2010? We start finding out today, as the MLB Draft kicks off tonight with the first and supplemental rounds. ‘Cats Corner authors Evan Valenti and Kevin Whitaker will be covering the action with a live chat tonight at 6:30pm. Follow along, ask questions and share your thoughts right here!
If you’re early to the party, you can whet your appetite with yesterday’s draft preview.
The 2010 MLB Draft begins on Monday. While it may not recieve as much fanfare as its NFL or NBA counterparts, because the players will not make an impact at the big-league level for a few years, it is still very important to the future of each franchise. On the 7th, 8th and 9th, the Astros will find out which players could be making an impact for them in the future. Just as importantly – and perhaps more so, depending on your point of view – we will be finding out which young players might be joining the ValleyCats this season. ‘Cats Corner will have a live chat following the action, so be sure to stop by.
The Astros have a number of high picks: they have the 8th and 19th picks (both first-rounders), and then the 33rd pick overall (the first pick of the supplemental round). The full draft order can be found here.
Possibly the biggest factor that will affect who the Astros will get in the MLB Draft is the amount of money they are willing to spend. MLB has an unofficial “slot system,” in which the central offices recommend a certain amount of money that each draft pick should recieve as a signing bonus. But this slotting is not mandatory, as it is in the NBA, or even as widely followed as it is in the NFL. Certain players will demand more money – they will want to be paid more than the slot in which they are drafted – especially if they are talented high school graduates with the opportunity to attend college instead of playing professionally if they do not like their offer. (Agent Scott Boras is famous for representing players who demand more than slot money, including pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg – who received a $15.67 million signing bonus last year – and wunderkind Bryce Harper, who will likely ask for eight figures from the Nationals as well.)
The Astros, under owner Drayton McLane, are famous for refusing to go over slot – in fact, last year, they went slightly below slot on average in the first ten rounds. This obviously saves money, but it can also cost them talent. Take the example of young phenom Rick Porcello, who posted a 3.96 ERA last year in 31 starts at the tender age of 20 and is one of baseball’s most promising young pitchers. The Tigers drafted Porcello with the 27th pick in the 2007 draft. He didn’t fall that far because 26 other teams thought they took better players than Porcello – he was, by consensus, one of the top five or so talents in the draft – but he was advised by Boras and ended up signing for $3.5 million, more than most teams were willing to pay. Teams such as the Astros would not only pass on players like Porcello, but would be hesitant to take anybody asking for even a little bit over slot money, preferring instead to take a gamble with a possibly less talented player for a reduced monetary risk.
I find this philosophy shortsighted. Even though signing bonuses have been rising steadily, draft picks remain a much better value for teams than other sources of talent, such as free agents. It would cost the Astros relatively little to go over slot and get more talented players. The Pirates have been the biggest spenders in the draft over the past two years, spending just over $9 million per year on the draft. The lowest-spending teams spend about $4M per year – so for the Astros to jump from one of the lowest-spending teams to one of the top, they would have to pay out an extra $5M or so. Houston spent $15 million (over three years) last offseason for Brandon Lyon alone. Which would benefit them more, getting a much better collection of the best amateur players in 2010 or having a middle reliever with a career 4.17 ERA?
More and more teams are beginning to see the draft this way, as evidenced by the fact that the top spenders have been the small-market Pirates. Albert Chen has a nice feature with these numbers and a more thorough look at the change in philosophy – as well as the Astros’ stubbornness – at SI.com.
Houston fans may have some hope for this year’s draft: ESPN’s Keith Law reported last week that the Astros would be able to go over slot for the right player, and Houston insider Alyson Footer has also written that signability will not be as much of a concern this year. However, most baseball people will believe that when they see it.
As far as specific players go, Houston is a more or less an enigma in this year’s draft. They’ve been connected in at least some capacity to pretty much all of the top players still expected to be available when they pick, including college and prep players, pitchers and hitters. Houston has one of the thinnest farm systems in baseball, so their only mission is to find as much talent as possible to restock. Few people know exactly who the Astros are targeting, even with their earliest pick; as Law also wrote, “No one has a strong idea of what the Astros want to do, fueling a lot of rumors that didn’t check out when I looked into them.”
As a whole, this year’s draft is relatively weak on talent. The top three to five players are very talented, but teams with picks in the 5-20 range have a lot more names on their board than they would in a normal year, because few others stand out. (In contrast, next year’s draft is expected to be one of the deepest and most talented in recent memory.) Specifically, the group of college hitters is weak, with very few impact bats behind Harper. Pitching is a relative strength of this draft, both from the high-school and college ranks. Even though pitchers are generally riskier prospects than position players, expect to see quite a few hurlers’ names called early tomorrow.
The first pick will be Bryce Harper. You’ve heard about the teenage phenom by now – he hits 500-foot moonshots, is impossible to throw a pitch by, and oh yeah, he plays the most valuable defensive position, catcher. There are questions as to whether or not he’ll be able to catch in the big leagues, but most believe he has a decent shot to stay at the position for a few years. He played junior college ball this year and went 12-for-13 in the district finals with four home runs. There are some character questions – ones that go beyond the very questionable ejection earlier this week – but even so, Harper stands alongside Justin Upton as the best prep prospects of the past 15 years and is easily the top talent in this draft.
After that, look for a few names to go in the next five or six picks: Manny Machado is the consensus second-best position player in the draft behind Harper, as a smooth-fielding, good-hitting shortstop from high school in Florida. He and James Taillon, a hard-throwing high-school righty from Texas, will likely be the #2 and #3 picks, in either order.
According to both Law and MLB Fanhouse writer Frankie Piliere, the Royals are working on a deal to draft Miami catcher Yasmani Grandal at #4. Grandal, the ACC Player of the Year, hit .417/.543/.743 for the Hurricaines this year and rose up draft boards recently, a solid pick for the Royals there. (Law has backed off in the past day to say that there is no deal currently in place, but KC might still take Grandal.)
After that, the Indians will almost certainly take one of the top college lefties, either Drew Pomeranz (Ole Miss) or Chris Sale (Florida Gulf Coast University). With the next pick, the Diamondbacks are likely to take the other, although they could go with a couple of other college pitchers: high-risk UNC righty Matt Harvey, a Boras client, or the much safer Deck McGuire (Georgia Tech).
The intrigue really starts with the Mets at #7. If either Pomeranz or Sale are still on the board, New York seems likely to take them. If not, they could take a flyer on Harvey, although the amount of money they are able to spend may be limited. The other most likely names connected to the Mets is Arkansas 3B Zack Cox and late-rising high school catcher Justin O’Conner.
There is little consensus after that. The Astros will have a lot of talent to pick from at #8, and recently appear to be leaning towards hitters. The most likely names are Cox, Texas-Arlington OF Michael Choice, and high school OF Josh Sale.
Cox is a draft-eligible sophomore (normally college players are not eligible until after their junior season, but Cox is old enough to be an exception) with possibly the most big-league ready bat in the draft. He already makes contact very well, and could concievably add above-average power to his list of strengths, particularly as he has had one less year of experience than most other college draftees. Cox batted .427 for the Razorbacks this year; he sat out a game on Friday with rib and back injuries, but the move was strictly precautionary. There are two main drawbacks to drafting Cox. First and foremost, his position is an open question. Cox grew up as a third baseman, but recently shifted to second base. According to scouts, his instincts are better at second base, but his terrific arm – which enabled him to double as a relief pitcher at Arkansas – is better-suited at the hot corner. But possibly an even bigger factor is the money Cox is asking for. In the past few hours, it has come out that Cox may be demanding money similar to the $6 million third baseman Pedro Alvarez recieved from Pittsburgh last year, a request that has been ridiculed throughout the industry. I think Cox is the best propsect of these three, but if he’s actually asking for that great of a bonus, the Astros will – and should – pass.
Evan already discussed Choice earlier this week. He has tremendous power, an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale*, but that is his only above-average tool right now. He projects to be about an average defender in an outfield corner, so his bat will have to be very good for Choice to be an impact player in the big leagues. He doesn’t have a very pretty swing, and there is a very good chance that he won’t make enough contact to help the Astros much down the road. Choice hit .383/.568/.704 at UT-Arlington, but padded those numbers against weak competition – particularly the on-base percentage, as the rest of his lineup was no deterrent to teams pitching around the slugger. Like Evan, I don’t think Choice is a great fit for the Astros right now – he carries an unusually high risk for a college bat, risk that Houston doesn’t need to take – and I would rather see them take either Cox or Sale. However, the Astros are familiar with the school – they drafted Arlington’s Hunter Pence in the second round six years ago, and that turned out pretty well for them – and many believe they will hope for similar success this year. There’s a chance Choice doesn’t even make it to Houston, as both Cleveland at #5 and Arizona at 6 have a little bit of interest in him.
You can find a more detailed explanation of the scouting scale here. Players with a grade-80 tool are very rare – this would describe, say, Joey Gathright’s speed, or Joe Mauer’s hitting, or Cliff Lee’s command. A 20 skill would be Bengie Molina’s speed.
Sale – no relation to the pitcher Chris – is a high-school prospect from the state of Washington, a rarity in a sport that generally favors warm-weather locations. The Astros have been known to like Sale more than any other team, and there’s a very good chance they take the outfielder. Sale has more power than any other high school hitter in the draft, and although his swing mechanics aren’t great, his bat is quick enough that he’ll probably make contact anyways. He’s unlikely to offer a ton of defensive value because he isn’t a great athlete, but he compensates by making good reads and has the arm to play right field. Sale went seven consecutive games without making an out this season, and universally recieves great marks for his makeup and mentality. If Houston goes elsewhere with its first pick, there’s a small chance he’s still available at #19, but that’s been looking less likely over the past week or so.
One player I’d really like to see the Astros take a good look at is prep pitcher Karsten Whitson. A couple projections have linked Houston to the righty, but most have them going with a hitter at #8. I can see the reasons why the Astros might shy away – he’ll cost a little bit over slot, and amateur pitchers are generally a riskier bet than hitters. But Whitson is exactly the type of player they should be spending on, and exactly the type of pitcher they need in their system. Not only does Whitson have a strong fastball in the low- to mid-90s (with some room to add velocity), but he’s very advanced for a high school pitcher, with a great slider already and probably the best command of any prep arm. Law ranked Whitson the fifth-best prospect in the class, and others share a similarly high opinion of him. I think he would be the best pick for Houston at #8 – and if he’s available at 19, as at least two mock drafts have predicted, they should jump at the chance to grab him.
One player that the Astros should stay away from is McGuire. The Georgia Tech righty was the 2009 ACC Pitcher of the Year, and is one of the most polished arms in the draft, with four pitches and plus command. However, none of the four pitches really projects as an out pitch (though some think his slider could be very good), and with a straight, low-90s fastball, he’s unlikely to ever be more than a No. 3-4 starter. For some teams, a pitcher who needs very little development and is very likely to be a big league contributor is very valuable; for example, a team like Arizona, which looks to be a playoff contender in the near future and could use a little pitching boost, could use McGuire’s talents as they make a push in 2011-2012 and beyond. But Houston, quite frankly, would need a miracle to contend in the next few years; therefore, a pitcher like McGuire who can reach the big leagues quickly is not nearly as valuable to them.
Who might the Astros take at #19? If any of the above players slip that far, Houston certainly would consider them highly. But if not, as most expect, Houston’s primary target will be Delino DeShields, Jr. DeShields has all the tools – 80 speed, a pretty good bat and the potential to at least have a little bit of power once he fills out. He has a solid glove at second base, but projects better in the big leagues as a rangy centerfielder, putting his legs to better use. And he has a big-league pedigree – his father and namesake had a 13-year career in the big leagues as a second baseman. But DeShields is very, very raw, and his motivation has been questioned – scouts have reported that he mailed in some games in high school. He will also probably be a tougher sign than the average prospect, as he has a football commitment to LSU (he could be a pro prospect as a running back as well). The Astros are very high on him and would probably do what it takes to sign him at #19, as long as he is still on the board (which is likely, but not certain). I would be somewhat ambivalent about drafting him that highly – there are worse players they could take there – but if they were to reach for him at #8, as some have speculated, that would be an overdraft.
If the DeShields rumor doesn’t pan out, there are a few other players we might see the Astros take. Stetson Allie has been connected with just about every team in the 11-30 range. He has one of the two strongest arms in the draft (along with Taillon), throwing 95-98 with the ability to hit triple digits and above-average movement. But none of his secondary pitches are close to big-league ready right now, and only his slider has potential to be above-average. And like many hard-throwing teenagers, Allie often has no idea where the ball is going, although his command has improved during his senior season. He’ll also likely fetch a pretty penny, as he has a strong commitment to pitch and play third base (where he also would have pro potential) at UNC. I’m not as high on Allie as Evan is – there’s too great a chance he’ll never pan out or end up in the bullpen – but his ceiling is high enough that, if McLane is willing to spend, he would be a solid choice at #19.
Houston has been linked fairly often to Ball State second baseman Kolbrin Vitek. San Diego likes Vitek a lot at #9, and he has other suitors in the teens, but Houston will take a hard look at him if he drops (as will Boston one spot later). Vitek has played a number of positions so far, but seems unlikely to be a big-league infielder. Whoever does draft him will hope he has the skills to play center field, as his bat is nothing special in a corner. He has good bat speed and has hit well at every level, but projects to have average power at best and will have to learn the new position.
Other potential Houston selections at 19 include Texas A&M starter Barrett Loux, Texas pitcher Brandon Workman, Minnesota outfielder-turned-catcher Michael Kvasnika, high school pitcher Dylan Covey and toolsy prep outfielder Reggie Golden.
You can also check out an inside look at the Astros’ draft room from Alyson Footer.
Let’s be honest, any professional sports draft can be a crapshoot. Who knows what you are really drafting? Sure, you could have the next Stephen Strasburg on your hands, but with every Strasburg, there is a Matt Bush. Ever heard of him? He was the first overall selection by the San Diego Padres in 2004. A shortstop fresh out of Mission Bay High School in San Diego, Bush was signed to a $3.1 million signing bonus and was said to be the top high school talent in the draft.
“Bush has one of the best arms I’ve ever scouted,” said Bill “Chief” Gayton, the Padres’ director of scouting. “He’s a player who’s a local talent that you rarely get an opportunity to bring into your system.”
Gayton continued, “He’s a player we’ve watched for several years now and we project him to perform at a high level once he reaches the Majors.”
Here’s the MLB.com scouting report on Bush:
“AGILE, ATHLETIC FRAME. MEDIUM BUILD. LEAN MUSCLE TONE, STRONG FOREARMS & WRISTS. SIMILAR TO NOMAR GARCIAPARRA. STRAIGHT AWAY STANCE. SHORT, QUICK COMPACT STROKE. WILL LAY OUT FOR BALL IN THE HOLE. AGGRESSIVE FASTBALL HITTER. CONSISTENT HARD CONTACT. GOOD TRIGGER. SOFT, SURE HANDS WITH PLUS INSTINCTS. FEET WORK WELL, QUICK ON THE DOUBLE PLAY. RUNS THE BASES WELL.”
Sounds like a guy you would want, no? The next coming of Nomar Garciaparra? Sign me up.
Here’s the problem: Bush has not made it out of Class-A ball. In three seasons in the Padres system, Bush never hit above .270. He’s now in the Tampa Bay system as a pitcher. This is the first overall pick we’re talking about here. J.D. Martinez, former ValleyCat outfielder, was the 611th pick of the draft last year. He is currently hitting .351 in 52 games for the Lexington Legends. How did so many people pass on J.D.? It just proves that the draft can be hit or miss.
No one on planet Earth knows what the Astros are going to do, except for Drayton McLane (owner of the Astros) and Ed Wade (Astros GM), and even that’s in question. With the draft less than a week away, here’s who I think the Astros will pick with their two first round picks:
“With the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft, the Astros select…”
Michael Choice, OF, Texas Arlington
Choice is a nice pick here. He is one of the top outfield bats in the entire draft and has raw power to all fields. Scouts have some questions about his mechanics, but most think that they are definitely fixable. He plays the outfield well. If Zack Cox, third baseman out of Arkansas, falls to the ‘Stros at number eight, I would be shocked if they passed on him. Cox is considered to be one of the best, if not the best, all around bats in the entire draft.
“With the 19th overall selection in the 2010 draft, the Astros select…”
Delino DeShields Jr., 2B/OF, Norcross High School
The front office staff here is very excited about the possibility of DeShields landing in Troy. His greatest tool is his speed. This kid has some wheels (go to MLB.com and watch him run, you’ll be amazed). Some scouts think he has the arm and range to play center field, but others think second base suits him just fine. Oh and did I mention that his father played in the Majors? Delino DeShields had an average 12-year Major League career, but most think his son will be better. If Stetson Allie falls to 19, the Astros should take him. Allie, a senior at St. Edward High School, is a dynamic pitcher with two plus pitches. His fastball registers in the mid-to-upper 90′s (according to legend he has touched triple digits) and his slider tends to fool a lot of hitters. He has some control issues and some scouts question his stamina, but all agree the upside on Allie is tremendous.
Make sure you follow my live draft chat room here on Cats Corner on June 7, 8, and 9. I will be breaking down every pick the Astros make and will try to answer as many questions as I can. The draft starts Monday, June 7 at 7 p.m. EST.