Results tagged ‘ MLB Draft ’

More signings: Duffy, Wierzbicki ticketed for NYPL

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.

Kevin Whitaker

Draft notes: Hinson, Meredith headed to Troy

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.

***

Some links:

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.

The Crawfish Boxes has scouting reports of Meredith and Tropeano, with more to come.

Kevin Whitaker

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

MLB Draft Chat, Day Two

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!

If you’re here early, read through our Day 1 chat, check out our recap and read about what to watch for.

MLB Draft Chat, Day One

Welcome to our MLB Draft chat! We can’t embed CoverItLive on WordPress, so come join our chat on tcvalleycats.com!

VCN Draft Coverage

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.

Live Blog: MLB Draft Day One

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.

Kevin Whitaker

2010 ValleyCats Roster

In case you missed the news yesterday, we have an official roster for the 2010 ValleyCats. Here’s the press release.

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.)

Kevin Whitaker

MLB Draft Recap – Winners and losers

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. 

A couple local products heard their names called: Shaker graduate Thomas Kahnle (Lynn University) by the Yankees in the fifth round and Greg Holle of CBA (TCU) by Milwaukee in the 11th. The Dodgers spent their sixth-round pick on another player expected to cost a lot, prep pitcher Kevin Gausman, immediately followed by Boston fittingly drafting an outfielder named Kendrick Perkins. The day’s biggest faller was California-area outfielder Austin Wilson, who dropped all the way to the Cardinals at #379. Wilson was seen as a top-25 talent but didn’t perform very well this spring, and teams felt he would be impossible to sign away from a strong Stanford commitment.

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. 

Scouting Director Bobby Heck has had success so far with some unconventional selections – such as Jason Castro with the 10th pick in 2008 and Jordan Lyles at #38 that year – so Astros fans have some reason to give these prospects the benefit of the doubt. But these picks will be under scrutiny by other people in the baseball world. 
Houston performed very well on Day 2, however. Second-rounder Vincent Velasquez is relatively raw and was seen as primarily a shortstop until excelling at a showcase event this spring, but has very good stuff and a smooth delivery. Austin Wates was almost universally loved as a third-round selection; his eventual position is in doubt, but he’s the best pure hitter the Astros drafted. They went with another Big 10 catcher in Round 5, Ben Heath, who slugged .747 for Penn State this season but also might not end up behind the plate. Houston raised some eyebrows with the Heath pick and catcher Roberto Pena in the seventh – they already have a young but big-league-ready backstop in the minors, top prospect Jason Castro – but catchers are a valuable asset and the Astros have very few good assets in the system. If one or more of these recievers pans out and Castro is still going strong, Houston will deal with it then, and teams are always looking to trade for good catchers.

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.

Kevin Whitaker

MLB Draft – Day Two

Follow VCN’s Evan Valenti and Kevin Whitaker on Cover It Live as they follow day two of the MLB Draft. Coverage starts at 11:30 AM.

MLB Draft Day 2

Make sure to check out our coverage of Day One as well.

Live Chat – MLB 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.

2010 MLB Draft

2010 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.

Kevin Whitaker

Who Will The Astros Select?

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.

Evan Valenti

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