The Astros will get their reward for the miserable 2011 season in June when MLB holds its annual amateur draft. The Astros, as most know, have the #1 pick in the entire draft and in every subsequent round. With the new CBA in place, the rules by which teams go building their entire draft has changed and affected the way many scouts and general managers view their possible selections. The Astros will have a little over 11 million dollars to spend on the top 10 rounds without finding a lump of coal in their stocking given to them by Bud Selig. The reality is that the rule changes won’t effect the Astros as much as other organizations early on, as the top picks are pretty much locked in to sign with whoever picks them. With college baseball and high school baseball about to get going, lets take a very early peak at who might intrigue Jeff Luhnow and Bobby Heck.
While the gentlemen we’ll look at are the top projected players, as of right now, things could and probably will change during the upcoming baseball season. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg but there are plenty of very good options that will exist and will surely make the ultimate decision extremely hard on the powers that be. Baseball America set their top 100 prospects for the upcoming draft and we’ll take a glimpse at the top 4 along with a sleeper pick that could be a available for the Astros with their sandwich pick or later. None of these players are assured to be fantastic major leaguers, as we saw with our last #1 overall pick, but this draft will be as close to a must hit as the franchise has seen in quite a long time.
As of this moment, Mark Appel seems like the favorite to be the Astros selection. The Stanford right hander is the best pitcher in college baseball and projects to be one of top prospects in all of MLB, once selected. Being a college junior, his arrival time to Houston could come very quickly and should make an immediate impact within the organization. The 6 foot 5 righthander had a nice era of just over 3 and allowed only 2 home runs all season long. This season will speak volumes of just how dominant he could be at the next level but regardless most, including myself, believe Appel will be wearing an Astros uniform very quickly once selected.
Now, if the Astros desire promise over polish then high school right hander Lucas Giolito would seem to be their choice. The 6 foot 6 inch California phenom would be the first high school pitcher ever selected with the #1 overall pick. He can hit 98 mph on the radar gun which will make him a very intriguing candidate given the lack of power pitchers within the organization. It seems as though the prior regime valued makeup and composure over raw stuff. That doesn’t mean Jordan Lyles and Adrian Houser are simply soft tossers, just not flame throwers with nasty secondary pitches. Giolito already has an impressive arsenal of pitches, especially for a high school pitcher, and while it might take him a bit longer, than Appel, to get to Houston his potential could be greater.
If the Astros decide to go with the best overall player avilable with their selection then it will probably be Byron Buxton. He stands at 6 foot 1 inch and is an outfielder with tremendous speed and a ton of power. The Astros farm system seems to have some quality OF depth with last year’s #1 pick George Springer, Domingo Santana, Austin Wates and Ariel Ovando. That said, Buxton is a rare talent which would make him the franchise player the Astros have sorely lacked and I’m sure space would certainly be made for the 5-tool athlete. Being another high school selection, he would need time to develop but with his tools, the time frame shouldn’t take as long as other HS position players.
While most Astros’ fans view SS as Houston Texans’ fans view tight ends, Deven Marrero might just be worth giving a strong look regardless. With Jiovanni Mier and Jonathan Villar already very much penciled in for Houston down the road, picking another SS might seem redundant. But the reality is Marrero is an extremely polished college player who, defensively, might be ready for the majors today. He seems to understand how to handle the bat as well and having a SS that handles the glove and bat like Marrero projects to, is a rare commodity most teams don’t have. At 6 foot 1 inch, he is built for the position and could skyrocket through the minor league system. The issue here, again, is what the Astros already have at the position that makes Marrero a bit of a longshot but if Jeff Luhnow and his scouts believe Marrero is that good, why not roll the dice.
The final prospect we’ll look at is Fernando Perez, a junior college third baseman from Arizona. Jim Callis believes he might slip into the comp round or even 2nd rd which could make him a sleeper selection for a lucky team. That lucky team could be the Astros who desperately need a third base prospect to groom down on the farm. Mike Kvansnicka has struggled since being selected two years ago and many are already wondering about possibly transitioning him back to catcher. Being able to draft an alternate possibility might be just what the doctor ordered. Perez stands at 6 foot 1 inch with a very nice and smooth swing batting from the left side. He is extremely athletic and could see action not just at 3rd base but also in the outfield. Given the need and the player in question, this could be a fantastic surprise pick late on day 1 or even early on day 2.
Whether the Astros choose college or high school, pitcher or position player they have a golden opportunity to help set the franchise back on track in a big way. The draft and international signing period will be huge for a basically new organizational structure and will help set the course the team will begin to travel. Keep on eye out as we get closer to draft night, we’ll keep everyone updated on which player might take the lead for the #1 pick or a player that might surprise everyone at the last second.