When Ed Wade was hired as Astros GM in late 2007, the first thing he did was trade closer, Brad Lidge to the Philadelphia Phillies for Michael Bourn, Geoff Geary and Michael Costanzo. One of the next moves he made, was to completely revamp our scouting department. This move was a very unsung move and one that was long overdue. He brought in Bobby Heck as our director of amateur scouting and a year later Heck was promoted to assistant General Manager/Director of Scouting. Before joining the Astros, Heck served for eight seasons as the Milwaukee Brewers Eastern Scouting Supervisor, and was involved with the drafts of 2000-2007 which included drafting some of the Brewers core players such as Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart and former Brewer, current Detroit Tiger, Prince Fielder. Needless to say, Heck has an eye for talent and a successful track record. His first draft pick as scouting director for the Astros came in 2008 as the Astros selected Jason Castro, a catcher from Stanford, with the tenth overall pick in the first round.
When the Astros selected Castro in the 2008 draft, many thought it was a reach as Castro was originally thought of to be a late first round pick at best. I was one of those who thought the pick was a reach. I wanted Justin Smoak. Nevertheless, Castro played well over parts of three seasons in the minor leagues and was a top 60 selection in Baseball America’s top 100 prospect rankings in both 2009 and 2010. He was finally promoted to the big leagues in July of 2010 but struggled mightily, hitting only .208 with two home runs and eight RBI over 67 games. In spring training of 2011 he tore his ACL and missed the entire season. During this past offseason, he had surgery to remove the sesamoid bone from his foot after injuring it while playing in the Arizona Fall League. He began this season healthy but has underwhelmed thus far. He is batting a meager .220 with only one home run and eleven RBI. Balls are also constantly getting by him. Some are wild pitches but some are routine in the dirt type of pitches that he can’t stop, thus allowing runners on base to advance. To say he hasn’t lived up to the billing of a top ten selection would be an understatement.
The Astros have the first overall pick in next week’s Rule 4 draft. Among the players talked about to go first overall in the draft is Florida C, Mike Zunino. Zunino is the reigning SEC Player of the Year, coming off an excellent season last year where he hit .371 with 19 home runs, 23 doubles, and 67 runs batted in. He is the consensus top C prospect in the draft and a viable contender to be the Astros selection with the first overall pick. The Astros farm system is bare of catching prospects. Chris Wallace, a tenth round selection of the Astros in the 2010 draft, has hit very well thus far in the minors but has been hampered by injuries the past two seasons. Mike Kvasnicka, a supplemental first round selection of the Astros in 2011, was a catcher in college, but was moved to 3B by the previous regime. Upon taking the job as General Manager, Jeff Luhnow moved Kvasnicka back to catcher. He hasn’t played well at any position thus far in the minors and I’m not sure he projects to be anything more than a career minor leaguer.
The Astros have a serious questions to ask themselves over the next week. Do they still believe Jason Castro to be the catcher of the future? If so, then Zunino shouldn’t be in consideration for the top selection. If they have their doubts, then he should be looked at very closely. Power hitting catchers that play good defense are a luxury in today’s MLB world. Yes, you should always take the best player available in the draft, but with the first overall selection, you should be taking a player that can play a pivotal role on your big league club for years to come. I’m not ready to give up on Castro just yet as this is his first full season of big league ball but he really needs to get things going quickly. His stats thus far in the majors are terrible and his defense hasn’t been that great either. I don’t think the Astros will take Mike Zunino in next week’s draft but if Castro does not start playing better or show some signs of turning it around this season and a catcher falls to us in next year’s draft, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they pull the trigger and grab him, whoever he may be.