The Astros have an interesting history when it comes down to the MLB Draft, specifically in the first round.
Thanks to the recent Mike Trout news, there has been a renewed focus on the number of teams that passed over the future Hall of Fame outfielder in the 2009 MLB Draft. In case you’re wondering, 22 teams in total chose not to select Trout before the Angels did with the 25th overall pick. It just so happens that the Astros were one of those 22 teams that chose not to select Trout.
Yeah, what could’ve been, right?
At the time of the draft, the Astros were stuck in a weird limbo-like state. For one, the club was coming off an 86-75 record the season before, in which they had a -31 run differential. Based on that stat alone, we can make a reasonable assumption that the 2008 Astros were worse than their actual record indicates. The Astros, for another example, outperformed their pythW-L% (.481) by .053 that season. There was really no long-term direction for the club, especially as the Drayton McLane ownership era was slowly drawing closer to an end.
By the time the 2009 MLB Draft came along that next summer, Houston owned the 21st overall pick. The major league club was also 25-31 on June 9th, the first day of the draft. And with the pick the Astros selected shortstop Jio Mier, a high school player from La Verne, CA. Four picks later, Trout was selected by the Angels. Hindsight is 20/20, but the rest is history.
For most of franchise history, the Astros have a long list of misses and the occasional hits from the first round in the MLB Draft. Only 12 players selected by the club in the first round ever posted double-digit WAR totals for their respective careers, which didn’t always come with the Astros.
- Craig Biggio, 65.5 WAR
- Lance Berkman, 52.1 WAR
- Billy Wagner, 27.7 WAR
- Floyd Bannister, 26.6 WAR
- John Mayberry, 24.9 WAR
- J.R. Richard, 22.3 WAR
- George Springer, 18.7 WAR*
- Carlos Correa, 18.3 WAR*
- Phil Nevin, 15.9 WAR
- Alex Bregman, 12.7 WAR*
- Jason Castro, 11.4 WAR* (with Twins since 2017)
- Todd Jones, 10.3 WAR
*-active MLB players
If you want to measure a club’s success by the number of players who eventually reached the majors, Houston had a stretch from 1992-97 where all eight players selected in the first round played in the sport’s top level. Overall, the Astros historically haven’t been very successful about generating major league players from their first round picks. Take away Biggio and Berkman, and Houston’s track record in the first round looks even worse. In fact, one-third of the club’s top WAR leaders among the club’s first round picks are still active players.
That said, it is difficult to continuously pick eventually good major league players in the first round. If it wasn’t a challenge, we would see many more first round picks across all thirty major league rosters. But the most recent iteration of the Astros have put together some really solid draft classes since the beginning of the decade, specifically with Springer, Correa, and Bregman. Sure, there were a few misses with Mark Appel and Brady Aiken, but Jeff Luhnow and the front office has generally done a terrific job by building through the draft. Daz Cameron, a first round pick through the compensation round in 2015, was part of the trade that netted Justin Verlander from the Tigers in 2017.
The Astros haven’t always made the best choice in the first round, which is easy to see. Sometimes they made the foolish decision to surrender draft picks to sign veteran players (Carlos Lee, Woody Williams), which ended up hurting the club in the long-term. Choosing Nevin over Derek Jeter back in the early 1990’s will always haunt the franchise. If it wasn’t for Bregman and the 2017 World Series title, the same might of been said for choosing Appel over Kris Bryant six years ago. Thankfully for the Astros and every other team, there are other avenues to improve your team besides the first round in the MLB Draft. It is just interesting to see where the club missed and where it hit a home run.