What if the Astros had drafted Kris Bryant in 2013 instead of Mark Appel?
One of the more interesting bits of news coming out of the Winter Meetings is that the Cubs are exploring potential trades for star third baseman Kris Bryant. The news poses an interesting question — what if the Astros had drafted Bryant instead of Mark Appel in 2013?
To recap, the Astros had the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft, their second of three consecutive years picking first overall. They had surprised everyone in 2012 by taking Carlos Correa over the stud college pitcher Appel, who wound up not signing after being drafted eighth overall by the Pirates.
With Appel available again in 2013, the Astros decided not to let him pass them by twice. Bryant ended up going No. 2 overall to the Cubs that year, and of course played a big role in the North Siders ending their World Series drought in 2016.
Appel turned out to be a bust, never reaching the majors and posting a career 5.06 ERA in the minor leagues. He was included in the trade package sent to Philadelphia for Ken Giles, who was subsequently traded for Roberto Osuna. So maybe Brandon Taubman is really glad they drafted Appel too.
All jabbing aside, let’s take a look at what might have happened if the Astros had passed on Appel and taken Bryant instead.
The Path Not Taken
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For one, the Cubs might not have won the World Series in 2016, regardless of who they picked at No. 2 overall. None of the guys drafted immediately behind Bryant would have helped them much that season.
For the Astros, they would have had Bryant for their 2015 playoff run, which would have been an upgrade over Luis Valbuena. Since they narrowly lost in the ALDS to the Royals, would the addition of Bryant have tipped the scales in their favor? If so, the Royals wouldn’t have won the World Series that year, and thus history would have already been altered.
In subsequent drafts, the Astros still would have picked No. 1 overall in 2014 and probably still would have picked Brady Aiken. Since they did not sign him, they still would have ended up with the No. 2 pick in 2015 and probably still would have had the No. 6 pick in 2015 as well, since Bryant did not debut until the 2015 season.
With Bryant and Correa in the fold, would the Astros have taken Alex Bregman at No. 2 and Kyle Tucker at No. 6? Maybe they would have felt the need to get a pitcher and go for Dillon Tate or Carson Fulmer, neither of whom has posted a positive WAR total. Dodgers stud Walker Buehler ended up going No. 24 overall, but I doubt the club would have reached for him.
Bryant has some experience in left field, so he would probably play there. That would mean the team never signs Michael Brantley but would still be in the same financial situation it’s in now. They might not be able to afford to extend Bryant if they had him.
Of course that might not be such a bad thing if the addition of Bryant would have helped the team further in 2018 or 2019. Maybe that extra All-Star bat in the postseason would have helped them to another championship.
There’s no way to know for sure, but it’s fun to speculate. Jeff Luhnow has generally done quite well in the draft, but this was his one big miss. It would be interesting to see just what things would be like if this one decision went differently.