Astros: Revisiting the 1996 MLB amateur draft hits, misses

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 2: Pitcher Roy Oswalt #40 of the Houston Astros throws against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on Friday, July 2, 2010 in San Diego, California. Padres won 3-0. (Photo by Andy Hayt/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 2: Pitcher Roy Oswalt #40 of the Houston Astros throws against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on Friday, July 2, 2010 in San Diego, California. Padres won 3-0. (Photo by Andy Hayt/Getty Images) /

We take a look back at the Houston Astros picks in the 1996 MLB amateur draft.

For a team to have success in the draft, it’s important to make good with your first round picks. Finding impact players in the later rounds is difficult and doesn’t happen very often. Interestingly, though, the Houston Astros draft class of 1996 was a notable exception.

The Astros did not make good on their early picks at all. They got a combined -0.4 WAR from their first 19 selections in this draft. But a couple of later picks blossomed into regulars, which saved this class. Most notably, they unearthed future ace Roy Oswalt in the 23rd round. But they had quite a few misses before they got there.

The Astros picked 19th overall in 1996, and there were several notable players already off the board when their turn came around. They included Eric Chavez, Mark Kotsay, Kris Benson and R.A. Dickey. However, three of the top seven picks did not sign, so it could’ve been worse.

First Five Rounds

With their first round pick, the Astros took Hawaii pitcher Mark Johnson. He was sent to Florida as a player-to-be-named-later in the Moises Alou trade, which we recently reviewed. He eventually reached the majors with Detroit in 2000, pitching to a 7.50 ERA in nine games. Players selected after him included Jimmy Rollins, Eric Milton, Jake Westbrook, Gil Meche, Jacque Jones and Milton Bradley.

In the second round, the team took high school pitcher John Huber. He pitched just two seasons in the team’s system, never advancing past Low-A ball. Players going after this included future Astros catcher Eric Munson and future manager AJ Hinch.

With their third round pick, the team selected high school third baseman Brandon Byrd. He hit just .197 in three seasons in the organization, also failing to advance beyond Low-A. Players the team missed here included Nick Johnson, Alex Cora and future notorious Astro Shawn Chacon.

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The Astros went with left-hander Bryan Braswell out of Toledo with their fourth round selection. He never advanced beyond Double-A, as he worked to a 4.85 ERA there in parts of four seasons. Players going after this included Joe Crede, Robert Fick and Warren Morris.

Then in the fifth round, the team drafted Georgia Tech catcher Tucker Barr. He played four seasons in the Astros system and made it as far as Double-A. Players who went after this included Brad Penny, Jeremy Giambi and Zach Day.

Notable Later Picks

We already mentioned Oswalt, who the Astros snagged in the 23rd round out of Holmes Community College in Mississippi. He went on to win 143 games with a 3.24 ERA in 10 seasons in Houston, anchoring the starting rotation for the better part of a decade. That was a heck of a find.

They also found another diamond in the rough in 19th round pick Wade Miller. He actually reached the majors more quickly than Oswalt and put together three straight seasons of 14 or more wins from 2001 to 2003. He went 58-39 with a 3.87 ERA in six seasons in Houston but struggled to stay healthy in his final three seasons with the Red Sox and Cubs.

Two other signees would eventually reach the majors. Their ninth round selection, second baseman Brian Dallimore, appeared in 27 games with the Giants in 2004 and 2005. Their 29th round pick, pitcher Tom Shearn, would make six starts and one relief appearance for the Reds in 2007.

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They also had two non-signees reach the majors. Their 25th round pick, Paul Phillips, was re-drafted in the ninth round by the Royals in 1998 and appeared as a backup catcher in seven major league seasons. Their 32nd round pick, pitcher Trey Hodges, would be taken in the 17th round by Atlanta in 2000 and make 56 appearances in the majors.