Astros: Revisiting the 1994 MLB amateur draft hits, misses
We take a look back at the Houston Astros picks in the 1994 MLB amateur draft.
As we move back through the Houston Astros drafts, we’re getting to the point where they were building the foundation for the team’s success in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Part of that was the fact that they drafted successfully, as opposed to their barren drafts in the 2000s.
The Astros actually had three first round picks in 1994, with two of those being compensation picks for Mark Portugal signing with the Giants. That, in tandem with the fact that there were 98 rounds in this draft (yes, you read that right), means there were plenty of candidates to reach the majors. And quite a few of them did.
The team’s first pick came at No. 17 overall, so of course there was plenty of talent already off the board. Notable names picked ahead of them included Nomar Garciaparra, Paul Konerko, Jason Varitek, Todd Walker, Dustin Hermanson and Ben Grieve.
The First Round Trio
With their first pick at No. 17, the Astros selected Puerto Rican catcher Ramon Castro. He spent 13 seasons in the majors as mostly a backup, but he never saw the big leagues with Houston. He was traded to the Marlins in July 1998 for reliever Jay Powell, who pitched to a 4.02 ERA in four seasons. Players going after this pick included Terrence Long and Brian Buchanan.
With the No. 25 overall pick, the team drafted high school pitcher Scott Elarton. He reached the majors in 1998 and won 17 games in the Astros rotation in 2000. Overall, he worked to a 4.82 ERA in four seasons in Houston and had a 5.29 ERA for his 10-year big league career. Players picked after this included Jay Payton and Mark Johnson.
Then with the 30th overall pick, the Astros went with LSU infielder Russ Johnson. He appeared in 138 games over four seasons in Houston, hitting .266/.336/.387 before being traded to the Devil Rays in 2000. Players missed with this pick included Troy Glaus and Travis Miller.
Second Through Fifth Rounds
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In the second round, the Astros selected Yale left-hander Dan Lock. He made it as far as Double-A, pitching to a 7.49 ERA in two seasons at that level. Players they missed with this pick included A.J. Pierzynski, Aaron Boone and Mike Darr.
With their third round pick, the team drafted high school shortstop Oscar Robles. He wouldn’t reach the majors until 2005 with the Dodgers at age 29. He appeared in 163 major league games, hitting .260/.323/.348. Players missed with this pick included Scott Podsednik, Danny Graves and Matt Treanor.
In the fourth round, the Astros took Illinois State pitcher Paul O’Malley. He made it as far as Double-A, pitching to a 5.66 ERA there in three seasons. Players missed with this pick included Ryan Drese, Steve Woodard and Tim Byrdak.
The Astros selected pitcher Mike Gunderson out of North Dakota State in the fifth round. He made it only to A-ball as his command evaporated in 1996. Players they missed with this one included Javier Vazquez, Bob Howry and Joe Mays.
Notable Later Picks
In the 23rd round, the Astros drafted left-hander John Halama out of St. Francis University. He’s best remembered by Houston fans as one of the players sent to Seattle in the Randy Johnson trade. He worked to a 4.65 ERA in nine major league seasons.
I hesitate to call this guy a gem, but the Astros did find shortstop Julio Lugo in the 43rd round out of Connors State College. He hit .268/.332/.391 in four seasons in Houston before the team cut him early in 2003 after he allegedly assaulted his wife in public.
Their seventh round pick, left-hander Tony Mounce, did eventually reach the majors in 2003 with the Rangers. He made 11 starts but went 1-5 with a 7.11 ERA, and that would constitute the entirety of his major league career.
There are several players the Astros didn’t sign who would eventually reach the majors, but the only truly notable one is catcher Johnny Estrada, who the team picked in the 71st round. He was re-drafted by the Phillies in the 17th round in 1997 and played eight major league seasons. Estrada was an All-Star in 2004 when he hit .314 for the Braves.