Astros: Revisiting the 1988 MLB amateur draft hits, misses

ST. LOUIS - APRIL 14: Luis Gonzalez #26 of the Houston Astros walks back to the dugout during their MLB game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 14, 1997 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS - APRIL 14: Luis Gonzalez #26 of the Houston Astros walks back to the dugout during their MLB game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 14, 1997 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) /
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We take a look back at the Houston Astros picks in the 1988 MLB amateur draft.

The Astros had a ton of young talent don their uniform in the early and mid 1990s. Not all of that talent reached its potential in Houston, however, and their 1988 draft is a good illustration of that. They drafted two players who’d go on to produce more than 50 career WAR, but neither would produce even one-third of their career WAR here.

The Astros picked seventh overall in this draft, but didn’t miss out on much. Pitcher Andy Benes went first overall to the Padres and had a solid career, while pitchers Steve Avery and Gregg Olson were also off the board. But the best talent in this draft was yet to come.

First Two Rounds

With their first round pick, the Astros took high school outfielder Willie Ansley out of Plainview. He played five seasons in the team’s system and reached Triple-A, but never cracked the majors. Players taken after this included Robin Ventura, Tino Martinez, Royce Clayton, Charles Nagy, Brian Jordan and Arthur Rhodes.

In the second round, the team took UCLA shortstop Mica Lewis. He played six seasons in the minors between the Astros, Twins, Phillies and Cubs systems but only reached Double-A. The team didn’t miss much between this pick and their next one, however, as the most notable major leaguers were Jeff Branson, Bob Hamelin and Chris Nabholz.

The Astros were awarded the Yankees’ second round pick as compensation for Jose Cruz signing with New York. With this pick, at No. 52 overall, the team took Missouri shortstop Dave Silvestri who would, ironically, be traded to the Yankees in 1990. He hit .202 with six home runs in eight major league seasons. Players going after this included Darren Oliver and Scott Livingstone.

Through the Fifth

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With their third round pick, the Astros took Creighton catcher Scott Servais. He played in Houston in parts of six seasons, totaling 0.5 WAR, and now serves as the Mariners manager. Players the team missed here included Marquis Grissom and David Weathers.

In the fourth round, the team struck gold with South Alabama first baseman Luis Gonzalez. He would move to the outfield and play seven of his 19 major league seasons with the Astros, but his best years came in Arizona when he was a five-time All-Star and finished third in the MVP voting in 2001. He produced 51.7 career WAR and hit 354 home runs, with 224 of those coming in the desert.

The Astros then went with Kentucky right-hander Terry Christopher in the fifth round. They did not sign him, however, though he would briefly play in the Brewers farm system. Players they missed here included John Valentin, Mickey Morandini and Eric Karros. Jim Edmonds, Tim Wakefield, Woody Williams and Mike Piazza were also taken later in this draft.

Notable Later Picks

There’s really only one notable later pick by Houston, but it’s a big one. No one in this draft produced more career WAR than their 17th round pick, Arizona outfielder Kenny Lofton. It might be easy to forget he came up with the Astros considering he only played 20 games with the team before they traded him in an ill-fated deal with Cleveland.

He immediately made them regret trading him as he led the league in steals in each of the next five seasons. He hit .299 with a .372 on-base percentage for his 17-year career, stole 622 bases, made six All-Star teams and won four Gold Gloves. The fact that he fell off the Hall of Fame ballot is a travesty.

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The rest of the Astros draft was uneventful, but the fact that they nabbed two players who would go on to total more than 50 career WAR each, including one who had the most career WAR of anyone in the draft, is impressive. What’s sad is how they missed out on most of those wins.

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