The first 10 rounds of the 2022 MLB Draft have now come and gone, and the Houston Astros have added some reinforcements to a depleted farm system. The excitement that surrounds the draft every year is contagious, and this one meant a little bit more for the Astros in that they were granted a first-round pick for the first time since 2019. The initial reaction by the fans to the player on which they used that pick was quite positive, and all things considered, this is an extremely pivotal time for the front office and the scouts to put the team’s prospect pool back on the map. Here is the play-by-play of what went down for Houston over the first 2 days of the draft.
First-Round Pick: Drew Gilbert, OF (28th overall)
An outfielder was likely not the first position that the Astros were looking to stock up on during the draft, but Gilbert was arguably the best player available at 28 and they used that opportunity wisely. The starting center fielder for the University of Tennessee, Gilbert made huge strides in his 3rd season at the college level, hitting for a .362 average and an OPS in excess of 1.100. His defense is arguably his most potent trait in terms of raw skill, as he grades out very well in terms of both his arm strength and his speed in the eyes of the scouts at MLB Pipeline.
The Astros have said they plan to use him as a sparkplug at the top of the lineup due to his advanced ability to make contact at the plate. Gilbert walked more than he struck out this season at Tennessee, and he owns a strikeout rate of just 13% throughout his college tenure, meaning he fits the Astros’ MO almost perfectly: a versatile defender in the field, and a guy who rarely strikes out at the plate. The last college outfielder to get drafted in the first round and develop into a MLB-regular with the Astros before Gilbert was George Springer back in 2011, and they integrated him into the majors in a similar fashion to what they plan on doing with Gilbert.
He hit 11 home runs and slugged .673 in 58 games at Tennessee but some scouts have questioned how well his power swing is going to translate to the professional level as it is, since he’s just 5’9″ and 185 lbs and has a mediocre 45 power grade on MLB Pipeline. However, if he can develop more raw power under the supervision of the Astros’ hitting development team, he could certainly end up as a multi-faceted threat at the Major League level. He carries some name recognition value as well: TheAthletic’s Keith Law had him going 21st overall in his final mock draft, and he was named to the All-SEC First Team this season. What’s even more encouraging is that he has already agreed to terms with the Astros and at age 22, with his toolset, he is a candidate to potentially rise through the minor leagues at a quicker pace than normal.
Second-Round Picks: Jacob Melton, OF; Andrew Taylor, RHP (64th and 80th overall)
Like Gilbert, Melton is a left-handed-hitting, 21-year-old outfielder with plus contact and plus speed. He, too, hit for a high average this season, with a .360 mark at Oregon State. He’s not as much of an outlier as Gilbert in terms of avoiding strikeouts (17.3% K rate in 2022), but to be under 20% is impressive nonetheless, and the damage he does on the balls he makes contact with are more than able to offset that. He was able to play some first base in addition to the 3 outfield positions this season, and his power stroke also made some strides, as he nearly tripled his home run count from 2021 in less than double the games. He was ranked 39th on the Pipeline, so by that standard, the Astros got a great value pick here. With their second-round pick, they went a similar route that they did with Gilbert: a low-risk toolsy college outfielder, with some positional versatility and the potential to develop quickly in the minors.
The Astros have an unmatched track record of developing pitchers: Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, Cristian Javier, and Lance McCullers Jr. are just a few of the homegrown arms they have on their roster. Hunter Brown is their current top prospect, and he appears to be next in line with a 2.38 ERA in AAA at 23 years old. This all bodes well for the development of Andrew Taylor, who was a slightly off-the-board pick at 80th overall (ranked 156 by MLB) but has the makings of someone that, with the Astros’ help, can develop into a solid pitcher. He stands tall at 6’5″ and posted a 3.21 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 15 starts for Central Michigan this season. Perhaps most notably for the long-term, he struck out 13.5 batters per 9, with a plus fastball that only sits in the low 90s but has a high spin rate. The Astros valued that highly, and they clearly think he will go places with it in the future. A challenge for him, though, will be to develop some secondary pitches: he relies on his fastball 80% of the time which will become more and more risky for him the farther up he goes in the minors, due to its pedestrian velocity.
Day 2: Rounds 3-10
The Astros came into the second day of the draft with a clear plan: draft college pitchers, and that they did. 6 of their 8 selections on Monday were all pitchers from the collegiate ranks, and to start the day off, they took multiple pitchers of Taylor’s archetype. Their 3rd-round pick, Michael Knorr, is also a towering 6’5″ right-hander. The Padres took a flyer on him in the 40th round in 2018 but the Cal State-Fullerton product just couldn’t figure it out, posting a 6.45 ERA across 3 seasons there. In between 2021 and 2022, he completely reinvented his fastball, adding about 5 MPH in speed as he transferred to Coastal Carolina and re-entered the draft. He has far more potential now – he struck out over 11 batters per 9 and dropped his ERA down to 3.39 this season. Like Taylor, his secondary pitches need work, but again, the Astros’ pitching development team can be trusted more than just about anybody else to oversee growth there.
Southpaw Trey Dombroski went to Houston in the 4th round, yet another 6’5″ pitcher. He struck out 120 in 95 innings with Monmouth University and he’s the first one of the Astros’ draft class to have a more mature pitch arsenal. His slower fastball is offset by a plus slider and a plus curveball. Nolan DeVos, a Davidson College product that was next off the board in round 5, also has a ton of swing-and-miss stuff (12.1 K/9 in 2022) and put up a 2.40 ERA in his first season in the school’s starting rotation.
Collin Price was the first position player they took on the day. The 6th-round selection is a catcher out of Mercer University in Georgia, and he’s also a very Astros-like hitter: he had a staggering 52 walks to just 34 strikeouts (12.2% K rate) this season. That outstanding eye led to a .460 OBP, and he has some pop as well (18 home runs in 58 games). With Price, the Astros now have a second future option at catcher to go along with Korey Lee, and the former turns 23 in the fall, so he should be integrated into the professional ranks soon enough.
They took 3 more college pitchers in rounds 7 through 9. A.J. Blubaugh, a right-hander who flipped between the rotation and bullpen at Michigan, averaged less than a strikeout per inning but power prevention is his calling card. He has allowed just 5 home runs in 80 innings dating back to the start of 2021. Tyler Guilfoil, a right-handed reliever, just transferred to Kentucky in the SEC in 2022, and the bigger stage did not hurt him as he put up a 1.59 ERA and struck out 80 in 51 innings, embracing a multi-inning role in their bullpen. Brett Gillis, another right-hander, posted a 2.24 ERA in 14 starts for Portland, striking out 12.3 batters per 9. They closed out the day by taking outfielder Zach Cole out of Ball State University, who slugged over .700 in 55 games and nearly managed an OPS of 1.200. In all, none of the Astros’ selections after round 4 were ranked inside MLB Pipeline’s top 250.
The Astros obviously did their homework in advance of this draft. They knew what their game plan was, and they followed through: every single one of their 11 selections through the first 10 rounds has been a college player between the ages of 20 and 22. In terms of position players, they acquired 3 versatile and well-rounded outfielders that make a ton of contact and are likely to join the low levels of the minors soon, as well as second young catcher. They also acquired a boatload of college pitchers, almost all of whom have outstanding swing-and-miss and a very advanced primary pitch.
Their first two selections fell farther than expected, and both of their second-round picks, Melton and Taylor, spoke highly of the organization and were impressed during their in-person draft interviews with the team. Between contending at the big-league level and not having any first-round picks the past two seasons, the Astros’ prospect pool sorely needed depth, and the front office brilliantly took advantage of this opportunity to get just that.