Two days before the Houston Astros kick off the June MLB draft, their general manager said the team is still deciding who’s set to go first overall.
GM Jeff Luhnow, scouting director Bobby Heck and the team’s scouts have been meeting for the past week to make just such a decision and will likely take their time announcing who will be the No. 1 pick on Monday.
“The Major League Draft is an important event for all organizations,” Luhnow said. “Obviously, we’re making a significant investment in the future. We’re going to decide (on the pick) in due time and we’re going to announce during the draft itself. We will not be making an announcement prior to that. I think it’ll be commissioner Selig who makes that announcement on Monday, so you’ll be watching along with everyone else.”
Draft experts have said this draft class isn’t as good as past seasons, nor has there been one player who has stood out from the rest like Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper did. However, that doesn’t change Houston’s goal, which is to find the most production possible from the position.
“We think about return from the draft in terms of major league value,” Luhnow said. “The first pick will get a lot of attention, because it’s the selection with the heaviest investment in it and it will be the selection with the highest return. But, it’s about all 40 rounds for us. We want to be as diligent as we can and be as productive as we can with all those picks. We’ll balance the risk with the potential reward therein.”
There are maybe five players who have been touted at the top of this draft, but the two that Houston has been linked to most frequently are Stanford right-hander Mark Appel and Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton.
Appel is a 6-foot-5, 215 pound starter who has anchored Stanford’s staff this season. He has struck out 116 batters in 110 innings this spring with a 9-1 record and a 2.37 ERA. He’s got a fastball that touches 100 miles per hour, but the pitch can be a little straight at times.
His best weapons, though, are his secondary stuff, as Appel flashes a devastating curve and a good changeup with his plus velocity. His frame also suggests he could fill out and be an innings eater at the next level, which adds up to a projection as a future ace for the team.
Buxton may be the most talented player in the draft with five pure tools. He’s an excellent defensive center fielder with a good arm who should stick at the position in the majors. He also has a very advanced approach at the plate, draws walks and has flashed the potential for above average power.
Draft insiders have been suggesting for weeks that Houston’s scouts loved Buxton, but that “higher ups” wanted to get a player who could help more immediately. That would put the onus on Appel or LSU standout right-hander Kevin Gausman, who may have a better fastball than Appel with less defined breaking pitches. However, those reports have weakened recently, and those same sites have been indicating Houston is now leaning towards Buxton.
The chance that a player signs has been critical in past drafts, especially at the very top. However, with baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, teams have both a slotting system and a pool of money based on those slots to spend on each player. Houston has the second-most money to spend of any team in the draft and is fully authorized to spend all of it.
One new wrinkle in this draft is that Luhnow’s more statistically oriented front office has helped analyze the prospects. Not only has Director of Decision Sciences Sig Mejdal’s team been looking at analyzing past performance, but they’ve also delved into biomechanical and swing analysis to complement the actual, on the ground scouting of players.
“Our goal is to utilize all the information we capture on every player,” Luhnow said. “A very large piece is the opinions of our experts who are out in the field seeing these guys every day. Those are our scouts, who are experts because they do this every day. Our doctors are other experts who weigh in with the medical risk on all player. We have analysts that study video, that study deliveries and swings. And, we’ve got performance history, which we look at very carefully to predict future performance. We put all that together and try to come up with the best assessment of what the player is going to do in the future.”