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2010 Draft Preview - Houston Astros

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The seventh part of my draft preview series focuses on the Houston Astros and their scouting director Bobby Heck.

Owner: Drayton McLane, bought club in 1992
General Manager: Ed Wade, first season was 2008
Scouting Director: Bobby Heck, first draft was 2008

Looking Back

2008 Draft: $6.5 Million Budget

1. Jason Castro, C, Stanford, #10 Overall: Castro was widely viewed as a first-round talent, but Heck and Wade were widely criticized for calling his name in the top ten picks. Castro was considered to have a high floor and average ceiling, perhaps with a few all-star seasons in him at his best. Following players selected: Justin Smoak, Jemile Weeks, Brett Wallace. Signing bonus: $2,070,000.
2. Jordan Lyles, RHP, Hartsville HS (SC), #38 Overall: Lyles was another surprising pick, as he was expected to go a few rounds later, but Heck called his name in the supplemental first round. He had a great workout for the Astros, and they liked what they thought of as top-tier upside. Following players selected: Lance Lynn, Brett DeVall, Ryan Flaherty. Signing bonus: $930,000.
3. Jay Austin, OF, North Atlanta HS (GA), #56 Overall: This was around where Austin was supposed to go as a raw prep outfielder with good tools across the board. He had a solid senior season entering the draft, and this was a solid pick, as most thought that Austin’s progress during his senior campaign foreshadowed continued progress in pro ball. Following players selected: Robbie Ross, Tyson Ross, Shane Peterson. Signing bonus: $715,000.
4. Chase Davidson, 1B, Milton HS (GA), #88 Overall: Before Heck arrived, the Astros gained a bad reputation for misreading signability. That continued with Davidson. Davidson featured a big bat with below-average athleticism all-around, and the Astros misread his asking price, and he turned them down for Georgia. Following players selected: Tim Murphy, Petey Paramore, Niko Vasquez. DID NOT SIGN.
5. Ross Seaton, RHP, Second Baptist HS (TX), #109 Overall: This was a pick in the supplemental third round, meaning they wouldn’t get any compensation if they couldn’t sign Seaton. However, many people connected the Astros to Seaton early on, and he was considered signable for a fair amount of money, and his upside looked like a mid-rotation starter. Following players selected: Jon Pettibone, Sawyer Carroll, Zach Cone. Signing bonus: $700,000.
Other Notable Selections: OF T.J. Steele (4th), Arizona, $267K bonus; OF Jon Gaston (7th), Arizona, $150K bonus; LHP Brad Dydalewicz (8th), Lake Travis HS (TX), $425K bonus

2009 Draft: $4.2 Million Budget

1. Jiovanni Mier, SS, Bonita HS (CA), #21 Overall: Mier established himself as the best prep shortstop in the 2009 class, ousting the likes of Deven Marrero and Stephen Perez, who are both now in college. Mier showed an all-around ability to both hit and defend at short, making him a valuable commodity. His stock exploded over the spring, and this was a solid pick. Following players selected: Kyle Gibson, Jared Mitchell, Randal Grichuk. Signing bonus: $1,358,000.
2. Tanner Bushue, RHP, South Central HS (IL), #69 Overall: Bushue followed in the mold of Lyles in that a solid pre-draft workout earned him an early selection from the Astros. This was earlier than most thought he’d have his name called, but Bushue’s projectability and athleticism favor mid-rotation upside. Following players selected: Billy Bullock, David Holmberg, Steve Matz. Signing bonus: $530,000.
3. Telvin Nash, OF, Griffin HS (GA), #100 Overall: Nash continued the trend for Georgia prep hitters with Heck. He featured plus-plus raw power, though there were doubts about his ability to hit for average against more mature pro pitching. He was supposed to go anywhere from here to the fifth round. Following players selected: Ben Tootle, Bryan Morgado, Robbie Shields. Signing bonus: $330,300.
4. Jonathan Meyer, 3B, Simi Valley HS (CA), #111 Overall: This was the compensation pick for Davidson, so it also wasn’t protected against a prospect not signing. Meyer’s value was mostly in his glove, which projected as plus at third base, which wasn’t his full-time position in high school. His hitting was the big question mark, and that was a reason most thought of him as a fifth to seventh round prospect. Following players selected: A.J. Morris, James Jones, Keyvius Sampson. Signing bonus: $274,500.
5. B.J. Hyatt, RHP, USC-Sumter JC (SC), #131 Overall: Hyatt was another player connected to the Astros after a pre-draft workout. He flashed plus stuff from time to time as a JuCo player, but he was hittable and inconsistent at best. He looked more like a seventh to tenth round pick, but the stuff was definitely good enough for this slot. Following players selected: Derek McCallum, Matt Heidenreich, Darrell Ceciliani. Signing bonus: $200,000.
Other Notable Selections: SS Enrique Hernandez (6th), American Military Academy (PR), $150K bonus; LHP Dallas Keuchel (7th), Arkansas, $150K bonus; OF J.D. Martinez (20th), Nova Southeastern (FL)

Bobby Heck had over a decade of full-time scouting experience before he was named the Astros’ scouting director following the 2007 season, when Ed Wade took over as the general manager. His history includes a four-draft stint as an area scout, followed by eight years of drafting with the Milwaukee Brewers as their East Coast crosschecker ("Eastern Scouting Supervisor"). This meant Heck worked under Seattle’s Jack Zduriencik, widely considered one of the best scouting minds in baseball. Ed Wade himself has a bit of a scouting background, so there should be a fair assumption that the Astros’ front office has a specific set of scouting benchmarks that they’re looking for in choosing a player. Looking at the trends, we can start to try and figure out what the benchmarks are. There are only two drafts to look at, but a couple of trends stand out immediately that became solidified in last June’s draft. The first, and most obvious, trend is that Heck heavily favors workout arms. Lyles, Bushue, and Hyatt are all known for being picked higher than the industry consensus due to strong workouts for Houston, and Lyles’ 2009 campaign proved that his draft slot was more deserving than some thought. I see nothing wrong in this system, as Heck obviously has a specific set of standards he’s looking for in arms during workouts, and the yield shouldn’t be much different from any other set of standards that other teams employ. The other trend that sticks out so far is that Heck and the scouting department likes prep bats from Georgia. They’ve selected three in the top ten picks combined from 2008 and 2009, and they usually get picked in the second to third round range. They also heavily favor prep players in the early rounds, with the exception of Castro, and then they fill in with athletic college bats and solid college arms in the rounds directly following. These trends will likely continue for 2010.

In terms of draft budgeting, the Astros are in the bottom third of draft spending when looking at combined spending amounts over the past two years. The $10.7 million they’ve spent on draft bonuses is less than either Seattle or Washington spent on their 2009 drafts alone. This isn’t to say that I think the Astros are cheap. Their 2008 draft showed that they’re capable of spending a healthy amount on draft budgeting, and that was even without third-rounder Chase Davidson signing. However, 2009 was a big dip, and they ended up spending less than 23 other teams. Since they’re back in the top ten this year, I expect a budget that outspends 2008’s total, perhaps as high as an even $8 million. They own picks 8, 19, 33, 58, 90, 123, and every 30 picks after that, granted that Rod Barajas signs a Major League contract with another team before the draft. The two extra early picks they’ll carry will undoubtedly mean more money spent. The first pick should carry a tag of somewhere near $2.3 million, the second $1.5 million, the third $950,000, and the fourth $650,000. That’s already $5.4 million before we’ve even gotten to the third round. In other words, don’t expect overslot signings in the late rounds this year, as the budget won’t be stretched enough to accommodate such spending, unless one of the early picks doesn’t sign, and they sign later picks as protection. This will definitely be an up year in spending for the Astros, but I don’t expect a huge explosion into eight figures for a team that’s generally middle of the pack and below when it comes to draft spending under Ed Wade’s tenure.

Connecting the Astros to players is harder than most, as they typically jump around with players as late as a week before the draft. Workouts are a little under four months away, and we have no way of knowing which workout players will impress Heck and company in early June. However, I can give a few names that might be a common theme throughout the spring. I really like LeVon Washington for their first slot, and that’s who I had slotted in there in my latest mock draft. Other names that I find interesting there are Austin Wilson, Yordy Cabrera (as a third baseman or outfielder), and perhaps one of the top prep arms such as Dylan Covey, Karsten Whitson, and A.J. Cole. I think they’ll go young either way, and it will likely be a very signable name. There’s always the chance they go for a safer college pick first, a la Jason Castro, but there aren’t any safe college bats that fit their mold, unless Zack Cox fits in that scenario, which I personally don’t think he does. At pick 19, I’ve already called out Kevin Gausman as a possible target, and I also think players like Chevez Clarke, Stetson Allie, and A.J. Vanegas all might fit there. Pick 33 is harder to peg, and my latest mock has them going with DeAndre Smelter. Taijuan Walker and Kris Bryant might be another couple of names to watch there. Looking into later rounds, I can see them going with players like Delino DeShields, Jake Skole, Kevin Jordan, Trey Griffin, Bobby Wahl, and Aaron Sanchez. These are all just names to remember when the time comes.

*Bonus information came from BA.

What do you guys think? What will the Astros do?