We’re less than two weeks away from the June amateur draft, and there still isn’t consensus about who the Astros will take with the first overall pick. That’s not surprising, since there isn’t a clear No. 1 overall talent. “There’s not a [Gerrit] Cole, in our minds. There’s not a [Stephen] Strasburg, in our minds,” as Pirates GM Neal Huntington put it yesterday. John Manuel of Baseball America recently quoted an executive saying, “It just seems like there isn’t a $6 million player in this draft,” which means the Astros’ task will be a tricky one.
It’s always better to have an earlier pick than a later one, of course. But compared to, say, 2010, when the Nationals took Bryce Harper first overall, 2014 seems to be a worse year to have the top pick, and a better year to have a lower pick.
Many recent mock drafts have suggested the Astros will take either California high school lefty Brady Aiken or NC State lefty Carlos Rodon first overall, but the Astros also invited Texas high school righty Tyler Kolek to a pre-draft workout.
Aiken has added velocity and now throws in the mid-90s. He also has an outstanding curveball and could have excellent control, and he has an easy delivery. Kolek can throw 100 MPH and potentially has a good slider, although his command lags behind Aiken’s. In the cases of both Aiken and Kolek, stock disclaimers about high school pitchers apply.
Rodon entered the college season as the clear favorite to be the No. 1 pick, but he has not been as dominant as expected this season for NC State. Manuel quotes an executive even wondering whether Rodon will be a starter in the long term. There is, perhaps, a comparison to be made to Cole, who also failed to dominate in the season before he was drafted No. 1 overall, but Manuel points out that Cole’s stuff was outstanding that year, whereas Rodon’s hasn’t been consistent. Rodon does, however, still have an outstanding slider.
Earlier today, Peter Gammons quoted an executive guessing that the Astros could also consider California high school C/OF Alex Jackson. “Many of the Astros’ people believe that picking a pitcher at the top is a gamble because of the historical predictability of pitchers,” the executive said. Gammons notes that the Astros did pick Mark Appel with the top spot last year. But if there’s ever a year to question gambling on pitchers, this might be it — not only is there not a consensus No. 1, but it’s also been a rough year for big-league pitchers and for former top draftees in the minors, like Appel and Jameson Taillon. Jackson is the consensus top hitting prospect in the draft.
In a draft where little is certain, LSU righty Aaron Nola could represent another possibility. Unlike some of the other top pitching prospects, he doesn’t look like a prototypical ace — he’s just a little bit undersized, and his stuff isn’t as outstanding. But he’s performed very well this year and he should get to the majors relatively quickly, and he might be a good candidate to take first overall if the Astros decide to save a bit of money against their bonus pool to spend on later picks. That’s what they did in 2012, when Appel and Byron Buxton were the consensus top picks, and the Astros instead took Carlos Correa, then used the savings to sign Lance McCullers Jr. and Rio Ruiz later in the draft.
With all that in mind, who do you think the Astros should take with the first overall pick?