Houston Astros Rumors
A few notes as the 2013 Amateur Draft winds down on Saturday ...
- In their draft, the Phillies cut against the grain by focusing on offense, Ryan Lawrence of Philly.com reports. The Phils drafted eight hitters in their first 11 picks, including shortstop J.P. Crawford in the first round and outfielder Cord Sandberg, who has already agreed to terms, in the third. "I think [the draft] was fairly deep in the pitching board and not real deep on the offense board for high school or college, so we tried to focus on that and get as much as we could done," says assistant GM Marti Wolever.
- The Phillies also took Craig Biggio's son Cavan in the 29th round. The draft Twitter account notes that Cavan Biggio (a second baseman) and another 29th rounder, Rockies selection Kyle Serrano (a righty pitcher), are likely to be tough signs. Biggio has committed to play for Notre Dame; Serrano is committed to play for his father Dave, who is the coach at the University of Tennessee. Craig Biggio told Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle on Saturday that his son would not sign with the Phillies, and would head to Notre Dame instead. "He had some options on the first day (of the draft). He is excited about college," Craig Biggio says.
- Longtime big-league outfielder Lee Mazzilli says his son L.J. Mazzilli, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Mets on Friday, is "a better player than I was," Kevin Kernan of the New York Post writes. The elder Mazzilli was also drafted by the Mets, in the first round in 1973. "I am so excited to have the opportunity that my dad had 40 years ago, and looking forward to making my own name out there and carrying my last name with a lot of pride," L.J. says.
- And speaking of big-league bloodlines, the Astros chose Roger Clemens' son Kacy Clemens in the 35th round, the draft Twitter account notes. Clemens, a pitcher like his father, is committed to the University of Texas, and is unlikely to sign.
The Astros claimed lefty Wade LeBlanc off waivers from the Marlins, tweets MLB.com's Brian McTaggart. He'll join the Astros in Kansas City tomorrow, at which point a corresponding active roster move will be made. The Astros already have an open spot on their 40-man roster. LeBlanc had been designated for assignment by the Marlins on Monday to open a roster spot for Edgar Olmos.
LeBlanc, 28, posted a 5.18 ERA, 5.7 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 1.11 HR/9, and 39.3% groundball rate in 48 2/3 innings this year, including seven starts. The southpaw was drafted by the Padres in the second round in 2006 out of the University of Alabama. That round also produced notable big leaguers Trevor Cahill, Justin Masterson, Jon Jay, Brett Anderson, Chris Tillman, and Jeff Locke. The Padres traded LeBlanc to the Marlins in November 2011 for catcher John Baker.
Optimism toward LeBlanc may have reached its peak before the '08 season, when Baseball America ranked him fourth among Padres prospects (right after Mat Latos). At that point, BA marked LeBlanc as a "future No. 3 starter" with an excellent changeup but an unimpressive fastball. This year, among those with 40 innings pitched, LeBlanc's average fastball velocity of 86.0 miles per hour is the fifth-lowest in all of baseball.
One year after passing on pitcher Mark Appel with the first overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft, the Astros nabbed him with the number one slot on Thursday. Yesterday, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs took a look at Appel's bargaining position as a college senior who went in the number one slot.
When Houston bypassed Appel last year, the righty fell all the way to the Pirates at number eight. Despite a reported $3.8MM offer to join the Pittsburgh organization, Appel decide to return to Stanford for his senior season. In doing so, Appel utilized the only substantial leverage he had, gambling that he would force his way back to the top of the draft board in 2013 and be selected with a higher draft slot (with its accompanying higher bonus allocation). Indeed, that is exactly what happened.
Having already played his prime negotiating card last year, and now entering the draft as a college senior, one might suspect that Appel will have a relatively weak bargaining position in working out his bonus with Houston. But that may not be the case, explains Cameron. Players drafted this year must agree to terms with their teams by July 12th at 5:00 PM EST. That rule, however, excepts college seniors that have no remaining NCAA eligibility. Such players can continue to negotiate until the very eve of next year's draft.
With Appel's selection slot representing a huge chunk ($7.79MM) of the Astros total $11.7MM bonus pool, says Cameron, the team must be cognizant of the trajectory of its negotiations with Appel before inking deals with the remainder of its selections. The reason is that a team can only use the bonus pool money it is allocated for a given draft slot if it actually signs the player it chooses in that slot. And if a team spends more than 5% above its total bonus pool allocation, it will lose its first pick in the next draft -- a particularly heavy price for an Astros team that figures to pick at the top of the draft next year. So, signing other players at above-slot rates before agreeing to terms with Appel carries a lot of risk for Houston. With a later negotiating deadline than other top picks, Appel can, in Cameron's words, "basically hold the Astros bonus pool hostage." (It is also worth noting, as Cameron does, that Appel is being advised by the notoriously aggressive Boras Corporation.)
While the possibility for gamesmanship exists, Cameron notes that several other factors -- including Appel's ties to Houston and the lack of appealing alternatives to signing -- make it more likely that he will end up signing at or near the recommended slot bonus. Indeed, there would be major risks to both sides if Appel were to extend negotiations beyond the July 12 deadline. For Appel, there is no room to improve his draft position; a one-year tour through an independent league would carry risk of injury (and/or lowering of his prospect stock) but no possibility of achieving a higher draft slot. The current feel-good story of Appel returning to his Houston roots should create some nice marketing opportunities that he could jeopardize by overly aggressive bargaining. And perhaps most importantly, Appel would very likely be slowing his progression to the majors. Appel is often characterized as a highly polished pitcher who is expected to ascend quickly, and the Astros have intimated that he will start his professional career at the upper levels of the Houston system. The sooner Appel forces his new club to call him up, the sooner he can begin accruing service time. An additional arbitration year and/or an earlier free agent start could mean upwards of tens of millions of dollars down the road.
In sum, Appel's new means of exercising leverage brings more balance to the table, but does so by setting up the potential for a game of chicken. Both sides seem likely to take this into account in advance and not allow the July 12 to pass with such risk and uncertainty on the table. (Indeed, the Astros may have already signalled their intention to avoid the issue by drafting six collegiate players against just three high-schoolers amongst its other selections in the first ten rounds.) Nevertheless, the tacit threat could certainly help to elevate the bonus that Appel receives, and it will be interesting to see how negotiations progress and where they end up.
Astros owner Jim Crane is confident that his team can reach an agreement with the top overall pick in this weekend's draft, Stanford pitcher Mark Appel, reports Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle. "They had something worked out that they felt comfortable," says Crane. Appel did not sign after being selected by the Pirates with the No. 8 overall pick last year, but the Astros will be able to offer him more money this year -- the bonus pool allotment for the No. 1 pick in 2013 is about $7.8MM. Here are more notes from the draft.
- The Braves took Georgia Tech center fielder Kyle Wren in the eighth round on Friday, and his father, Braves GM Frank Wren, found that a bit awkward, Carroll Rogers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. "Selfishly we’re getting a player with talent, so I feel good about that," says Frank Wren. "But I think it’s going to be a little tougher on him than probably anyone else. That’s the (hard) part that as a dad, just knowing going in that he’s going to have endure some of that." Indeed, Kyle Wren looks like a credible pick from a talent perspective -- Baseball America ranked him the No. 215 prospect in the draft, and the Braves picked him at No. 253. Rogers notes that, in 2002, the Braves also drafted former GM John Schuerholz's son Jonathan.
- In the ninth round of the draft, the Reds picked Chad Jones -- the same Chad Jones who was selected as a safety by the New York Giants in the third round of the NFL Draft in 2010. Jim Kleinpeter of the New Orleans Times-Picayune notes that Jones is taking a very unusual path back into professional sports. The former two-sport LSU standout almost lost his leg in a car accident soon after the Giants picked him, and now, years later and after lots of rehabilitation for his leg injuries, he's emerged as a left-handed pitching prospect. Jones played for LSU's 2007 national champion football team, as well as its 2009 College World Series-winning baseball team.
Yesterday was the first day of Major League Baseball's amateur draft, and the Astros kicked things off by selecting Houston native Mark Appel with the No. 1 overall pick. MLBTR covered the draft extensively last night; Zach Links kept track of the first round results as well as the results from the first competitive balance round, and I hosted a draft chat that ran for nearly four hours, covering the entirety of the first round. Here's more on the first day of the draft...
- ESPN's Keith Law (Insider required and recommended for Law's draft work) lists the Rays' selection of Ryne Stanek at No. 29 atop his list of picks he "loves" from yesterday's selections. He also lists his top 10 remaining talents, headlined by high school right-hander Kyle Serrano.
- Appel gives the Astros a "native son to build the organization around," writes Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle. Appel told Smith that being selected by the Astros was "incredibly special" and "very exciting." He recalls the opening of Minute Maid Park as a child in 2000, and adds that most of his family still lives in Houston. GM Jeff Luhnow said Appel won't be rushed to the Majors, and Smith adds that late 2014 or early 2015 are realistic goals for his MLB debut.
- Dodgers vice president of scouting Logan White told reporters, including MLB.com's Ken Gurnick, that the team views top picks Chris Anderson (Jacksonville University) and Tom Windle (University of Minnesota) as starters (Twitter link). The pair will not be rushed to the Majors as relievers like Paco Rodriguez was in 2012.
- ESPN's Jerry Crasnick looks at some of the stories from day one of the draft, including the friendly rivalries between Georgia outfielders Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows and California infielders Dominic Smith and J.P. Crawford. "[Crawford is] just a great guy and a great person," Smith told Crasnick. "We're pretty tight. He's like my baseball brother."
- Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara says that he doesn't prefer any specific type of player, but Dave Cameron of the U.S.S. Mariner points out that he leans toward polished college players. In four of his five drafts as scouting director McNamara has chosen Dustin Ackley, Danny Hultzen, Mike Zunino and now D.J. Peterson -- all of whom were regarded as "safe bets."
With the first round of the 2013 draft in the books, here's a look at the latest news on this year's top picks..
- Astros GM Jeff Luhnow told reporters, including Alyson Footer of MLB.com (via Twitter) Houston viewed Mark Appel as the pick to beat throughout the scouting year and never saw a player who became more appealing than the right-hander.
- Luhnow went on to say that the Astros won't rush Appel to the big leagues and there's no timetable for when he could eventually make his way up to the varsity squad (Twitter links).
- Cubs scouting director Jason McLeod wasn't bothered by Jonathan Gray's positive test for Adderall, according to Meghan Montemurro of The Northwest Herald (Twitter link). The Cubs, of course, selected Kris Bryant with the No. 2 pick.
- Red Sox's first round pick Trey Ball sounds like he's ready to join the Red Sox rather than attend the University of Texas based on this quote from Brian MacPherson of The Providence Journal (viaTwitter). "Anything can happen, but I feel that Boston is right for me," said the left-hander, who was taken with the No. 7 pick.
- A's pick Billy McKinney says that the Yankees, Rangers, and Giants also expressed interest in him, tweets Paul Gutierrez of CSNCalifornia.com.
The Astros have officially drafted Mark Appel with the first overall pick in the 2013 draft. Keith Law of ESPN.com (via Twitter) heard minutes prior to the selection that the Astros were set to take the Stanford product with the first pick.
Appel, who celebrates his 22nd birthday next week, was selected with the No. 8 pick in last year's draft by the Pirates. However, the Scott Boras client couldn't come to terms on a contract with the Bucs, prompting him to return to school. The Astros considered taking Appel with the No. 1 pick last year but opted against doing so when their $6MM offer was rejected. They wound up taking high school shortstop Carlos Correa with the No. 1 pick instead and inked him to a $4.8MM pact.
The Astros have selected first overall on two other occasions. They selected Phil Nevin over Derek Jeter and others in 1992 and chose Floyd Bannister from a class featuring Alan Trammell in 1976. The slot recommendation for the top pick in this year's draft is roughly $7.79MM.
While Appel is not subject to the July 15th signing deadline, GM Jeff Luhnow says they'll sign him before then, tweets Brian McTaggart of MLB.com.
In his final installment of his Top 100 Draft Flashback series, Matt Eddy of Baseball America assigned values to each of the top ten picks and gave tiered values to the entire first round. Eddy lumps the together the picks in groups of five and uses WAR to weigh each tier against one another. He also identifies the best players to be plucked out of each group, starting with Alex Rodriguez (1-5), Frank Thomas/Derek Jeter (6-10), and Manny Ramirez (11-15). Here's the latest draft news as we close in on the first pick at 6pm central..
- Keith Law of ESPN.com (via Twitter) hears that the Astros will take Mark Appel No. 1.
- Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter) isn't sure if the Royals have a deal worked out with Phil Bickford but he's certain that some team does. The right-hander's adviser kept him from talking to club executives this week.
- It was reported earlier today that the Royals have reached a deal to take Bickford with the No. 8 pick, but the club is adamant that they have no such agreement, tweets Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star.
- There's some buzz around baseball that the Cubs are leaning towards taking Kris Bryant over a pitcher, tweets David Kaplan of CSNChicago.com.
- Jim Bowden of ESPN.com (Twitter link) spoke to one scouting director picking early in first round about how he thinks the top of the draft will play out. His guess is that the Astros will take Jonathan Gray, the Cubs will grab Mark Appel at No. 2, and the Rockies will draft Bryant with the third pick.
- Shi Davidi of Sportsnet broke down the Blue Jays' draft strategy and spoke with Matt Smoral about his draft experience last year. The left-hander, who saw his stock drop thanks to a stress fracture in his right foot, assumed he was UNC-bound as he didn't expect any club to meet his $2MM asking price. “Initially, I went, not into panic, but said, ‘Oh crap, I’m going to college,’” the No. 50 pick in last year's draft said. “[The new rules] definitely changed the game but the way I looked at was, I went in there with a number that me and my family and my agent got together, and I was good with going either way." Toronto found room in the budget for Smoral by essentially punting their picks from rounds 4-10, and Davidi surmises that they'll be open to getting creative this year if another opportunity falls into their lap.
- Marc Carig of Newsday (via Twitter) hears that the Mets will draft the best player available at No. 11, rather than target need.
The 2013 Major League Baseball amateur draft will begin later today and the Houston Astros possess the first overall pick for the second year in a row. The draft acts as a cost-effective tool for clubs looking to stockpile young talent. Despite the thousands of hours logged by each club's scouting department while trying to determine the best amateur talents available, the draft remains a bit of a crapshoot and will be full of hits and misses -- although it may be years before most teams' outcomes are fully known.
Five players from the 2012 draft -- Kevin Gausman (fourth overall, Orioles), Michael Wacha (19th overall, Cardinals), Paco Rodriguez (second round, Dodgers), Alex Wood (second round, Braves) and Michael Roth (ninth round, Angels) -- have already made their debuts in The Show. Many others have seen their prospect values soar, while a select few have already taken steps backward. It's generally thought that the best talents of any given draft will be found in the first five to 10 picks but success is never a guarantee. Let's have a look at the early results from the first 10 picks of the 2012 draft and see if that belief has held true.
1. Carlos Correa, SS, Astros (Puerto Rico HS): It's been reported that Houston's front office went down to the wire before finally settling on Correa as the first overall pick. While speaking with "someone in the know" during the offseason, I was told that one of the things that made the young Puerto Rican attractive -- other than his obvious raw talents -- was that he will likely be ready to be an impact talent at the big league level when the rebuilding Astros are ready to legitimately compete in the American League West. Someone like Gausman, Mark Appel, or Mike Zunino are more likely to see their best seasons occur while the club is still finding its competitive footing. Still just 18, Correa has held his own in A-ball while showing the ability to hit for a solid average, an impressive understanding of the strike zone and good power.
2. Byron Buxton, OF, Twins (Georgia HS): Buxton, a toolsy Georgia native, has made Correa's 2013 numbers look pedestrian. The Twins prospect is currently hitting .348 with a 1.023 OPS and 26 stolen bases in 53 games. At just 19 years of age, the gifted centerfielder looks too advanced for Low-A ball. Robert Emrich of MiLB.com wrote a piece on Buxton last night after the prospect went 5-for-6 with two triples.
3. Mike Zunino, C, Mariners (University of Florida): Seattle fans were eager to see the catcher make the big league club out of Spring Training but the organization wisely played it safe and assigned him to Triple-A. After a quick start to the 2013 season, holes in Zunino's game were exposed and his batting average plummeted while his strikeout rate rose. Currently hitting just .228, he's still showing impressive power with 11 home runs in 43 games.
4. Kevin Gausman, RHP, Orioles (LSU): As mentioned above in the intro, Gausman has already reached the Majors -- no doubt a welcome sight for the O's after former top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy succumbed to an elbow injury. Gausman struck out 49 batters with just five walks in eight Double-A starts, though his Major League results have thus far been inconsistent (a 7.20 ERA through three starts).
5. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Royals (University of San Francisco): Considered almost on par with Gausman from a talent perspective prior to the draft, Zimmer is currently stuck in High-A ball. He's flashed a heavy, powerful fastball and has struck out 65 batters in 52 innings of work but he's struggled with his command, resulting in seven home runs allowed and a 5.54 ERA.
6. Albert Almora, OF, Cubs (Florida HS): Considered a gifted fielder, it was said that Almora's defensive work in center field was almost MLB caliber at the time of the draft. The Florida native got a late start to the 2013 season thanks to a broken hamate bone but he's been on fire since being activated. He's hitting .429 with just six strikeouts in 12 games.
7. Max Fried, LHP, Padres (California HS): Fried got off to a quick start to the year and has shown glimpses of his immense talent but he's also displayed the need for improvements in a number of areas. He's allowed 13 runs in his last 13 1/3 innings of work. On the year, he's issued 22 walks in 44 innings and has struggled against right-handed hitters ( RHHs at .265 vs. LHHs batting .149).
8. Mark Appel, RHP, Pirates (Stanford): Appel was the lone 2012 first-rounder that did not come to terms with the club that selected him. He returned to Stanford for his senior year of college and has improved his draft stock; he's expected to be a top-three pick, going to either the Astros, Cubs or Rockies. That should land him a larger signing bonus than he would have been eligible for with the Pirates in 2012. Had Appel signed with Pittsburgh, he would have given the organization quite an impressive future rotation along with Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. Tim Keown of ESPN.com recently wrote about Appel's decision to return to college and re-enter the draft in 2013.
9. Andrew Heaney, LHP, Marlins (Oklahoma State): Like Almora, Heaney was slowed by injury and did not make his first start of the year until late May. In total, he's made three starts and has an ERA below 2.00 with 18 strikeouts in just 12 1/3 innings. He joins Justin Nicolino, who was acquired from the Blue Jays in the offseason, as a pair of impressive left-handed pitching prospects that look close to ready for the challenge of Double-A.
10. David Dahl, OF, Rockies (Alabama HS): Dahl made a very positive impression during his 67-game pro debut in 2012 and, during the offseason, was touted as one of the steals of the draft as the 10th overall selection. However, some questionable decision making (which reportedly involved missing a flight) got him shipped out to extended Spring Training in April, despite originally earning a roster spot on the Low-A club to begin the season. Dahl has since regained his Low-A spot and produced solid-but-unspectacular results in his first 10 games; he was recently placed on the minor league disabled list.
Supplemental Round Picks of Note
The first round of the MLB amateur draft is not the only place to find high-ceiling talent. Quality prospects can be found littered throughout the 40 rounds. Below are some of the players that were taken in the supplemental first round -- picks mainly given as compensation for the loss of key free agents from the previous offseason. A number of the players selected in that round have looked impressive early in their careers and have performed well enough to suggest they should have been true first-round selections.
Jose Berrios, RHP, Twins: Berrios brings a much-needed power arm to the Twins organization. The Puerto Rico native has struck out 44 batters in 39 innings despite being one of the youngest pitchers in the Low-A Midwest League; Berrios just recently turned 19 years old.
Zach Eflin, RHP, Padres: Like his fellow Padres prospect Max Fried, Eflin was a promising prep arm acquired in the 2012 draft. Unlike his southpaw teammate, though, the right-hander has gotten stronger as the year has progressed and has been a little more consistent.
Daniel Robertson, SS, Athletics: Originally expected to move from shortstop to third base as a pro, Robertson's steady defensive play has convinced the organization to give him a longer look at his natural position. Despite missing much of the first month of the year while rehabbing an injury, the young hitter has shown flashes of above-average potential at the plate.
Kevin Plawecki, C, Mets: High draft picks from the college ranks typically skip over Low-A ball and begin their careers in High-A ball, but the Mets organization has been cautious with Plawecki -- possibly to give him an opportunity to polish his defense. The 22-year-old prospect is showing that his bat is more than ready for a promotion with a .341 batting average and 30 extra base hits. MLB.com's Teddy Cahill recently wrote a feature on Plawecki.
Joey Gallo, 3B, Rangers: After a much-hyped start to his pro career that saw him hit 22 home runs in his first 59 games, the left-handed hitter has come crashing back down to earth. He's slugged another 14 dingers this year but he's also struck out 89 times in 55 games, causing his batting average to dip to .210. He has a lot of adjustments to make to avoid becoming the next Russell Branyan.
Lance McCullers Jr., RHP, Astros: McCullers showed the raw potential to be a first round draft pick in the 2012 draft but questions about his delivery and potential move to the bullpen caused him to slip into the supplemental round. The young pitcher, though, has temporarily quieted his critics and overpowered the Midwest League with a 1.70 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings.
Eddie Butler, RHP, Rockies: As with McCullers, Butler was thought to be potentially headed for a pro career out of the bullpen. He's been exceptional as a starter, although the college product did begin the year in Low-A ball where he should have dominated the less-experienced competition. He was recently promoted to High-A ball and has a 3.71 ERA in his first three starts. David Lee of the Augusta Chronicle wrote about Butler's promotion.
We're one day away from the 2013 amateur draft. MLBTR will be providing live updates as the first and supplemental rounds progress, and we'll also host a draft chat for those who wish to participate. Here's the latest with just over 24 hours until things kick off...
- Mark Appel gambled on himself by refusing to sign with the Pirates, and it looks like it's about to pay off, writes Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Heyman adds that there's been extra suggestion of late that the Astros could select Appel first overall this time around. Appel will surely seek "at least" the $7.79MM slot value with the first overall pick, writes Heyman.
- Meanwhile Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle writes that Appel's signability is still an issue for the Astros. General manager Jeff Luhnow told Ortiz that the Astros will set their own number (in terms of what they'd like to pay), and in some cases they'll be willing to go over or under that number. Luhnow adds: "That's what we did last year, and it worked out great because we were able to maximize what we got for our total pool of resources. We'll use that same strategy this year."
- In an Insider-only piece, former Nationals GM and ESPN columnist Jim Bowden opines that the Astros should select San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant first overall. He writes that most of the best No. 1 overall picks ever -- including Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, Ken Griffey Jr., Darryl Strawberry and Joe Mauer -- are position players. He feels that Bryant, whom he calls the closest to Major League ready of any player in the draft, minimizes Houston's risk.
- Stan Grossfield of the Boston Globe writes that Manny Ramirez's son, Manny Ramirez Jr., is expected to be drafted out of high school in the middle rounds of the draft. Ramirez Jr. has tremendous work ethic, according to his high school baseball instructors. A Red Sox executive told Grossfield that while Ramirez Jr. has power, Boston isn't likely to draft him. Likewise, Orioles GM Dan Duquette told Grossfield he doesn't know much about Ramirez Jr. The younger Ramirez says he learned quite a bit from interacting with his father's teammates and coaches, including David Ortiz, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Don Mattingly.