The Astros have more than their share of highly talented young players, but one player they don’t have in their system is Cubs masher Kris Bryant. Houston had the chance to take Bryant with the first pick in the 2013 draft, but they decided on righty Mark Appel instead, and the Cubs snagged Bryant with the next selection. Appel, now 25, has yet to make his big-league debut, and was traded to the Phillies in the Ken Giles deal last offseason. Bryant, meanwhile, leads the NL in home runs, runs scored and OPS+ while anchoring an intimidating Cubs lineup.
The Cubs and Astros are currently playing a series, so Astros GM Jeff Luhnow fielded questions about the Bryant-Appel decision. Here’s some of what he had to say, courtesy of Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.
“There’s a history lesson to be learned about the risk with pitchers vs. position players,” says Luhnow, referring to the tendency of position players to be better bets in the early stages of the draft. “[T]hat’s a history lesson that’s been laid out over a long period of time. Having said that, if you want an impact pitcher, you have to gamble.”
The Astros have had plenty of experience selecting both position players and pitchers with top picks in recent years. Of their ten first-round picks from 2011 to 2016, six were position players, and three of those (George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman) clearly look to be significant parts of their future. Another, outfielder Derek Fisher, was a later selection who doesn’t look like an impact player, but who has consistently hit well in the minors. The others, Kyle Tucker and Daz Cameron, were drafted last year and are still teenagers. Cameron has struggled so far in his pro career, but Tucker’s is off to a fast start, as he’s already advanced all the way to Class A+ Lancaster.
Meanwhile, two of four pitchers the Astros have selected in the first round, Appel and Brady Aiken, have suffered significant speed bumps even though they were both first overall picks, and the Astros famously didn’t even sign Aiken due to a disagreement regarding the Astros’ concerns about his health. One of their other first-round pitching picks was this year’s 17th overall selection, Forrest Whitley, about whom it’s way too early to pass judgment. Even granting the Astros’ success with 2012 supplemental pick Lance McCullers, their experience does seem to bear out the maxim that there are considerable risks to selecting pitchers at the top of the draft.
Nonetheless, Luhnow says the Appel/Bryant decision doesn’t keep him up nights. “We’ve got Carlos Correa. We’ve got Alex Bregman. We’ve got Lance McCullers. Our scouting department has done a nice job with the draft,” he says. “You can always look back and say I should have taken this player instead of that player, but there’s no reason to really dwell on it.”