The Astros’ Enviable Draft Position

For me, there’s been something about seeing the first fruits of the Houston Astros’ years-long rebuilding project that really gets the imagination going. This is a team that is unquestionably built for the vague future that is even more unquestionably winning a lot in the concrete now. Let’s forget, for the length of this article, that the 2015 major-league team — alternately composed of beefy sluggers and finesse worm-burner-inducers — is favored by our projections to win the American League West and is tied for the seventh-best odds to win this year’s World Series. Let’s focus, for now, on the Astros’ draft picks in next week’s draft.

And I don’t mean the specific prospects that the Astros may or may not pick, a subject that has already been discussed in impressive depth by Kiley McDaniel. I mean the team’s early draft slots: 2, 5, 37, 46. The Astros are rich, and they stand to get much richer.

Of course, the Astros only have the #2 overall pick because of the whole Brady Aiken kerfuffle, that piece of drama which no doubt weakened Houston’s 2014 draft class. I don’t think the resulting public brouhaha is what the Astros wanted out of their 2014 draft, though, so instead of docking them credit for failing to sign the first-overall pick, I will credit the team for staying disciplined and not losing early-round picks by trading them away or signing expensive free agents.

Going back to the 2009 draft (that was the first year when teams received first-round compensation for failing to sign a first-rounder, instead of in the post-first-round compensation round), only two teams have had a draft with two top-10 picks. Both of those drafts went pretty swimmingly: in 2009, the Washington Nationals selected Stephen Strasburg (#1) and Drew Storen (#10). In 2011, the Arizona Diamondbacks selected Trevor Bauer (#3) and Archie Bradley (#7) — a haul that looks significantly better, of course, if the Diamondbacks do not trade Bauer for Didi Gregorius, whom they then traded for Robbie Ray.

Three other teams also had two picks in the top 15, although the recency makes it harder to evaluate the success of these classes. The 2011 Milwaukee Brewers did not, apparently, do super-duper in selecting Taylor Jungmann (#12) and Jed Bradley (#15). In more recent drafts, the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates selected Austin Meadows (#9) and Reese Mcguire (#14) and the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays drafted Jeff Hoffman (#9) and Max Pentecost (#11).

Given General Manager Jeff Luhnow’s extensive history of gem-spotting in the deep rounds — the 219th pick of the 2012 draft is presently batting third for the Astros — perhaps even more interesting is that the Astros have four of the first fifty selections. Houston netted the 37th pick, which is in the first Competitive Balance round, in last summer’s trade deadline move that also brought Jake Marisnick and Colin Moran to the organization. The 46th-overall pick is the Astros’ regular ol’ second round pick.

Having at least four of the first fifty picks isn’t rare like having two top-five picks is rare — in the last ten drafts (2005-2014), I count 14 teams that qualify. There isn’t insignificant amount of randomness to this achievement — no individual team has influence over how many picks will be distributed in the Compensation and Competitive Balance rounds — but I think only methodical, future-oriented teams reach this threshold. No teams qualified in 2014, 2013, or 2012, but I will count in the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals as a 15th team both because they were very close (their fourth pick was #52) and because Luhnow himself was a member of the front office that led the Cardinals to those draft slots.

In looking at the highest WAR-producers from these top-heavy drafts, a trend emerges: give a major-league team this many darts to throw in the early rounds, and they tend to score at least one hit. (Some of the more recent drafts, understandably, do not yet have more than one player who has reached the majors.)

Year Team Avg. Pick # 1st WAR 2nd WAR 3rd WAR
2012 STL 32.5 Michael Wacha
2011 TBA** 34.7 Mikie Mahtook
2011 BOS 30.3 Blake Swihart Matt Barnes Jackie Bradley Jr.
2010 TEX 32.8 Mike Olt
2010 LAA 34.0 Cam Bedrosian
2010 TOR 31.0 Noah Syndergaard Aaron Sanchez Asher Wojciechowski
2009 ARI* 30.8 A.J. Pollock Chris Owings Matt Davidson
2009 LAA* 35.8 Mike Trout Garrett Richards Tyler Skaggs
2007 TOR 30.0 Brett Cecil J.P. Arencibia
2007 SFG* 31.5 Madison Bumgarner Jackson Williams Nick Noonan
2007 TEX* 30.0 Julio Borbon Blake Beavan Neil Ramirez
2006 BOS 34.8 Daniel Bard Kris Johnson
2005 BOS* 36.6 Jacoby Ellsbury Clay Buchholz Jed Lowrie
2005 MIA* 29.0 Chris Volstad Sean West Aaron Thompson
2005 STL 36.8 Colby Rasmus Tyler Greene  

* Team had five of first fifty overall picks.
** Team had six of first fifty overall picks.

The Astros’ average draft slot for their first four picks is 22.5 — like nothing else any of these teams have experienced. This is an organization with an exceptionally rated farm system, a first-place major league club, and greater opportunity to add talent via the draft than any team has in a decade. It’s times like these that make a fella proud to be an Astro.

Draft slot information via Pro Sports Transactions.

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Miles Wray contributes sports commentary to McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Ploughshares, The Classical and Hardwood Paroxysm. Follow him on Twitter @mileswray or email him here.

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Woof. Those TB and MIA selections look terrible.

Well-Beered Englishman

That 2005 Red Sox draft, on the other hand…

2005 was a glorious draft class.

Jeff Clement
Jeff Clement

Indeed! The Mariners picked me ahead of Ryan Zimmerman, two ahead of Ryan Braun, four ahead of Troy Tulowitzki, eight ahead of Andrew McCutchen, nine ahead of Jay Bruce, and twenty ahead of Jacoby Ellsbury. Total bWAR so far of the top 10 that year is 187, the average is almost 21 (307 for the entire first round, almost 12 average).

And I contributed -1.2!

Angel in the Outfield
Angel in the Outfield

That ’05 class for the BoSox has nothing on the ’09 Halos.


How did that happen, anyway? The Red Sox won the WS in ’04, how the hell did they have such a great ’05 draft?

John C
John C

They lost several free agents, and back then, you could get two compensatory picks for losing a Type 1 free agent–the one from the team who signed him, plus a sandwich pick. And then they picked the right people with the picks.

Chris A
Chris A

Not for Astros fans, it wasn’t. Brian Bogusevic with the 24th pick, followed by Eli Iorg, Ralph Hernandez, Tommy Manzella, three more guys I haven’t heard of, Brandon Barnes, another guy, Koby Clemens, and it goes downhill from there.