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|
|2011||BOS||30.3||Blake Swihart||Matt Barnes||Jackie Bradley Jr.|
|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.