Next Thursday, June 6, is the Rule 4 MLB Draft and for the second year in a row, our hometown nine will have the first overall selection. This comes on the heels of a team worst record of 55-107 during the 2012 season. Last year, the Astros selected SS Carlos Correa with the first overall pick after finishing the 2011 season with a 56-106 record. Let’s take a look at the options the Astros are facing with the top selection in next week’s draft.
Stanford ace RHP, Mark Appel is generally considered to be the best player available in this year’s draft. Oklahoma ace RHP, Jonathan Gray and San Diego 3B/OF Kris Bryant are right behind him. Those three players are the consensus top three in the draft. I have seen numerous mock drafts and for the most part, either Appel or Gray are mocked to the Astros at 1.1 with a remaining few having Bryant mocked at 1.1. So what will the Astros do? I’m glad you asked!
Last year, when the Astros selected Correa, there wasn’t a consensus top overall selection. Scouts were split between Correa, Appel and Byron Buxton. Appel fell to the Pittsburgh Pirates with the eighth overall selection but turned down a reported $3.8 mil and returned to Stanford for his senior season. A decision, I might add, that has paid off tremendously. Byron Buxton was selected by the Minnesota Twins with the second overall pick. The Astros did their homework last year and based off the information and analysis they had gathered, they were able to determine that if they did not take Correa, he may have been picked by the Seattle Mariners with the third overall pick but definitely would not have gotten by the Baltimore Orioles with the fourth overall pick. Thus, they were able to offer him more than the slotted fourth pick, but less than the slotted number one pick to sign. This resulted in Correa signing for $4.8 mil, roughly $2.4 mil less than the recommended slot. The Astros took those savings and were able to sign both Lance McCullers Jr. and Rio Ruiz. Two high school players considered to be top fifteen talent but fell due to signability concerns. Essentially, the Astros were able to select three first round talents. Why do I bring this up? Well, because the rumor is that the Astros plan to do something similar this year.
Last year, the Astros selection came down to Correa and Appel as they had both players rated very closely. Supposedly, Appel was not willing to take the “discount” that Correa took, thus Correa was the pick and Appel fell to the Pirates. Appel and Bryant are also represented by mega agent, Scott Boras. Now, no matter how you slice it, Boras is still Boras. He hates the new draft slotted system and does not want his clients taking less than the slotted amount. Does this mean we can write off the Astros selecting Appel or Bryant? Absolutely not. However, in Appel’s case, I believe it to be unlikely. If the Astros pass on Mark Appel, the general feeling is the Chicago Cubs will grab him with the second selection. The first selection is worth $7.8 mil, the second pick is worth $6.7 mil and the third pick is worth $5.62 mil. If the Astros use their strategy from last year and select Appel or Gray, they will definitely try to get them for less than the $7.8 mil that the pick is worth. The question is, will either one sign for less? That’s where Kris Bryant comes into play.
Kris Bryant is the top college bat available in the draft. He also possesses the most power of any player in the draft, yet he is projected by most to go no higher than third overall to the Colorado Rockies. That’s not because he isn’t worth the top pick. He most certainly is, but borh Appel and Gray are considered future aces that could be up in the big leagues by the start of the 2014 season. Could the Astros select Bryant and offer him more than the slotted amount for the third pick but less than the top pick? Absolutely. They could then use those savings to select a player at 2.1 (40th overall) that either has a strong college commitment (high schoolers such as OF Ryan Boldt or LHP Rob Kaminsky) or a college underclassmen who may decide to go back to school to build his stock for next year (LHP Sean Manea comes to mind). Could they still do this even though Scott Boras is his agent? Yes, because Boras knows Bryant would fall to the third pick if he isn’t taken first overall.
There have also been rumors of the Astros selecting University of North Carolina 3B, Colin Moran with the top pick. Most Astros brass, including owner Jim Crane flew to Chapel Hill, North Carolina last week to see him work out and play. I simply do not buy this. Moran is a very good player but he isn’t a top five pick, let alone top overall pick. I believe this to be posturing on the Astros behalf to show other more likely pick such as Appel and Gray, that they are considering a large number of players.
So, what do I think the Astros will do? I believe they will select Oklahoma RHP, Jonathan Gray with the top pick for a little less than the recommended slot. I’ll take a guess and say that he will sign for $6.5 mil. That would be savings of $1.2 mil and would be only $200k less than the slotted value for the second overall pick. These savings, while not as large as last years, would still enable the Astros to get creative as they did last year with later picks.