When the draft comes in June, I think Astro fans will be surprised with the first overall pick. While Byron Buxton is the best player, I don’t think he’s going to be an Astro.
Why would a team pass on a talent like Buxton? Because Jeff Luhnow knows how to build a minor league system.
When Luhnow was hired by the St. Louis Cardinals, the farm system was a wreck. The GM at the time (Walt Jocketty) was known for taking prospects and dealing them for veterans. Back then, this was a successful plan in baseball. Yes, the system gave up some quality players (Dan Haren, Coco Crisp, Adam Kennedy), but they also gave up some that didn’t pan out (Blake Stein, Justin Pope, Bud Smith). As a result, the system was bare. Triple A was composed of minor league veterans hoping to latch on with a major league team. The organization began to realize that they were going to need some homegrown players to off-set the high cost of free agents, especially with Albert Pujols looking at free agency a few years down the line.
(It worked, but it also tore the front office in half and resulted in the firing of Jocketty. It got ugly in 2007, with the front office taking sides between Jocketty and Luhnow. Luhnow had the backing of ownership, so Jocketty was gone.)
Since the 2005 draft when Luhnow was hired to over see the Cardinals minor league system, they have produced 27 major league players. According to Baseball America, that is the most in that time for a major league team.
How did he do it?
The Cardinals drafted 359 players in that time; they were able to sign 329 of them (92%).
Of those 329, 243 were college players (74%), 71 were high schoolers (22%), and 15 were from Junior/Community Colleges (5%).
Here are the first round picks under Luhnow:
|2005||28th Overall||Colby Rasmus||OF||HS|
|2005||30th Overall||Tyler Greene||SS||College|
|2005||43rd Overall||Mark McCormick||P||College|
|2005||46th Overall||Tyler Herron||P||HS|
|2006||30th Overall||Adam Ottavino||P||College|
|2006||54th Overall||Chris Perez||P||College|
|2007||18th Overall||Pete Kozma||SS||HS|
|2007||36th Overall||Clatyon Mortensen||P||College|
|2008||13th Overall||Brett Wallace||3B||College|
|2008||39th Overall||Lance Lynn||P||College|
|2009||19th Overall||Shelby Miller||P||HS|
|2010||25th Overall||Zack Cox||3B||College|
|2010||46th Overall||Seth Blair||P||College|
|2010||50th Overall||Tyrell Jenkins||P||HS|
|2011||22rd Overall||Kolten Wong||2B||College|
5 high schoolers and 10 college players. The lowest pick was #13 and they took a college player. Each draft they took a high school player, they have multiple picks in the first round, except 2009 when they took Shelby Miller. At this point, they had quite a few good prospects in the system, including Brett Wallace and Chris Perez.
There is a good reason for this distribution — RISK. College players are more developed and play against a higher level of competition. Their floors are much higher than those of high schoolers. If we knock out the last 2 drafts (as very few of the players from the draft have hit the majors yet), we can get a solid idea of the success in each category. The Cardinals have 4 high school players and the results are not great. Rasmus is an everyday regular, but he hasn’t shown the regular ability that made him a first round pick. Kozma was a stretch when he was drafted, but he’s been extremely disappointing; he saw a short call up last season, but he’ll be lucky to have a bench role in the future. Miller looks as if he’s going to be the real deal once he get’s promoted. Herron never made it past AA with the Cardinals.
The college players have had a little more success. Perez is closing for the Indians and has proved his worth; he’s probably the most successful of the draftees. Lynn is in the Cardinals rotation this season and he’s more than holding his own; he’ll be a back of the rotation innings eater in the long run. Greene is on the Cardinals roster as well, but has struggled in regular playing time at the MLB level. Wallace moved off his original position and can’t hit well enough to justify playing first base; he was a key part to get Matt Holliday to St. Louis. Mortensen was also part of the Holliday deal and he’s not pitching for the Red Sox; he’s nothing more than an innings eater or mop up guy though. Ottavino saw limited MLB action for the Cardinals; he didn’t pitch well enough to remain with the big league club and the organization.
50% of high schoolers made it to the majors while 86% of college players did. It’s a small sample size, I know. How about this: of the 243 players the Cardinals drafted from colleges, 9% made the majors. Compare this to the 3% of the 71 high schoolers they selected. They have been 3x more likely to successfully develop a college player to a high school one under Luhnow.
As the Cardinals system got better, they took a few more high risk players. I’m expecting the same thing from the Astros down the line. After a few drafts, they’ll start to take more risks on players.
They have some good prospects – Jonathan Singleton, Jarred Cosart, George Springer – but they also have a lot of guys that haven’t panned out yet. The system is very thin right now. I’m expecting Luhnow will rebuild as he did in St. Louis.
So here are the guys I wouldn’t be surprised by them taking:
Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford – Appel was originally the consensus #1 pick when the college season started, but he’s dropped a little in the eyes of scouts. He’s still going in the first few picks, but it’s not a sure thing he’ll be #1.
Kyle Zimmer, RHP, San Francisco – Zimmer’s had a great spring and has shot up the rankings. He looks like a Luhnow guy – not the highest ceiling, but the floor is pretty high too.
Kevin Gausman, RHP, LSU – People either love or hate Gausman. He’s been on the map for a while and he’s got the talent. And I’ll share a secret here – he’s the #1 in my next mock draft (which will be live tomorrow).
I could still see Buxton being a possibility for the Astros, as he’s too good to pass. But unlike the last few years, there really isn’t a Strasburg or Harper who are clear-cut #1s.
Zunino could be mentioned, but I don’t think they’ll go for him. Teams don’t draft for need, but they have a young catcher and the pitching depth is much weaker in their system.