I think that the draft, and who the Astros decide to take first, is the foremost concern for most Astros fans at this point in time. I see just four players with a real chance of going first overall, sure there maybe a few guys out there with a really outside chance like Correa or Zimmer, but I can't see anyone outside of Appel, Buxton, Gausman or Zunino being the pick. I just wanted to break down my thoughts on each of them as a guy who really enjoys prospecting and follows the minors extensively.
Mark Appel, P, Stanford- Appel has long been a favorite for the top selection, and in his junior season at Stanford he is showing why. For awhile he had been a guy whose stuff did not match his numbers, but that is no longer the case. His ERA is below 3.00 this season and his peripherals are outstanding, K'ing over a batter per inning and allowing only around a .200 batting average against him with a low walk rate. His scouting reports are very encouraging. He's a big, athletic pitcher with smooth mechanics that cause little worry, and he has great mid-90s heat that he holds late into games. His breaking ball is a plus pitch or better and should generate plenty of swings and misses. In addition to his heater and breaking pitch, he also shows feel for an above-average changeup. He is beginning to look more and more like a great #2 starter who could move into #1 range with some more polish. I had been a detractor after his early season struggles, but as it stands right now I am a very big fan of Appel.
Byron Buxton, OF, Georgia HS- Buxton is the sexiest pick to be sure. He's an absolute toolbox, sporting 80 speed and above-average to plus raw power. Opinions differ on his pure hitting ability, but his speed should allow him to hit for a solid average at the least. As is the case with any HS prospect, there is a lot of risk involved with spending such a high pick on a guy like Buxton. I certainly like him, but I'm not sure how I expect him to fare. Justin Upton comparisons are starting to pop up a lot on here and other sites, but I don't think he's that kind of player, Upton's power potential is far greater than Buxton's. My impression of Buxton is that he's more similar to Carl Crawford or current Angels prospect Mike Trout. I see a valuable player here, but there is a wide range of outcomes possible for BB.
Kevin Gausman, P, LSU- The other possibility for a pitcher at 1.1, Gausman's statistical performance this year has been stellar. He has a monstrous K rate and sparkling ERA, both of which trump Mark Appel's. That said, I prefer Appel to Gausman and I don't think it's especially close. Gausman overpowers college hitters with his high-90s heat, and only mixes in secondary offerings to keep opposing players on their toes. Appel's stuff to me projects as a more complete arsenal and as a result I think he will fare better as a pro. If Gausman's offspeed stuff could take a step forward his velocity would make him a higher upside option, but you can't bank on a guy's breaking ball suddenly turning into a plus pitch. Gausman could well be an ace, but he could just as easily be a #3 because of his lack of depth as a pitcher. He needs a lot more polish than Appel does to reach that level, too.
Mike Zunino, C, Florida- College baseball's most dangerous hitter, Zunino has been a star as the gator backstop for multiple seasons. He's well regarded for his defense behind the plate and he sports plus power. He is probably the safest pick of these four players and shouldn't have much trouble reaching the majors in under two years. He hits for a high average in college ball but his swing probably won't allow him to do so in the pros. A dream outcome would be Mike Napoli circa 2011 (with a reasonable BABIP) and gold glove caliber defense, and that is a very valuable player.
If I had to rank these players, it would go Appel first, then Buxton just behind followed by Zunino and Gausman a solid bit behind him. If I had to pick a favorite outside of these four, it would be Puerto Rican SS Carlos Correa.