HOUSTON - J.D. Martinez, a 20th round draft pick, may be a poster boy for Astros' late round draft picks. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
The late rounds of the draft are for rolling the dice. Most of the late round draftees will not have long careers in the minors, much less the majors. But teams hope that they will find that diamond in the rough who can play in the big leagues. J.D. Martinez, drafted in the 20 th round, is the Astros' starting left fielder and provides one of those uncommon success stories.
The position breakdown for rounds 16 - 40: RHP 9; LHP 3; 3d base 2; middle infield 4; first base 1; outfield 3; catcher 3. That's almost an even split between pitchers and position players. 19 of the 25 draftees in the late rounds are college players, which isn't surprising, given the slot amounts and the leverage held by good high school prospects. The Astros also picked two blue chip high school players, C.J. Hinojosa and Mitchell Traver, who fell down the draft board due to signability issues. I'll discuss these two picks last.
I will highlight a few of the picks that seemed interesting to me. I'm not saying these are necessarily the best or most promising selections; frankly, I don't know enough about all of the late round picks to make that statement. But they caught my attention.
Dan Gulbransen, Outfielder, Jacksonville University
The 16th round pick was in the second tier of notable college hitters. A short stocky outfielder with a lefthanded swing, Gulbransen batted 3d in the Jacksonville lineup. Gulbransen is a good fielder, but he may not have the range to play CF. Like many outfield prospects, his ceiling as a starter vs. 4th outfielder may depend on whether he can play CF. He is not a speedburner, but is considered a good base runner. He has a short line drive stroke and his HR power is to RF. His 2012 slash line: .324, .414, .478. He has good on base skills and doesn't strike out much---which helps to compensate for his lack of big HR power. Gulbransen is said to have an "off the charts" work ethic, and scouts seem to think that his excellent makeup may allow him to move up through the minor leagues faster than you would predict from his talent level. Gulbransen reminds me of Matt Murton, a LH outfielder from the Cubs' system, who was a favorite prospect among the sabermetric crowd. If Gulbransen reaches the majors, most likely he would be a 4th outfielder or platoon bat. However,if we squint hard, maybe his makeup and determination gives him a chance to be a Darin Erstad type outfielder as a ceiling.
Aaron West, RHP, University of Washington
Aaron West is a good value pick in the 17th round. His coach had predicted he would be drafted in the first ten rounds. West is the ace of a PAC-12 team and pitched very well against top competition. He has a low 90's fastball, a slider, a change up, and pitchability. He also has an interesting story which leads you to believe that he has the ability to overcome adversity.
During West's sophomore season, he underwent surgery that drilled two holes in his elbow in order promote regeneration of healthy cartilege. During the tough rehab, West sometimes wondered whether he would ever pitch again. He was out over a year before he pitched to a batter again. The process of coming back from the injury led to a poor ERA last year. But his coaches worked with him on changing his slider grip to achieve more movement on the pitch, and he perfected the new slider in a summer league last year. In 2012, he typically threw his slider 20 - 25 times per game---to good effect.
In 2012, West posted a 2.53 ERA, and allowed only 89 hits in 96 innings pitched. His main weapon is precision command. He throws strikes as shown by his 65 to 18 strike out to walk ratio. His coach says:
"He's going out there on Friday and faced everybody's No. 1, and at times has not gotten the offense some of our other guys have gotten on Saturdays and Sundays. He's never given in. He's never done anything but compete at the highest level. "You always assume at some point you are going to see the air go out of the balloon for a guy on one start. But he's just been an absolute gamer every time out."
West has the potential to be an adequate back of the rotation starting pitcher. His ceiling probably is a control pitcher like Mike Leak or Joe Saunders. If his elbow continues to be a concern, he could be moved to the bullpen.
Austin Elkins, 2b Dallas Baptist University
One of the comments in the open thread yesterday pointed out that Austin Elkins, the 19th round pick, is the second Astros' draftee from Dallas Baptist---the other is Ben Zobrist. The implication that Elkins might develop into another Zobrist seems like a huge stretch, but perhaps that's not as outlandish a comparison as it seems on the surface. Elkins has some of the same characteristics that were attributed to Zobrist when he was in the Astros' system. Zobrist had the reputation as one of the best on-base players in the organization, and Elkins also has good on base skills. I wouldn't be surprised if this selection was influenced by the analytics group.
Elkins is a 5-11 185 lb. switch hitter who is a reliable fielder and has tools that "play up" because of his baseball intelligence. His batting line is appealing, .344, .427, .602 with 9 HRs in 221 at bats, but it's hard to evaluate, given the level of small college competition. But he hit well in the Cape Cod league last year (an OBP over .370), which should allay some of the questions about playing against better competition. Elkins' favorite player is Derek Jeter.
Notwithstanding the Zobrist comparison, Elkins most likely profiles as a utility infielder at the major league level, similar to a player like Darwin Barney or Marwin Gonzalez. If he can develop into a starter, his ceiling might be along the lines of Steve Lombardozzi.
Michael Martinez, 1st base Florida International University
He reminds me of another Martinez---J.D. Martinez. Both are late round picks coming out of less well known Florida colleges. And both are known for their hit tool. Michael Martinez holds many of the FIU hitting records. A walk on, Martinez is the only FIU player to make all conference (Sunbelt) in all four years He is the all time FIU career leader in hits, total bases, and RBIs. His 2012 slash line is impressive: .383, .482, .577, and his stats indicate good plate discipline. He had a 1.4 walk to strike out ratio in 2012.
Catchers--The Astros drafted two catchers with special connections. M.P. Cokinos (drafted in Rd. 31), 6-1, 200 lbs, is a former Houston Memorial H.S. player, played with University of Houston, and later transferred to St. Mary's. He was all conference catcher as a freshman at UH and batted .333 with 8 HRs for St. Mary's. Jimmy Sinatro, drafted in Round 35, is the son of Astros' catching coordinator (and a former catcher for the Astros) Matt Sinatro.
Pitchers-- Just down the road from me, RHP Travis Ballew was the ace of Texas State University. He was picked in the 23d round and could prove to be a similar pitcher to West. Ballew didn't pitch in the PAC-12, but he has a similar sub-3 ERA and excellent K:BB ratio. Ballew uses four pitches effectively. The famous 20th round slot went to Kent State pitcher Michael Clark. Clark has at least his moment of fame, pitching the last three innings of the second longest game in NCAA tournament history last week. He induced an inning ending DP ball to end one bases loaded threat before getting a clutch strike out with 2 on and 2 out in the final 21st inning. You might want to take a look at the photo of Clark in that game.
You can see the complete list of draftees in the Day 3 open thread here.
Hinojosa and Traver
These are the two blue chippers, who might have been first rounders without the signability issues. Without additional information, it is probable that Hinojosa and Traver will be attending UT and TCU, respectively. Both have strong commitments to the schools, and the slot limit of $100 K likely will prevent the Astros from making an attractive offer to them. If additional money in the Astros' bonus pool becomes available, perhaps because one of the other presumed above-slot signings does not accept an Astros' offer, the Astros might be able to make offers that appeal to one of the two prospects. In addition, the Astros also may be hoping that the local products will find playing for the hometown team particularly attractive. (On twitter, Hinojosa admitted to some excitement, following the draft selection, when he saw the Astros' game come on the television in the restaurant that evening.) In discussing the Traver signing, Heck said he wanted to protect the "home turf," in the event that he prospect decides to play pro ball.
C.J. Hinojosa, playing fort Houston Klein Collins, is one of the top high school shortstops, and fell out of the first round due to an injury (resulting in surgery on his non-throwing shoulder) and his commitment to UT. Hinojosa has good hands, a fine arm, and impressive footwork, which should allow him to stay at shortstop. He projects to have a good bat, with at least some power. You can see him swing the bat here. Luhnow says that the Astros like him a lot, and said that the Astros would pursue him if an opportunity arises to "come close" to meeting what he feels he needs to forego his commitment to UT. Before the draft, Hinojosa's father said that he would require a Top 10 bonus, and prediicted that the chance of signing a pro contract is less than 20%.
Mtchell Traver is a 6-7 240 lb. RHP at Houston Christian High School. He had been projected as a late first round or supplemental round pick. However, he may have been a victim of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the perceptions that he would attend TCU. Traver's fastball sits at 92 - 95 mph. He also throws a knuckle curve. Traver's height and build creates an intimidating presence against batters. He is considered somewhat raw, and his lack of decception may be the reason that he has not dominated hitters to an extent consistent with his velocity. He is an above average student and probably will attend TCU.