Earlier this week, David Coleman told you why the Astros should pick Colin Moran first overall. He made a compelling case, as others have done for other 1-1 candidates this week. The only problem? They're all wrong.
It's easy to look at the Houston Astros and identify the major organizational problem: A general lack of high-end starting pitching, both at the major league level and in the farm system. Sure, there are some players who may - eventually - end up contributing ace upside, but those players all have a fairly long path left ahead of them.
So it's natural to look at the draft as the way to build up those pitching prospects, right? Not so fast.
In 2005, long before he was made the General Manager of the Houston Astros, the St. Louis Cardinals promoted Jeff Luhnow to Vice President of Player Procurement, placing him in charge of their amateur, pro, and international scouting departments. He was tasked with maintaining a competitive team through the draft, trades, and free agency. So how did he approach the draft from that position? Let's take a look at the first two rounds of each of his first three drafts.
In 2005, the Cardinals handed six picks to Luhnow, four in the first round and two in the second. The results of those picks and their career WAR to date:
1 (28). Colby Rasmus, CF, Russell County HS (Ala.): 9.3 WAR
1 (30). Tyler Greene, SS, Georgia Tech: -0.6 WAR
1s (43). Mark McCormick, RHP, Baylor: Never made the majors
1s (46). Tyler Herron, RHP, Wellington Community HS (Fla.): Never made the majors
2 (70). Josh Wilson, RHP, Whitehouse HS (TX): Never made the majors
2 (78). Nicholas Webber, RHP, U. of Central Missouri: Never made the majors
Six picks, four pitchers, none of whom ever made the major leagues.
In 2006, the Cardinals had two first round picks and two second round picks. Those results:
1 (30). Adam Ottavino, RHP, Northeastern University: 1.2 WAR
1s (42). Chris Perez, RHP, University of Miami: 4.7 WAR
2 (54). Brad Furnish, LHP, Texas Christian: Never made the majors
2 (74). Jon Jay, CF, University of Miami: 7.1 WAR
Four picks, three pitchers. Two made the majors, but only one made any strong contribution. That contribution came out of the bullpen.
In 2007, the Cardinals had four more picks:
1 (18). Pete Kozma, SS, Owasso HS (Okla.): 1.6 WAR
1s (36). Clayton Mortensen, RHP, Gonzaga: -0.3 WAR
2 (71). David Kopp, RHP, Clemson: Never made the majors
2 (82). Jess Todd, RHP, University of Arkansas: -0.4 WAR
Four picks, again three pitchers. One never made the majors; the other two were both worth less than replacement players.
With the exception of Perez, a relief prospect from day one, Luhnow was repeatedly punished by taking pitchers - high school or college - in the first few rounds.
Meanwhile, across those first three drafts, four position players were taken. They were all up-the-middle players, and they all made the majors. Though Greene has been worth less than replacement level, the other three have been worth at least a win each. Two of them have been worth considerably more.
When it came time for Luhnow to build the Astros through the draft, he first turned to an up-the-middle player: Prep shortstop Carlos Correa.
Now look at the five candidates for the 1-1 pick:
3B Colin Moran, North Carolina
3B Kris Bryant, San Diego
RHP Mark Appel, Stanford
RHP Jonathan Gray, Oklahoma
CF Clint Frazier, Loganville HS (Ga.)
Only one of those players fits the bill of an up-the-middle talent, and that's Clint Frazier. Forget whether or not Bryant and/or Moran can stick at third base; third base isn't a premium position. The very fact that there are even questions about whether either of them can stick at third base means that their value is already limited. Not so with Frazier.
There is no point in reinventing the wheel. Luhnow already knows all he needs to know: Teams are best built up the middle.
Maybe you're thinking, But no Appel/Gray-type aces were available in any of Luhnow's first three drafts in St. Louis. Certainly, that's a point worth making. In 2007, Aaron Poreda, Nick Schmidt, and Joseph Savery had their issues. Savery had recently recovered from surgery, and Schmidt and Poreda were fast risers.
But there was one year when Luhnow chose an up-the-middle player over a potential ace: 2012, when he drafted Carlos Correa ahead of both Kevin Gausman and Mark Appel, the very same player who tops the list of potential aces in this draft class.
Frazier is young enough to be included in the Correa/Lance McCullers/Rio Ruiz wave of players who look like such a major part of putting the Astros over the top. The other four players will likely be into their arbitration years by the time those players come up, and while names like George Springer, Jonathan Singleton, and Domingo Santana will filter up through the coming years, they'll likely spend their pre-arbitration years on teams still fighting to be competitive; not on ones that are playing deep into the postseason.
Why add another marquee player who will be moving his way into being too pricey once those postseason years come?
Frazier is a five-tool player who already holds his high school's records for runs scored in a season, RBI in a season (and career), and home runs in a season. He's almost doubled the school's career home run mark. No big deal, right? It's a high school record. A high school record that just happened to have once been held by Brandon Moss, who hit .291/.358/.596 last season, with 21 home runs for the Oakland Athletics.
Simply put, Frazier is the only five-tool player in this conversation. Despite being new to center field, he's taken to it quickly, and has steadily gotten better as the season has progressed. He has elite bat speed, combined with fewer contact questions than Moran or Bryant. He plays an up-the-middle position, which Jeff Luhnow himself has learned has the most certainty in the draft. He's a hard-nosed, dogged competitor, with a sharp inner fire that has been commented on a thousand times. He has all the makings of a future star, and one that will be rising - not fading - as the team itself rises.
You do not want to miss on a prospect of this caliber.
That's why the Houston Astros should take him with the top overall pick on Thursday.