This is the second part of my Astros Draft Preview. After the jump, I'll briefly discuss the "method" I am using to draw conclusions about Astros' Scouting Director Bobby Heck's draft preferences and give the first "conclusion" (although if you followed the draft last year, it will probably seem obvious).
Bobby Heck's Draft Tendencies - Methodology
Every team spouts the same philosophy for their draft picks - "best player available"-and the Astros under Scouting Director Bobby Heck are no exception to the rule. Saying you're going to take the "best player available" is useful, though. It's the hardest philosophy for fans to argue with, and it keeps the organization's choices hidden from other teams, which can give the ballclub a bit of an advantage, both in pre-draft scouting and on draft day.
That being said, we actually get to see scouting directors' philosophies in action on draft day. Here, I will try to figure out what, if any, tendencies Bobby Heck has. We'll look back at the draft pattern of the Milwaukee Brewers during his tenure there (from 1999-2007) as their Supervisor of East Coast scouting. It won't be a perfect picture of how Heck would draft. Heck wasn't Milwaukee's top scouting guy (that would be the Mariners new GM Jack Zduriencik), and their organization was probably operating within different constraints.
But he was there during the Brewers' rise from the 30th ranked farm system by baseballamerica.com (sound familiar?) in 2001 to the #1 farm system in 2004, and staying in the top third of all teams throughout the rest of his stay there. It's highly likely that some of the Brewers' draft philosophy was either guided by Heck or rubbed off on Heck during his long tenure, so it could in fact be quite a useful guide.
Willing to "Overdraft"
Right off the bat, we can see perhaps one similarity between the 2007 Brew Crew and the 2008 Astros draft: a willingness to completely ignore the talking heads and baseball scouting websites to pick a player the scouting team has identified as both talented and a good fit for the organization (not that I think any team really gives those other sources any weight in their draft day decisions).
In 2007, the Brewers took Matt LaPorta with their seventh pick, a player that most had ranked as late first-round talent. In 2008, the Astros, also with a top 10 pick, took Jason Castro, a player that, like LaPorta, was predicted to go in the late first-round.
The 2008 Astros even went one step further, drafting Jordan Lyles with their very next pick. The move was roundly ridiculed on draft day as BaseballAmerica.com ("BA") didn't even list him among their top 200 draft prospects (BA now ranks him as the Astros' #6 prospect). Jim Callis said about Lyles:
We thought he was going in rounds 6-10 also, and I think we were closer to the consensus than the Astros were.
So one thing that Heck might have brought to the ballclub is a willingness to draft players that others would see as a "reach." But keep in mind that the mock drafts and player rankings floating around the internet are often a function of the public statements of scouts, crosscheckers, and scouting directors rather than multiple views by expert scouts. And if a few teams manage to keep their excitement about a guy under their hats, the national baseball media isn't going to be able to factor those into their mock drafts, which could easily lead to the perception of an overdraft.
This was particularly true in Lyles's case. He reportedly had a private workout with the Astros prior to the draft in which he cranked his fastball up into the 93-94 mph range and struck out a number of the other draft prospects working out at the same time. The Astros were able to keep this information out of the spotlight, which is probably why sites like BA didn't think he was such a hot pick (although you've gotta wonder how an athletic high schooler with command of a fastball, a curveball, and a changeup--as BA's scouting report noted prior to the draft--falls through the cracks).
Moreover, we ought not forget that scouting and drafting is still an imperfect science. Jim Callis, in a recent chat, suggested that if you took the top 32 names from all 30 teams, you'd find that there'd be close to 100 different guys. Scouts are making educated guesses (often backed up by decades of experience, but guesses nonetheless), so it shouldn't be a surprise that well-respected baseball minds will differ when it comes to predicting the future value of any given set of players.
And while we're on the topic of overdrafting, here's an interesting take from the Padres' Paul DePodesta:
"One of the biggest complaints about most drafts is that certain players were "overdrafted". I'll be honest - I don't really believe in that concept. First of all, our knowledge in terms of where players will be selected is imperfect to put it mildly. Remember, it only takes one team out of thirty to step up and take a player, and then he's gone. There are no do-overs. We may really like a guy, think we can get him in the 4th round or so, and then he's gone in the second. It happens all the time. Therefore, I believe that if you like the player and want him in your system, just take him. My litmus test is how I'm going to react when I hear another team call the player's name: a) a grimace with a head bob, b) an audible "Gah!" with a twist of the neck, or c) nauseous. If (c), then take the player if he's available."
I'd be willing to bet that Heck and his crew have a similar philosophy.
Next Up: Bobby Heck and Pitching Preferences!