Astros Draft Preview - Part Four

There's a little over a week left until draft day and baseball websites are in full swing trying to figure out who goes where.  So it seems like a good time for another Astros Draft Preview!

We've talked a lot about what the Brewers did as a way of indirectly figuring out what Bobby Heck might do.  But that doesn't really account for what he might do a bit differently now that he's king of his own scouting department.  So here we'll try to draw some conclusions from a very small sample size:  just the 2008 Astros draft.  We'll also look at what the Astros management and scouting staff has said to determine an overall draft philosophy.

"We're gearing toward complete players. We do play in the National League -- we want players who can handle all facets of game. Not one and two dimensional-type players." -- Scouting director Bobby Heck

Every team says they're going to take the best player available, and every year some team gets criticized by the baseball media for appearing to draft based on organizational needs.  The real question is how do teams define "best player available"?  I actually think that organizational needs can and should be a factor in making draft day decisions, though not necessarily in the way people usually talk about. 

A team with a thriving farm system (like the Rangers) and depth at almost every position should have a different strategy than if they had a farm system that is largely considered the worst in baseball (like your hometown Houston Astros).  The better-stocked team can place a higher value on players with only one exceptional skill (a power bat, for instance) because they have a safety net in case that tool doesn't pan out...they've got other guys in their system.  For a thinly-stocked team like the Astros, however, you can't always count on someone else picking up the slack.  Their safety net has to be somewhere else.  They have to put more value on guys who can do more than one thing so that a player whose bat fails to completely live up to expectations, for instance, can still be valuable with the glove.  The guy has to be his own backup plan.   

The quote that begins this segment also pretty much explains last year's pick of Jason Castro when everybody else (i.e. Jim Callis, etc.) was screaming that we should have taken U. of South Carolina 1B Justin Smoak with the tenth pick in the draft.  The quote shows that Bobby Heck was basically refuting the idea that we would take Smoak almost a month before the draft rolled around.  Given Heck's criteria, let's take a deeper look at both Smoak and Castro:

Smoak was highly lauded (and rightfully so) for his mighty power bat.  Here's what his profile said about Smoak's power potential:

"He's got plus power now and in the future, from both sides of the plate. He could be a 35-40 homer guy at the big-league level."

But there are more tools than just power, and some of them are much harder to develop as you move through the's what said about those other tools (my notes in brackets):

  • Running speed:  "below average"
  • Baserunning Skills: "not quite a baseclogger" [AA: damning with faint praise]
  • Arm Strength:  "good enough for first base"
  • Fielding:  "he's not bad around the base" [AA: notice that they couldn't bring themselves to actually call it average or good]
  • Range: "The lack of footspeed and heavy lower half provide very limited range."

They went on to say that, defensively, he'd be limited to first base.  Even then, the reviews of his fielding prowess weren't all that great and many have speculated that Smoak is going to be limited to DH.  This probably does not fall into Bobby Heck's definition of a "complete player".  In fact, it seems like the very definition of the "one and two dimensional-type players" that they don't want to bring into the system, particularly since we're a National League team.

Now how about Castro?  His power, according to, was average with a chance to be plus, and he's got "more speed than most catchers" (which isn't fast, but at least he's above-average for his position).  When it comes to baserunning, he's got the "ability to take the extra base."  Probably the most important thing, though, is Castro's defense.  He's got average arm strength, but his pop times (the time from catching the ball to delivering it to second base) are trending faster.  He does a "terrific job framing the ball," and he's good at blocking pitches in the dirt. 

In short, Castro has "legitimate power, some hittability and an improving set of defensive skills."  This was enough for the scouting report to say that he's got the chance to be a good all-around catcher.  The only weakness they list is that he sometimes has trouble dealing with the changeup.  And we also know from his summer in the Cape Cod league that, if all else fails, Castro can hold up defensively at first base, since his teammate Buster Posey got the majority of starts at catcher.

So when compared side-by-side, it looks like Castro fits the Astros' stated draft philosophy far better than Smoak does. 

What does this mean for this year's draft?  I went through a bunch of names and identified a handful of "one-trick ponies" that various sources have suggested could go in the first round.  These are some guys that Bobby Heck is not likely to take in this year's draft because they basically have a single tool (albeit an exceptional one):         

  • Jiovanni Mier - A high-school shortstop with exceptional defense, but questions still linger about his bat
  • Rich Poythress - Tremendous raw power, but defensively limited to first base (Justin Smoak part 2?)
  • Angelo Songco - A pure power player whose lack of speed essentially limits his effectiveness on the bases and in left field..maybe you get another Carlos Lee, but can you risk the possibility that his bat doesn't translate?