I was asked awhile ago by David to do some articles for this year's draft, as I did last season, but I've been very busy this entire season and haven't had time to do any writing for the site. Let me publicly apologize to the other writers on the site for not picking up my end of the slack.
Thankfully, David, native_astro, and Subber10 have picked up the slack marvelously with a nice selection of well-researched draft profiles.
Even though I have not had time to watch all of the Astros games or do the extensive homework necessary to write about the draft for the site, I've still been following the team and casually keeping an eye on the draft. So I'd like to quickly add one article to their high-quality set with my own paltry shadow draft board for the Astros.
I feel that this is a very deep draft class, and there will be many excellent prospects available when the Astros pick at 11. Chances are it will be difficult to point to one player and say with any kind of certainty, "that's the best player available!" Only if one of the top-tier talents like Anthony Rendon, Bubba Starling, or Trevor Bauer somehow drop will it be that easy.
So I think it's possible to weight things slightly in favor of "need" without necessarily sacrificing the "best player available" mentality. As such, this will be my shadow draft board for the Astros. It's not an absolute ordering by talent, but a board where players who have roughly similar talent are arranged in a way most suited to the organization's needs. For instance, I think Anthony Rendon is clearly the best player available, so I'm listing him first. But I think Taylor Jungmann and Archie Bradley have similar value--just in different ways which are hard to compare--so I lean toward Jungmann as a guy I think better fits the organization's needs.
My idea of the organization's needs is that the Astros already have many raw, projectable players in the system from the last few drafts and from trades and international free agency. There are plenty of young guys with tools in the farm with the potential to put things together over the next few years. Most of them will bust. The hope is that a few will succeed, and at least one spectacularly.
What the system lacks is not actually upside, contrary to popular belief. Mike Foltynewicz could be a frontline starting pitcher. Ariel Ovando could be a middle of the order, superstar hitter. Delino DeShields could be a gold glove, all-star second baseman. None of those are likely results, but these prospects, and others like them, would not have been brought into the organization if they didn't have big upside.
On the flip side, the Astros have very few polished, high-floor prospects in the upper minors--guys who could be legitimate contributors and not just bench/bullpen players. This is especially true when it comes to starting pitching and power bats. As the young, toolsy players develop, they will need solid, safe players to join them at about the same time they begin to reach the majors. This draft class is very deep in college pitching, and its timing is perfect in that regard.
So my methodology for determining the "need" part of the equation is simply this: Get us some starting pitchers or power bats who will be ready for the majors sooner rather than later. Talent is still king, but when it is difficult to determine whose talent is greater, need comes into play.
Without further ado, here are the top ten draft prospects for my Astros shadow draft board.1. Anthony Rendon, 3B. Draft analysts have expressed concern over Rendon's injuries and his lack of ability to play the field this season. Nonsense, I say--he's still far and away the best hitter in the draft. Even if he were going to be a career DH, he would still be in the conversation for the top slot. That's how good his bat is. As a guy who will almost certainly be able to play quality defense at third base, he's above every other player on the board.
2. Trevor Bauer, RHP. I couldn't be more sold on Bauer. I think he's more likely to become a staff ace than any non-MLB pitcher, amateur or pro, since Strasburg in 2009. Of course, Strasburg went and bought himself Tommy John surgery, but hopefully a similar problem won't afflict Bauer. I have no concerns about Bauer's mechanics. They're unorthodox, but clean and have no warning flags. His stuff is excellent, he has good command, and fantastic mound presence. Top it all off with by far the best statistical performance of any college pitcher in this year's draft, and you have a safe bet to become a top of the rotation arm. If he were somehow to drop, the Astros would have to pick him.
3. Bubba Starling, OF. In my mind, there's a clear separation between Rendon, Bauer, and the rest of this draft class. Starling is a big drop from Bauer simply because his floor is low. Still, his ceiling is comparable, if not even higher than Rendon's or Bauer's. Will he be a bust, or a superstar? I'm leaning toward the latter.
4. Dylan Bundy, RHP. Although I'd rather the club steer clear of prep arms in comparable-talent situations, Bundy's ability cannot be denied. He's better than last season's Jameson Taillon, who is one of the best prospects in baseball today. The only real concern with Bundy is his size, and size is overrated. This is a polished, high-velocity arm with great off-speed stuff and great command. His floor is about as high as you can get as a high school pitcher, and his ceiling is as a true no. 1 starter.
5. George Springer, OF. I love his swing. There are some questions about his ability to hit for average, but I think his eye and bat control will compensate for them. I see a guy who is going to play center field, or at worst, above-average defense in a corner with thirty-homer power and a solid to above-average on-base percentage. Wouldn't it be nice to draft a middle of the order bat for a change?
6. Josh Bell, OF. I've heard some say Bell could be this year's Jason Heyward. After watching some video of him, I can't argue with that assessment. He has the tools, especially power, and a fantastic eye at the plate. He could emerge as a top, top prospect very quickly, and I think he has been underrated on draft boards because he will be limited to an outfield corner as a pro. He does have big questions regarding his signability, but if he can be persuaded to come to Houston, he would be a strong pick at 11. I liken him to my favorite prospect from last year's draft, Josh Sale, except Bell should play better defense in a corner.
7. Gerrit Cole, RHP. He's in the conversation for the top pick, but I'm not as high on him as some. Whereas guys like Jungmann and Bauer tend to pitch above their stuff (which is already quite good), Cole pitches below his. I'm drawn toward pitchers with that old baseball cliche--"bulldog mentality". I'm also attracted toward guys who straight-up produce statistically, especially in college. Cole's performance has been fine, but it hasn't lived up to his stuff, so I wonder if something about his pitchability or command is holding him back, and that wariness dropped him down my draft board. Still, his stuff is fantastic and cannot be ignored. Dropping him any farther than this would be insane, and I'm already going against consensus.
8. Taylor Jungmann, RHP. Jungmann is a prospect who has analysts and scouts divided on his potential. It comes down to the old question of how much you value that elusive pitchability. I value it pretty highly, so I have Jungmann consequently high on my draft board. I wouldn't be disappointed at all if the Astros selected him at 11, even if they pass up Springer or Bell to do it. If it were me picking, he would simply be a fallback option, but a good one. He will be in the majors very quickly, and I definitely think he will pitch better than his already above-average stuff to settle into a no. 2 role in the majors.
9. Jed Bradley, LHP. I debated which Bradley (there is no relation between the two) to put in this slot, but the elder edged out the high school power arm. Even though Archie Bradley might edge out Jed Bradley in talent, depending on how much weight you place on ceiling, I feel that Jed fits the organization's philosophy and needs significantly better. He's a lefty. He's close to MLB-ready. He's big, athletic, attacks hitters, uses a good fastball/changeup combo. I see him as a no. 2 or no. 3 guy who will be in the big leagues very quickly. If we have to wait five years for an arm like Bradley to develop, will Lyles and Norris even still be with the organization when he finally emerges? Of course, you take the BPA--but Jed's floor is significantly higher, so I think there's at least an argument that he's the stronger player than Archie. Where you place them depends on your priorities.
10. Archie Bradley, RHP. He's a stereotypical high school power arm with fantastic stuff. I can easily see a situation where he emerges as a top prospect like the Cardinals' Shelby Miller very quickly. But I'm a little concerned about his floor. He's not nearly as polished as last year's Taillon or this year's Bundy. I'll reluctantly admit that he's the best player available here, though, and despite my tendency toward filling the organization's lacks, you'd have to pick him if no similarly-talented players were on the board at this point.