Last year, I drew Clint Frazier in our "pounding the table" series. This year, I was faster. Much faster. In fact, I skipped ahead in the line to grab my favorite player in this draft, and the guy about whom I've been crowing for thirteen months, Alex Jackson.
Though I like Jackson as a prospect far more than I liked Frazier last year, much of that article could be quoted verbatim for this article. So that's exactly what I'll do.
With the exception of (Chris) Perez, a relief prospect from day one, Luhnow was repeatedly punished by taking pitchers - high school or college - in the first few rounds (with the Cardinals.)
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 (Tyler) 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.
Of course, what happened was that the Astros instead signed Mark Appel, and there's been a great deal of hand-wringing over his slow start ever since. Oh, Jeff, when will you learn?
Here are the top five picks from Baseball America's Top 100 Draft Prospects list:
- LHP Brady Aiken
- RHP Tyler Kolek
- LHP Carlos Rodon
- C Alex Jackson
- LHP Kyle Freeland
Casting aside any Nick Gordon rumors (because come on), this time around there is still just one up-the-middle player in the conversation: Jackson. The problem? Many people question Jackson's ability to stay behind the plate. Commence hand-wringing.
Of course, a player potentially moving off of catcher isn't the worst thing in the world. Bryce Harper did it. Jayson Werth did it. Wil Myers did it... sort of (he actually played catcher the least as a prep player, but it was still very much in his bag of tricks.) To believe in Jackson as 1-1, you have to A) believe that he has at least a decent chance of sticking at catcher, or B) believe that the bat is enough, even if he doesn't.
Well, how about C) All of the above?
Here's the report on Jackson from the 2013 Perfect Game National Showcase:
Outstanding athletic build, unique blend of strength and explosive looseness. Right handed hitter, gets coiled and moves into contact, calm load and approach, very aggressive swing with plus/plus bat speed, easy over the fence power, ball explodes off the barrel, very high ceiling offensive tools. 6.83 runner, arm strength stands out both in the outfield and behind the plate, very solid mechanics behind the plate, quick feet and quick exchange, can show either elite arm strength or elite pop times. Highest level right field tools on defense should he end up there, also has experience at third base.
Solid mechanics behind the plate. Quick feet and quick exchange. Elite pop times (1.75, or 98th percentile, by the way). 91 mph from behind the plate (97th percentile).
Remind me again why we're talking about a position change with this guy? Because he'd be even better in right field? Because people are worried that he may one day be too bulky (by the way, not everyone thinks so)? That's like not drafting Carlos Correa because you're worried he might eventually have to move to third base.
Meanwhile, there are very few questions surrounding the bat. Quotes like "some of the best raw power in the draft" aren't easy to come by, and any questions should be answered by listening to this clip of Alex Jackson's Area Code Games BP session.
That sound gives me goosebumps. It's like the ball's being shot out of a cannon.
Go ahead, watch the video. You know you want to.
Last year, the Cubs drafted Kris Bryant second overall. Now, there are people who legitimately think that he has already outgrown the minors. Meanwhile, Mark Appel is proving the TINSTAAPP rule to some otherwise completely-rational people.
You could make a case for either Jackson or Braxton Davidson as the best high school bat in this class, both for his hit tool and his power tool. Jackson adds a ton of other great baseball tools on top of it. In short, he stands a good chance of being an elite hitter, regardless of position.
The Astros have a lot of pitching talent coming down the pipeline, but you have to squint a bit to see a legitimate game-changing, middle-of-the-order bat. Alex Jackson is that bat. And the time to draft him is right now.