A few years ago, our own Anthony Boyer compiled a list of “Very Luhnow” draft prospects based on college statistics to identify just what players the Astros G.M. would be interested in every June. It was an exercise to almost reverse-engineer the Astros draft process: Which college players are undervalued by teams? What do their underlying peripheral statistics say that they can do at the professional level, instead of their tools?
Anthony’s exercise drew the best K% and BB% for both pitchers and hitters to identify these players and was a well-received entry into our draft content every year. Though we don’t have that exact post for 2017 draft prospects, I’ll be identifying a few college players based on tools - or one tool, to be exact.
Luhnow’s draft history has been marked by high bonus pools and heavy investment in the first night of the draft. This necessitates under-slot deals later on, usually college players. Many of these players have been noticed and drafted due to one plus-to-elite tool they possess. They’re not always flashy, high-upside players, and as you’ll see below, many haven’t found real success in pro ball. Additionally, we can be certain that other scouting departments and general managers look for similar players in the draft.
Yesterday, we posted a few collegiate draftees who fit this “one-tool” mold for the Astros. Today, we’ll look at current draft-eligible players who have that same skill set and could be in play for the Astros at some point next week.
Kevin Merrell, SS, South Florida
Projected Draft Range: Rounds 2-4
Merrell has shown a fantastic ability to get on-base at an up-the-middle position at USF. This doesn’t exactly make him undervalued, but he has the best foot speed in the draft class and stole 56 bases in college. He would be a great selection if available around the Astros second, third or fourth picks.
Jeren Kendall, OF, Vanderbilt
Tool: All-around athleticism
Projected Draft Range: Round 1, Picks 10-20
Kendall is a known quantity and not exactly undervalued. Or is he? Kendall’s hit tool is getting some scary-low future grades for a starting outfielder. But his total athleticism will make him playable in centerfield and a great base-runner if the bat doesn’t play. Any team that thinks they can fix Kendall’s swing, or at least make him a passable hitter for average, will have an exciting player on their hands who can affect the game in a ton of different ways.
Drew Lugbauer, C/1B, Michigan
Tool: Raw Power
Projected Draft Range: Rounds 7-8
Lugbauer is a pretty massive dude who hit 12 homers and slugged .518 for the Wolverines this season. He’s not an elite prospect due to his lack of defensive projection and probably can’t stay behind the plate, but the raw power could be something to dream on.
Luis Alvarado, OF, Nebraska
Projected Draft Range: Rounds 5-6
Alvarado has a great defensive profile, highlighted with one of the best outfield arms in the draft. His bat is questionable so he’s the polar opposite of Lugbauer’s profile, but would not be unlike many glove-first outfielders Luhnow has drafted.
Keston Hiura, 2B, UC-Irvine
Tool: Hit Tool
Projected Draft Range: Round 1, Picks 10-20
Cheating here again with a guy who’s a legitimate prospect with a few great tools, but Hiura’s unique health situation makes him slightly undervalued. He may need Tommy John surgery which could relegate him to a future DH role, but his hit tool is the best in the draft - he has bat speed, an advanced approach, great plate discipline and some raw power.
Brendan Hornung, RHP, Hawaii
Tool: Walk Rate
Projected Draft Range: Rounds 15-20
Hornung is a deep sleeper pitching in the Big West without blow-away stuff or the K-rates to back it up. But, he does have an Eshelman-esque walk rate (1.80 BB/9) and a fastball in the low-90s so there is a tiny bit of upside here, even as a college senior.
David Banuelos, C, Long Beach State
Tool: Catcher Defense
Projected Draft Range: Rounds 7-11
If defensive metrics for catchers are hard to find for major leaguers, they’re pretty much non-existent for college backstops. Still, Banuelos was a nominee for the Johnny Bench Award (best college catcher) and I begrudgingly admired his performance framing pitches for the Dirtbags against Texas in their three regional games last weekend (or the home plate umps were just terrible, whatever I’m not bitter). Banuelos has a solid offensive profile for a college backstop, so Luhnow could be on board here.
Kramer Robertson, 2B/SS, LSU
Tool: On-Base Ability
Projected Draft Range: Rounds 5-10
Robertson isn’t a super toolsy player and as a college senior doesn’t have much upside. But his slash line this year (.317/.418/.504) and last year signal some offensive improvement on his first two years in Baton Rouge, where he hit just above the Mendoza Line. Robertson can stay in the middle of the infield and his walk rates have always been solid - .339, .338, .417, .418 are his college OBP numbers across four years. He has a Nolan Fontana vibe as an advanced, maxed out college infielder who’s probably a backup at his ceiling but some intriguing walk rates that could move him through a system pretty quickly.
Kyle Serrano, RHP, Tennessee
Tool: Past upside
Projected Draft Range: Unknown
Back in 2013, I was in the middle of some deep draft prep for this site and ran across Serrano’s name. He had a solid arsenal for a prep arm and looked like a top-three round pick. Of course, his dad is the head coach in Knoxville, so he dropped down boards and went to Tennessee for college ball. But recently he left the program for “undisclosed reasons”. This is a red flag, especially when your dad is the head coach and Serrano’s draft stock will never be lower - but he could make sense as a late-round flier.