When projecting future drafts for MLB franchises, the past is generally the best guideline. Front offices generally have consistent tendencies that can be observed year after year, and the Astros under Jeff Luhnow are no exception. The draft was a key factor in the Astros’ accelerated rebuild, and continues to be a point of emphasis as the team looks to remain in pole position in the AL West. With the 2018 season in the books, it’s high time to take stock in the system forecast where the team is likely to look for help, at both the international and professional levels.
Above is the breakdown of top-100 picks by the Jeff Luhnow front office by source. Initially it may look as though the Astros have heavily favored four-year college players high in the draft, but in reality this data shows a lack of any strong proclivities towards one type of player over another. Generally, four-year college players represent roughly two-thirds of drafted players (66.3% in 2018), with high school draftees representing around one quarter of all picks. Junior College players and picks from other sources make up the remaining portion, but these players are less likely to go in the top-100.
That said, there does appear to be one rough pattern in the sample a bit below the surface. Since 2014, the year they selected Brady Aiken number one overall, the club has selected at least one four-year college bat within the top 100 picks, selecting more than one in two of those drafts. If the first two years under Luhnow are removed from the sample, the breakdown looks like this:
In 2013, the Astros made three picks in the top-100: Mark Appel, Andrew Thurman and Kent Emanuel. All three were college pitchers, and none have had major league success, with Appel notably retiring from the game not long after being selected with the top overall pick. This class was most likely Jeff Luhnow’s weakest as GM of the Astros, and the only draft in which all of their top-100 selections were used on players from the same source. I think that limiting the sample to 2014-present is more relevant to the team’s 2019 plans, as this is roughly when the team was pivoting towards a win-now (or at least win-soon) strategy after their highly publicized rebuild.
Looking further, another pattern emerges within the college bat bucket. The four-year hitters drafted by the Astros between 2014 and now are Derek Fisher, A.J. Reed, J.D. Davis, Alex Bregman, Ronnie Dawson, Jake Rogers, J.J. Matijevic and Seth Beer. All of these players other than Rogers came from “Power 5” schools, and further, all of the others save for Dawson come from high-level baseball programs who spend time in the rankings year-in, year-out: Fisher came from powerhouse UVA, Bregman from an LSU program that has produced numerous MLB stars, A.J. Reed from a Kentucky program that has been extremely strong in recent years, Seth Beer from a currently-strong Clemson club, J.J. Matijevic from recent champs Arizona and J.D. Davis from perennially strong Cal State Fullerton. Jake Rogers came from Tulane, a relatively strong baseball program not quite on the level of those listed above, though they did win consecutive conference championships in Rogers’ last two seasons. Dawson is an alum of Ohio State, whose baseball program lags behind their dominant football program and high level basketball club.
When projecting draft picks, it is important to remember that need is typically not a concern for MLB teams, as it is their NFL and NBA counterparts. Due to the development time necessary to produce an MLB ready player, it would be foolhardy for teams to make selections based on their major league depth chart, even when they are in win-now mode as the Astros are. Teams will universally select the best player available in their eyes after accounting for signability and some minor consideration of how close the team is to competing, but their past classes can inform our projections of who teams will see as best on the board when the time comes to make their picks. As the June 2019 draft draws closer, we will continue to break down the Astros’ past selections, looking for trends in both statistical and scouting profiles, and their tendencies from pick 101 through the end of round ten, with the hope of painting a rough picture of what the front office looks for in its amateur acquisitions as we gear up for June.