MLB Draft Day is not an important day in the life of an American sports fan. Maybe it’s because fans like the idea the players being drafted making an impact within a year. Maybe it’s because they like having heard of the players being drafted.
For Astros fans, at least for this Astro fan, it’s been different since I was looking for a ray of hope around 2010, and discovered how much info was now available (my first foray into farm systems in the 1990s was 90% Baseball America-dependent), I stumbled upon this site and tons of in depth reports on Jio Mier, Ross Seaton, and Jay Austin. I was hooked.
When Luhnow took over, we had a sense things would be different. I have to admit, the drafting of Springer already made things feel different. But the 2012 draft... wow! And pretty soon our minor league teams started winning and things felt better.
I’m going to get to the point: 2014 was the last year of tanking. Springer was up. Altuve was on his way to winning a batting title and becoming elite. Keuchel and McHugh were a nasty 1-2 punch. This was the last time picking 1-1 for a long time. And Kershaw 2.0 was ripe for the picking.
We know the story: a few weeks later, it seemed like Brady Aiken wasn’t going to sign, and the rebuild felt delayed and the Astros endured a new wave of negative press. In the end, we won because Luhnow’s skin is thicker than a rhino’s. Still, for the 2014 draft, the news got even worse, Jacob Nix’s last name never felt more apt, and even Mac Marshall was lost. How could a team aiming to rebuild around drafts screw up a draft so badly?
Fact is, Luhnow did screw up a draft. It was just the previous, 2013 draft. 2014 was a pretty good draft. Let’s take a look, 4.5 years later, at 2014 and the value pieces from that draft. But first, a bit on value. The value can’t just be measured on what they do for the Astros, or at MLB, but how other teams value them. Jake Nottingham and Brett Phillips will always have value in regard to the Astros because other teams valued them as headliners. So with that caveat out of the way...
1-1 - Aiken; didn’t sign
1-37 - Derek Fisher: got a sneak peek in 2017, was given a chance in April 2018 but looked so bad at the plate he was shipped back to Fresno after striking out 42 times in 86 PAs. That’s a lot. we’ll always have that pinch-run in the WS!
2-42 - AJ Reed: ugh
That’s a legit wipeout with 3 of the first 42 players drafted. But 2014’s lasting impact will be on the players drafted below this point. Here’s five key draft picks that make this draft a good one:
3-75 - JD Davis: he wasn’t given much of a shot in Houston, but he was perceived as valuable by another club, and the Astros got MILB assets in return. He’s raked everywhere but Houston, and there’s a case to be made that he’s a more athletic Tyler White. He was not a sexy prospect, but Davis is an MLBer of some sort.
4-106 - Daniel Mengden: a 2nd round talent whose injury made him slide. One of the few college arms that Luhnow has hit on since 2012. He and Jake Nottingham enabled us to make the Kazmir trade. That Kazmir wasn’t great doesn’t matter. Mengden was perceived as having value. For the old-timers, he’s won 12 MLB games. He made 17 starts for a playoff team last year. For the new-timers, he’s generated almost 2 Fangraphs WAR.
11-316 Dean Deetz: while Deetz has only faced 15 MLB batters, he has posted some silly numbers in the minors. He provides important 40-man depth, and it’s guys like Deetz that protect GMs from making trades like the ones the Mets just made. The 80-game suspension set him back, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Deetz logging innings in an MLB bullpen in six months.
16-466 Ramon Laureano: this was an absolute steal, the ultimate Luhnow Oklahoma JUCO find. Laureano was a super-toolsy find who broke out in 2016 before collapsing in 2017. Still, he possessed enough value for Oakland to acquire him for Brandon Bailey, who was ranked our 18th best prospect last year by Fangraphs. Laureano had an absurdly good 48 games with Oakland last year, and was one of the best players in baseball for the last two months of the season. It stings, a lot, to see how good he was for a division opponent. He provided strong hitting, elite defense, and elite base-running. Don’t know how a guy who ravaged MLB during the pennant stretch in 2018 couldn’t hit in the Texas League in 2017. I would have preferred that his value be expressed in the NL if it couldn’t be in Houston, but he has the makings of an everyday OF.
34-1006 - Josh James makes us all feel better (say that thrice). His was an amazing story in 2018, and one that we really didn’t focus enough on. Josh James made 3 starts in September on what was one of the greatest starting rotations in the 21st century. Josh James put up a 2.35 ERA in 23 IP. Josh James pitched twice in the ALCS, and came really close to saving us from CFM’s last start for Houston. Trailing 2-1 in the series, and down 3-1 in the 3rd, James stranded a RISP by retiring Devers and Pearce. He shut down the Sox in the 4th, and let in 1 run in the 5th. Hinch got a little greedy in the 6th, and JJ gave up the game-swinging HR to JBJ after retiring the first two batters. Still, for a few IP he was mowing down an elite offense. He’s a lock for the 2019 rotation.
In a decade we can look back at this draft and have a more objective sense at its value. But 7 of the players have cracked MLB, and at least 3 seems to have starting roles on good teams. 3 were valued enough to be traded, and Reed and Fisher were at least at some point in their careers leading trade chips.
By contrast, let’s look at some other drafts: in 2006, fresh of a WS appearance, the draft yielded 3 MLB players: Chris Johnson (3000 PAs for 3.5 career WAR, 3.1 of which came in 1 season), Nate Karns, and the legend himself, Bud Norris. 2007 produced 4 MLBers, but Derek Dietrich was never even signed, and the best of them was Chad Bettis. 2010 is more recent in memory. It was the draft with 3 of the top 33. Deshields was given away, Kvasnicka was a true bust. Folty and Velasquez were valuable, top 100 guys. Adam Plutko and Jacoby Jones were fish thrown back in the sea to be redrafted. The rest were types: Jake Buchanan and Adam Blair. And 2013 has produced Tony Kemp, Tyler White, and maybe Jason Martin or Jake Nottingham. At least we got some trade value by getting rid of Appel, Thurman, and Martin.
The 2014 draft was not what we dreamed it would be. But when one gets past the first two rounds, it yielded very solid talent. I’m not ready to root for Oakland Athletics unless we’re 15 games up on them, but I’m almost always ready to root for ex-Astros, and would love to see JD Davis make Todd Frazier trade bait by June.