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Astros Select Cal Backstop Korey Lee in Draft Night Surprise

After long rumored interest in local pitcher JJ Goss, the Astros opted for a late-rising catcher at 32.

MLB: ALDS-Cleveland Indians at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

The 32nd overall pick in the draft is a difficult one to project for obvious reasons: even if you have a good idea of who the team in question is interested in, you can’t know which players are going to go off the board ahead of the selection. In the lead-up to tonight’s first round, the Astros short list was rumored to include Logan Davidson, Greg Jones, Kody Hoese, Daniel Espino and JJ Goss- all prospects rumored in the late first round range, with suitors starting in the early 20s.

When the Astros went on the clock at 32, only Goss remained from that list, making him the presumed most likely selection. In an unexpected turn, Mizzou outfielder Kameron Misner was also left on the board- even though Misner’s stock had taken a noticeable hit since early in the season after he struggled in SEC play, he appeared poised to have a floor of the Yankees at 30 based on the public rumor mill. A 21 year old right fielder, Misner has plus raw power and plus speed, but hasn’t shown a consistent hit tool to this point. His raw tools are tantalizing, but any team selecting Misner would need to feel comfortable with his flaws and have a clear plan for cleaning them up.

In the end, the Astros went in a third direction. They, like 28 other teams, were too skittish on Misner’s contact ability to pull the trigger in round one, and opted for a late rising, 2019 breakout prospect in Cal catcher Korey Lee. While Lee was outside of the top 100 draft prospects for some outlets, he started to shoot up some boards late in the process on the heels of a strong junior campaign, and ranked 45th overall on the final edition of FanGraphs’ THE BOARD. He’s a slight reach at the 32nd selection, but the Astros clearly coveted Lee and didn’t feel comfortable trying to steal him in round 2.

As a prospect, Lee has a great catcher’s frame at 6’1”, 205 lbs. with twitchy athleticism. He looks the part behind the dish with a quick pop and a solid average arm, and should have the ingredients to be a dependable receiver. The bat really came on for Lee in 2019, as he improved upon his 2018 marks of .238/.328/.426 with a .339/.415/.613 line with 13 home runs as a junior, hitting behind #3 overall pick Andrew Vaughn. Lee uses a fairly sizable leg kick and shows deft hands. It’s not the quickest bat you’ll see, but Lee hits the ball with authority and should have solid average power in his frame. His swing is balanced, and while he’s not going to be an impact bat, he could get on base at a respectable clip and provide some pop in the lower part of a lineup.

It’s tough to argue that the Astros didn’t reach a bit for their guy in Lee, but he was unlikely to make it to their second selection, forcing them to pop him in the first. He doesn’t have the huge upside of a player like Misner or Goss, both of whom went off the board in the comp round, but he has an appealing package of traits that could translate into a primary catcher role at the big league level. There’s a chance that the Astros could get Lee a bit underslot, affording them some much needed flexibility with their small bonus pool, but they still wouldn’t have enough to work with to meet any huge demands. The Astros will have one more selection tonight, at 68th overall.