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The Top Ten First Round Draft Picks in Astros’ History

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First round picks, hit or miss, could greatly alter the trajectory of a franchise.

MLB: JUN 08 First-Year Player Draft Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As part of the punishment for the sign-stealing scandal, the Astros are without their first and second round draft picks for this year and next. At a time when the MLB Draft is only five(!) rounds for 2020, that reduction represents a forty percent cut in draft capital before any compensation picks are involved. For a club facing a rather uncertain future beyond 2021, the lack of top picks entering a thin farm system is a precarious position.

That said, first-round picks are not a sure fire guarantee to succeed. Follow any baseball team long enough and that truth is quickly evident. The Astros have hit and miss on first round picks numerous times throughout their history. But first round picks who succeed in the majors can notably alter the trajectory of a team for the better.

So, who are among the top ten first round draft picks in Astros’ history?

Note: bWAR/fWAR totals shown below account for playing time only with the Astros. Ranked top first round draft picks by contributions exclusively for the Astros.

Craig Biggio (65.5 bWAR/65.8 fWAR)

  • Seven-time All-Star (1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998)
  • Five-time Silver Slugger award (1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998)
  • Four-time Gold Glove award (1994, 1995, 1996, 1997)
  • NL champion (2005)

By bWAR and fWAR, Biggio is clearly the best first-round draft pick in franchise history. Selected with the 22nd pick in the 1987 draft, the Seton Hall product put together a Hall of Fame worthy career exclusively for the Astros, which culminated with 3,060 hits and 668 doubles. That doubles figure is actually the fourth-highest total among all Hall of Fame hitters. Biggio was, in fact, the first player to be inducted into Cooperstown representing the Astros on his plaque. His journey from a catcher to second base to the outfield then back to second base is even fascinating by itself.

Biggio also heavily contributed to a sustained run of contention for the Astros from 1997 through 2005. Only once (2000) during that nine-year stretch did Houston finish with a losing record. Although his numbers were trending downward by the time of the club’s first World Series in 2005, he and Bagwell represented the heart and soul of the Astros. Today, Biggio is the best first round draft pick in club history, both by the numbers and the memories made along the way.

Lance Berkman (48.1 bWAR/51.4 fWAR)

  • Five-time All-Star with the Astros (2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008)
  • NL champion (2005)

Drafted 16th overall in 1997 from Rice University, the switch-hitting Lance Berkman would eventually help anchor the Astros lineup throughout their run in the early 2000’s. In conjunction with Bagwell and Biggio, Berkman helped extend the era of the Killer B’s through the team’s World Series appearance in 2005.

Throughout his major league career, especially with the Astros, he would become one of the best switch-hitters of his generation. In fact, out of all switch hitters in major league history, only Mickey Mantle (.977) has a higher OPS+ than Berkman (.943). The Rice product would part ways with the Astros at the 2010 trade deadline as the club sent him to the Yankees for minor leaguers Mark Melancon and Jimmy Paredes. He would eventually retire following a successful two-year stint in St. Louis (2011 World Series champion) and a rather unsuccessful season with the Rangers in 2013.

George Springer (25.4 bWAR/24.6 fWAR)

  • Three-time All-Star (2017, 2018, 2019)
  • Two-time Silver Slugger (2017, 2019)
  • World Series champion and MVP (2017)
  • AL champion (2019)

Arguably the first draft pick of the Astros’ rebuild effort under then-GM Ed Wade in 2011 (11th overall), Springer represented the first true hope that Astros fans had in the minor leagues for quite some time. Thanks in part to the drastic approach by former GM Jeff Luhnow in subsequent seasons, Houston would eventually surround Springer and the other core players with the talent needed to make deep postseason runs in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Springer’s best season as a player arguably occurred last year in 2019 as he posted career-best numbers in home runs (39), wRC+ (156), and fWAR (6.5). An unfortunate hamstring strain prevented the outfielder from truly making a run at the AL MVP. Also, the fallout of the sign-stealing scandal will undoubtedly alter how fans view Springer and his teammates, but it is hard to believe that the majority of his success was derived from the scheme. The most pressing question about the soon-to-be free agent is whether the Astros can retain his services beyond 2020, even if a season happens or not.

Carlos Correa (24.5 bWAR/18.5 fWAR)

  • AL Rookie of the Year (2015)
  • One-time All-Star (2017)
  • World Series champion (2017)
  • AL champion (2019)

The first of three consecutive number one overall draft picks starting in 2012, Correa is easily the most successful of the bunch, which includes Mark Appel and Brady Aiken. As of the 2019 season, he was the only player of the three to make the major leagues. Already the best shortstop in club history by WAR, Correa has been instrumental in Houston’s rise to baseball prominence in recent seasons.

Only 25 years old, Correa has the potential to be one of the best players of his generation. A recurring back issue has been the only true hinderance in the path of the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year’s career up to this point. If injuries don’t sideline him further, he stands the chance to be one of the highest paid players with free agency on the horizon in 2021. Like Springer, Correa will also have the stigma of the sign-stealing scandal to contend with as well.

Alex Bregman (22.4 bWAR/20.5 fWAR)

  • Two-time All-Star (2018, 2019)
  • AL MVP runner-up (2019)
  • World Series champion (2017)
  • AL champion (2019)

As the second overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft from LSU, the hope for Bregman was to see him join the major league roster sooner rather than later. He did that in 2016, although his slow start was overblown at the time. But Bregman would truly breakout during the 2017 postseason, thanks to multiple clutch moments. The most memorable of those moments occurred when he had the walk-off hit against Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen in Game 5 of the World Series.

Under contract through the 2024 season, Bregman is a core piece to what the Astros hope to accomplish in the near future. Again, the sign-stealing scandal will hover around Bregman as his fellow first round teammates listed above him, but his star power is clear by now.

J.R. Richard (22.2 bWAR/32.4 fWAR)

  • One-time All-Star (1980)
  • Two-time NL strikeout leader (1978, 1979)
  • NL ERA leader (1979)

One of the greatest what if stories in Astros’ history involves Richard, who was the second overall draft pick in the 1969 MLB Draft. In a starting rotation featuring Nolan Ryan and Joe Niekro in 1980, Richard was starting to garner the attention he deserved dating back to the start of a dominant stretch in 1977 (3.06 ERA/2.87 FIP). When he made his lone All-Star appearance that year, the right-hander posted a 1.90 ERA/1.94 FIP in his first 17 starts. Richard’s star was clearly ascending as one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Unfortunately tragedy struck and Richard experienced a stroke before a game on July 30 and he wouldn’t pitch in the majors again, even despite a comeback attempt throughout the next couple of years. The 1980 Astros would qualify for the postseason, but subsequently lost to the Phillies in five game in heartbreaking fashion. What if Richard was still healthy in that series and the subsequent seasons? Although his career was cut short, Richard remains one of the best pitchers ever developed by the Astros.

Billy Wagner (16.1 bWAR/11.1 fWAR)

  • Three-time All-Star with the Astros (1999, 2001, 2003)
  • Combined no-hitter against the Yankees on 6/11/2003

Drafted 12th overall initially as a starter in 1993, the Astros eventually developed Wagner as a reliever. He would ultimately make his major league debut in 1995 and became the club’s full-time closer by the 1996 season. During his tenure with Houston, the left-hander would establish himself as one of the top closers in baseball with an incredible 34.2 percent strikeout rate and 225 saves across 464 games. He also contributed to a combined no-hitter of the Yankees in New York back in 2003.

By the numbers alone, Wagner remains one of the best first round picks in club history. But his tenure with the Astros would disappointingly conclude that offseason following some critical comments about the team’s willingness to spend and the club subsequently traded to him the Phillies in response. The southpaw would go on to have some pretty good seasons with Philadelphia, the Mets, Boston, and Atlanta before retiring in 2010.

Jason Castro (9.0 bWAR/10.9 fWAR)

  • One-time All-Star (2013)

Castro’s tenure with the Astros began as the 10th overall pick in the 2008 draft. In a way, I feel for the guy as the franchise at the time was one on the decline. But Castro’s major league debut coincided with Houston’s rebuild, which did afford plenty of playing time to the former top pick. Although his first couple of seasons were rough with bouts of poor hitting and a torn ACL, Castro would rebound to become the best catcher developed by the Astros via the draft. His All-Star season in 2013 with a career-high in home runs (18) and wRC+ (129) in conjunction with improving defense behind the plate provided hope going forward. He also played a key role as the team’s regular catcher in 2015, which was Houston’s first postseason appearance since 2005.

The Astros would eventually let Castro sign with the Twins before the 2017 season and replace him with Brian McCann in that same offseason.

Brad Lidge (6.8 bWAR/9.7 fWAR)

  • One-time All-Star with the Astros (2005)
  • Combined no-hitter against the Yankees on 6/11/2003

With a major league debut in 2002, the 17th overall pick in 1998 helped establish the backend of the Astros’ bullpen as one of the best units of baseball in 2003. Between he, Octavio Dotel, and Wagner, that year’s bullpen was a clear strength of the club. That said, Lidge’s peak with the Astros was relatively short-lived between the 2004 to 2005 seasons (2.07 ERA/2.04 FIP). But with an eye-popping 39.4 percent strikeout rate in 165 13 innings, the right-hander filled the void as closer left by Billy Wagner’s trade to Philadelphia following the 2003 season.

Of course, Lidge will always be remembered for that absolute soul crushing home run from Albert Pujols in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS. In hindsight that blast derailed the rest of the reliever’s time in Houston. Like Wagner before him, Lidge would find himself traded to the Phillies before the 2008 campaign, which led to his lone World Series title.

Lance McCullers Jr. (6.2 bWAR/9.8 fWAR)

  • One-time All-Star (2017)
  • World Series champion (2017)

The only supplemental first round pick included in this list (41st overall), McCullers hasn’t pitched in a major league game since the 2018 season. But he has been part of some key Astros moments since the time of his debut in 2015. For one, he recorded the final out of the 2017 ALCS to send Houston to the World Series for the first time since the 2005 season.

When healthy, McCullers Jr. has shown promise as a starter with a 26.5 percent strikeout rate and a 3.69 ERA/3.26 FIP. His ability to dazzle us with his curveball has been well documented. The long-term question is his durability and whether his body will ultimately allow him to assume a role as a top of the rotation starter. Regardless, though, McCullers Jr. has to be considered one of the club’s best first round picks in its fifty-plus year history.