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All-Time Astros Draft: How I Did I End Up Here?

Jeff Bagwell

There is still no baseball on the horizon for those who follow Major League Baseball, domestically or aboard. In turn, there has been a struggle to generate content in a sport where nothing is going on besides tense labor negotiations or sign-stealing. Quite frankly, I am pretty tired of both topics.

That said, five writers here at TCB decided to come up with our own All-Time Astros teams. Here are the rules behind this draft madness:

  • Players to have spent at least two full seasons as an Astro;
  • To qualify at a certain position, player must have spent at least two full seasons with the position listed as primary;
  • The only stats that count are those posted exclusively as an Astro;
  • 15 players in total (8 position players, 1 DH, and 6 pitchers);
  • 3 pitchers will be allowed to pitch two innings each (1st - 6th innings);
  • The remaining 3 pitchers will pitch one inning apiece (7th - 9th innings).

Below are my picks and the rationale I had. Overall, I feel fairly confident with this team, although even the best baseball teams can break your heart. Yes, I am looking at you, 2019 Astros.

Jeff Bagwell (1B) - 1st Overall

With the first overall pick, my decision was basically down to arguably the two greatest position players in Astros’ history: Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. The positional flexibility offered by Biggio at second base, catcher, and in the outfield made it awfully tempting to select him first overall. At the same time, Bagwell’s peak (1994-99) was insanely good as he averaged nearly 7.1 fWAR per season with 210 home runs and an average wRC+ of 167. Those totals would’ve been even higher if it wasn’t for a broken bone in his left hand/strike year in 1994 and a shortened season and another broken bone in his left hand in 1995. Passing on the greatest hitter in franchise history wasn’t something I was willing to do.

J.R. Richard (SP) - 10th Overall

By this point in the draft, Roy Oswalt, Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and Roger Clemens were already selected. Personally, I was hopeful someone like Oswalt would slip to this spot, alas, it wasn’t meant to be. With the run on starting pitchers early, I felt the urge to draft someone whose peak was difficult to discount. And Richard felt more and more like the clear choice at this spot. After all, the right-hander averaged roughly 6.8 wins per season from 1977 through 1979. He was second (24.4 percent) only to Nolan Ryan (25.6 percent) in strikeout rate during that period and was well on the way in 1980 to being one of the top pitchers in baseball before his tragic stroke which took place that summer. The more I analyzed his numbers at his peak, the more it made sense to select Richard tenth overall.

Carlos Correa (SS) - 11th Overall

I then found myself on the second half of back-to-back picks, which can be a double-edge sword. On one hand, I could quickly solidify my roster with quality players. But I also have to wait a while for my next pick in the following round, so I had to prioritize positions of importance. For example, value could be found in the later rounds for pitchers and outfielders. While catcher is a position to watch closely throughout the draft, it felt like the equivalent of selecting a kicker early in a football fantasy draft until the later rounds. There were still some intriguing options at second and third base, however, shortstop is arguably one of the more shallow positions in Astros’ history. Once you move past Carlos Correa and Dickie Thon, there is a drop-off for players who can both hit and field well, respectively. Add Correa’s career 129 wRC+ and the overall potential to pair him with Bagwell in the same lineup, it became an easy selection.

Dallas Keuchel (SP) - 20th Overall

Even more starting pitchers were already off the board by this point and I wanted to add a bit of left-handed variety for the middle innings. Although Dallas Keuchel’s peak was relatively short-lived, he did win the 2015 AL Cy Young on the back of a 2.48 ERA/2.91 FIP with a 5.7 fWAR across 232 innings. Throw in his impressive 2014 breakout and I couldn’t justify letting the bearded southpaw get past me. And don’t worry as I don’t plan to have Keuchel to throw in the first for those who remember his struggles with that frame in 2018.

Moises Alou (OF) - 21st Overall

Between the 12th and 19th picks, the following outfielders were selected: Jose Cruz, Cesar Cedeno, Jimmy Wynn, and George Springer. Lance Berkman, who held the positional versatility of first base and outfielder, was also selected in the first round. Some of that outfield depth I was counting on evaporated more quickly than anticipated. But there was still some value and I noticed Moises Alou was still on the board. Sure, he didn’t play in Houston long-term, but his 150 wRC+ during his tenure from 1998 through 2001 leads all qualified outfielders who ever played for the franchise. With a chance to bulk up the lineup a bit and add another hitter with a plus-.400 on-base percentage to pair with another in Bagwell, Alou felt like a solid pick at this spot.

Ken Caminiti (3B) - 30th Overall

This is the one pick where I felt I could’ve went a number of ways, but third base was a position I couldn’t afford to put off much longer. The decision here for me was between Ken Caminiti and Morgan Ensberg. In retrospect, Ensberg was likely the better choice when it came as an overall player, but Caminiti’s ratings at FanGraphs paint him as a better option defensively. With Bagwell, Correa, and Alou forming the heart of the lineup though, I felt I could emphasize defense a bit more with this pick. Plus, I am sucker at times for nostalgia and picturing the late Caminiti at third base became too much to ignore.

Dave Smith (RP) - 31st Overall

The format chosen for this draft was six pitchers per team, with three designated to pitch the first through sixth innings at two innings each. From the seventh inning onwards, the remaining three pitchers would handle an inning apiece. With Richard and Keuchel already locked up to handle the first through fourth innings, I felt like it was time to start addressing the bullpen. The best reliever of club history in Billy Wagner was already selected by HH, but arguably the second-best in the late Dave Smith was still there. And while his strikeout numbers aren’t anything like Wagner’s or the pitchers of today, Smith still generated outs to post a crisp 2.50 ERA/2.90 FIP in his 562 games with Houston. Noticed that I didn’t mention saves, which he had 199. But results are results, even if the methods are different. Nothing wrong with that.

Brad Lidge (RP) - 40th Overall

Unlike Smith, Lidge had similar strikeout rates (33.3 percent) to Wagner (34.2 percent) at his best in Houston. It isn’t hard to see why Lidge is still third in overall fWAR as an Astros’ reliever at 9.6. Only Wagner (13.4) and Smith (9.7) have higher WAR totals for their careers with Houston. Plus, I’ve always liked Lidge, although the ending to his tenure in Houston didn’t go so well. But when he was on his game with the Astros, there weren’t many relievers better than him.

Hunter Pence (OF)- 41st Overall

One of the bright spots on the Astros from his debut in 2007 to the trade at the July deadline in 2011, Hunter Pence sure was a fun player to watch. Yes, he is a bit odd in his methods, but that is part of what made him a joy. I also identify a bit with his time with Houston as he made his debut back when I was a senior in high school and traded by the time I was fixing to graduate from college. Numbers wise, Pence was probably one of the best outfielders left on the board with a 117 wRC+ for his Astros tenure, especially with Bilbos taking the late Bob Watson and HH selecting Richard Hidalgo in the previous two rounds. At least I got him before hatter did.

Charlie Morton (SP) - 50th Overall

Arguably the hero in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, Charlie F. Morton was someone I had my eye on early in the draft process. I was a bit concerned someone would take him prior to this point, which is why I ultimately made the call here. Even though he only pitched two seasons in Houston, his average 3.0 fWAR and 3.36/3.53 FIP isn’t a bad grab at 50th overall. In combination with Richard and Keuchel for the first through fourth innings, I felt pretty confident picking Morton to pitch the fifth and sixth frames for this team.

Joe Sambito (RP) - 51st Overall

Only four qualified relievers from 1977 through 1981 posted a higher fWAR than Joe Sambito (5.6), three of which are enshrined at Cooperstown: Bruce Sutter (10.1), Rich Gossage (7.9), Rollie Fingers (7.1), and Jim Kern (6.6). He also led the majors with a 14.5 percent strikeout minus walk rate during that same time period. It also felt like fate to reunite former teammates Dave Smith and Sambito in the same bullpen once again, hence why I made the pick.

Jason Castro (C) - 60th Overall

By this point in time, I put off selecting a catcher as far as I could. Castro is obviously known for his defensive skillset for his career, but he does have spurts of offensive production from time to time. His lone All-Star season in Houston (2013) saw him post career-highs in home runs (18), wRC+ (129), and fWAR (3.9), which influenced my decision with this pick.

Art Howe (2B) - 61st Overall

Unlike the catcher position, I felt like I somewhat neglected second base throughout this entire draft process. I kept talking myself out of selecting a second baseman at various points as Jose Altuve, Joe Morgan, Craig Biggio, Jeff Kent, and Bill Doran were all off the board by the time I would draft again. But with the last couple of rounds fast approaching, it was high time to choose a second baseman and I decided to roll with Art Howe. Although he only had 39 home runs for his career with the Astros in 2,543 plate appearances, Howe provided a good balance of slightly above league average offense (108 wRC+) with a respectable defensive rating (23.0 runs). Only Doran prevented more runs (39.1) than Howe did out of all qualified second baseman in club history.

Derek Bell (OF) - 70th Overall

This pick was relatively simple as Derek Bell was clearly the top outfielder remaining by this point in the draft. I also happened to need another outfielder to fill my roster and Bell’s 111 wRC+ and .165 ISO presents nice value in the bottom half of the lineup. Not to mention his defensive ratings inside the Astrodome were not too shabby following a remarkable improvement from -16.3 runs in 1995 to 9.1 runs in 1998.

Carlos Lee (DH) - 71st Overall

For the first two years of his contract with the Astros, Carlos Lee actually performed relatively well with 60 home runs and a 131 wRC+. Poor defensive metrics capped his upside as a player, but as a hitter, Lee was actually well above-average. However, he would not age well for the remainder of his contract, which hamstrung the club’s budget by the 2009 season. Yikes for $19 million per season for declining offensive numbers and already porous fielding for the last half of that deal. Thankfully, I can do something that the Astros never could with Lee: Move him to a full-time DH role. The power at his peak in Houston was still there to justify the decision to DH and keeps Lee off the field, which is probably better for everyone involved.

Extra Round

To conclude, we also had a draft to see which uniform set and stadium we get to represent. It was down to the blue and gold threads and the Astrodome or the red and black pinstripes in Enron Field by the time I selected. I ultimately chose the former and it was the obvious call in my book.