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Astros Draft Day 2 Roundup

Through ten rounds, Houston has selected exclusively college players, but the class isn’t short on upside.

Syndication: Cape Cod Times Ron Schloerb/Cape Cod Times via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Round 3 - Michael Knorr, RHP, Coastal Carolina

On the scouting radar since high school thanks to a great pitcher’s frame and feel for secondaries, Knorr hails from Carlsbad and spent his first three years of college ball at Cal State Fullerton. He was able to get his fastball, which sat in the mid-80s in high school, into the 90-92 range for the Titans, but wasn’t very effective as he allowed 86 ER in 114 IP. However, he would find another tick of power, touching 97 over the summer of 2021, which got him some interest on the transfer market.

Knorr would settle on Coastal Carolina, and broke out as a weekend starter with a 3.39 ERA (it was as low as 2.45 late in the season), 86 strikeouts, 13 walks and 60 hits allowed in 69 innings. His only appearance against a Power 5 opponent came in his last start of the year and didn’t go very well as Virginia touched him up for two home runs, but he didn’t have his best stuff at that point and he did dominate a very good Texas State lineup for three innings earlier in the year. His batted ball data was heavy on air contact, with well above average rates of both flyballs and popups.

While the performance tailed off slightly towards the end of the year, Knorr consistently showed very good stuff all season thanks to his added velocity. His fastball rarely dipped below 93 and he was frequently popping 96s and 97s in games. The pitch has decent life in the form of arm side run, but limited vertical action, so it became a lot less hittable after the velo spike, and this . The added juice also helped his breaking stuff- Knorr throws both a big-breaking, mid-70s curveball, generally his most used secondary over the course of his career, as well as a gyro slider in the low-80s, and the latter seemed to benefit especially from a bit more velo.

The consistently firm fastball and broad arsenal give Knorr a startery look, and he has really limited walks at the college level. He has benefited from the chasier tendencies of collegiate hitters to a degree and his command is more average than standout. I project him as average in this area- he’s an above average athlete and it’s a short arm action, but he throws with a lot of intent- so he can remain as a starter but he may not be the most efficient one around and could be susceptible to hard contact. The Astros will be focused on helping him continue refining his bat missing ability as he grows into his newfound power to help counteract those tendencies.

Round 4 - Trey Dombroski, LHP, Monmouth

A multi-sport standout at Wall HS in New Jersey, Dombroski was something of a breakout prospect in the 2021 Cape League, where he posted a 0.85 ERA and 45/2 K/BB ratio in 31.2 innings (4 starts, 2 relief appearances) on the heels of 2.73 and 64/8 in 52.2 during the regular season. Scouts were never wowed by the raw stuff- his fastball hangs out around 89-92 and his breaking stuff is vanilla and below major league average- but his ability to command his arsenal to all four quadrants and sequence at an advanced level was impressive.

The book on Dombroski as a prospect is essentially this- he has some of the weakest raw stuff of any pitcher drafted in the top 10 rounds, but was one of the best pure performers in the college level anyway. From both a scouting and pitch data standpoint, only his changeup is a big league average or better pitch right now. It could be possible for Dombroski to get by with what he’s already got because his command is legitimately plus or better which really helps the fastball, and lefties with good changeups tend to overperform, but I think you can talk yourself into upside if he can find more velocity in the pros.

The feel for spin here is nothing to write home about, but a few more ticks could have the fastball playing up to above average, with the changeup acting as a putaway pitch and the two breaking balls keeping hitters honest. That still puts him in low-end mid-rotation starter territory, but there’s a lot of value in that in the fourth round where better stuff can only be found in far less advanced packages, and the lack of lefthanded pitching in the Astros’ org has been much maligned in recent years.

Round 5 - Nolan DeVos, RHP, Davidson

A North Carolina lifer, DeVos gradually improved over the course of a three year run with the Wildcats and has a lot of traits the Astros tend to like. DeVos is a bat misser- he struck out 106 hitters in 78 and 23 innings this year and 155 in 119 and 13 for his D1 career- who benefits from a lower release height from the right side. The fastball sits in the low 90s but induces a ton of whiffs anyway thanks to the combination of the release and strong riding life, so it’s a pitch he’s able to lean on. He also generates a ton of pop flies (97th percentile per FaBIO), thanks in large part to that fastball life, so a large proportion of his outs are of the no-risk variety.

The arsenal is rounded out with three quality secondaries, including a pair of more horizontally-inclined breaking balls. The curveball helps his effectiveness against lefties, and he also has a developing changeup that can help him in those matchups, so it’s a very startery pitch mix headlined by a fastball that should translate well to pro ball. He’ll need to throw a few more strikes to stick there though, as he did issue 31 free passes this past season and has a tendency to give away some pitches. He’s a good mound athlete with some twitch and the delivery is relatively simple, but it’s very uptempo and can lose a bit of sync sometimes, so the future command grade is still in flux.

There’s obvious reliever risk here but the Astros give arms like this a full chance to start generally speaking and I don’t expect it to be any different with DeVos. The stuff should be able to miss plenty of bats at any level, so I don’t rule out a lower-workload rotation role, particularly if the changeup keeps coming on, but would put my chips on strikeout-minded reliever if I had to bet.

Round 6 - Collin Price, C, Mercer

Like third rounder Michael Knorr, Price is a fourth year college guy who came on late but has upside that shouldn’t be discounted. A good athlete at 6’5” or 6’6” depending on the source, coaches weren’t quite sure what to do with Price defensively early in his career and he would rotate between outfield, catcher and first base as an underclassman. He was a decent offensive performer early on, hitting .276/.368/.458 as a freshman and .285/.380/.464 in his next full season in 2021, but wasn’t yet getting to the majority of his power with just 16 homers in that stretch.

In 2022, Price took all 55 of his starts at catcher, but more importantly took his offensive game to new heights. Improved pitch selection fueled career highs more or less across the board, including a .315/.460/.626 slash, 18 home runs and 52 walks against 34 strikeouts in 263 PAs. More patience in the box helped Price see more launchable pitches, and he did his part when the opportunities arose. It’s worth nothing that he had just 8 doubles and 1 triple against those 18 jacks, but there shouldn’t be any concern about how far the ball is going to travel when he gets into one.

A much better hitter than he has any business being with such long levers, Price could be an exciting bat behind the plate and might even have the power to profile in the outfield if catching doesn’t work out long term. His receiving skills really developed during college and the arm strength is as good as you’d expect, so don’t rule out a stick. Senior signs don’t get much more exciting than this.

Round 7 - A.J. Blubaugh, RHP, UW-Milwaukee

Blubaugh helped himself late in the process with his 2022 Cape performance out of the bullpen, posting a 0.00 ERA in 9.1 innings with 13 strikeouts and 0 walks. His best quality, like Taylor and DeVos, is a riding fastball that is effective at the top of the zone, though Blubaugh’s has the most present velocity of the bunch at 94-96 in short stints. It’s a rapid, over the top delivery with some head movement, but he’s an ex multi-sport athlete with the body control to throw plenty of strikes anyway.

Similar to Taylor and Dombroski, Blubaugh’s changeup has generally been his best secondary pitch to date, but reports indicate that he has been throwing his breaking stuff, harder on the Cape, so there could be more in the tank there. If he can find a consistent breaking ball the arsenal is very startery, but he has generally pitched as a reliever in college and was up and down in the rotation for Milwaukee in 2022. In the Astros system, I’d be surprised if he wasn’t given a long look as a starter. He projects to the bullpen long term for me if I have to bet, but the sum of the parts might be enough for him to make it work in the rotation.

Round 8 - Tyler Guilfoil, RHP, Kentucky

A Lexington native, Guilfoil has spent the last four years as a pure reliever at the D1 level, with the first three coming at Lipscomb. He consistently missed bats in the A-Sun, striking out 125 hitters in 87 innings between 2019 and 2021, earning the SEC’s attention. He was able to reach new heights against the higher level of competition, quickly seizing a late inning role for the Wildcats. Not only did he improve his strikeout rate even further, he handled the largest workload of his career (51 IP) while cutting his walk rate in half with an 80/17 K/BB ratio.

Like many of the arms discussed above, Guilfoil makes his money with a riding fastball that misses a ton of bats at the top of the zone. Despite standing 6’4”, Guilfoil creates a relatively low release height to go with that vertical life, so even at an average velocity of 92 the pitch grades out as borderline plus. Pitching in short stints at the college level, he had little reason to use anything else, employing a very fastball dominant pitch mix. He hasn’t yet demonstrated a ton of feel for spin, mixing a curve and slider which blend together as well as a changeup that can play off of the heater a bit.

Guilfoil has starter physicality and the delivery is pretty quiet, but he’ll need to develop a more well rounded arsenal to pitch in longer stints at the pro level. Perhaps the Astros see some potential in one of the secondaries that hasn’t emerged yet, but he looks like a bullpen guy at the moment.

Round 9 - Brett Gillis, RHP, Portland

Stop me if you’ve heard this before - Brett Gillis is a fourth-year righty who played at a smaller D1 program in his hometown with elite strikeout numbers but a narrow arsenal at present. A well built 6’2”, 215, Gillis showed flashes out of the bullpen as an underclassman at Portland before a shaky transition to the rotation in 2021 that saw him post a 5.08 ERA, though he did strike out 69 against 16 walks in 51 and 13 innings. The primary culprit was too much hard contact, as he allowed 7 home runs.

Gillis would return to the rotation in 2022 and was among the D1 leaders in strikeouts, collecting 115 in 84 and 13 innings while halving his ERA to 2.24. His walk rate crept up a bit with 32, but he was less hittable and allowed just 2 jacks despite a much larger innings total. The batted ball breakdown was fairly vanilla, and his stuff remained relatively static, so the improvements were largely fueled by location and approach improvements.

The build and command to start are here and Gillis’ fastball can support heavy usage, but none of his three secondaries look like consistent weapons at the pro level yet. The Astros’ approach with their lower dollar picks in this class appears to be to chase fastballs with bat missing qualities in the hopes of rounding out the rest of the arsenal. Gillis projects as a fastball dominant middle reliever for now, but a go-to secondary emerging could change that.

Round 10 - Zach Cole Jr., OF, Ball State

Missouri native Zach Cole was a strong get in the class of 2019 for Ball State with some loud offensive tools, but didn’t break out until his draft year, hitting .361/.449/.727 this season. There’s some twitch in Cole’s 6’2” frame helping him create damaging contact, but there has been consistent swing and miss in his profile both in the MAC and in offseason ball. He has solid average range in an outfield corner and even played a bit of center for the Cardinals, and the arm is plenty for RF, so there’s some light versatility here.

Cole has natural strength and quick hands but a free swinging approach and only decent bat control. His power is well above average and he makes enough contact for it to play in games, but he ran a 20/47 BB/K ratio in 214 PAs this season and projects for lower OBPs at the pro level unless he can rein in the approach. The pitch selection probably needs to make a pretty big leap for Cole to be more than a depth piece, but the significant power and solid hitting ability make him worth monitoring.