Astros add key pieces in challenging Draft

June 12th, 2020

HOUSTON -- The postponement of high school and college baseball seasons early in the spring didn’t stop the Astros from being able to put eyes on all four players they wound up selecting Thursday in the 2020 MLB Draft.

The Astros, who lost their first- and second-round picks as part of the punishment handed down by MLB in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal, selected four players, starting with high school pitcher Alex Santos, an 18-year-old right-hander from New York. He was taken with the 72nd overall pick the Astros were awarded after free agent Gerrit Cole signed with the Yankees.

Houston’s final three picks were college players: hard-throwing Vanderbilt closer Tyler Brown, whom the club envisions developing as a starter; Tennessee outfielder Zach Daniels, a speedster with intriguing tools who was just starting to put it all together before the college season was halted; and UC San Diego shortstop Shay Whitcomb, a polished Division II hitter who put himself on the map with a strong performance in the 2019 Cape Code League.

It was the first Draft for new general manager James Click, who teamed with director of player evaluation Charles Cook and supervisor of national scouting Kris Gross in a Draft that was cut down to five rounds.

“I was really impressed with Charlie and Kris and the entire group in terms of how they processed all of the information that goes into trying to draft everybody, in these shortened Drafts especially,” Click said. “They did a very impressive job of organizing everything and making sure that we were lined up in agreement and we had anticipated and thought through the various permutations and contingencies of the Draft. I think it’s a tribute to the hard work of our staff and everything they’ve done.”

Here’s a closer look at the Astros’ 2020 Draft picks:

Round 2 comp, 72nd overall: Alex Santos, RHP, Mount Saint Michael Academy (N.Y.)
Growing up in the Bronx in the shadows of Yankee Stadium, Santos was understandably a fan of the New York Yankees. He said that’s all changed now.

Santos had his senior season canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, but he did play on the international circuit last summer, earning a spot on the 2019 USA Baseball 18-and-under national team's trials roster. Santos was ranked No. 56 on MLB Pipeline's Top 200 Draft Prospects and was thrilled to be joining the Astros.

“I was really excited,” Santos said. “I was a little shocked, but I was really excited. As soon as I got picked, I got a little emotional, and I can’t wait to go out there and show you guys what I got.”

Santos, who said he’s a mix of Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty in terms of mechanics and Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer in teams of the mental aspect, is likely to sign with the Astros (he’s committed to Maryland). He possesses a fastball that sits in the mid-90s while a slider and curveball. The pitch he’d like to refine the most is his changeup.

“We scouted him heavily last summer and then saw him in the early spring this year,” Cook said. “We were attracted to him for a number of different reasons. He’s a projectable, young high school arm with a plus fastball that reaches the mid-90s … A breaking ball, a power slider, is his best pitch with a workable changeup as well. We were really excited to see that he was available to us.”

Longtime Mount Saint Michael coach Walter Stampfel said Santos has gone from a thrower to a pitcher and has a strong work ethic.

“What I like most about him is he never changed,” he said. “Even though he was kind of the big man on campus and was getting all this notoriety, this highly touted potential first-, second-round Draft pick, he never changed. He was one of the kids. Never looked for any favors. Just an all-around great kid, and he’s earned everything he’s gotten.”

Round 3, 101st overall: Tyler Brown, RHP, Vanderbilt
The 6-foot-4 Brown, who lost his mother to cancer at 13 years old and has a daughter with Down syndrome, comes from one of the nation’s top college programs. A hard thrower, he saved 17 games and posted a 2.19 ERA with 65 strikeouts and nine walks for Vanderbilt, which won the College World Series in 2019.

“I’m glad [the Astros] gave me an opportunity and gave me a shot to prove myself, and I’m looking forward to winning rings with them,” he said. “I’m going to give them everything I got, and we’re going to go win some rings. That’s what I’m planning on doing.”

Gross said the Astros plan to develop him as a starter.

“Absolutely,” he said. “He’s got four pitches to work with, touching 97 [mph]. Pretty low effort delivery. I think the kid believes he’s a starter as well. … He’d be a starter at a lot of the colleges across the county. We’re optimistic Tyler can toe the slab every fifth day.”

Round 4, 131st overall: Zach Daniels, OF, Tennessee
Daniels is a toolsy outfielder who was expected to get his first experience as a full-time player this year for the Volunteers, and he hit .357 with four homers and 18 RBIs in 56 at-bats before the season was postponed. His struggled to make consistent contact his first two years at Tennessee, but the Astros see upside.

“We were fortunate to get some looks on his early in the spring,” Cook said. “He had some inconsistent years early, but this year came out and showed real improvement. He’s a center fielder, 70 runner [on 20-80 scale], plus to plus-plus raw power. We thought the tool package was really exciting gift for us at that pick.”

Daniels said it’s been his childhood dream to play professional baseball, and he is eager to put in the work. He said he was just tapping into his potential at Tennessee before the season was stopped.

“The Astros are a great organization,” he said. “They’ve got all my support. I’m going to put in all the work that I can for them and do as much as I can for that organization. It’s not even set in yet.”

Round 5, 160th overall: Shay Whitcomb, SS, UC San Diego
Whitcomb put up impressive numbers for two-plus years at Division II UC San Diego, hitting .333 with a 1.008 OPS in only 81 at-bats this year. But what increased his stock exponentially was his performance in the 2019 Cape Code League, where he hit .303 with eight homers and 27 RBIs with a wood bat.

“In the Draft, you don’t see D-II players go very high because they get knocked for competition reasons, so that’s why I think the Cape was so important for me,” Whitcomb said. “It was giving myself a little more credibility in that sense.”

Said Gross: “He raked down there at UC San Diego. He was tested on Cape Cod and went out and proved it and a [heck] of a summer out there. That is really the drawing part for Shay, and we’re excited to get him.”