HOUSTON -- The Astros, forced to sit out the first day of the MLB Draft after losing their first- and second-round picks as part of the punishment handed down by MLB in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal, took four players Thursday, led by 18-year-old right-handed pitcher Alex Santos from New York.
Houston’s final three picks were college players: hard-throwing right-hander Ty Brown, who was the closer on the 2019 Vanderbilt championship team; Tennessee outfielder Zach Daniels, a speedster with raw power and tools galore; and Shay Whitcomb, an accomplished hitter at Division II UC San Diego who wowed with his bat in the 2019 Cape Cod League.
Santos told MLB.com on Friday he had reached a deal with the Astros to begin his professional career and will forgo his scholarship to Maryland. The slot value for the pick is $870,700. Late Thursday, Daniels ($430,800 slot value) said he expects to sign with the Astros and Whitcomb ($324,100 slot value) said he reached a deal with the club.
"I can't wait,” Santos said Friday. “Being able to be with such a program developing players and pitchers, I'm super excited. It's been my dream to become a professional baseball player, and it's finally coming true."
Meanwhile, Brown, who added the words “Houston Astros Pitcher” to his bio on Instagram, said Friday he’s looking forward to joining the Astros, as well. The slot value for the 101st overall pick is $577,000.
“I’m excited for this new chapter in my life,” Brown said Friday. “I’m ready to go with the Astros, especially because they gave me the opportunity and gave me a chance. And I’m excited where my life is going to take me and where the organization is going to take me and the people I meet and new teammates and moving on in life.”
The signing deadline this year is Aug. 1.
If a club exceeds its assigned pool, it faces a penalty. Teams that outspend their allotment by 0-5 percent pay a 75 percent tax on the overage. At higher thresholds, clubs lose future picks: a first-rounder and a 75 percent tax for surpassing their pool by more than 5 and up to 10 percent; a first- and a second-rounder and a 100 percent tax for more than 10 and up to 15 percent; and two first-rounders and a 100 percent tax for more than 15 percent.
In eight years with these rules, teams have exceeded their allotments a total of 149 times but never by more than 5 percent. Twenty-one of the 30 teams outspent their pools last year.
More than half of the players in the Astros’ Top 30 prospects, as ranked by MLB Pipeline, are right-handed pitchers, but that didn’t stop Houston from taking two more right-handers with its first two picks. Both Santos and Brown are hard throwers who are refining their breaking pitches and have high ceilings. Brown, as an experienced pitcher in the Southeastern Conference, will be developed as a starter and could rise quickly through the system.
“It’s something I think everybody was going to draft me as a starter and try to develop me back to being a starter because that’s where I see myself being at,” Brown said. “If that’s where they want me to be, that’s what I want to do. That’s the way I’ve always been. I’m not going to complain and wait for a role. Whatever they want me to do, I’m going to try to be the best at it.”
The Astros addressed their lack of position-player depth in their system with Daniels and Whitcomb. Both have a degree of unknown. Daniels appeared to be just coming into his own as a junior at Tennessee, and Whitcomb needed an eye-opening performance in the Cape Cod League in 2019 to make up for skepticism about his numbers in Division II UC San Diego.
Santos, who grew up a few blocks from Yankee Stadium, spent the spring working out at Citius Baseball Academy in Mount Vernon, N.Y., which his father, Alex Santos Sr., co-owns. Santos credited his time collecting data from throwing before a Rapsodo machine, which collects such data on pitches as spin, movement and velocity.
Because scouts weren’t able to see Santos in person, he uploaded the information gleaned from Rapsodo into a scouting portal.
“It helped me with my pitch movement and stuff,” he said. “This year, mainly it was like seeing how much progression I’ve had with the Rapsodo since my junior year and pitches and stuff. We just studied certain stuff to see the differences between my junior year and now.”
Day 2 name to watch
Daniels is an intriguing talent. The Astros gave him 70-grade speed on the 20-80 scale and are enamored by his raw power. He struck out a ton in his first two years at Tennessee (69 strikeouts in 153 at-bats) but was off to a solid start in 2020 (.357 batting average with four homers in 56 at-bats) before the college season was halted.
A strong season in the SEC would have skyrocketed his Draft status, but Daniels has the kind of speed and power that can’t be taught. The Astros expect to tap into the talent. If the Astros can refine his eye as a hitter, they could be on to something big.
Like the Draft, the Astros are going to be looking for talent first and foremost. The strategy will be similar to, say, college recruiting in that they’re going to sell non-drafted free agents on the Astros being the best place to start their pro careers. Ultimately, it’s going to be up to the players to decide since the $20,000 signing bonus is league-wide. The Astros will sell them on their recent history of developing players (Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, José Altuve, George Springer, Lance McCullers Jr., etc.), as well as top-notch facilities in Houston and Florida.
The last word
“Similar to our amateur scouting department, I think our player development has seen this as a challenge and an opportunity. Based on what I’ve seen from them and the conversations we’ve had, I’ve been really impressed with their ability to continue to develop players and the skills they’re going to need to be productive Major Leaguers, even when they can’t play baseball games.” -- Astros general manager James Click