Astros covet position players on Draft's Day 2

Maine SS Pena, Cal Poly OF McKenna among club's 8 selections

June 5th, 2018

HOUSTON -- The Astros tabbed position players with their first two selections in the third and fourth rounds of the MLB Draft on Tuesday -- the top-rated prospect out of Maine, shortstop Jeremy Pena at No. 102 overall, and Cal Poly outfielder Alex McKenna at No. 132 -- and the club continued loading up on right-handed pitchers on Day 2.
The Draft concludes on Wednesday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on at noon ET.
Draft Tracker: Follow every Astros Draft pick
Nine of the Astros' 10 selections in opening two days of the Draft were college prospects. By the end of Day 2, Houston has reeled in four outfielders -- including first-round choice Seth Beer at No. 28 overall -- one shortstop with their third-round pick, one catcher and four right-handed pitchers.
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"Typically, if you're going to target positions in a Draft, it's usually catcher and shortstop because those are the hardest to play defensively and they usually go very quickly in the draft," Astros assistant general manager Mike Elias said. "We were happy to come away with a shortstop and a catcher today, both of whom we really like. But there was a lot of good college arms with good stuff -- right-handed pitchers and we got a couple of those today -- and then some big college power bats."
Astros draft Clemson OF Beer with No. 28 pick
Here are Tuesday's selections:
Round 3, No. 102: SS Jeremy Pena, University of Maine
"You can put him in there at any level right now and he's going to do well," Maine coach Nick Derba told "Defensively, he is as good as anybody I've ever seen or played with. And I think if he continues to develop the bat, which I think he will, then you'll see a lot of Jeremy Pena on TV."
Pena, the son of former Major Leaguer Geronimo Pena, is a 6-foot, 180-pound true shortstop with "good speed that leads to excellent range and possesses the strong arm and footwork necessary to excel at the demanding position," according to Pena's bio on
"I can't describe that feeling," Pena told "It was a dream come true and I was very excited ... It's an honor to be drafted, especially by an organization with what they've accomplished in the past year is incredible."
There's little doubt Pena, 20, will move away from shortstop. Pena, ranked as the 168th prospect in the Draft by MLB Pipeline, started in all 54 games at Maine last season, batting .308 with 50 runs scored, 65 hits and 28 RBIs in 211 at-bats. The Astros evaluated Pena the highest-rated defensive shortstop in the Draft, Elias said, and they are expected to discuss further future plans with Pena on Wednesday.
Derba, who was selected by the Cardinals in the 2007 Draft, formerly employed Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and assistant hitting coach Jeff Albert at the time of Derba's selection. Derba spoke to Albert throughout Pena's draft process, so the familiarity with Albert as his former hitting coach in the Cardinals' organization was surely beneficial. But Pena's play spoke for itself, Derba said.
"He's going to a place that I think is one of the best places to go," Derba said. "They're going to develop him. He's going to get an opportunity and they're going to invest their time. They're on the cutting edge of teaching the game. I'm really excited for Jeremy."
Round 4, No. 132: OF Alex McKenna, Cal Poly
McKenna's value as a prospect took flight in his sophomore season at Cal Poly when he slashed .365 en route to becoming an All-Big West Conference selection.
Like Pena, McKenna is a right-handed-hitting junior with experience at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds. McKenna's most enticing tool is his bat and line-drive oriented swing. Defensively, McKenna's a bit of a mystery. Elias expects McKenna to remain as a center fielder, but other pundits believe he may be bumped to left field or fit best as a fourth, rotational outfielder.
McKenna, 20, was previously drafted by the Twins in the 38th round in 2015. McKenna is the first Cal Poly prospect to be drafted since Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger in 2012.
Round 5, No. 162: RHP Cody Deason, Arizona
Deason's success as a freshman reliever at Arizona contributed to the Wildcats' College World Series run in 2016. Deason was promoted as their Friday night starter in 2018, bolstering his prospect status with a 2.87 ERA in 91 innings (14 starts).
A 6-foot-3 righty selected as Houston's second right-hander on Tuesday, Deason has never been previously drafted and became the second Wildcat to be taken by the Astros in as many years, joining infielder J.J. Matijevic (No. 75 overall, 2017).
Round 6, No. 192: RHP R.J. Freure, Pittsburgh
A Team Canada alum and Toronto native, Freure, a right-handed reliever, was the University of Pittsburgh's first player to be drafted in 2018.
"It's an honor to be given this opportunity to play professionally, and I would like to thank my coaches for helping me and showing me how to become a better player and person on and off the field," Freure said in a press release. "Mostly, I want to thank my parents for everything they have done for me and allowing me to pursue my dream. I am extremely thankful for this opportunity."
Freure, a two-year reliever and a Draft-eligible sophomore, compiled a 4.30 ERA in a school-high 27 appearances this season and he held opponents to a .227 average with 95 strikeouts in 58 2/3 innings. He led the nation in strikeouts per 9.0 innings ratio at 14.57, striking out 95 batters.
"In my opinion, R.J. has a Major League pitch in his breaking ball," Pittsburgh coach Joe Jordano said. "Couple that with a mid to upper 90s fastball, when he develops his consistency and potential of a quality third pitch, he's a big league pitcher sooner than later."
Round 7, No. 222: C Cesar Salazar
The Astros nailed a need with Salazar's selection. With catching depth at a premium throughout the farm system, Salazar marks Houston's first catcher to be selected in this year's Draft and the second Wildcat chosen on Tuesday.
Salazar, a bilingual left-handed hitter, batted .339 in 53 starts and 189 at-bats this season.
"To get a catcher that can manage his own game, hit for average, throw runners out and speak Spanish and English is a really good package," Elias said, "so we went and got him in the seventh."
Round 8, No. 252: RHP Austin Hansen, Oklahoma
Hansen, a 6-foot reliever, can touch 96 mph with his fastball, but his velocity tends to fade as his outing lengthens.
Hansen posted a 3.29 ERA in 34 appearances for Oklahoma, which saw its season end on Monday in an NCAA Regional.
Round 9, No. 282: OF Scott Schreiber, Nebraska
The Astros went with a right-handed power bat from Nebraska late in Day 2.
Schreiber, who remained at Nebraska last season despite being drafted in the 26th round by the Rays in 2017, batted .369 with 18 home runs in 52 games in 2018, two years since suffering a groin injury. A 6-foot-3 right-handed hitter, Schreiber clubbed 37 home runs and 37 doubles in 176 games at Nebraska. Schreiber jumped 487 spots from 2017's selection at No. 769 to No. 282 in '18.
Round 10, No. 312: OF Chandler Taylor, Alabama
The Astros completed their Day 2 haul with Taylor, a 6-foot-2 junior corner outfielder with some first-base experience. He batted .223 with 37 hits in 166 at-bats at Alabama last season.