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Astros' Draft plan nets college talent, arms

Club selects Appel No. 1 overall, stockpiling a total of 24 pitchers

After a 2012 Draft class that was heavy on high school talent and infielders, the Houston Astros wanted to paint a different coat on this year's canvas for the 2013 First-Year Player Draft.

What the front office wanted was "polish." So, Houston mostly went with tested talent over intriguing youth, selecting five college players with the franchise's first five picks, including three pitchers at the top.

"Big picture, I feel like we executed part of a strategy that dovetails with what we did last year," Astros director of amateur scouting Mike Elias said. "Last year, we got some very exciting, young, talented high school kids supplemented by experience college players. I think we injected quite a bit of polish in there this year with position players from big schools and big, tested arms. The youth was more sprinkled in this time around."

Pitching ruled the roost throughout, as the Astros stockpiled 24 arms among their 40 picks, including 10 in the first 17 rounds.

Houston kicked things off on Thursday with the first overall pick, locking down homegrown talent and Stanford right-hander Mark Appel at the No. 1 spot.

"It's incredibly special," Appel said. "Both my parents were born in Houston and raised there, and I lived [in Houston] for 12 years before moving to California. All of my family lives there. It's exciting to potentially be back playing there."

While Appel's agent is tough negotiator Scott Boras, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow expects Appel to be in the Houston system before the summer's over.

"I'm very confident that Mark Appel is going to put on an Astros uniform," Luhnow said. "He's from here, he wants to play here, he's been selected first in the Draft. All the indicators are pointing in the same direction. I would assume it would be a fairly straightforward discussion and he'll sign and get out, and start pitching in our Minor League system."

Another right-handed ace followed in UC-Irvine standout Andrew Thurman at the 40th pick to round out Day 1.

"Not only were [Appel and Thurman] the best players on our board in both spots, but it also fits our needs at this period of time," Elias said. "We need pitching depth, and these are two starting pitchers with everything going for them."

Day 2 lightened up on the pitchers, but the collegiate trend continued.

North Carolina left-hander Kent Emanuel led off the Astros' second-day selections, going first in the third round. The last time Houston drafted three straight pitchers to open a Draft was in 2002 (six straight). Three of those six eventually made the Majors.

The Astros finally deviated from pitching by picking a pair of college teammates. Houston grabbed the starting right side of the infield for Vanderbilt, taking first baseman Conrad Gregor in the fourth round and second baseman Tony Kemp -- the 2013 SEC Player of the Year -- in the fifth.

The last time Houston selected five consecutive college players to begin a Draft was in 2001, when the Astros' first 11 choices were college players. Seven of the 11 eventually made the Majors, including second baseman Chris Burke (first round) and right-handed hurler Kirk Saarloos (third round).

"We drafted these college players to get guys in the system who know how to play the game already, who've had success on big stages," Elias said. "They could advance quickly and provide Major League value in a short amount of time."

The Astros also addressed depth at catcher, one of the organization's thinnest positions in the Minor Leagues. The club added high school catcher Jacob Nottingham in the sixth round, while ninth-round selection Brian Holberton will get a look behind the plate. Houston took two more catchers in the later rounds.

Two center fielders followed in the seventh and eighth rounds, as either South Florida junior James Ramsay or California high school product Jason Martin could eventually roam Tal's Hill at Minute Maid Park.

Holberton and southpaw Virginia high school pitcher Austin Nicely rounded out Houston's Day 2 haul.

The Draft's final day cemented Houston's strategy, with the Astros taking 24 college players in 30 picks and selecting a pitcher in nine straight rounds at one point.

"It was a reflection of what we thought was available," Elias said of the collegiate pitching focus. "We realized that was the theme of this year's market. It comes at the right time for our system, too. There's a lot of advanced players who can fit alongside the younger talent already there."

Houston also selected Kacy Clemens, son of former Astros great Roger Clemens, in the 35th round, though he is unlikely to sign with the club. Clemens tweeted on Saturday after the pick that he will still honor his college commitment to Texas.

Elias said that the organization expected to sign every player it drafted, emphasizing that the front office wasn't just taking flyers on late-round talent.

"We intend to sign them all, but we'll see what happens," Elias said. "You know that's rarely the case, but they were all selected with the intent of getting them into the system."

This was Luhnow's second draft as Astros GM and Elias' first as director of amateur scouting.

"I think we executed what we wanted to do in this Draft," Elias said. "Getting the best player on the board was a start, and then we got a lot more pitchers along the way. That's a good thing to have since we felt it was the strength of this class. You need as many arms as you can get."

Chris Abshire is an associate reporter for

Houston Astros