Mets use their first pick on high school shortstop

Colin Houck goes at No. 32; NY later picks Brandon Sproat for 2nd straight year

July 10th, 2023

NEW YORK -- Two years of heavy spending under owner Steve Cohen have had clear and obvious benefits for the Mets. But heading into the MLB Draft on Sunday, the team was primed to feel the negative effects of that strategy in a tangible way. Because the Mets exceeded MLB’s Competitive Balance Tax by more than $40 million last season, the club had its top pick in the 2023 Draft dropped from No. 22 overall to No. 32 overall.

Then fell to them, erasing much of the organization’s unease about the penalty.

In Houck, a highly regarded shortstop from Parkview High School in Lilburn, Ga., the Mets selected a two-sport star athlete whom MLB Pipeline rated 12th overall in the 2023 Draft class. High school players such as Houck can fall due to signability concerns, but the Mets, with an $8.4 million Draft pool, should be able to convince Houck to eschew his Mississippi State University commitment and become another bedrock piece of their improving farm system.

“I would say we were surprised that he got down there to us,” Mets director of amateur scouting Drew Toussaint said, “but super excited that he did.”

A three-star quarterback at Parkview whose play garnered him football scholarship offers to Power 5 schools, Houck abandoned that path last summer to focus on baseball. The early returns have been promising. During his senior year, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound shortstop had a slash line of .487/.589/.857 with eight home runs and 16 steals, winning Gatorade Player of the Year honors for the state of Georgia.

“I knew I was always a baseball kid at heart,” Houck said, explaining his decision to choose that sport as a full-time pursuit.

In at least one way, the pick may seem curious, given that the Mets have Francisco Lindor signed through the 2031 season and feature another promising young shortstop in Ronny Mauricio, who is ranked as their No. 2 prospect and is under team control through at least 2029. But MLB teams rarely draft for positional need, as the Mets themselves demonstrated last year in selecting catcher Kevin Parada with their top pick despite the presence of uber-prospect Francisco Alvarez.

Instead, teams draft the best player available and worry about the consequences later. When it came their turn to select late Sunday night, the Mets believed Houck was the best player available by a mile, with enough size, arm and hitting acumen to move to third base, if needed.

“[He’s] an athletic kid,” Toussaint said. “We like the hit tool. ... We like the defensive ability. We think he has the chance to develop some power. We’re real excited.”

Houck’s plus raw power is most noticeable to the pull side from the right-handed batter’s box, much like another Parkview alumnus -- former Mets outfielder Jeff Francoeur. The school has produced four MLB position players this century, including the current National League home run leader, Matt Olson.

Given that sort of background, Houck’s childhood loyalties are no surprise.

“I did grow up a Braves fan,” Houck said, smiling. “But with the Mets picking me, that’s obviously not the case anymore.”

Mets take Sproat for second straight year 
With their other Day 1 pick, No. 56 overall, the Mets selected right-handed pitcher from the University of Florida. Sound familiar? The Mets took Sproat in the third round last year after his junior season but were unable to sign him.

Instead, Sproat returned to Florida, where he struck out 134 batters in 106 1/3 innings while posting a 4.66 ERA. Sproat declined to get into details regarding why his deal fell apart last year, but Draft rules required the Mets to seek his permission before selecting him again. Sproat granted it, and this time around as a college graduate, he’s overwhelmingly likely to sign.

“I’m super excited about this, super blessed,” Sproat said. “It’s funny how the world works. In the same position last year, couldn't work out a deal. But went back, bet on myself. It’s funny how things turn out. I’m super excited and blessed.”