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Astros optimistic about uncharted Draft waters

@brianmctaggart
June 11, 2020

HOUSTON -- These are uncharted waters for new general manager James Click, who took the Astros job a few weeks prior to the start of Spring Training and then watched baseball -- and the rest of the sports world -- come to a halt in March due to the coronavirus

HOUSTON -- These are uncharted waters for new general manager James Click, who took the Astros job a few weeks prior to the start of Spring Training and then watched baseball -- and the rest of the sports world -- come to a halt in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. As part of the negotiations for a 2020 season radically altered by the coronavirus, the MLB Players Association agreed to allow MLB to shorten the Draft to five rounds.

As Click prepares to move his young family from Florida -- he worked for the Rays the previous 13 years -- to Houston, he has kept in close contact with his scouting staff remotely to prepare for his first Draft as GM. Having lost their first- and second-round picks as part of the punishment handed down by Major League Baseball for sign stealing, the Astros will have only four selections in this year’s Draft, and no selections on the first day. Houston won’t pick until No. 72 overall, a compensation pick for losing Gerrit Cole to the Yankees in free agency. The Astros' final three picks will be No. 101 (third round), No. 131 (fourth round) and the Draft’s final pick at No. 160 (fifth round).

“When you’re down to four picks, one of the ways that the equation changes a little bit is you just throw everything else out the window and you’re just drafting on talent,” Click said. “Even if you end up drafting four very similar players, you should be able to find playing time for them at some place and at some point.”

Day 2 of the Draft begins at 5 p.m. ET today on MLB Network and ESPN2 and spans the remainder of the 160 picks.

MLB Network channel locator

Comprehensive coverage will be available on MLB.com and MLB Pipeline, which will simulcast MLB Network’s broadcast. Go to MLB.com/Draft to see when teams pick, the Top 200 Prospects list, mock drafts from analysts Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo, scouting video and more. And follow @MLBDraft and @MLBDraftTracker on Twitter to see what Draft hopefuls, clubs and experts are saying and to get each pick as it’s made.

Here’s how the Draft is shaping up for the Astros:

State of the system
After having one of the deepest farm systems in baseball in recent years, the Astros have shipped off a ton of talent the past few years in deals to acquire Justin Verlander, Cole and Zack Greinke, among others, while watching Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez reach the big leagues. The system has served them quite well, though. They’ve captured a World Series title, a second American League pennant and won 311 regular-season games in that span, so former general manager Jeff Luhnow’s rebuild with an emphasis on drafting and player development was a huge success. Still, the overall lack of organizational talent is a concern going forward.

What they’re saying
“We’re focused on maximizing organizational talent, and from that perspective of having controllable, elite talent in the organization, I think we stack up against everybody.” -- Astros GM James Click

Whom might they take?
Considering 16 teams will make at least three selections before the Astros’ pick at No. 72, including two teams (Giants and Cardinals) that will pick four times, identifying which players could be available is difficult. The Astros bucked the consensus with their top two picks last year (catcher Korey Lee and infielder Grae Kessinger). One possible strategy? Pick the best player with the intent to sign regardless of slot bonus and discount the rest of their picks.

Money matters
Under the collective bargaining agreement, each team gets an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. This year, with a five-round Draft, all signing bonuses will apply toward the bonus pool total.

Normally, any bonus greater than $125,000 for a player taken after the 10th round is also applied toward the total. This year, there is a $20,000 limit on bonuses for non-drafted free agents. There is no limit to the number of undrafted players teams may sign, but they cannot go over $20,000 per player. These bonuses do not count toward the pool total.

This year, the Astros have a pool of $2,202,600 to spend, which is the smallest in baseball, including $870,700 to spend on their first selection.

“It’s obviously a challenge to have, by far, the smallest Draft pool and that comes with the picks that we have,” Click said. “But there are some teams out there that have almost seven times as much money to spend as we do in the Draft. It does create some interesting give and take. It creates some challenges.”

Shopping list
More than half of the players on the Astros’ Top 30 Prospects list, as ranked by MLB Pipeline, are right-handed pitchers, which may speak to the lack of position-player depth in the system, as well as dearth of left-handed pitching. The Astros tried to bolster their position-player stockpile last year by using their first four Draft picks on Lee, Kessinger and outfielders Jordan Brewer and Colin Barber. Houston will be drafting on talent and not necessarily positional needs, but another infusion of some infielders and outfielders could be favorable.

Trend watch
The Astros have gone college-heavy in their drafts the past few years and figure to lean toward college selections with their four picks in 2020. With no '20 high school season and the lack of showcases, etc., not as much is known about the high school Draft-eligible players as there is about college players who have been scouted for years.

There’s a tendency to have more confidence in picking players who have been evaluated as opposed to high school players whose bodies and tools could still be developing. Houston will have to balance the uncertainly of the high school player against the known commodities in college.

The recent top picks
2019: Korey Lee, C
2018: Seth Beer, OF
2017: J.B. Bukauskas, RHP
2016: Forrest Whitley, RHP
2015: Alex Bregman, 3B

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.