Heck of a year for former Astros head scout
Drafts of 2008-12 had tremendous impact on '15 Houston club
Bobby Heck watched from afar while the Houston Astros became the talk of baseball this past summer.
A team that lost 416 games the four previous seasons, the Astros claimed an American League Wild Card spot, knocked off the Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game, and took the eventual World Series-champion Royals to the full five games in the AL Division Series before being eliminated.
And they did it with a home-grown nucleus.
For Heck, that was the treat.
Heck is now a special assistant with the Tampa Bay Rays, but a part of him remains with the Astros, where he was the scouting director for five Drafts (2008-12), which led to the acquisition of 11 of the 25 players who appeared for Houston in the postseason.
Heck is quick to caution that is not the same as saying his scouting staff is the reason the Astros enjoyed success. It was, however, a part of it.
"If you say we provided the foundation, you have to give the current regime credit for putting up the walls, providing the roof and windows, and painting the structure," said Heck. "They have done a good job in taking the franchise to the next level."
Heck and his scouts provided a nice starting point.
Three of the position regulars for the Astros were drafted and signed during Heck's tenure: catcher Jason Castro, the team's first-round pick in 2008; shortstop and 2015 AL Rookie of the Year Award winner Carlos Correa, first round (No. 1 overall) in 2012; and right fielder George Springer, first round in 2011. Preston Tucker, who started 62 games in left field last season, was a seventh-round Draft choice in 2012.
Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner, was a seventh-round Draft pick in 2009, and rookie right-hander Lance McCullers, who stepped into the rotation in 2015, was a supplemental first-round pick in 2012.
The Astros also acquired DH Evan Gattis from Atlanta for a package that included right-hander Mike Foltynewicz, a compensation first-round pick in 2010; center fielder Jake Marisnick from Miami in a multi-player deal that included shortstop Enrique Hernandez, a sixth-round pick in 2009; and third baseman Luis Valbuena, along with right-hander Dan Straily a year ago from the Cubs for center fielder Dexter Fowler, who came to the Astros a year earlier from the Rockies for right-hander Jordan Lyles, Houston's supplemental first-round pick in 2008.
Center fielder Carlos Gomez and right-hander Mike Fiers, in-season additions from Milwaukee in 2015, were acquired for a three-player package that included right-hander Adrian Houser, the second-round pick in 2011, while backup catcher Hank Conger was acquired from the Angels for right-hander Nick Tropeano, a fifth-round pick in 2011.
And for Heck, beyond the 2015 Astros, there was center fielder Delino DeShields, Houston's first pick in 2010 who assumed an everyday role with AL West-champion Texas after being selected in last winter's Rule 5 Draft, and right fielder J.D. Martinez, the Astros' 20th-round pick in 2009, signed by the Tigers after being released in the spring of 2014 and a 2015 AL All-Star and Silver Slugger Award winner.
"You feel a sense of accomplishment," Heck admitted. "We had a philosophy and blueprint we followed, and it was the result of a lot of people who evaluated players and played a part in the decision-making."
Keuchel was a perfect example. A left-hander at the University of Arkansas, he was not a high-profile prospect. Area scout Jim Stephenson, however, liked Keuchel, and brought in national crosschecker David Post, who was impressed. It was at their urging that Heck selected Keuchel.
"I saw him for the first time [three months after the Draft] in the Florida instructional league, and I was impressed," said Heck. "Even then, though, you are thinking a back-of-the-rotation guy. He was what you would call 'boring good.' His work ethic and commitment to doing everything he was able to do to get better made him more than that."
Watching the efforts pay off in on-field success from afar wasn't the same as still being a part of the Astros, but it was rewarding, and Heck has no ill-will about being replaced following the 2012 Draft in Houston by current general manager Jeff Luhnow, who had been hired away from the Cardinals prior to that season.
"You hope to complete what you start, but you also expect, once there is new leadership, that they are going to want to put their own group together," said Heck. "You respect the job they have done."
And for Heck, there's also a feeling of a job well done when he sees the players he drafted and signed playing such a significant role.