2020 Draft recap: Houston Astros
Following the five-round 2020 MLB First-Year Player Draft, MiLB.com takes an organization-by-organization look at each pick with help from team scouting executives. With the 2020 season on hold, the sting of the multiple punishments levied against the Astros from the 2017 sign-stealing scandal didn’t quite take effect until last week’s
Following the five-round 2020 MLB First-Year Player Draft, MiLB.com takes an organization-by-organization look at each pick with help from team scouting executives.
With the 2020 season on hold, the sting of the multiple punishments levied against the Astros from the 2017 sign-stealing scandal didn’t quite take effect until last week’s Draft. Not only was the team stripped of its first- and second-round picks, they also had the smallest bonus pool at $2,202,600.
This Draft already was uncharted terrain for baseball. But it presented an extra challenge for first-year general manager James Click, who joined the organization after Jeff Luhnow’s dismissal in February, well after most amateur players had been thoroughly scouted the previous summer and with only limited opportunities arising this spring.
Click told MLB.com that he relied on work done by two members of the old regime’s amateur scouting department: Charles Cook, who was elevated to player evaluation director in October after two seasons as manager of amateur scouting analysis, and scouting director Kris Gross.
Houston managed to get a pick before the third round after the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole. The next challenge was figuring out how to make the most of that limited bonus pool after selecting four players with Draft eligibility remaining beyond this year. But according to MLB.com, the club already has gone over its bonus pool to strike deals with its four draftees.
Compensation round 2C: RHP Alex Santos II (No. 72 overall) – After losing two of their best pitching prospects (Corbin Martin and J.B. Bukauskas) in the Zack Greinke trade at last year’s deadline, the Astros opted to restock their depth on the mound with their first two picks.
Santos didn’t get a chance to perform in front of scouts after his high school season was canceled, but he was already a well-known prospect who jumped into the spotlight on the showcase circuit last summer.
At 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, Santos has room to fill out. The University of Maryland commit gets a lot of spin on his mid- to high-90s fastball and sweeping breaking ball, which has been labeled interchangeably as a curveball and slider. He also throws a two-seamer and a changeup, showing a better feel during showcases.
“We scouted him heavily last summer and then saw him in the early spring this year,” Cook told MLB.com. “We were attracted to him for a number of different reasons. He’s a projectable, young high school arm with a plus fastball that reaches the mid-90s. … A breaking ball, a power slider, is his best pitch with a workable changeup as well. We were really excited to see that he was available to us.”
Beyond No. 19 overall prospect Forrest Whitley, the upper crust of the Astros pitching prospects -- Jose Urquidy, Bryan Abreu and Cristian Javier -- has already contributed or is very close to contributing at the Major League level. Santos will be more of a project, requiring patience to get to that point.
Third round: RHP Ty Brown (No. 101 overall) – Breaking into a powerhouse program like Vanderbilt's is no simple task, but Brown doesn’t really do anything the easy way.
Brown made inroads as the Commodores closer, amassing 17 saves in his first two seasons in Nashville. Last year, he sported a 2.59 ERA with 58 strikeouts over 41 2/3 innings. The 6-foot-4, 242-pounder likes to work up in the zone with a low- to mid-90s running fastball. His slider grades out as plus and he mixes in a curveball and changeup.
While it may take a little while for Santos to reach as high as Triple-A, Brown could be a Major League contributor as a reliever as soon as this year. But it seems the Astros plan to develop him into a starter.
“He’s got four pitches to work with, touching 97 [mph]. Pretty low-effort delivery,” Gross told MLB.com “I think the kid believes he’s a starter as well. … He’d be a starter at a lot of the colleges across the county. We’re optimistic Tyler can toe the slab every fifth day.”
No report about Brown would be complete without mentioning his personal journey. The Ashland, Ohio, native lost his mother to cancer when he was 13. He suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery during his sophomore year of high school. And he has a daughter who was born with Down syndrome and life-threatening heart defects while he was a Vandy freshman.
Fourth round: OF Zach Daniels (No. 131 overall) – There certainly was a need for outfielders in the Astros system. Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker and Myles Straw graduated from prospect status and Seth Beer was shipped to the D-backs as part of the Greinke deal.
Houston does not have an outfielder who's played a full pro season listed among their top 20 prospects. Daniels likely will require patience. His 2020 season for Tennessee was a chance to break out after two difficult campaigns and a rough summer in the Cape Cod League. He made the most of his limited opportunity, batting .357 with a 1.228 OPS, four homers and 18 RBIs in 17 games.
“We were fortunate to get some looks on him early in the spring,” Cook told MLB.com. “He had some inconsistent years early, but this year came out and showed real improvement. He’s a center fielder, 70 runner [on the 20-80 scale], plus to plus-plus raw power. We thought the tool package was a really exciting gift for us at that pick.”
The Astros are banking on Daniels’ raw tools, but his brief success this spring points to some decent upside.
Fifth round: SS Shay Whitcomb (No. 160 overall) – With their final pick, the Astros reached down into the Division II ranks to grab a UC San Diego player who impressed on the Cape last summer. Whitcomb was a .315 hitter with a .939 OPS across three seasons with the Tritons, but he proved his worth with a .303/.371/.606 slash line, eight homers and 17 RBIs for Orleans.
“He raked down there at UC San Diego,” Gross told MLB.com. “He was tested on Cape Cod and went out and proved it and a [heck] of a summer out there. That is really the drawing part for Shay, and we’re excited to get him.”
Overall outlook: Although the club feels Brown can be a starter, the Astros selected players at four different positions in the abbreviated Draft. And for a club whose farm system was greatly thinned by graduations and trades, it goes toward filling needs pretty much everywhere.
Apart from consecutive No. 1 overall picks in 2013-14, the Astros have gotten a lot out of their homegrown selections in recent years. They went the college route with their first-rounders each of the previous three years, although two of those picks -- Bukauskas and Beer -- have been traded away. Whitley represented the most recent high school pitcher selected by Houston with their first pick.
Bringing depth into the farm system has to be a priority for this club. Losing two picks also made it vital that the Astros not let anybody they picked slip away, which reportedly they have not. The club also reportedly reached agreement with eight non-drafted free agents.
Gerard Gilberto is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GerardGilberto._