Assessing the Astros 2012 draft

    This year's draft isn't going to make the Astros good next year, or the year after that.

    Rather, Jeff Luhnow is going back to what made the Astros a powerhouse in the late 1990s and early 2000s and him one of the smartest men in baseball while with the Cardinals. He went out and drafted a lot of talent with the picks he had, and is stretching his draft budget to the maximum to make sure the good ones are going to Lexington, Lancaster, Troy or Greenville.

    Here's what I'm seeing:

    Wow, there's a lot of first round talent here

    The Astros got five potential first round picks in top pick Carlos Correa, sandwich rounder Lance McCullers Jr., second-round pick Nolan Fontana and mid-rounders Hunter Virant and Rio Ruiz, who both fell several rounds into the draft because most teams are unlikely to sign them without bigger than normal money. Only Fontana is a college player. There's a lot of young talent in the early rounds that can develop into something special. But, players like Bryce Harper, Madison Bumgarner and Felix Hernandez are the exception and not the rule, so don't expect to see these guys in the pros quickly.

    Virant was, as ESPN Keith Law said, a second round talent or better who was going to be difficult to sign because of his strong commitment to UCLA. It might be hard to get him out of that, but it's worth a shot (as is the case with Mitchell Traver and C.J. Hinojosa, both mentioned in more depth later.) Virant isn't likely to sign - he's probably likely to be a Bruin - but in the 11th round, he was worth the risk.

    The Astros also took a flyer on USC commit Ruiz, who is going to require money above the first pick of the fourth round. There's a good chance, especially if Virant says no way to any overtures of signing, Houston tries seriously to sign him.

    The next few weeks will be interesting on the transaction wire for Houston. Aside from the likely moves of players like Brett Myers and possibly Carlos Lee and Wandy Rodriguez, it will be interesting to see if the Astros can get some of these high school kids with firm commitments to break them.

    The master stroke for any team in the draft

    Carlos Correa was a brilliant pick at No. 1, a painless signee with a ton of upside. At the time of the draft, the only player with a higher upside was Bryan Buxton, and he was going to be a cost-prohibitive player.

    The Astros have positioned themselves well with their early movement to sign Correa for less than the recommended slot ($4.8 million, to be exact, about $2.5 million saved), and will likely use the money to entice high school pitchers McCullers and potentially Virant to sign with the team. The new rules basically limit the amount in bonuses that can be paid to drafted players, so money saved in one place is money that can be spent somewhere else.

    Not only did Houston get a first-pick talent in Correa, there's a chance they get two or three more first round type prep players out of this draft too. It's not going to be easy, and Houston's draft becomes disappointing if McCullers decide to keep his commitment to Florida. Still, it's worth the risk, and having Correa already in the fold makes life a whole heckuva lot easier.

    There's a lot of Texas talent

    In general, there's a lot of Texas in Jeff Luhnow's draft this year. In particular, Klein Collins shortstop C.J. Hinojosa is struggling with whether to head to Texas or take the Astros money to be one of many shortstop prospects in the system. If it had been any other team, he's likely a Longhorn next year, but the home-town team stepped up and picked him.

    They also drafted Mitchell Traver out of Houston Christian in the late rounds, but its unlikely he signs. He was considered a first-round pick as recently as January, as well as the top high school prospect heading into the draft. He's probably still heading to TCU, but it would be interesting to see Houston pony up for him.

    Nine players taken - about a quarter of the players drafted by Houston on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday - are going to school in the state of Texas, including A&M-CC pitcher Daniel Minor and Arizona State pitcher Brady Rodgers, who pitched at Lamar Consolidated.

    Houston is well positioned for the future

    It's hard to make up for the failed Class of 2007, of which Houston got exactly zero at-bats and zero pitches thrown at the major league level, Zachary Levine of the Houston Chronicle reported. The failings of that draft class and others at the same time have hurt the team in the present.

    But that was why Jeff Luhnow was hired away from St. Louis. His draft plans helped the Cardinals keep producing players to fill new different roles, meaning the team was only on the market for difference makers and not stopgaps.

    (When you go on the free-agent market, you end up overpaying everyone, especially stopgap players who often get difference maker money but are no better than a Triple A callup. See: Clint Barmes, whom the Astros paid about $4 million to bat .244 and play only above-average defense.)

    The verdict on this draft class could take years to truly assess, and that's usually the case with most of MLB drafts. But this is especially the case when the two top picks are both high school talents. The college talent for Houston looks good, particularly Rodgers and Nolan Fontana.

    There's a wiliness to this draft by the Astros and Luhnow, a feeling that we are missing something. While I sit here and gush about the master stroke of signing Correa for a lot less to make sure either Virant or McCullers sign for more, that we aren't paying attention to one of the other picks.

    I can't help but feel that, while we look at what the Astros want us to look at, they have pushed the real gem of this draft past us in a later round.

    GRADES: A very early B+, with points off for little likely impact in the next three years. Probably higher, but I want to see what happens.

    SIDENOTE: Whoa, a Mike Benjamin sighting.

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