HOUSTON -- For only the third time in their 50-year history, the Astros will have the first overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft next season. Houston earned that distinction when Minnesota won its 60th game on Thursday.
The last time the Astros had the No. 1 pick was in 1992, when they selected Phil Nevin, whose career took off after he left Houston. They also had the top pick in '76 and chose left-handed pitcher Floyd Bannister.
"You better get it right picking No. 1," Astros assistant general manager/director of scouting Bobby Heck said. "Obviously, it's an opportunity. I hope it's the only opportunity I ever have to pick one. The idea is to pick in the late 20s and even better, pick 30.
"These are the types of players you need to get you back to that point. As far as our approach, we walk into every year taking about candidates for the first pick, and I suspect we'll have a smaller number going into the year. We're still going to be open-minded and do our do diligence and select the best player."
Unlike in recent years when phenoms Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper were the clear-cut first overall picks, Heck said there is a pack of players who have separated themselves. Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero, Florida catcher Mike Zunino and high school pitcher Lucas Giolito of California and outfielder Byron Buxton of Georgia are among the players who could go No. 1.
"That group will grow as we walk through the fall and enter the spring," Heck said. "It's just a matter of getting a group and expanding on it as you get towards the end and then shrinking it down."
With the No. 1 pick comes a healthy financial commitment. The Astros this year paid a $2.525 million signing bonus when they took University of Connecticut outfielder George Springer with the 11th pick, and they could have to shell out about three times as much. This year's No. 1 pick, pitcher Gerrit Cole, got an $8 million bonus from the Pirates.
"The precedent says you're going to pay a lot of money for that first pick," Heck said. "First and foremost, we better put the talent in the right order and deal with the money factors at a later time."