Astros target high-ceiling talent in Draft

Astros target high-ceiling talent in Draft

Astros target high-ceiling talent in Draft
HOUSTON -- Well before the First-Year Player Draft, general manager Jeff Luhnow and the Astros' front office plotted out several different ways to handle how the Draft would go.

One of the strategies -- establish some financial flexibility with the first overall pick, allocate those resources accordingly and aggressively pursue talented players who may need to be swayed out of college commitments -- seemed to come to fruition in the three days of the Draft.

"Our scenarios worked out where one of the more optimal situations manifested itself and we were able to get a lot of talent," Luhnow said.

On Day 1, the Astros took Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa with the first overall selection and right-handed prep pitcher Lance McCullers with the 41st. The Astros hope to finalize a deal with Correa when he visits Minute Maid Park on Thursday after a verbal agreement was reached on Wednesday.

2012 Draft Central

McCullers, from Jesuit High School in Florida, is considered a firm commitment to the University of Florida and may be tough to sign. On Tuesday, McCullers told's Adam Berry that he was a little more optimistic about potentially signing with the Astros after reflecting on the outcome of the Draft.

"It could be a potentially great situation, and we'll just have to wait and see with negotiations," McCullers said.

There's no doubting McCullers' talent though -- he had a 0.18 ERA in 77 1/3 innings this season in a strong baseball state. Luhnow said no progress had been made on a deal with McCullers.

To kick off Day 2, the Astros took Nolan Fontana, a junior shortstop from the University of Florida. The Gators are the top-seeded team in the nation heading into this weekend's Super Regionals. Fontana and his teammates, including Astros seventh-rounder Preston Tucker, take on N.C. State at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday.

The Astros stayed close to home in the third round, tabbing right-handed pitcher and Houston-native Brady Rodgers out of Arizona State University. Rodgers signed with the Astros on Wednesday. Two rounds later, the Astros took Andrew Aplin, a center fielder out of Arizona State.

In between Rodgers and Aplin, the Astros took Rio Ruiz, a high school third baseman from Bishop Amat High School in California. Ruiz is committed to the University of Southern California, but Luhnow said picking him as early as the Astros did will help in the negotiation process.

"We have a little more confidence we will be there to meet his needs and hopefully get him signed," Luhnow said.

Through the three days of the Draft, the Astros selected 11 high schoolers: Correa (first round), McCullers (Compensation Round A), Ruiz (fourth), Brett Phillips (sixth), Hunter Virant (11th), C.J. Hinojosa (26th), Tyler Manez (32nd), James Sinatro (35th), Zachary Remillard (38th), Mitchell Traver (39th) and Joe Shaw (40th). Luhnow said it would be a stretch to sign all of them.

"I would say we're very optimistic about getting our top 11 picks done and potentially beyond that," Luhnow said.

Assistant general manager/scouting director Bobby Heck said the Astros didn't want to miss out on potential talent, no matter the round. This especially applied to Hinojosa and Traver, two talented players from Texas that have firm commitments to Texas and TCU, respectively.

"Maybe today on Draft day, or yesterday, they said that their intentions were to go to college," Heck said. "Our job is to secure the best talent and give yourself an opportunity to sign it should they change their mind."

With $11.177 million, the Astros have the Majors' second-largest bonus pool to allocate to their first 11 picks. Any bonus over $100,000 given after Round 10 also applies to the bonus pool.

The Astros' strategy is to use money saved from a potentially underslot Correa deal -- the overall first pick's value is $7.2 million -- on making players consider signing with the Astros over going to school.

"It takes a certain investment for a club to convince them not to do that," Luhnow said. "Once you're past a certain point in the Draft, there are very few clubs that have the kind of resources that it would take to convince them otherwise."

The Astros tried to balance that more aggressive approach with college players more likely to sign. With their first 10 picks on Day 3 (rounds 16-25), the Astros took 10 college players. They ended up taking 30 college players in the Draft.

Luhnow noted that the Astros will probably try to "reverse engineer" the strategies of other clubs after players are signed or decide to go back to school.

"There were 30 clubs operating in a new environment and everybody probably took a slightly different tact," Luhnow said. "It will be interesting to see how we all learn from each other."

Clark Goble is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.