HOUSTON -- The Astros navigated the new Draft rules to near perfection last year, signing No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa for less than the allotted slot value, which enabled them to later take a couple of players they believe were first-round level talents and pay them more than value.
Whether the Astros try to employ a similar tactic this year remains to be seen, but the team knows the importance that comes with the No. 1 overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft -- a selection they have for the second straight year.
"How well we do in this Draft as a whole is very important to the organization," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "It's hard to put much weight on any one particular pick, because we all know the failure rate of players is very high and you don't want to hang everything on one player. How we do in terms of bringing in talent and developing talent, that's the most important thing we can do."
The 2013 First-Year Player Draft will take place Thursday through Saturday, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday at 5 p.m. CT. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 6 p.m., with the top 73 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. Rounds 3-10 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Friday, beginning with a preview show at 11:30 a.m., and Rounds 11-40 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Saturday, starting at 12 p.m.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
University of Oklahoma right-hander Jonathan Gray is among a handful of players the Astros are considering with the first pick, including Stanford pitcher Mark Appel and college hitters Kris Bryant (San Diego) and Colin Moran (North Carolina). High schoolers Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows have been on their radar as well.
"We want the guy as an organization we believe is going to create the most Major League value," Luhnow said. "It's as simple as that. It's easy to say that, but hard to define what that means. There's a lot of factors that go into it. Certainly, what they've done in the past is a big part of it, and the scouts are experts and they get paid to evaluate players and predict the future.
"Predicting the future is a risky business, but they're pretty good at it and they're a lot better than most of us would believe. We have to listen to our scouts and trust their opinions. There's a lot of factors that go into it, but at the end of the day, you feel good about your decision, but you're never 100 percent sure."
The pick looms large for the Astros, who are in the midst of a rebuilding process that has seen a dramatic overhaul of their Minor League system in the past four years. The Astros didn't have one player reach the Majors from the 2007 Draft, but their recent Drafts have been much more promising.
They'll certainly have money to make an impact. The Astros can spend up to $11,698,800 on picks in the first 10 rounds, as per the rules instituted prior to last year's Draft. That's an increase of their pool average of $521,100 from 2012, when they took Correa with the No. 1 pick.
Luhnow and his staff got creative last year and were able to sign Correa for $2.4 million less than the signing bonus value Major League Baseball gave to the top spot. That flexibility helped Houston sign high-end talent like pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. and infielder Rio Ruiz later on.
"It fell into place last year," scouting director Mike Elias said. "I think that's something, if it happens, it's kind of a bonus, but it's not necessarily something you plan or take into account beforehand. I think it's possible that happens, sure, but I can't say I expect it at this point."
Luhnow didn't rule out the Astros once again being creative when it comes to trying to get the most money out of their allotment.
"We have a pool of dollars we have available to spend and we want to get the most for that pool," he said. "We want the highest return investment we can get from this Draft. We feel like we got it last year and we can do it again this year."
Here's a glance at what the Astros have in store as the Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
The Astros are in no position to get picky. This year's Draft will once again be about taking the best talent available. Houston's Minor League system has improved greatly in recent years, but it could stand to build more depth across the board at various positions.
Conventional wisdom has the Astros taking Gray or Appel, either of whom could be in the Majors at some point next season.
In his second mock Draft, MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo had the Astros taking Gray with the No. 1 overall pick. He would immediately become one of the team's top pitching prospects and could be put on the fast track to the Major Leagues, much like Kevin Gausman and Michael Wacha from last year's Draft. An MLB team source confirmed to Mayo on Monday that Gray tested positive for Adderall. The drug is a banned substance in MLB and would subject Gray to follow-up tests, but industry insiders did not expect it to hurt Gray's Draft stock.
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team has an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.
Any team going up to five percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75-percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75-percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100-percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100-percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.
The Astros have more money to spend than any other team with an allotted bonus pool of $11,698,800, including $7,790,400 for the No. 1 overall pick. The No. 40 overall pick has an allotted bonus slot of $1,397,200.
This year's Draft is heavy on left-handed pitching, which is a weakness in the Astros' improving farm system. The Astros could also stand to improve their catching depth, but Houston is going to pick the best player available early on, Elias said. "It seems like everybody's looking for more lefties in their system," he said. "I don't know if that means we'll get one, because you always want to take the best player available to you no matter the need, but we wouldn't complain if we came away with one of the lefties."
In their first Draft with Luhnow at the helm, the Astros went pitching-heavy in 2012 by taking 19 pitchers among their 41 picks. Although they took a Puerto Rican high schooler with the No. 1 pick, they wound up selecting 30 college players, many of whom got off to quick starts and were quickly challenged by the club in the Minor Leagues.
• Recent Draft History •
Outfielder George Springer, the team's first-round pick in 2011, appears to be on the fast track. He was hitting .299 with 15 homers, 40 RBIs and 15 RBIs through 48 games this year at Double-A Corpus Christi and could wind up finishing the season in Triple-A Oklahoma City.
It's certainly not unrealistic to expect Springer to come to Major League camp next year competing to be the starting center fielder and a centerpiece of the Astros' rebuilding process.
Outfielder Brandon Barnes was taken in the sixth round of the 2005 Draft, but was never considered a top prospect as he moved slowly through the system. He repeated a handful of levels and spent three years bouncing between Double-A and Triple-A Round Rock/Oklahoma City before he finally got called up last year.
Barnes, who has been in the organization longer than any other player, has played his way into a starting role and has been such a role model for the organizational grinders that the club had him address the Astros prior to Opening Day this year.
In The Show
The Astros have six players on their 25-man roster (as of May 30) who were drafted and developed by the club, including three starting pitchers -- Bud Norris (sixth round, 2006), Dallas Keuchel (seventh round, 2009) and Jordan Lyles (38th overall, 2008). The team also drafted Barnes (sixth round, 2005), catcher Jason Castro (first round, 2008) and outfielder J.D. Martinez (20th round, 2009).
Astros' recent top picks
2012: Carlos Correa, SS, Class A Quad Cities
2011: George Springer, CF, Double-A Corpus Christi
2010: Delino DeShields Jr., 2B, Class A Lancaster
2009: Jiovanni Mier, SS, Double-A Corpus Christi
2008: Jason Castro, C, Houston Astros