HOUSTON -- There's a new Sheriff in the Houston Minor League system. That's the nickname given to LSU senior pitcher Chris Cotton, whom the Astros tabbed as their 14th-round choice Saturday in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, 407th overall.
Cotton, all of 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, earned the nickname as LSU's closer in 2013, shutting down games with relative ease. He's a former walk-on who transitioned from long-relief duties last year to the Tigers' shutdown bullpen arm this season.
"We loved Chris Cotton, and our scouts across the South said we had to take him," said Astros director of amateur scouting Mike Elias. "He's from a big league factory at LSU. It's a steal to get a lefty with that pedigree in the 14th."
Cotton compiled a 1.29 ERA this spring, as batters only hit .164 against him. He has also tied the LSU single-season saves record with 16. He was the Most Outstanding Player in the 2013 SEC Tournament, where he went 1-0 with three saves while allowing no baserunners in four appearances. At one point, he retired 23 straight batters.
Those sound like the accolades of a dominant pitcher with fearsome stuff. That's far from the case with Cotton. He's a command guy, with a fastball that tops out in the mid-80s.
It's a nasty changeup that falls off the table as soon as it nears the plate that makes Cotton so tough to hit. His slider has improved dramatically, and he keeps it beneath the waist consistently and batters can't lay off until it's too late.
Cotton is much like the pitching version of Vanderbilt second baseman Tony Kemp, whom the Astros took Friday in the fifth round. Neither overwhelms with power, but uses baseball craft and staggering competence to get the job done.
"Those guys are both fan favorites at their schools, because fans appreciate what kind of players and clubhouse leaders they are and what heart they play with," Elias said. "Cotton's bulldog mentality and deception on pitches are huge pluses."
Chris Abshire is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.