HOUSTON -- This year's arrival of George Springer, who was taken by the Astros with their first-round pick in 2011, serves as a reminder of what kind of impact a high first-round pick can make, especially one taken out of college.
The Astros, of course, are no stranger to high first-round picks, and they will pick first overall for an unprecedented third consecutive season. After taking 17-year-old Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa and Stanford pitcher Mark Appel with the previous two No. 1 picks, Houston is hoping to find another star in the making.
The club will have a handful of worthy talent to choose from, with North Carolina State left-hander Carlos Rodon, high school lefty Brady Aiken, LSU right-hander Aaron Nola, high school fireballer Tyler Kolek and high school catcher/outfielder Alex Jackson among those under consideration.
The man charged with making the top pick for the third year in a row is Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who came to Houston after eight years working with the Cardinals and playing an instrumental role in the Draft for St. Louis.
"Having spent most of my drafting career picking at the very end of the first round, moving to the front of the first round is definitely a different experience," he said. "All three of these Drafts have been different. They have their own personality and own mix of players."
The 2014 Draft will take place Thursday to Saturday, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 12:30 p.m. ET on Friday.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 200 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
The Astros will have the second-highest amount of money to spend on the Draft at $13.36 million, including $7.99 million on the first overall pick.
Two years ago, they signed Correa to a deal worth $4.8 million, which enabled them to spread around their Draft pool money to land supplemental first-rounder Lance McCullers Jr. for $2.5 million and fourth-rounder Rio Ruiz for $1.85 million. Appel signed for $6.35 million last year.
Luhnow said Houston will take the best player available, though at some point -- probably 10th round or later -- the club will begin to draft for need to fill holes in the Minor Leagues.
"You start to think about it that way," he said. "You still don't compromise quality, but at that point it may be a tie between five guys and you fit the one that fits your organizational need the best."
In about 50 words
The Astros have the top pick in the Draft for the third consecutive year, and they want it to be the last time for a long time. There are enough talented arms that it wouldn't be surprising if they tab a pitcher No. 1 overall for a second year in a row.
In the week approaching the Draft, there was a varying difference of opinion among the front office in terms of which player to take. One camp was in the corner of North Carolina State left-hander Rodon, while several scouts were pushing for the club to take either the lefty Aiken, LSU right-hander Nola, high school pitcher Kolek or high school catcher/outfielder Jackson instead.
Rodon seemed to be the clear-cut No. 1 pick when the spring began, but his performance -- which was good, but not great with a lot of expectations on him -- has opened the door for the club to consider others. Keep in mind that no high school right-hander has ever gone with the first overall pick, and last year Houston chose a polished college arm over in Appel over some of the more raw talent.
Astros bonus pool
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, who have 11 picks in the first 10 rounds, have been assigned a pool of $13.36 million which is the second most in the Majors. The value assigned to the top overall pick is $7.992 million. The value of the pick they received from the Orioles in the Bud Norris trade (No. 37 overall) is $1.534 million.
Houston will take the best player available with the top pick, which will probably mean a pitcher considering the talent that's available. Drafting for need is tricky because the player could be a few years away from the big leagues and the look of the club could change, but the Minor League system could use a power corner-infield bat who hits from the right side of the plate.
Under the regime of Luhnow, the Astros have drafted a 17-year-old shortstop of Puerto Rico with the No. 1 overall pick (Correa) and polished college pitcher out of Stanford (Appel) with last year's top pick, so they've been quite different. In 2012, they drafted 19 pitchers among their 41 picks, which included 30 college players. Last year, their top five picks were college players, including pitchers with their first three picks.
* RECENT DRAFT HISTORY *
Houston already has a diminutive second baseman in Jose Altuve, but the Astros have another on the come at Class A Lancaster. Tony Kemp, taken in the fifth round out of Vanderbilt in last year's Draft, entered Friday leading the California League with 26 multihit games and among league leaders in runs, hits and on-base percentage .
His college teammate, first baseman Conrad Gregor, who was taken in the fourth round last year, recently joined him in Lancaster after hitting .289 with a .407 on-base percentage at Class A Quad Cities.
Left-hander Dallas Keuchel has never really been considered one of the club's premier pitching prospects, but he's blossomed into their best starter through the first two months of 2014. Keuchel was drafted in the seventh round out of the University of Arkansas in 2009 and worked his way methodically through the system before making his debut in '12. He went 6-2 with a 2.55 ERA in his first 10 starts season.
In The Show
Among the players currently on the 25-man roster, Houston has only three who were drafted by the club and have played their entire career in the organization -- catcher Jason Castro (first round, 2008), Keuchel (seventh round, '09) and Springer (first round, '11). Many of the other key contributors arrived via the bevy of trades the club has made the last few years.
The Astros' recent top picks
2013: Mark Appel, RHP, Class A Lancaster
2012: Carlos Correa, SS, Class A Lancaster
2011: George Springer, OF, Astros
2010: Delino DeShields Jr., 2B, Double-A Corpus Christi
2009: Jiovanni Mier, SS, Double-A Corpus Christi