, Port Arthur, Texas

June 5, 2013

MLB Draft 2013: Astros have options at top

David Coleman
The Port Arthur News

HOUSTON — History will repeat itself Thursday night for the Houston Astros. The club will select at the top of the MLB draft for the second consecutive year and the fourth time in franchise history.

Multiple reports say that the Astros have narrowed their focus at the top of this draft to five guys, though all five have questions that mean none of them stand alone as the best prospect in this draft.

Stanford right-hander Mark Appel is the most familiar name of the five, as he was touted as the Astros’ top pick in last year’s draft. The 6-foot-5, 215 pounder was one of the top pitchers in the 2012 college class and was selected No. 8 by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The two sides could not reach an agreement on a contract, so Appel went back to school for his senior year. He led the Cardinal pitching staff as the Friday night starter, amassing a record of 10-4 with 130 strikeouts in 106 innings, with a 2.12 ERA. He features a mid-90’s fastball, one of the best changeups in the draft and a slider/curve that should also be a plus pitch.

Appel is as polished a draftee as there’s been in years, meaning he could reach the majors very quickly if Houston takes him at the top of this draft. However, there are plenty of detractors who wonder if he truly has the upside to be an ace.

Appel is joined at the top of the college pitching class by Oklahoma junior Jonathan Gray. The 6-4, 239 pound Gray has a big-time fastball that has been clocked above 100 mph late in games. He’s also got a killer slider that has helped him strike out 138 batters in 119 innings this season,  while posting a 10-2 record and a 1.59 ERA.

The problem is that Gray lacks a third pitch. He’s been able to get by in college on his fastball, which may be the best in this draft class, and that knockout slider. But, he will need to develop a change or other breaking pitch to become a true ace.

Gray has only performed like this for one season, though, as he was good but not great in his sophomore season at OU. He’s also got a problematic delivery that could lead to injuries down the road. Oh, and he tested positive for the ADD drug Adderall in pre-draft MLB testing, which could also raise some red flags for teams.

Two college bats also join Houston’s top five, including University of San Diego junior third baseman Kris Bryant and North Carolina junior third baseman Colin Moran. Bryant has made the most noise this year, putting on one of the most impressive power displays in college baseball in years.

The 6-5, 215 pound Bryant hit 31 home runs in 62 games this season, adding 13 doubles and three triples despite the new BBCOR bats that inhibit power. He added a .329 batting average and 66 walks in 228 at-bats.

Bryant is easily the best power hitter in the draft, but two things may hold him back. First is his ultimate position. Bryant’s big frame and questionable feet mean he probably will not stick as a third baseman in the pros. However, he could move to a corner outfield spot and his power would make him a great fit.

The second part is more problematic. There are questions on how much contact Bryant will ultimately make in the pros. If he can’t make consistent contact, he’ll have a career like New Caney’s Adam Dunn, hitting for a low average with good power and plenty of walks. That’s a great future career, but may not be the “star” teams hope for at the top of the draft.

The 6-3, 215 pound Moran is almost an inversion of Bryant. He has a great bat and has shown excellent ability in college to barrel up the ball consistently. That led to a Freshman of the Year award in 2011 and All-America nods. In 2013, Moran has hit .348 with 13 home runs and 60 walks in 253 at-bats, leading a Tarheels team that is a favorite to make it to Omaha this season.

His questions are similar to Bryant’s, as scouts don’t think he can stay at third. Moran has more than enough arm and good hands for the position, but will need to work on his feet to stay there long-term. He also doesn’t have the “star” upside of even someone like Bryant, who will have flashy home run totals. Moran, meanwhile, will hit around .300 with a .360 on-base percentage and 25 home runs a year as a best-case scenario in the pros.

As a third baseman, that’s great, but it’s less ideal if Moran has to move to first base. One point in his favor, though, is his excellent plate discipline. That’s one thing the Houston front office values and may push him over Bryant as the top hitter in this draft class.

The last name to know for this top pick is Georgia high school outfielder Clint Frazier. The red-headed center fielder is a very polished high school guy with the most upside of any player in this group of five. The question with Frazier is whether he’s maxed out his potential already.

Frazier is not a big guy at 6-foot, 190 pounds and isn’t likely to grow more. That means the projection that made 2012 No.1 pick Carlos Correa so attractive may not be there with Frazier. He does have all five tools, though, as he’s a plus runner with a good arm and the ability to hit both for average and power.

It’s the power that teams have the most questions about. The guy Frazier is most favorably compared to is Brian Giles, who manned a corner outfield spot despite not having a typical power profile as a prospect.

Most of the draft chatter this week centers on Moran as the guy for the top pick. Both Appel and Gray have been mocked to the Astros this season, though, and Bryant is apparently still in the picture. Like last year, there’s also the chance Houston surprises everyone with the pick.

That should make for interesting viewing on Thursday night.