The Astros had three of the top 33 selections in this year's draft, and hoped to use them to restock a farm system sorely in need of talent. Houston's philosophy was pretty clear from the start: it eschewed safe picks that could make a quick impact on the major-league team, instead stockpiling players that will take longer to develop. Here's a look at the Day 1 selections:
No. 8: Delino DeShields, Jr. - 2B/OF, Woodward Academy (GA)
DeShields stands out in this draft class for a number of reasons. The most obvious is his pedigree. His father and namesake played in the big leagues from 1990-2002, manning the keystone sack for five different teams. This drives a lot of comparisons between DeShields the younger and his dad.
One area in which the two are similar happens to be junior's biggest strength: speed. His father routinely swiped 40-50 bases per season at his peak, and the Astros hope that DeShields, Jr. can develop the same sort of baserunning instincts. He was possibly the fastest player in the draft, bar none; this speed earned him a commitment to LSU as a running back, where football scouts thought he also had pro potential.
But DeShields is built much differently than his father. Unlike DeShields Sr., who was 6'1" and lanky, the Astros' new prospect is 5'8" but much bulkier. That gives scouts reason to believe he should hit for more power than dad ever did (.377 career slugging percentage).
DeShields would be a highly-regarded prospect regardless of his bloodlines. He already has shown the ability to make consistent contact, and while power will never be his strongest tool, he should be able to transfer some of his strength into his swing.
Some insiders had doubts as to whether DeShields wanted to play pro baseball; as mentioned, he has a two-sport commitment to LSU, and will probably demand a bonus over slot money. But after being drafted in the top ten, he will almost certainly sign and commit to the national pastime. It's a credit to the normally tight-fisted Astros that they were willing to take the player they had wanted all spring, even if it might cost them.
The other big question mark is his position. It isn't as much of a concern for DeShields as it is for some other prospects, since both options are valuable - center field and second base. His speed would be best-suited in center, and in the best-case scenario he improves his reads in the outfield and is a potential Gold Glove candidate. But he's currently a bit raw in the outfield and doesn't have a great arm, while he has good hands and looks smooth at his father's position. The Astros have said they see him as a second basemen long-term, but he will spend time in center this year.
DeShields will open the year in rookie ball at Greeneville. Tri-City fans should root for him to perform well there, as a promotion would bring him to the ValleyCats. A talent like DeShields would be a joy to watch and could certainly electrify Joe Bruno Stadium.
No. 19: Mike Foltynewicz - RHP, Minooka Community HS (IL)
Foltynewicz came as a bit of a surprise at No. 19 - I don't recall seeing him in a single first-round mock draft, as most saw him as a sandwich- or second-round player. But Houston has had success reaching for pitchers they liked better than other teams; they did so with Jordan Lyles two years ago, and that's turned out well, as Lyles currently boasts a 2.86 ERA at Corpus Christi.
Illinois is not exactly a hotbed of baseball talent, but Houston has been determined to milk the state for all its worth, drafting pitcher Tanner Bushue in the second round last year and Foltynewicz this season. Standing 6'4", the righty has great arm strength, capable of hitting 96 on the radar gun. Just as importantly, Foltynewicz's fastball moves a lot, inducing a lot of grounders and poor contact.
Foltynewicz also possesses a very strong changeup, which also has strong movement. His breaking ball doesn't really classify as either a slider or a curve, and is clearly his third-best pitch. But he has decent command for a high school pitcher and scouts love his body and delivery, believing that he should hold up to tougher workloads very well.
The righty is committed to the University of Texas, but is expected to be a relatively easy signing for the Astros.
I would expect Houston to handle Foltynewicz much as they did Lyles two years ago. In 2008, Houston drafted Lyles out of high school in the supplementary round and sent him to Greeneville, where he spent most of the season before pitching 5.2 innings in Troy. Foltynewicz seems a bit more advanced than the average prep arm, so he might move a bit quicker, but he'll probably be in the Appalachian league until at least August.
No. 33: Michael Kvasnicka - 3B/C/OF, Minnesota
The Astros had also been known to like Kvasnicka. The switch-hitter put up solid numbers at the University of Minnesota this year, hitting .350/.462/.562 and halving his strikeout rate from previous years. He was seen by some as a potential first-round draft pick, and where he was drafted seemed to dovetail nicely with his potential.
However, the Astros have since made a puzzling decision. Kvasnicka grew up an outfielder, but moved behind the plate this year for the Gophers to replace their injured starter. Most saw Kvasnicka as a catcher before the draft, feeling that he could handle it defensively and provide a plus bat from the position. But Houston announced him as a third baseman, and appears poised to keep him at the hot corner.
Kvasnicka's bat should still play at third, although he's less likely to be a star there. But he makes solid contact and should hit for a little bit of power. With above-average plate discipline, he should be a productive offensive player.
Tri-City fans should expect to see a lot of Kvasnicka this year. The most comparable player from the past few years is Jason Castro, who played his first season after signing in Troy. Kvasnicka's not a catcher, but he is learning a new position, so Houston will be patient with his development.
Read more about DeShields, Foltynewicz and Kvasnicka at 'Cats Corner. Check back tomorrow for profiles of Houston's other draft picks.