2nd round: Vincent Velasquez - RHP, Garey HS (CA)
The Astros targeted raw, high-ceiling prospects in the first round, and stuck to that philosophy with their first pick of Day 2. For most of his high school career, Velasquez was seen by scouts as a position player; he would have probably been drafted as a switch-hitting shortstop in one of the later rounds. But in February, he stepped onto the mound at the Urban Youth Showcase - his first pitching appearance in more than a year, due to an elbow injury - and electrified the scouts in attendance. Velasquez fanned all four batters he faced, touching 93 with two secondary pitches and tremendous command given his lack of experience, and from that point forward became one of the most interesting pitching prospects in the draft.
Velasquez has a pitcher's body, standing 6'3" and 175 lbs with definite room to fill out. The righty was seen as a tough player to sign entering the draft, but if Houston was willing to take him this early, they must be confident that they can sign him away from Cal State Fullerton.
In theory, if he doesn't work out as a pitcher, Houston could still move Velasquez back to shortstop, although his likely ceiling there is a utility player off the bench. The Astros are certainly hoping he stays on the mound. Velasquez should be able to hit the mid-90s by the time he fully develops, and already has very good life on his fastball. And although he has very little pitching experience, Velasquez has a lot of potential to develop into a major league starter. His changeup is already better than that of most prep pitchers, and his curveball should slow bats down even more at 74-76 mph. Additionally, Velasquez has surprisingly good command of his pitches and a very smooth delivery that should not need many adjustments.
3rd round: Austin Wates - RF, Virginia Tech
Wates certainly has a bat with big-league potential. He batted .382/.491/.604 in his junior season at Virginia Tech, and was expected by many to be a first-day pick. He certainly won't slug .600 in the pros, but he should hit for a high average at any level. Wates's swing is compact and should allow him to make contact against even the best pitchers.
The biggest reason Wates fell was uncertainty regarding his eventual position. He played a lot in the middle infield, but doesn't seem likely to handle the position or third. Houston listed him as a right fielder, but there's a good chance he ends up in left field, because is arm isn't particularly strong. Wates has good speed - he led the Hokies with 18 steals in 21 attempts - so it's possible that Houston could take a risk and try him at center, even though he's not naturally an outfielder. The worst-case scenario is that Wates is forced to first base. His bat is strong enough that Wates could probably be a big-league first baseman, but his relative lack of power would make that less than ideal.
Houston clearly had no qualms about taking players without a definite position: of their first five picks, three were hitters, all of whom could or will be learning a new position in the pros. So it makes a lot of sense that they would take a player like Wates, who dropped only for that reason.
4th round: Robert Doran - RHP, Texas Tech
With their sixth draft pick, Houston took its first college pitcher. Doran is an intimidating presence on the mound at 6'6", 225 lbs. He throws his fastball around 90-91 mph with some lateral movement, combining it with a changeup and a slow curve.
The righty pitched for two years at Seward County College, and was drafted by the Pirates in the 36th round last season. But Doran rejected the offer, instead transferring to Texas Tech for his juinor season. His raw numbers as a Red Raider were not outstanding - 5-4 with a 4.35 ERA - but he had very good peripherals. Doran fanned 81 batters in 89 innings, while allowing only 23 walks and nine homers.
Doran has already signed a professional contract with the Astros.
5th round: Ben Heath - C, Penn State
The Astros selected a pair of potential catchers from the Big 10 in the first five rounds alone, with Heath following in the footsteps of Michael Kvasnicka from Day 1. There are questions as to whether or not he will be able to catch in the pros. But if he can, he becomes a very interesting prospect, because of how well he hit in his final college season.
Heath was the cornerstone of the Nittany Lions' offense, posting an on-base percentage of .451 and slugging .747 while swatting 19 homers. Big 10 competition is not as strong as some of the southern conferences, but those numbers are impressive anywhere. Heath was a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench award, given to the top college catcher, and was named second-team All-American by Louisville Slugger.
6th round: Adam Plutko - RHP, Glendora HS (CA)
Plutko was seen around the game as better than a 6th-round talent, but fell due to signability concerns: the righty has a strong commitment to UCLA and will demand a large bonus. If the Astros can sign him, they'll get a steal in the sixth round. Plutko was named an Under Armor Preseason All-American and lived up to the billing, going 7-3 and holding hitters to a .216 batting average. He threw a no-hitter in a playoff game two weeks ago.
The righty is one of the most advanced young pitchers in this draft. Plutko has excellent command for a high school pitcher, rated by some as the best of all eligible prep pitchers. He also throws four pitches, rare for a teenager, and could use all four in the big leagues. He doesn't have knockout stuff and never will, but a player with that kind of command could rise through a system quickly and should be in the back end of a big-league rotation someday.
7th round: Roberto Pena - C, Eloisa Pascual HS (Puerto Rico)
Catchers are always valuable, and ones that can switch-hit are even more so. Pena may not be a top hitter from either side of the plate, but few are better behind it. Houston drafted a high school player from Puerto Rico high last year (infielder Enrique Hernandez), and went back to that well again for Pena.
Pena was seen as possibly the best defensive prep catcher in this draft, bar none. He has a terrific throwing arm and gets rid of the ball quickly, neutralizing an opposing team's running game. He has the athleticism of a shortstop, but moved behind the plate and has performed beautifully. It's unlikely that Pena will ever hit enough to reach the big leagues, but if his bat does come along, Houston has experience with defense-first catchers: they lived with Brad Ausmus for eight years, reaching a World Series with the 18-year veteran in 2005.
8th round: Jake Buchanan - RHP, North Carolina State
Buchanan was a workhorse at NC State, throwing 105 innings for the Wolfpack while compiling a 3.86 ERA. The righty struck out 96 batters while allowing just 27 walks this season. But Buchanan has shown even better stuff elsewhere. He racked up gaudy numbers in his senior year of high school, striking out 146 batters with a 0.39 ERA in 2007, and had a dominant performance at the Cape Cod League last year, posting a 0.84 ERA with six walks in 43 innings. Buchanan doesn't throw very hard, rarely breaking the 90 mph barrier, but has a good curveball and changeup.
According to the Charlotte News-Observer, Buchanan will be pitching for the ValleyCats this summer. He has already agreed to terms on a contract with Houston.
9th round: Thomas Shirley - LHP, Xavier
It took 11 selections and six pitchers, but Houston finally grabbed a lefty in Shirley, who has also signed an official contract with the Astros. Like the other college arms drafted by Houston, Shirley didn't post great numbers on the surface - 4-3 with a 4.03 ERA in the Atlantic 10 - but he struck out 98 hitters in 96 innings while only allowing 25 walks. The 6'5" lefty from the Pittsburgh area throws hard and generally keeps the ball down in the zone.
10th round: Evan Grills - LHP, Sinclair Secondary HS (Ontario)
The Astros complete the trifecta in the tenth round, grabbing a player from each available region (America, Canada and Puerto Rico). The lanky, 6'4" Grills has four years of experience on the Canadian Junior National team, and was seen as one of the best players in Canada entering the season. He fell down draft boards due to a shoulder injury, which brought his fastball down into the mid- to high-80s, but he has a nice curveball and plenty of potential.
You can find more on these selections at 'Cats Corner, and view a list of the rest of Houston's draft choices here.