Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Astros should draft Kris Bryant
By Jim Bowden
In their heyday during the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Houston Astros boasted a pack of “Killer B’s” and routinely sat atop the National League Central.
A lot has changed.
Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman are long gone, the Astros have been transplanted into the American League West under new ownership, and the team, which finished last or second-to-last in four of the past five seasons, is mired in last place again. They are in full rebuilding mode, working diligently since last season to restock a weak farm system.
Of course, the upside to that failure is the Astros own the first overall pick in Thursday's draft. All season, two college pitchers -- Stanford’s Mark Appel and Oklahoma’s Jonathan Gray -- flip-flopped as the projected top pick. While conventional wisdom dictates the Astros select one of them, to me the wiser choice would be to pass on both and select the next Killer B -- San Diego slugger Kris Bryant.
The 21-year-old Bryant is the best position player in the draft and the closest to being major league-ready. He led the nation with 31 home runs this season, the most by a collegiate player since the NCAA moved to the BBCOR composite bat in 2011.
Scouting Kris Bryant
Based on 20-80 scouting scale
By drafting Bryant, the Astros could have a star third baseman (or right fielder) for the next decade. To the right is how I grade Bryant's tool on the 20-80 scouting scale. (My full scouting report on Bryant is at the end of the blog.)
Instead, the Astros likely will draft either Appel or Gray. Indeed, both are considered future top-of-the rotation starters, so no one would argue in picking one of them. Conceptually, a team's path to winning a World Series begins with a dominant No. 1 starter, but history indicates that using the No. 1 overall pick on a starting pitcher typically does not yield the same production and career longevity as a position player. When you look at the best No. 1 picks of all time, they are all position players -- Chipper Jones, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Darryl Strawberry and Joe Mauer.
Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane always told me that you need three pitching prospects for one spot on the team because one candidate will get hurt, one will regress and one will make it. What if your first overall pick is the one who gets hurt and blows out a shoulder? Or what if he regresses? Then what do you have to show for the season in which you lost 107 games that resulted in the first pick? All of that frustration for your fans, media, players, coaches and front office, and you end up with Bryan Bullington?
Imagine the Pirates' lineup if they had taken Manny Machado instead of Jameson Taillon.
If the players are of similar talent, you should always take the hitter over the pitcher at the top of the draft, and in 2010 I criticized the Pirates for just that. They took Jameson Taillon at No. 2 overall, one spot ahead of Manny Machado. While Taillon might develop into an elite starter, he is a much bigger risk. Imagine if Machado sat in the middle of the Pirates’ lineup for the next decade with Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez?
To be sure, if there is a transcendent pitching talent who simply can’t be passed up, someone like Stephen Strasburg, who was clearly better than everyone else on the board, then the team should take him. However, that is not the case this year. The Astros will have a far better chance of success with an elite position player like Bryant, who will minimize the risk of a failure -- especially critical for a franchise that is starting over.
Here's another way to look at it: Of the previous 20 AL and NL Cy Young Award winners combined, just two taken in the top three picks in the draft have won the award -- David Price and Justin Verlander. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement to take a starting pitcher No. 1 overall, or even in the top three.
To minimize risk, the Astros should use the No. 1 pick overall to take Bryant, the best power bat in the draft. For me, he’s as close to a sure thing as a team can get in the draft. Berkman, Biggio and Bagwell might be long gone, but Bryant could serve as a franchise pillar, just as the aforementioned three did, for more than a decade. If Houston is truly rebuilding, drafting Bryant will help the cause significantly.
Kris Bryant | 3B | U of San Diego | 6-5, 215 | R-R
Bryant is an elite-impact talent and a future All-Star. He's the complete package. When I was GM of the Washington Nationals, I drafted Ryan Zimmerman in 2005 and promoted him to the major leagues in the same season. However, Bryant is a better hitter at the same stage with significantly more power. If he signs quickly, Bryant will be ready to contribute at the major league level as early as September.
His elite plus power is foul pole to foul pole with consistent sweet-spot contact. He can turn on the inside 95-97 mph fastball, and he is able to take the down-and-away breaking ball to the opposite field.
He has an above-average arm, and I think he'll be able to stay at third base. With continued hard work he might end up improving even more than projected. Or he could end up in the outfield. His running speed is average, but he goes first to third with ease and acceleration.
He has tremendous makeup, is a student of the game and has the ability to adjust and learn quickly. His father, Mike, was a ninth-round pick of the Boston Red Sox in 1980, so he has baseball in his DNA. He is extremely intelligent, earning a 4.7 GPA in high school and a 3.3 GPA at San Diego, earning him WCC All-Academic Team honors in 2012. -- Jim Bowden