2012 draft tracker: Astros draft strategy paying big dividends

Carlos Correa has picked up the pace after a slow start. (Mayra Beltran/Houston Chronicle)

A lot of people were surprised when the Houston Astros selected high school shortstop Carlos Correa with the first overall selection in the 2012 MLB draft. Even though the 6’-4”, 180-pound right-hander from Puerto Rico had been shooting up draft boards leading up to the draft, most thought the Astros would take prep outfielder Byron Buxton, or Stanford ace Mark Appel, or even LSU right-hander Kevin Gausman.

The decision to select the young five-tool talent was two-fold. First off, he was extremely talented. Already a plus defender at his position, scouts loved his bat speed, compact swing and ability to hit to all fields. His size suggested that more power would come, and even if he outgrew his current position, he would turn into one of the best third baseman in the game, both defensively and offensively.

The second reason was sign-ability. With the new CBA draft rules in place, allotting teams a budget on bonus payouts for their first 10 draft picks, the Astros knew they could sign Correa for “under slot” money for the first pick. He signed for a $4.8MM bonus, allowing them to save money and dish out more of it on other picks. Buxton got a $6MM bonus from the Twins as the second player taken overall.

Correa made his pro debut on June 18 with the Astros of the Gulf Coast League. He went 1-for-5 with a single to center field in his first at-bat and a stolen base. The 17-year-old looked smooth in the field and calm at the plate. Then he went 12-for-74 (.162) over his next 24 games with three RBI, four walks and 20 strikeouts. He also missed some time with a sore groin and committed nine errors. He didn’t resemble the player I saw in his debut. He seemed to be pressing at the plate, a little hesitant in the field.

Correa has since turned it around and is looking more like the player in high school, where he dominated on both sides of the field and made the game look effortless. Over his last five games, he is 9-for-20 (.450) with a double, two home runs, three RBI and two stolen bases. He won’t turn 18 until September 22. The best part of the new CBA draft rules is allowing players to sign earlier than in past years. With players and teams able to negotiate right after the draft, players like Correa get in almost an extra full year of playing time. Prior to this year, he most likely wouldn’t have even signed yet and wouldn’t have started his pro career until next year. This gives the players invaluable experience, and organizations get a better feel for their prospects and long-term goals. It also showcases these players to fans who possibly could have forgotten about them by not hearing their names for a year after being selected.

With the money the Astros saved on Correa, they were able to sign their second pick, Lance McCullers. The power righty, who was the Gatorade National Player of the Year, was considered a top-10 talent heading into the draft. Once he slipped past 10, teams obviously shied away due to sign-ability concerns. The Astros, already knowing they had extra money to spend, nabbed him with the 41st selection in the supplemental round, a pick they received for losing Clint Barmes to free agency. McCullers went 13-0 for Jesuit HS in Florida, posting a 0.18 ERA, 0.75 WHIP with 140 K/30 BB over 77.1 innings. Hitters hit just .106 against him, thanks to a fastball that can reach triple digits, as well as a hammer curve.

They signed him for a $2.5MM bonus, almost double the slotted amount, and in line for what the 12th pick receives. McCullers was sent to the Gulf Coast League with Correa and made his pro debut on June 18, tossing three shutout innings, allowing one hit with two strikeouts and no walks. Over his three starts, he has allowed two runs on seven hits over eight innings, striking out seven to one walk. He has flashed the golden arm that is going to make him a front-of-the-rotation starter at the next level.

The Astros essentially got a two-for-one with both Correa and McCullers. Along with their other selections, including third-round pick Brady Rodgers (4-1, 1.62 ERA, 33 K/6 BB over 33.1 IP), second-round pick Nolan Fontana (.286 AVG, 12 RBI, 25 BB, .512 OBP over 17 games) and fifth-round pick Andrew Aplin (.351 AVG, 15 SB, .461 OBP over 32 games), the Astros are looking like the winners of the draft so far.

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