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Astros return to Round 1 in 2005 Draft

Astros return to Round 1 in 2005 Draft

HOUSTON -- The Houston Astros will be in a new -- and welcomed -- position during the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, because for the first time since 2002, they'll actually have a first-round pick.

The Astros lost their first-round privileges in 2003 and 2004 because they signed Type A free agents Jeff Kent and Andy Pettitte, respectively. Because the former teams of those two players offered arbitration, they received the Astros' first-round picks as compensation.

Today and Wednesday, the tables will be turned. The Astros will make the 24th overall pick in the first round, and because they lost Carlos Beltran to free agency after offering him arbitration, they will receive a pick in the sandwich round in between the first and second rounds (38th pick). After taking their second-round pick, at No. 74, they will receive the New York Mets' third-round pick (91st overall) as compensation for losing Beltran.

The Boston Red Sox received the Mets' second-round pick as compensation for losing Pedro Martinez.

Senior director of player personnel Paul Ricciarini, who oversees the Astros' scouting department, can't remember the last time the Astros had so many picks in the first three rounds.

"It puts a profound impact on the draft," Ricciarini said. "We're excited about the possiblities of putting together a strong combination of pitchers and skill position players. We can really do some damage this year."

The front office regime changed when general manager Tim Purpura replaced Gerry Hunsicker last November, but the draft philosophy appears to remain the same. The Astros, whose player development system is strongest in the area of pitching, will draft the best available players over targeting specific needs.

"I'm a pitching freak," Ricciarini said. "Just when you think you have a lot of pitching, you don't. But we'll look at everything. We could go with an up-the-middle combination of catcher, shortstop and center field. We're always looking to upgrade the speed and athleticsm of the organization.

"Our strength is pitching, but in a perfect world we might put more emphasis on skilled position players."

The talent pool appears to be deep this year. Ricciarini believes the class of pitchers and position players is above the norm, as do many of his colleagues.

"I think this is an above-average year," he said. "It's a nice balance of high school and college talent."

The Astros have traditionally drafted more college players than high school talent, mainly because of the maturity factor. Ricciarini said one of the biggest challenges his staff has is to judge the intangibles that can't be found on a stat sheet or radar gun.

"The talent displays itself," Ricciarini said. "We look at backgrounds, how they deal with adversity."

In the last 11 years, the Astros have focused mainly on college players, and most of the first-rounders have been pitchers. Beginning with the selection of Billy Wagner in 1993, the Astros have picked seven pitchers, two infielders, one outfielder and two catchers as their first choices.

Of those 11, three are members of the current Astros team -- Lance Berkman (1997), Brad Lidge (1998) and Chris Burke (2001). Two are playing for other Major League teams: Billy Wagner (Phillies) and Ramon Castro (Mets).

The draft will have 50 rounds and will conclude after all 30 teams have passed on a selection or after the final selection in the 50th round, whichever comes first.

Ricciarini's troops will be searching for future Major Leaguers in the later rounds, too. After all, Roy Oswalt was a 23rd-round pick and former Astros right-hander Wade Miller was selected in the 20th round.

But the first order of business is the first round, and the Astros are ready.

"We pick relatively late in the first round, but the draft is deep enough with college pitching, college players and high school pitching," Ricciarini said. "I'm confident we're going to make the best decisions to have a positive effect on the organization in the future."

ASTROS DRAFT HISTORY

The Astros didn't have a first-round pick in the last two drafts, but the players they picked in the second round are progressing well, especially last year's pick, Hunter Pence.

LAST THREE TOP PICKS

Hunter Pence, OF (second round, 2004): In his second professional season, Pence was leading his Class A Lexington team through May with a .345 batting average, 16 homers and 37 RBIs. His .695 slugging percentage was nearly 200 points higher than the next-highest percentage on the roster.

Jason Hirsch, RHP (second round, 2003): After going 11-7 with a 4.01 ERA over 26 games (23 starts) in Class A Salem in 2004, Hirsch started the 2005 season with a 4-5 record and 3.82 ERA over 11 starts through the first two months for Double-A Corpus Christi.

Derick Grigsby, RHP (first round, 2002): Has not played this year because he is tending to personal issues. Grigsby was 7-11 with a 4.71 ERA over 27 games (26 starts) for Class A Lexington in 2004.

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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