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Draft Preview: Extra picks inspire Astros

Draft Preview: Extra picks inspire Astros

HOUSTON -- The Astros set themselves up quite nicely to stockpile early picks in this year's First-Year Player Draft when Jose Valverde declined their offer of salary arbitration in December, giving the Astros the No. 19 overall pick and the 33rd overall pick in addition to their own No. 8 pick.

The task now for the Astros, who have five of the first 90 picks, is to take advantage of the extra picks and have their third consecutive strong Draft under general manager Ed Wade and assistant general manager/director of scouting Bobby Heck, who are trying to rebuild the Minor League system after the poor Drafts of 2005-07.

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Draft Central

MLB.com will offer live coverage and analysis of the entire First-Year Player Draft from June 7-9 on MLB.com/Live. The first round and Compensation Round A will be broadcast live on MLB.com and MLB Network on Monday, June 7, beginning with the Draft preview show at 6 p.m. ET.

MLB.com Draft expert Jonathan Mayo will join Greg Amsinger, Harold Reynolds, John Hart, Peter Gammons and Baseball America executive editor Jim Callis on Monday's broadcast.

Coverage for rounds 2-50 will shift exclusively to MLB.com/Live. Rounds 2-30 will be streamed on Tuesday, beginning at noon, and rounds 31-50 will be streamed on Wednesday, starting at noon. Host Pete McCarthy will be joined by Mayo and former general manager Jim Duquette.

Here's a glance at what the Astros have in store as the Draft approaches:

In about 50 words
Talent rules the day. The Astros' farm system, which was decimated by poor Drafts in 2005 and 2006 and their inability to sign their top two picks in the 2007 Draft, still needs to be restocked. Houston contends it's going to take the best player available regardless of position.

The scoop
"Knowing where we picked after last season ended and after the Winter Meetings, knowing we were getting extra picks for Valverde, it's been very challenging because the fact is every player is in play. But it was also very rewarding from the fact every scout, their lists were all in play. It's been fun, but also understanding, too, is the impact that it can mean to a club and how important it is to nail these picks." -- Heck

Astros past five top picks
Year Player Current team
2009 Jiovanni Mier Lexington (low A)
2008 Jason Castro Round Rock (AAA)
2007 Derek Dietrich Did not sign
2006 Max Sapp Released
2005 Brian Bogusevic Round Rock (AAA)

First-round buzz
Don't be surprised to see the Astros take a pitcher, especially considering this year's Draft is heavy with quality high school and college right-handed arms. The club has a shortage of power arms, and it's gone up the middle with its most recent first-round picks: catcher Jason Castro (2008) and shortstop Jiovanni Mier (2009). With five of the first 90 picks, don't be surprised to see at least a couple of pitchers taken off the board.

Shopping list
Some of the pitchers the Astros have drafted in the past two years, including Ross Seaton and Jordan Lyles, are steadily progressing through the Minors, but the club won't shy away from adding more. The talent at catcher drops off after Castro, who's at Triple-A Round Rock, so don't be surprised to see additional catching depth. Of course, Houston is in need of power bats throughout its Minor League system.

Trend watch
The Astros would like to have a good balance between college and high school players, but they will go for the best talent early. That being said, if they have two players rated equally on the board and one of the positions is a biggest strength, they won't shy away from going with the area of need in that situation.

Recent Draft History

2009: Shortstop Jiovanni Mier, San Bonita (Calif.) High School - Mier had a very impressive rookie season at rookie-league Greeneville last year, hitting. 276 with seven homers and 32 RBIs in 51 games and ranked as the top position prospect in the Appalachian League. The Astros jumped him to low Class A Lexington, where he was hitting .207 with no homers through 40 games.

2008: Catcher Jason Castro, Stanford -- Castro has been everything the Astros had hoped and could make his Major League debut at some point during the 2010 season. He came to Spring Training battling with J.R. Towles to be the starting catcher after hitting .309 at Class A Lancaster and .293 at Double-A Corpus Christi in his first full season in professional baseball in 2009.

2007: Outfielder Collin DeLome, Lamar -- DeLome was taken in the fifth round and was the highest Astros Draft pick to sign after they lost their first- and second-round picks and failed to sign their third- and fourth-round picks. DeLome, who hits left-handed and can run, has progressed steadily through the system and began this year at Triple-A Round Rock, where he was hitting .257 with four homers and 15 RBIs through 36 games before going on the disabled list with a shoulder injury.

Rising fast
Right-hander Jordan Lyles, who will pitch at 19 years old the entire season, could be knocking on the door of the Majors by the end of next season. Drafted No. 38 overall in 2008 out of Hartsville, S.C., he struck out 235 batters in 200 innings coming into this season. He was 5-3 with a 2.84 ERA in 10 starts at Double-A Corpus Christi, striking out 52 in 63 1/3 innings.

Cinderella story
Right-hander Daniel Meszaros, a 48th-round pick in 2008, is already making a case to be promoted to Triple-A Round Rock this year. He began last year at low Class A Lexington and was skipped a level to Double-A Corpus Christi during the season. He's 2-0 with a 2.75 ERA in 15 relief appearances in Corpus Christi this year.

In The Show
The most recent Draft class to produce Major League talent is 2006, when third baseman Chris Johnson was taken in the fourth round and pitcher Bud Norris in the sixth round. Johnson made his Major League debut last year and began the season with the Astros before getting injured, and Norris made nine starts before going on the disabled list last month.

Brian McTaggart 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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