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Power arms among Astros' Draft priorities

Power arms among Astros' Draft priorities

Power arms among Astros' Draft priorities
HOUSTON -- In keeping with the philosophy that velocity never goes out of style, the Astros are heading into what is considered a deep First-Year Player Draft in good position to add a few much-needed power arms to their system.

"I saw more 95 [mph] this spring than in any other spring," Houston assistant general manager/director of scouting Bobby Heck said.

Whether the Astros decide to use their first pick at No. 11 overall on one of those big arms remains to be seen. Houston is once again operating under the philosophy of taking the best player available in the first round, though it could get more position-centric as the Draft unfolds.

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"We need to take the most talented player," Heck said. "I think as we get through the Draft, we want to address some stuff, but we can't afford to leave a more talented player on the board."

Draft Central

This will be the fourth Draft under general manager Ed Wade, who hired Heck to help restock a farm system that was reeling from fruitless Drafts in 2006 and '07. Their first pick -- 2008 first-rounder Jason Castro -- made his Major League debut a year ago, and right-hander Jordan Lyles -- taken by Houston after Castro - made his debut Tuesday.

The Astros don't have a supplemental first-round pick, meaning they will pick 69th overall (second round) and 99th overall (third round). The depth of the Draft should give the Astros chances to add quality players with their later picks.

"We think we've done well over the last three Drafts," Wade said. "As is the case with all 30 clubs, we want to take advantage of every possibility we've got to strengthen the organization."

Live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft begins with a one-hour preview show on Monday, at 5 p.m. CT on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Days 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging  your tweets with #mlbdraft.

This year's Draft will have another dynamic for Houston to consider, with the club on the verge of being sold.

Astros owner Drayton McLane last month signed a sales purchase agreement to sell the team to a group led by Houston businessman Jim Crane. The deal is expected to be approved by Major League Baseball in early July, which means the players drafted next week under McLane's ownership could be signed after Crane takes over.

To that end, McLane invited Crane to participate in this year's Draft preparations, which included a meeting in late May at Minute Maid Park with McLane, Crane and CEO-to-be George Postolos.

"It was important for all of us to sit down and talk about our Draft philosophically and just explain the process and how the Draft is run," Wade said. "We explained what everybody's function is, how we pull information together, and we talked in some measure on some of the players we think maybe available at 11."

Heck doesn't expect the ownership change to complicate things.

"You may start the Draft with one owner and end it at the signing deadline [Aug. 14] with another," Heck said. "I've been told by Ed Wade to stay on course and keep doing what we're doing and stick with our process."

The Astros went above MLB's recommended slot to sign players on six occasions last year and had a $1 million offer on the table to seventh-round pick Adam Plutko, a right-hander from Glendora, Calif., but he didn't sign. The Astros wound up signing their top seven picks, 13 of their top 14 and 18 of their top 20. The signability factor will once again loom large for the Astros.

"Our scouts know they just can't watch a guy play and write a report on his strengths and weaknesses," Wade said. "They have to understand what the total package is, including signability and make up and try to get as much information as they possibly can and try to make the right decision. We don't want to squander picks."

Former Astros slugger Jimmy Wynn and part-time scout Ed Fastaia will represent the club during the first round at Draft headquarters in Secaucus, N.J. Fastaia has been a scout for 15 years and has worked part-time with the Astros since 2008. He's a 20-year veteran of the New York Fire Department and was a first-responder during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York.

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

In about 50 words
The Astros, as usual, will try to take the best available player with the No. 11 overall pick, but the club has used its last two top Draft picks on middle infielders and is building some depth in the outfield and catcher. Starting pitching and power corner bats are always wanted.

The scoop
"[Heck] has told me on more than one occasion he feels there's a lot of second-round talent in this Draft, which means we should be able to do well not only in the second round, but thereafter," Wade said. "There is depth in the Draft, a lot if pitching."

First-round buzz
Don't be surprised to see the Astros have a hard time walking past one of the big arms that could be available at No. 11, such as South Carolina high schooler Taylor Guerrieri or University of Connecticut right-hander Matt Barnes.

Shopping list
No team can have enough arms in its system, and this Draft sets up nicely for the Astros to make an impact in that area. After drafting high at catcher and middle infield the past two years, Houston could take a shot at a power outfielder or corner infielder.

Trend watch
The Astros maintain they will take the best player available early in the Draft, but they could start to pick more to specific positions as the Draft gets deeper. They've never shied away from taking athletic players and finding a place for them on the diamond.

Recent Draft History

Astros' recent top picks
Year Player Position Current team
2010 Delino DeShields Jr. 2B Lexington (A)
2009 Jiovanni Mier SS Lexington (A)
2008 Jason Castro C Astros (MLB)
2007 Derek Dietrich 3B Did not sign
2006 Max Sapp C Out of baseball

Rising fast
Lyles, taken with the 38th overall pick in the 2008 Draft, made his Major League debut on Tuesday after a quick rise through the system. At 20 years old, he became the fourth-youngest pitcher to start a game for the Astros.

Cinderella story
Right-hander Danny Meszaros, selected by Houston in the 48th round in 2008, continues to make a surprising push toward the Majors. He was promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City in late May after posting a 2.57 ERA in 12 relief appearances at Double-A Corpus Christi.

In The Show
One year after catcher Jason Castro -- the team's No. 1 pick in 2008 -- debuted for the Astros, Houston's second pick in that year's Draft, Lyles, has joined Castro in the Majors. Castro hurt his knee in Spring Training and is expected to miss the entire year.

The 2008 Draft was the first in the Heck-Wade regime following the unsuccessful Drafts of '06 and '07, and the promotion of Castro and now Lyles signifies the strides the club has made in scouting and player development.

Still, there is a lack of blue-chip talent at Triple-A, though 2010 Minor League Player of the Year J.D. Martinez -- a 20th-round pick in '09 -- is off to a good start at Double-A Corpus Christi.

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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