Written By: Zack Silverman
Follow Him on Twitter: @ZackMatt4
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For a team that really shot themselves in the foot by engaging in one of the biggest cheating scandals the game has ever seen, the Astros put together a really nice draft class despite not picking until #72. They split with two arms early and two bats late, putting together a nice balance of upside and safe bets. I really like the Alex Santos pick at 72, and if they can go above slot to sign him, it could pay off in a massive way really quickly. If he had gone to Maryland, I think he could have pushed his way into the first round, and he could have done so pretty easily. Behind him, Tyler Brown is a safer bet to offset the risk a high school arm like Santos brings, while you see something similar on the bat side – Zach Daniels is a boom/bust kind of guy, while Shay Whitcomb is a much steadier hitter. As much as we wanted the Astros to suffer for the scandal, they did a nice job of working with the hand they were dealt (or the hand they dealt themselves).
2C.72: RHP Alex Santos, Mount St. Michael Academy (NY)
Born: 2/10/2002. Bat: R. Throw: R. 6’3″ 185lbs. ETA 2024
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The Astros may not have picked until #72, but they just might get first round value with their compensation pick for losing Gerrit Cole.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of this pick. Santos is a projectable, 6’3″ pitcher out of high school in the Bronx, bringing with him tremendous ceiling. He has long arms and legs that work really well in his delivery, with plenty of room on his frame to add good weight.
Right now, he has a fastball that sits in the low 90’s without a ton of effort, and it’s easy to envision him adding significantly more velocity as he fills out that lanky frame.
He has great feel to spin an above average curveball that could be a plus pitch in time, and his changeup is relatively advanced for a high schooler as well.
The slider, mostly just a more lateral version of his curveball, is his fourth pitch at this point, but given his feel with the curve, there is reason to believe the slider will come along as well.
In addition to the stuff, his strike throwing ability is coming along nicely, which is especially great to see from a projection-type arm and a cold weather one at that. Coming in from a high arm slot, Santos gets good angle on all of his pitches, and he repeats his release point well with a loose arm. It gives him a really nice all around skill set that will only get better from here, especially as he fills out that extremely projectable frame. The fastball and curve project to be plus pitches, and he should have two others that are at least average.
As with most high school pitchers this year, Santos comes with considerable risk, as he didn’t pitch much at all this spring in the cold New York weather. Regardless, he’s the kind of pitcher that projects to get better and better as he develops, and if he were to head to Maryland instead of sign, it’s extremely easy to envision him as a first round pick in three years. The Astros are heading that off right now, and I think it will pay off for them big time. Slot value is $870,700, but he will probably command significantly more than that to sign away from Maryland. Once he gets to the bigs, Santos can easily end up a legitimate impact starting pitcher.
3.101: RHP Tyler Brown, Vanderbilt
Born: 10/02/1998. Bat: R. Throw: R. 6’4″ 220 lbs. ETA: 2022.
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The first thing most people will talk about with Tyler Brown is his backstory. He grew up in rural Ohio and lost his mother to cancer at 13 years old, then moved to Columbus to live in foster care. After blowing out his elbow and requiring Tommy John surgery in high school, many of the schools recruiting him backed out, but Vanderbilt held firm and it paid off. Then while at Vanderbilt, he had a daughter with Down Syndrome, who has since become a fixture around the program. All of the adversity he has fought through in his young life gives him a stone cold competitor on the mound, which is exactly what you want to see out of a closer.
Brown has served as the Commodore closer and was fantastic in that role on the way to winning the National Championship, posting a 2.19 ERA and a 65/9 K/BB in 49.1 innings, then put up a 2.53 ERA and a 14/4 K/BB in 10.2 innings this year.
Though he’s been a reliever in college, he has the 6’4″ build and stuff to start if the Astros want to go in that direction. He has a low to mid 90’s fastball, a sharp slider, a decent curve, and a solid changeup, and he attacks the zone and throws everything with conviction.
His curve and changeup will need additional work if the Astros want to send him back to the rotation, and the velocity might tick down closer to 90, but it’s doable and he could be a legitimate starting pitcher. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is more likely to be the thought process, as his mentality and fastball/slider combination fit really well in the bullpen and he could move quickly in that role. Given how bullpen roles are changing these days, he could be a high leverage long reliever, something we don’t see a lot of today but might in the future, or he could be a successful traditional short reliever.
Definitely an interesting pick at 101. Slot value is $577,000, though Brown has expressed a willingness to go back to school and I doubt he takes much of a discount.
4.131: OF Zach Daniels, Tennessee
Born: 1/23/1999. Bat: R. Throw: R. 6’1″ 210lbs, ETA: 2024
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This is a trajectory selection, not a track record pick. Zach Daniels hit just .161/.339/.344 as a freshman and .200/.262/.417 as a sophomore, then struggled on the Cape as well. Then he got off to a white hot start to the 2020 season, going 8-17 with three home runs in his first five games of the season and never looking back. Through 17 games, he finished at .357/.478/.750 with four home runs and a 14/13 strikeout to walk ratio, helping evaluators feel much, much better about his huge raw power.
He packs a ton of strength into his 6’1″ frame, and he uses a very compact right handed swing to muscle balls out to all fields. In that swing, he shows some big time bat speed and plenty of torque from a strong core, and all he has to do is just fling the bat head at the baseball and explode through it.
In all the bat is in and out of the zone very quickly, enabling him to wait on pitches and turn on them at the last second. However, his pitch recognition has been below average throughout his career, and the fact that the barrel is in the zone for such a short period of time puts a lot of pressure on timing pitches.
It’s hard to say whether a 17 game stretch means that Daniels has made the necessary adjustments to his approach at the plate, but it was enough for the Astros to roll the dice and see what happens.
His strikeout rate dropped from 44.6% (!) as a sophomore to 20.3% as a junior, while his walk rate made similar strides in jumping from 7.7% to 18.8%. If his plate discipline in fact got that much better or anywhere close, then the Astros are looking at a potential 30 home run hitter in the bigs.
However, if it was just a fluke against a weaker schedule, Daniels might not even hit enough to crack a big league roster. He’s also a good runner who could stick in center field with a little refinement, which would buy his bat more slack. He signed for $400,000, which was $30,800 below slot, saving some money for Alex Santos.
SS Shay Whitcomb, UC San Diego
Born: 9/28/1998. Bat: R. Throw: R. 6’3″ 200lbs, ETA: 2023
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It’s weird to talk about “Mr. Irrelevant” being drafted at 160th overall, but here we are. Probably the best Division II prospect in the country (Chapman’s Nick Garcia has Division III locked down), Whitcomb has been a hitting machine for three years at UC San Diego slashing .315/.423/.516 with 21 home runs and a 105/84 strikeout to walk ratio over 136 games. Unlike Daniels, he raked in the Cape Cod League as well, crushing eight home runs in 36 games.
He can really smoke the ball from the right side, finding the barrel very consistently and channeling his strength into some really nice pull power. He’s not a power hitter though – he’s a polished hitter who can tap power, and that’s a key difference. His pure hitting ability will help him handle the steep transition from Division II to the minors, and he has the chance to tap his power more and more as he develops.
If he played at a Division I school, he might have gone significantly higher, but his track record against advanced pitching only goes through those 36 games on the Cape. Still, he’s never not hit, giving plenty of reason for optimism.
Defensively, Whitcomb will likely have to move to second base, but the bat plays there. He has a shot at being a 15-20 home run bat, perhaps a little more if everything goes right, and he should put up solid on-base percentages as well. It requires a little bit of optimism to project him as a starting second baseman, but it’s certainly within the realm of possibility and you like that in a fifth round pick. I certainly like this pick at the end of the draft, and it rounds out a really well-done draft for the Astros. Slot value is $324,100.
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