The Major League Baseball Rule 4 draft has never had the same cache of the NBA or NFL drafts. There's so much distance between when these players are picked and when they appear on major league teams, it just doesn't compare.
However, it has grown quite a bit in popularity over the last few years, culminating in the first round being aired tonight on MLB Network. Houston has a ton of baseball stakes in this draft, as local high schoolers, college players and the Astros will all be involved to some degree.
Let's look at who might be drafted, where they might get picked and who the Astros are interested in....
High School Picks
Bryan Brickhouse, The Woodlands HS - If this were a different draft class, Brickhouse could sneak into the first round. But, with his strong commitment to North Carolina, the projectible right-hander may slide a few rounds. He should be the first Houston area prepster taken, but a guy like Dean or C.J. McElroy may go before him because of their signability. Check out a complete profile of him at The Crawfish Boxes.
Matt Dean, 3B, The Colony HS - The best area position player hurt himself with a subpar showing on the workout circuit last year, but his stock has rebounded some this spring. He's got the potential to show plus-power in the pros with good defense at third. If things click for him, he could end up being a three-tool guy at a hard position to develop power prospects. That'll get him drafted, though it may be in the first five rounds instead of in the first two. Here's a bigger scouting report, via SB Nation Houston.
C.J. McElroy, OF, Clear Creek HS - The son of former big leaguer Chuck McElroy, the younger C.J. has plus-plus speed. Because of his home and its proximity to Houston, the Michael Bourn comparisons are bound to happen. His arm won't let him play anything but center or left and he's got little power right now. Add in his success on the gridiron and the high school track and McElroy could be a tough sign away from the University of Houston. However, if ever there was a year for that to happen, it's this one.
Jordan Stephens, RHP, Alvin HS - Though he came on strong late in the season, Stephens doesn't have consistency with his fastball velocity. He has trouble maintaining the velocity late in starts and has a pretty big range that he sits in during a game. That all adds up to a project who either needs to go to college, get stronger and more polished, or sign in the 7-10th round area and develop in the minors over three or four years.
Jeremy Gabryzwski, RHP, Crosby HS - The first of two prospects on this list I've seen in person, Gabryzwski is committed to attend Lamar in the fall. He's got decent enough stuff and a nice pickoff move, but probably won't be drafted in the first ten rounds.
Corey Ray, RHP, Klein HS
Austin Stone, RHP, Port Neches-Groves HS - Another guy I've seen in person a couple of times, Stone has gaudy numbers at times and got stronger over the season, but his fastball sits high 80's with two decent breaking pitches. I'm sure he'll get taken in the top 30 rounds, but will probably be better off going to Baylor as a two-way player and building up more of a track record.
Anthony Rendon, 3B, Rice - He was the unquestioned best player available before an ankle injury derailed his season with the U.S. team last summer. He recovered from that with no ill signs, but a shoulder injury this spring has hampered his play in the field. That's the only reason he's not going No. 1 overall. Don't expect him to fall very far, though.
Paul Montalbano, OF, Texas - The former Galveston high schooler has the fourth-highest batting average for the Longhorns this season. A little bit of speed, pretty decent plate discipline and the fact that he's a senior this year means he'll get drafted, but it's likely to be after the 20th round.
Kyle Winkler, RHP, Texas Christian - The former Sugar Land high schooler is only going to be held back by his size. At 5-foot-11, he doesn't have the typical pitcher's frame. However, he does have a pitcher's repertoire and may have moved past rotation-mate Matt Purke to be the first Horned Frog drafted. Look for him in the second or third round.
Taylor Featherston, SS, Texas Christian - The former Katy Taylor high schooler reminds me a little of former Rice infielder Christian Colon. He's got questions whether he'll stick at shortstop longterm, should hit for average, and has some pop but not a lot. Colon proved a little bit of an overdraft last season, but I bet Featherston goes somewhere closer to where he should, in the top three rounds.
Tony Cingrani, LHP, Rice - Hailing from the same junior college and four-year college as former Astro Tim Byrdak, Cingrani's stock moved up quite a bit when he moved into the bullpen for the Owls. He's got good velocity on his fastball, which should get some team to take him in the top 20 rounds as a reliever.
Sam Stafford, LHP, Texas - The former Klein Collins high schooler is a work in progress. His potential will get him drafted in the first 10 rounds, but there are still questions whether he'll have the control and secondary pitches to stick as a starter in the pros. If he does, he's got some nice upside, but the questions around him remind me a bit of the ones around Bud Norris when he was a prospect.
Matthew Reckling, RHP, Rice - Though his ceiling may be higher than teammate Cingrani, Reckling may not be drafted nearly as high, as teams wonder whether he's signable away from Rice. After all, the baseball field is named after his grandparents and he's got a year left of eligibility.
Players Liked To The Astros
Archie Bradley, RHP, Broken Arrow HS (OK) - This is the dream pick. It's been rumored Houston is willing to sign him away from his football scholarship at Oklahoma, but I really don't see it. The rest of the players on this list fit Houston's profile. Bradley just doesn't, despite being a high school power arm. I'd really love to be proved wrong here.
Jed Bradley, LHP, Georgia Tech - His inconsistency with his fastball aside, Bradley would be a nice pick if he falls to the Astros at No. 11. He has flaws, but he's also got a strong upside and could be ready to go pretty quickly. Here's a more detailed scouting report.
Tyler Anderson, LHP, Oregon - Polished, left-handed, great control, he fits a lot of what Bobby Heck likes in his pitchers, so I can understand why the Astros are scouting him. He reminds me some of Jed Bradley, with a lesser fastball. I wonder if he'll be the pick at No. 11 if Jed Bradley goes to someone like the Indians first.
Francisco Lindor, SS, Monteverde Academy (FL) - This list is starting to get depressing. The next two picks are the worst possible outcomes for Houston. Not that Lindor wouldn't profile nicely in the system. The problem is Houston has depth at short and Lindor doesn't exactly figure to hit a bunch. He's going to end up being a lot like Jiovanni Mier and Delino DeShields, Jr. Nice bats but not impact-level guys.
Chris Reed, LHP, Stanford - Don't. Just don't.