I was asked this week who I'm picking the Astros to nab with next month's first overall choice in the 2012 amateur draft. I went with Mike Zunino, even though most mocks I've seen have either Kevin Gausman, Mark Appel or Byron Buxton going first overall.
And my second choice would probably be Kyle Zimmer over the three previously mentioned, even though he really has not been pitching that long, I just prefer his stuff. His action is smooth, compact and repeatable. Baseball America's mock draft on Friday had the Astros taking Stanford ace Appel, and unsurprising, if safe choice. But I don't think I really trust Jim Callis' assessment of where the front office is with this, and I see more speculation than insider information. Yes, the Astros are short of high-ceiling pitching, and everyone wants prospects to get to the majors as quickly as possible, but I think Jeff Luhnow and Jim Crane are smarter than that.
In 2010 the rumor mill got it spot on, the Astros had a pick at 19, but were afraid Delino DeShields Jr would not make it to that slot and took him at eight. Last year, not so much. We had the Chris Reed rumors, which turned out to be hogwash and the assertion that they were looking at left-handed pitching. Kudos to Stephen Goff, who, when interviewing Bobby Heck back in February 2011, got a mention of George Springer. And David Coleman who correctly, called the pick minutes before. I went with Matt Barnes, a fellow University of Conneticut star, drafted later in the round by the Boston Red Sox.
There is also Carlos Correa to consider, a shortstop with a purportedly high ceiling.
Reading writers slobbering over Dylan Bundy and Trevor Bauer, it is not easy to forget how deep last year's draft was compared to 2012:
"This is one of the most volatile, erratic and weak drafts I can remember," an American League front-office executive said. "The college position players have got to be the weakest group in 20 years. I've had some veteran guys tell me it's the worst ever."
I saw one draft that had Texas high schooler Nick Williams dropping into the supplemental round, and I know a ton of Astros fans would love to see him fall all the way to pick number 41, which is when the Astros pick second. Their second-round pick will be number 61. How hard it will be to sign these picks with the new slot rules coming in remains to be seen, especially with high school players, who might decide to honor college commitments if they do not like the money on offer.
A little closer to home and the perception is the Astros have stalled a little bit. Word is J.D. Martinez has a week to get out of his mega slump before he is sent to AAA Oklahoma City to get his groove back, they are still operating without a solidified fifth starter, god knows how long J.A. Happ lasts in the rotation after seven extremely mediocre starts (Astros County has an excellent post up today on his 2012 travails), while we're being powered by a solid bullpen and a strong infield.
It is strange though that the Astros wins and losses are happening on a pretty even spread of their pitching staff, unlike last year where they were .500 in Wandy or Bud Norris starts and dire when everyone else pitched. In fact the the Astros are 15-15 in games not started by Kyle Weiland.
After tonight's series finale against the Pirates, the Astros head to their favorite stomping ground Citizens Bank Park, for a two-game set with the Phillies, before returning home to face the Brewers, Rangers and Cubs. There are some tough assignments in there and if they want to stay within touching distance of .500, they will have to start racking up more than the three series victories they currently hold (against the Rockies, Mets and Cardinals).
There are times when I'm skittish about this team and times when I'm more down on then. Surprising and infuriating in equal amounts, they are still right in the middle of the NL Central, and have not been the car crash most expected. Long may it continue.