Luhnow’s First Astros Draft Class Has Arrived

At a time not very long ago — actually, just a single month and a few days ago — viscount of the internet Rob Neyer wrote at Just A Bit Outside about how the Houston Astros, then as now a first-place team, had been winning games with negligible contribution from any players drafted by General Manager Jeff Luhnow. Quoth Neyer:

The 2012 draft has, so far, produced two major leaguers: pitcher Lance McCullers and hitter Preston Tucker. McCullers and Tucker have combined for zero wins and one home run (granted, the homer was a big one Thursday). The 2013 and 2014 drafts haven’t produced any major leaguers.

The final sentence of Neyer’s paragraph remains, as of this writing, true. But, in a testament to how rapidly things are changing down in Houston, the first two sentences of Neyer’s paragraph have already become dramatically obsolete. Please recall that Neyer’s post is barely one month old.

Below is a chart that shows the playing time and WAR contributions that MLB teams have received so far from their 2012 draft classes, using Baseball-Reference’s handy draft page and FanGraphs WAR. This chart only includes players who are playing for the team that drafted them (i.e., Addison Russell is excluded), and only includes players who are currently on a 25-man roster (i.e., Eddie Butler is excluded) or on the disabled list (i.e., Marcus Stroman is included). The teams are listed by alphabetical order of mascot name, but each column can be sorted by clicking on the top row:

Team WAR # Active PA IP
Angels 0.7 1 0 74.0
Astros 2.6 3 195 40.1
Athletics -0.3 1 84 0
Blue Jays 3.0 1 0 130.2
Braves 6.1 2 0 357.1
Brewers 0 0 0 0
Cardinals 5.0 1 0 260.0
Cubs 0 0 0 0
Diamondbacks 0.6 1 215 0
Dodgers 1.3 1 0 85.1
Giants 1.8 1 279 0
Indians 0 0 0 0
Mariners 1.6 1 886 0
Marlins 0 0 0 0
Mets 0.1 1 132 0
Nationals 0 0 0 0
Orioles 2.5 1 0 178.0
Padres 0 0 0 0
Phillies 0 0 0 0
Pirates 0 0 0 0
Rangers 0.8 2 77 30.2
Rays 0 0 0 0
Red Sox 0 0 0 0
Reds 0 1 0 11.2
Rockies -0.8 1 0 27.1
Royals 0 0 0 0
Tigers 0 0 0 0
Twins -0.1 1 35 0
White Sox 0 0 0 0
Yankees 0 0 0 0

Even at this date, more than three full years after the 2012 draft took place, most MLB teams have received negligible contributions from their draftees. Nearly half the league — 14 teams — have received zero contributions whatsoever. As of May 6, the date when Preston Tucker was called up from Triple-A, the Astros were another team with zero contribution from the Class of 2012. In less than two months, the Astros have gone from tied for last in WAR, all the way up to third place, and looking to go higher.

As it goes with, so it feels, all things Astros these days, Houston’s position begins to look more and more advantageous upon closer inspection. The three teams who lead the Astros in WAR from their Classes of 2012 have done so on the shoulders of a single pitcher drafted from college. For the Toronto Blue Jays, their guy is Marcus Stroman; for the St. Louis Cardinals, Michael Wacha; and for the Atlanta Braves, the unlikely current leader of the whole draft class in WAR, #85 overall pick Alex Wood. (Atlanta also received positive contributions from Shae Simmons in 20 relief innings last season before his 2015 was lost to T.J.) The Baltimore Orioles, who are basically in line with the Astros — for the moment — have also had their contributions come from a collegiate pitcher, Kevin Gausman.

And so: Stroman just turned 24 on May 1; Wacha’s 24th birthday is on July 1; and Wood turned 24 over the previous winter. For the Astros, while Tucker is about to have his 25th birthday in a few weeks, the generous majority of their production is coming from McCullers, in his age-21 season, and Carlos Correa, who will turn 21 in the final weeks of the regular season.

One will also notice that the Astros are the only team to have graduated three players from the Class of 2012. I’m not sure of the significance of the following, but: they are also one of two teams to graduate both a pitcher and a position player. (The Texas Rangers have seen contributions from both Joey Gallo and Keone Kela.)

Compounding the degree of difficulty for the Astros’ draft, Houston had only two picks in the top 50 (1, 41) — this year the team had four picks in the top 50 (2, 5, 37, 46). And this was all done in a year that underwhelmed the industry. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick wrote at the time:

True, it’s not the greatest year to try to make a splash. One American League scouting director said the 2012 crop has the potential to be “one of the worst drafts ever.”

Here is a look, for grins, at a chart similar to the one above, except for the 2011 Draft. While Luhnow directed the 2011 Draft for the St. Louis Cardinals, he would in a matter of months begin overseeing the Astros’ prospects. To the surprise of probably nobody, both the Astros’ and Cardinals’ drafts look good compared to the rest of the league even with the disruption in continuity:

Team WAR # Active PA IP
Angels 0 0 0 0
Astros 3.8 1 639 0
Athletics 7.5 1 0 384.2
Blue Jays 2.1 1 516 0
Braves 0 0 0 0
Brewers 0.4 1 0 18.0
Cardinals 4.6 2 779 168
Cubs 0 0 0 0
Diamondbacks 0.8 2 0 86.1
Dodgers 0 0 0 0
Giants 5.2 2 756 0
Indians 3.3 3 36 206.2
Mariners 5.6 2 267 38.0
Marlins 5.7 1 0 224.1
Mets 0.1 1 0 11.2
Nationals 8.4 1 1157 0
Orioles 0 0 0 0
Padres 1.4 3 295 75.2
Phillies 2.1 3 810 83.1
Pirates 7.0 1 0 351.0
Rangers 1.2 2 147 224.2
Rays 0 0 0 0
Red Sox 4.2 4 1195 0
Reds 1.5 1 0 196.1
Rockies 0 0 0 0
Royals 0 0 0 0
Tigers 0.4 1 188 0
Twins 0 0 0 0
White Sox 0 0 0 0
Yankees 0 0 0 0

It would appear that the Astros’ takeover will continue whether one wants it to or not.

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Miles Wray contributes sports commentary to McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Ploughshares, The Classical and Hardwood Paroxysm. Follow him on Twitter @mileswray or email him here.

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John Mozeliak
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John Mozeliak

None of this is a surprise to me.