No team in Major League Baseball needs immediate help more than the Houston Astros. While the MLB draft isn't necessarily the best place to find short-term reinforcements, the Astros have a chance to select a franchise-changing player with the first overall selection this year.
The MLB draft is generally all about taking the best player available since it often takes a few years for players to reach the big leagues. Luckily (or perhaps unluckily) for the Astros, they need help essentially everywhere, so they'll have no issue taking the player who they deem to be the best in this class.
With that said, it remains to be seen which player that will be. Unlike many past years, there is no clear-cut No. 1 guy in this draft. Here are a few of the prospects that Houston will have to decide between in the days leading up to the 2013 MLB draft.
The Washington Nationals began their ascent from the basement when they selected pitcher Stephen Strasburg first overall a few years ago, so it may not be a bad idea for the Astros to follow that model. There are a number of excellent pitchers in this draft, but Oklahoma junior Jonathan Gray may very well be the best among them.
Gray joined the Sooners last season after spending a year at Eastern Oklahoma State College, and he immediately showed signs of greatness. The 6'4", 239-lb. fireballer stepped up in a big way as a junior, though, as he went 9-2 with a 1.55 ERA and racked up an impressive 127 strikeouts in 110 innings. Gray was even named the Most Outstanding Player of the Big 12 Championship, according to Oklahoma Baseball on Twitter.
There is a lot to like about Gray as he has prototypical size and has shown marked improvement over the past couple years. He helped lead Oklahoma to a 40-19 record this season and helped the Sooners earn a berth in the College Baseball Tournament as well. If Gray continues to impress in the coming days, he could very well lock up the top spot in the draft.
While it can't be said with certainty that he is the best overall player in the 2013 class, there is little doubt that San Diego's Kris Bryant is the best hitter available this year. Bryant was dominant this season as he led the Toreros in nearly every meaningful offensive category and opposing pitchers simply couldn't solve him.
Bryant's numbers are astronomical for a collegiate player. He hit .340 with 31 home runs, 62 RBI, an .860 slugging percentage and a .500 on-base percentage.
Bryant is the main reason why San Diego was able to reach the College Baseball Tournament and he'll have a major say in whether or not the Toreros are able to advance. Bryant was so impressive this year that a pair of former Golden Spikes Award recipients is endorsing Bryant for the award this year, according to San Diego sports radio host Darren Smith.
Perhaps the one knock on Bryant is his defensive work at third base, where he only had a .941 fielding percentage this season. His bat is so impressive that a team like the Astros could find a spot for him, though, whether it's at third, first or even designated hitter. He is such a game-changer offensively that he should be able to overcome his deficiencies with the glove.
After declining to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates last year after they made him the No. 8-overall selection in the 2012 draft, Stanford pitcher Mark Appel is once again among the best available players in 2013. Appel instead decided to return to the Cardinal for his senior year, and while it was certainly a risky move with millions of dollars on the table, Appel likely helped his draft stock as well as his bank account.
The 6'5" righty was nearly untouchable at Stanford this season as he went 10-4 and struck out 130 batters in just over 106 innings. Although he isn't considered to be on the same level as Strasburg, Appel has swing-and-miss stuff that should translate to the majors. Also, according to David Lombardi of FOX Sports, Appel's ERA, opponent batting average against and strikeout rates have all improved significantly during his time at Stanford.
There may be some apprehension on Houston's part to select Appel after last year's episode with the Pirates, but Appel no longer has the option to go back to school. He could still make negotiations difficult, though. If the Astros identify Appel as the player who can turn their franchise around, however, they should secure him at all costs. Appel has all the tools necessary to be an ace in the big leagues and he is definitely worth considering from Houston's perspective.
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