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However, is that the right pick, or just the safe pick?
It’s been fairly widely acknowledged that this year’s draft features some talented players, but no one who completely jumps off the page like Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper. In fact, there is no clear-cut No. 1 selection at all this year, with many experts saying that prep outfielder Byron Buxton, Appel and LSU pitcher Kevin Gausman all have a chance to be the top pick.
Appel, a junior from Stanford, has been outstanding, posting a 10-1 record and 2.29 ERA. Scouts love his smooth delivery and command of all of his pitches, and believe that Appel could move up quickly through the Astros’ organization.
However, as Dave Perkin of SI.com points out, Appel would be “Houston’s safest option.”
Okay, so don’t get me wrong here. Safe can be good. But does safe guarantee a solid future? Is someone safe good enough to build a team around?
The Astros could make another choice here, and the other choice would definitely be bold and risky, but with the potential of having a player in the future that they can in fact build a team around—prep outfielder Byron Buxton.
Buxton, a senior at Appling County High School in Baxley, GA, clearly has that potential that scouts and MLB executives dream about—five-tool skills, speed that’s been compared to Bo Jackson and born with natural baseball instincts.
Buxton’s slash line of .545/.649/.852 in his senior year, with 35 stolen bases in 36 attempts, clearly shows a hitter capable of dominating. At 6’3” and 180 pounds, Buxton is likely to fill out, adding even more power to his frame. The speed is what impresses, being clocked at 3.89 seconds from home to first.
One particular scout who saw Buxton came away in awe.
“He’s better than Andrew McCutchen,” the scout said. “No doubt one of the best I’ve ever scouted — maybe the best I’ve seen in 10 years. The athleticism is off the charts. Everything just comes so easy to him.”
When the Astros are on the clock on Monday evening, it will be their first time picking at the top since they whiffed with their previous first overall selection (Phil Nevin, 1992). New general manager Jeff Luhnow will have a chance to make a statement with his pick on Monday night—why not make it a bold statement?
Safe is never a bad thing—in Appel’s case, he could very well carve out a terrific career in MLB. But he’s not anywhere close to Strasburg, and some would argue he’s not even close to Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, the UCLA teammates who went first and third in last year’s draft.
Choosing prep players does indeed carry an element of risk. One only has to look at players like Brien Taylor, Matt Bush and Tim Beckham to see the risk involved. However, Buxton has the skill set, the natural instincts and the five-tool potential that could very well make him a star, and a player that the Astros could indeed build around.
With their move to the American League West in 2013, the Astros will need to add some offense along with solid pitching, especially when competing against the likes of the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels in their own division. Buxton won’t be ready in 2013, but considering his makeup and abilities, he could very well be ready not long after that.
The choice carries risk, no question. But in this case, Byron Buxton is a risk well worth taking for the Astros.