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Draft Report Card


Chris Burke
HOUSTON ASTROS

Best Pro Debut: SS Chris Burke (1) and RHP Kirk Saarloos (3), All-Americans in the spring, had no problem adjusting to full-season Class A ball. Burke hit .300-3-17, with 21 steals at Michigan. Saarloos went 1-1, 1.17 with 11 saves, a 40-17 strikeout-walk ratio and a .165 opponent batting average in 31 innings at Lexington.

Best Athlete: OF Charlton Jimerson (5) was an unknown when the Astros drafted him in the 25th round in 1997 and tried to persuade him to go to junior college. Instead he wound up at the University of Miami on an academic scholarship and raised his profile considerably this June, when he won the MVP award at the College World Series, leading the Hurricanes to the national title. He has tremendous tools, though he’s still somewhat raw after sitting on Miami’s bench for 3 1/2 seasons.

Best Hitter: Burke and OF Mike Rodriguez (2) should both hit for average and fit at the top of a batting order. Rodriguez had a successful debut as well, batting .318-0-14 with 13 steals at short-season Pittsfield.

Best Raw Power: Jimerson resembles a young Eric Davis with his power and speed. Pittsfield is a tough home run park, but Jimerson hit nine homers in 197 New York-Penn League at-bats.

Fastest Runner: Burke, Rodriguez and Jimerson all have well above-average speed. In a 60-yard dash, Rodriguez probably would win in 6.3-6.4 seconds. But he takes the biggest swing of the three, so Burke and Jimerson are faster out of the batter’s box.

Best Defensive Player: The only question with Burke was whether he had the arm to stay at shortstop. After watching him this summer, both the Astros and Midwest League managers were convinced that he does. Jimerson and Rodriguez are plus defenders in the outfield, and Brooks Conrad (8) is a solid second baseman.

Best Fastball: RHP Jose DeLeon (18), one of just two high school players signed by Houston, throws 95 mph despite being just 5-foot-10. The Astros also found two lefthanders who can reach 92-93 mph in Russ Rohlicek (6) and Chris Little (12).

Most Intriguing Background: Jimerson’s story of overcoming a rough childhood–his mother was a crack addict who often abandoned him and his father is homeless–was chronicled throughout the CWS. RHP James McNair (43) is the son of Bob McNair, who owns the NFL’s expansion Houston Texans, so the Astros shouldn’t have any problem getting football tickets. 3B/RHP Osvaldo Diaz (40) is a Cuban defector whom Houston is trying to get into a junior college so it can evaluate him as a draft-and-follow.

Closest To The Majors: Burke stands a chance to open 2002 in Double-A. Saarloos has less of a shot, as he’ll be a starter again next season after breaking into pro ball as a closer.

Best Late-Round Pick: DeLeon didn’t go higher in the draft because of his height. That wasn’t a problem for the Astros, who have had success with righthanders Octavio Dotel, Roy Oswalt and Tim Redding, all of whom are listed as 6 feet tall.

The One Who Got Away: RHP Lance Cormier (10) returned to the University of Alabama as the only one of Houston’s 20 top picks who didn’t sign.

Assessment: Houston took its usual approach, making wise picks with an eye on its budget. The Astros grabbed a fine collection of athletes, and Saarloos has made a habit of exceeding expectations.

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