Changing Their Ways

Astros start spending to fix farm system




After refusing to exceed MLB's slotting guidelines and spending just $1.6 million on their entire 2007 draft, the Astros have reversed course. Houston went over slot to sign a pair of Texas high school pitchers in late July and early August, giving supplemental third-rounder Ross Seaton $700,000 and eighth-rounder Brad Dydalewicz $425,000.

Last year, Houston surrendered its first- and second-round choices as free-agent compensation and failed to sign its third- , fourth- and eight-rounders, a huge blow to a farm system already in decline. New general manager Ed Wade restructured the scouting department after coming aboard last September, hiring former Brewers crosschecker Bobby Heck as scouting director.

Heck said he received no assurances that he'd be allowed to surpass MLB's bonus recommendations when he took the job, though he did express a willingness to not let players get away if the scouting department valued them at their asking price. That was the case with both Seaton and Dydalewicz.

Seaton, an athletic 6-foot-4, 215-pound righthander from Second Baptist School in Houston, was a borderline first-round talent. The Astros saw him work at 90-94 mph every time they scouted him, and his slider has the potential to be a plus pitch. He was also the valedictorian of his high school class and committed to Tulane, which threw his signability into question.

Dydalewicz, a lefty from Lake Travis High in Austin, missed the 2007 season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee while playing football. He continued to get stronger and stronger during the spring, and the Astros saw him top out at 95 mph before the draft.

"The void here was created by not signing players," Heck said. "We needed to add to the depth of talent. With Seaton and Dydalewicz, it helps to add to that depth. Seaton's willingness to play for his hometown team helped us."

Houston took Seaton with a compensation choice it received after not signing third-rounder Derek Dietrich in 2007. The club also added to its depth with three players in rounds in which it didn't have a pick a year ago: Stanford catcher Jason Castro (first round), Hartsville (S.C.) High righthander Jordan Lyles (sandwich) and North Atlanta High outfielder Jay Austin (second). Castro has all-around tools and is now the best prospect in the system, while Lyles has the best combination of projection and polish and Austin is the top athlete among Astros farmhands.

To sign 11 players in the first 10 rounds, Houston has spent $5.9 million, believed to be a club record.

Dykstra, Padres At Standstill

For the second time in five years, the Padres have drafted a player in the first round, only to learn that he's in less than pristine physical condition.

In 2003, an MRI revealed weakness in Tim Stauffer's shoulder after San Diego selected him fourth overall. The righthander, who had his bonus reduced from $2.6 million to $750,000, has earned just four major league victories since and has missed the entire 2008 season following labrum surgery.

Now the Padres have questions about Wake Forest first baseman Allan Dykstra's hip. After taking him with the 23rd overall pick in June, the team quickly came to terms with him and adviser Scott Boras for a $1.4 million bonus. But a subsequent physical detected avascular necrosis in Dykstra's right hip.

Avascular necrosis is the death of bone tissue due to a lack of blood supply. It can lead to tiny breaks in the bone and the bone's eventual collapse. The condition, which prematurely ended the two-sport career of Bo Jackson, is progressive. Managing it is a lifelong process.

During his freshman season at Rancho Bernardo High in San Diego, Dykstra took a nasty fall in a basketball game and developed avascular necrosis in his hip. Though he played 173 of a possible 174 contests in three years at Wake Forest, Padres doctors found the condition alarming. Dykstra sought a second opinion and went to Angels team doctor Lewis Yocum, one of the nation's most respected orthopedic surgeons. Yocum cleared him to play.

"Nobody doesn't think this kid can play," said Grady Fuson, the Padres' scouting and farm director. "He's OK today. But where does the long-term risk lie?"

Dykstra appeared to be the ideal hitter for the organization's approach, as he's a 6-foot-5, 230-pound slugger with power and patience. If the Padres don't sign him before the Aug. 15 deadline, they would get the 24th pick in the 2009 draft as compensation.

Dykstra said he wants to sign with his hometown team and start his pro career. If something can't be worked out with San Diego, he can sign with an independent club or return to Wake Forest for his senior season and complete his business degree.

"Honestly, I'm in the dark," Dykstra said. "I don't blame the Padres for being cautious, but I got the second opinion they asked for. What we need to do now is sit down with Grady and Scott Boras and get this worked out."

—John Maffei

DRAFT DATA

• Wichita State had counted on Goddard (Kan.) High recruit Logan Watkins and Cape Cod League all-star Dusty Coleman to form their double-play combination next season. When Watkins went in the 21st round to the Cubs and Coleman dropped to the Athletics in the 28th round, the Shockers had reason to feel they could keep both. But Chicago signed Watkins for $500,000 in late June, and Oakland landed Coleman for $675,000 on Aug. 1, leaving Wichita State looking for middle infielders. Watkins hit .476 as a senior at Goddard and generated some predraft buzz, but not nearly enough to indicate that a team would spend $500,000 on him. He's an athlete with good speed and a contact-oriented approach from the left side of the plate. Coleman was regarded as a fourth- to sixth-round talent, but his extra leverage as a draft-eligible sophomore scared teams off. He has smooth actions and a strong arm at shortstop, and good strength and power potential for the position. He helped his cause by hitting .330 in the Cape this summer. Coleman's bonus is the largest for a player drafted after the 10th round this year.

• Just like they did in 2004, the Rockies paid an above-slot bonus to land a multisport star in the 14th round. Colorado signed The Baylor School (Chattanooga, Tenn.) outfielder Tyler Massey on July 22 for $525,000, luring him away from a baseball scholarship from Virginia. Massey also starred in football as a linebacker and quarterback and was heavily recruited in that sport as well. As a result, the Rockies were able to take advantage of MLB provisions for multisport athletes and spread his bonus over four years. Massey drew raves from scouts for both his athleticism and his competitive makeup. He has a short lefthanded stroke, good feel for hitting and natural power. Four years ago, the Rockies drafted Dexter Fowler in the 14th round and signed him that August. Now the system's top prospect, Fowler has risen to Double-A at age 22.

• MLB has recommended a $150,000 maximum on all bonuses after the fifth round this year. Another player who left that figure in the dust is Flanagan High (Pembroke Pines, Fla.) shortstop Rolando Gomez, who signed with the Angels for $450,000 on July 31. An 11th-rounder, Gomez has a small yet strong 5-foot-9, 160-pound frame and has drawn comparisons to Rafael Furcal. He's a lefthanded hitter with plus speed and some pop. While he's a smooth fielder, some scouts wonder if Gomez's arm is better suited for second base. A cousin of former all-star shortstop Tony Fernandez, he had committed to Miami.