Astros Continue Building Up The Middle With Springer

HOUSTON—Faced with a veritable buffet of pitchers laid out in front of them as position players held their own in the top 10, the Astros stuck to the plan.

And the best athlete available, they thought, was not a pitcher. But boy was he an athlete.

The Astros stuck to their recent pattern of up-the-middle athletes, plucking George Springer out of Connecticut with the 11th overall pick in the draft. The Big East Conference player of the year played center field at UConn and will start his professional career at the position, according to assistant general manager of scouting Bobby Heck, who hopes he can stick.

"If not, the offense profiles at either corner, just from the power production, but we're going to exhaust center field," Heck said.

Using the first pick on an up-the-middle position player is nothing new for Heck. In fact, since he and general manager Ed Wade came on board before the 2008 season, they have used their first pick in all four drafts on an up-the-middle position player.

In 2008, it was Jason Castro behind the plate, in 2009 and 2010, the middle infield with Jiovanni Mier and Delino DeShields Jr., repspectively, and now the UConn outfielder who boasts some ability with every tool and was selected for his power and speed combination.

His total of 12 home runs this season was the lowest of the three seasons he's played with the Huskies—not surprising with the new bats in college baseball. And he complemented that with a .350 average at the time of UConn's winning the Clemson Regional, with 30 stolen bases.

"He's very athletic, he's strong, he's big—6-3, 200 pounds—and we think he has a chance to steal bases and hit home runs," Heck said.

There are no concerns over signability, though Wade forsees a potential long process with Springer, who is being advised by Greg Genske. It's already been a complicated one with the Astros ownership in transition. Owner-to-be Jim Crane was briefed on every step of the process as he awaits approval from Major League Baseball to buy the team from Drayton McLane, and CEO-to-be George Postolos was actually present in the draft room.

"We've been very thorough in our briefings with Jim Crane and George Postolos with regard to how this whole process is running and we know that the opportunity to get all of our guys signed exists in our budget," Wade said.

Space Shots

• Second baseman Jose Altuve, who led the California League in batting at .408, and shortstop Jonathan Villar, still just 20, were promoted from high Class A Lancaster to Double-A Corpus Christi. Both hit home runs in their Hooks debuts with Villar's a walkoff.

• The Astros moved Jimmy Paredes, who came over in the Lance Berkman trade, to third base to accommodate Altuve at second. Director of player development Fred Nelson said the move was not necessarily permanent but that the Astros wanted to see what he had at the hot corner.