The Houston Astros are one loss away from clinching the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, and a slice of draft history. The Astros would become the first franchise ever to pick No. 1 overall three times in a row.
Major League Baseball changed the order of the first-year player draft just in time for the Rays to become the first team to draft No. 1 overall twice in a row in 2007-08. Prior to 2008, the teams picked in order with the worst record going first, but they alternated by leagues at every spot. American League teams had the odd-numbered spots one year, National League teams had evens, and vice versa the next year.
Since the rule change, three teams have had back-to-back No. 1 overall picks: the Rays, the Nationals (2009-10) and Astros (2012-13). Tampa turned its selections into David Price and Tim Beckham, with Beckham, the top pick in 2008, reaching the major leagues for the first time last week. The Nats timed their two picks perfectly, shelling out more than $25 million in major league contracts to nab Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.
Houston’s top selections have been Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa ('12) and Stanford righthander Mark Appel ('13), with Correa having a tremendous low Class A Midwest League season. Appel was his teammate at Quad Cities after signing and had a solid debut.
The rules have changed since the Nats spent all that money on Strasburg and Harper, with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement installing hard bonus pool caps on teams with significant penalties if they exceed those caps. No team has gone over its cap enough to incur the penalties, which include lost draft picks, but picking first overall does give the Astros larger draft bonus pools with which to sign players.
The 2014 draft likely will test Houston because for the first time in three years, the class has a clear front-runner in North Carolina State lefthander Carlos Rodon, who would have been atop most draft boards in 2012 and '13 had he been eligible. Neither Correa nor Appel received the largest signing bonus in their drafts, but Rodon, if he pitches as he has the previous two seasons, would not be the kind of player to sign such a deal.
Considering the physical lefthander’s talent, which is on par with past No. 1 overalls such as Price and Strasburg, the Astros likely will have to pay Rodon the largest signing bonus of the new bonus-pool era of the draft.
The Astros will also have the largest international bonus pool for the second straight year when the 2014-15 signing period begins on July 2, as teams are now allocated pool space based on reverse order of winning percentage. The Cubs right now would pick fourth and have the fourth-highest international bonus pool, though after going well beyond 15 percent of their 2013-14 international pool space, they won’t be allowed to sign a player for more than $250,000 during the next signing period.
At 51-104, Houston is six games worse than Miami (56-98) in the loss column. The top 10 picks in the draft, which are protected from free-agent compensation, stack up like this with a week to go in the season.
1. Astros 51-104
2. Marlins 56-98
3. White Sox 60-94
4. Cubs 65-90
5. Twins 65-89
6. Mariners 67-88
7. Brewers 68-86
8. Rockies 71-85
9. Giants 71-84
10. Mets 70-84
Blue Jays 71-83