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Draft Sanctions Have Left The Astros At a Talent Deficit



Over seven seasons from 2013-2019, the Astros always had a top 10 farm system according to Baseball America’s organization talent rankings.

Now the Astros rank 29th in our midseason update, down from 26th coming into 2021. The Astros ranked 27th in 2020.

We often see teams that are consistently successful at the major league level slide down the talent rankings. It’s a natural life cycle. As teams trade prospects to help the MLB club and as those teams start picking at the back of the draft they often see their farm systems thin out. The White Sox's slide to 30th in the current talent rankings is a perfect example of this.

The Astros case is a little different. Like many contending teams, the Astros have traded away prospects to bolster the big league club. Most notably, the club traded 2017 first-round pick J.B. Bukauskas and second-round pick Corbin Martin as well as 2018 first-round pick Seth Beer in a trade that acquired righthander Zack Greinke from the Diamondbacks.

But in addition to trades and graduations, the effects of the team’s penalties for sign stealing have left a significant mark. In fact, they have left the Astros at a significant handicap to the rest of the league when it comes to talent acquisition.

As part of their penalties, the Astros were forced to forfeit their first- and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 MLB drafts. That has meant that Houston has brought in dramatically less top-end talent in recent years in the draft than other teams.

Houston is the only team without a top 30 overall pick from any of the past five drafts on any active minor league roster. In comparison, six other teams currently have five top 30 picks from those drafts currently playing in their farm system.

Top 30 Picks
2017-2021 Drafts*
ORGTop 30
Draftees
ORGTop 30
Draftees
ARI5KC3
ATL5LAD3
CIN5MIA3
NYY5MIN3
SF5PHI3
STL5PIT3
BAL4SD3
BOS4TB3
CHC4TOR3
COL4WAS3
MIL4CWS2
OAK4LAA2
TEX4SEA2
CLE3NYM1
DET3HOU0
*Counts all players taken in top 30 picks overall of 2017-2021 drafts who were on active MiLB rosters as of Aug. 15, 2021

Catcher Korey Lee, the Astros’ 2019 first-round pick (32nd overall) is the only first-round pick from the past five drafts on any Astros MiLB roster. He’s also the only top 50 pick currently playing for an Astros farm team. In comparison, the Reds, Rays and Pirates all have nine top 50 picks on active MiLB rosters.

Top 50 Picks
2017-2021 Drafts*
ORGTop 50ORGTop 50
CIN9CWS5
COL9MIL5
PIT9MIN5
TB9NYY5
ARI8SD5
BAL8STL5
MIA8LAA4
ATL7LAD4
DET7OAK4
KC7PHI4
SF7TOR4
TEX7SEA3
BOS6WAS3
CHC6HOU1
CLE5NYM1
*Counts all players taken in top 50 picks overall of 2017-2021 drafts who were on active MiLB rosters as of Aug. 15, 2021

Now teams can miss on top picks and find gems in later rounds of the draft. But in a system where the amount teams can spend in the draft is strictly limited by MLB rules, losing top two-round picks also limits the amount of money a team can spend in the draft—the Astros currently have six draftees in the entirety of their minor league system who received $1 million or larger signing bonuses. The Reds, Orioles, Pirates, Royals and Tigers each had four players they signed from the 2021 draft with bonuses of $1 million or larger.

astros-900x635.jpg

2021 Houston Astros Midseason Top 30 Prospects Update

Updating our Houston Astros rankings to include 2021 draft picks, risers, fallers and more.

It’s only when you expand the filter to look at players taken in the top 100 picks that the Astros climb out of the basement. There it’s the Mets who bring up the rear, although the Astros are tied for second-fewest with seven.

How did the Mets get here? They traded Pete Crow-Armstrong to the Cubs, Simeon Woods Richardson to the Blue Jays and Josh Wolf and Isaiah Greene to the Indians. In addition, Matt Allan has missed the entire 2021 season because of injury.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Rays have 20 top 100 picks from the past five drafts on active MiLB rosters. The Rays have had a number of extra picks over those five drafts, but it also added Shane Baz, Blake Hunt, Xavier Edwards and Logan Driscoll in trades. Cole Wilcox, another Rays trade acquisition, does not count because he’s currently on the injured list.

Top 100 Picks
2017-2021 Drafts*
ORGTop 100ORGTop 100
TB20CIN11
MIA18MIL11
ARI17LAD10
BAL17OAK10
COL17LAA9
PIT16SD9
BOS15CWS8
TEX15NYY8
SF14SEA8
DET13TOR8
KC13HOU7
ATL12MIN7
CHC12PHI7
CLE12WAS7
STL12NYM5
*Counts all players taken in top 100 picks overall of 2017-2021 drafts who were on active MiLB rosters as of Aug. 15, 2021


The Astros have done well in developing international amateur signees, and excellent player development can help a team overcome drafting late. But the sanctions MLB handed down have left a mark, just as they were intended to.

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