Newspaper article International New York Times

Astros Reap the Rewards from Year after Year of Top Draft Picks

Newspaper article International New York Times

Astros Reap the Rewards from Year after Year of Top Draft Picks

Article excerpt

While the Astros' recent top draft picks are still in the minor leagues, several long-term answers are now everyday players for the big-league club.

The Houston Astros picked first in the draft for the third year in a row on Thursday.

While doing so, they were also showing why the trend should now be over.

The Astros' front office chose Brady Aiken, a left-hander from a San Diego high school, with the No.1 selection, their reward for having the majors' worst record last season. At the same time, at Minute Maid Park, their players were thumping the Los Angeles Angels, 8-5, behind three runs batted in from George Springer.

"There's a lot of excitement," Springer, the rookie right fielder, said in a telephone interview last week. "It's good for us as a team to go out and feed off each other and play some good baseball. As a team, we understand that we can compete with anybody."

Springer was chosen in the first round in 2011, the last time the Astros did not pick first. He was the 11th overall selection, from the University of Connecticut, in the team's last draft under Ed Wade, who preceded Jeff Luhnow as general manager.

Luhnow has undertaken an overhaul of the team, which lost 107 games in 2012 and 111 last season. But he promised this spring that things would be better.

"We want to begin to show not only the fans in Houston, but the fans nationally, that this plan is working," said Luhnow, who was hired in December 2011. "We're three years into it and it's starting to show results at the big-league level, and it's pretty exciting -- because we're sitting on top of a mountain of talent that's going to continue to come for the foreseeable future."

That mountain no longer seems so far off. The Astros had won 10 of their last 14 games entering Sunday, and they have a winning record since their miserable 9-19 April. While the Astros' recent top picks are still in the minor leagues -- shortstop Carlos Correa is dominating high Class A, but pitcher Mark Appel has struggled there -- several long-term answers are now everyday players in Houston.

Second baseman Jose Altuve, catcher Jason Castro, center fielder Dexter Fowler and third baseman Matt Dominguez started the season with the Astros. Springer joined in mid-April, and first baseman Jon Singleton homered in his debut Tuesday after agreeing to a five- year, $10 million contract.

Singleton's deal could pay him $30 million if the team exercises three option years through 2021. There was risk for the Astros, because Singleton has struggled with marijuana use and twice tested positive in the minors. But Baltimore's Bud Norris, a former Astros pitcher, criticized Singleton on Twitter for accepting a contract that could undercut his market value if he produces as the Astros expect.

"I can sum him up in two words: game-changer," Springer said of Singleton, who had 14 home runs in Class AAA when he was promoted. …

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