First you have to sow the seed . . .

The Astros are commonly rated as having a farm system among the worst in the majors. (This Baseball Prospectus article ($) speculates there is some correlation between our strong teams over the past decade and subsequent less than optimal draft position.)

I mention this because if you look at the team with the strongest farm system in baseball–which is probably the Devil Rays–it turns out that they have had just about the most favorable draft position of any team in the majors since 2000 (I’ll explain what I mean by this in a moment). And if you look at the team with the weakest farm system, which is probably the Astros, they have had just about the least favorable draft slots. Since our goal is to evaluate the long-term core competencies of each franchise–we are hoping to look at process rather than results–it is worth trying to account for this distinction.

Anyway, I’ve been listening to Charlie Pallilo’s podcast on Houston’s 790AM (The Sports Animal!) and he mentioned a report yesterday from Louisiana on the status of  the Astros 13th round draft pick, Chad Jones. Jones’ dad says in the article that the Astros haven’t conducted any serious negotiations with him about signing a contract since they made an initial offer following the draft, which was apparently rejected.

Chad Jones is an interesting prospect. He’s a high school kid who plays centerfield, hits for power and has good speed. He’s also a top football recruit and signed up to play college ball at LSU. Fall football practice starts tomorrow and according to MLB rules the Astros have until Aug. 15 to sign him, or they lose their rights to him and he’ll be eligible to re-enter the draft. Jones is considered first-round baseball talent but dropped so far because of questions about whether or not he would sign (See here and here). He is apparently asking for first-round money (rumored around $2 million) despite being drafted in the 13th round.

From a pure tools standpoint, Jones is one of the best prospects in the draft. He’s a chiseled 6-foot-3, 222-pounder with top-of-the-line lefthanded power and above-average speed and arm strength. The consensus is that he’s more attractive as a right fielder, but he’s also a lefthanded pitcher capable of throwing 91 mph off the mound. Jones still is raw, both as a hitter and a pitcher. He also has extra leverage because he signed with the Louisiana State football program as a safety, and he’s a Parade all-American rated No. 1 at his position by several scouting services. He had 12 interceptions as a senior, returning six for touchdowns, and is a ferocious tackler. Rahim Alem, his older brother, is a defensive end for the Tigers. Jones has indicated to scouts that he wants to play baseball and is signable, though it’s probably going to take first- or sandwich-round money. That might be a little steep for a player who’s going to need a lot of time to develop. LSU faced a similar situation last year with wide receiver/outfielder Jared Mitchell, who slid to 10th round and turned down the Twins to go to school.

Having the worst farm system in baseball, having a team that is facing a bleak outlook for the rest of this season and the next and having done nothing to improve at the trade deadline, it seems like a good move, for PR if nothing else to shell out a couple of million to pickup a high-ceiling guy like Jones. He’s not going to make an impact for another few years, assuming he pans out at all. Baseball draft picks are usually pretty long odds. And maybe Jones really just wants to play football and his high money demands are simply a negotiating posture. Still, it would be encouraging to see McLane step up to the plate and not let this opportunity get away.


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