As the big league club continues a descent toward the Chicago Cubs at the basement of the National League Central, the Houston Astros keep tossing millions at the future. Lance McCullers, the 41st pick overall in the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft, signed his professional contract and accrues a $2.5 million bonus to bypass college. That’s a little over $1.2 million more than the value of the 41st pick and a testament to McCullers’ talent.
The flame-throwing righty out of Tampa was slated to begin his collegiate career as a Florida Gator unless a franchise ponied up the cash to make him trade Ramen Noodle nights in Gainesville for Chinese buffets in Greeneville. Houston, having spent well beneath ($4.8 million) slot money ($7.2 million) for #1 pick Carlos Correa, drafted McCullers and expressed confidence it could get him to join their minor league system.
Perhaps knowing Correa was ready to agree to a team-friendly deal, the Astros also drafted other high school prospects with a necessity for high bonuses to tempt them out of college. Houston selected third baseman Rio Ruiz, who missed the majority of his senior season with a blood clot, in the fourth round and his powerful left-handed bat is headed to Southern California.
Fellow Golden State draftee Hunter Virant is a lefty pitcher with UCLA the destination should the Astros not meet his demands. He throws a low-90’s fastball and scouts project his breaking ball and specifically his change up as above-average pitches. Taken in the eleventh round, Virant actually sits outside the realm of the bonus pool restrictions (money given to a player selected after the 10th round beyond $100,000 counts against the bonus pool) but if he’s not offered seven figures, he’s a decent chance to don a uniform for the Bruins.
As for the already signed McCullers, he’ll report to the Gulf Coast League and ply his trade there before heading to rookie ball in Greeneville, Tennessee and compete in the Appalachian League.
Signability questions led to McCullers dropping to the supplemental round and both Ruiz and Virant came off the board later than their talent level for the same reason. But prior to the draft, each was considered a top 50 prospect so it would be quite the coup to ink all three for a system devoid of many elite guys. That’s probably a bit of a pipe dream for General Manager Jeff Luhnow but as he’s already fleeced Boston in the Mark Melancon-Jed Lowrie deal, he might be the type to pull out a late ace on the river. Or he’s just great at his job.
Either way, should Houston add Ruiz or Virant or both to the haul of Correa and McCullers, the Astros certainly utilized their picks as well as could be projected. Now, it’s on those players to produce.