Astros hold top pick in Monday's draft

The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft gets underway on Monday with the Houston Astros holding the top overall pick for the third time in team history.

The Astros last held the top pick back in 1992 when they selected third baseman Phil Nevin. They also made left-hander Floyd Bannister the top overall pick in 1976.

Without a clear-cut talent at the top of the draft, Houston really hasn't given any indication which way it may be leaning, but some feel the Astros have their hearts set on a starting pitcher and that Stanford righty Mark Appel could be their guy.

Appel's stock took a bit of a hit early on this season for the Cardinal, but he quickly turned critics around, having posted a 9-1 record with a 2.37 ERA in 14 starts. He's also struck out at least 10 in seven starts this year, with four of those outings against teams in the Top 10.

With a four-seam fastball that touches 100 mph and sits 94-96, a two-seam fastball around 92-94, a sharp slider from 82-84 and a change-up from 81-83 with plenty of depth, many think he has the tools to perform at a high level in the big leagues.

If you want to find a downside, though, he sometimes overthrows his fastball and rushes delivery from time-to-time.

Also, should Appel go No. 1, it would mark the first time the same school has produced the top selection in both the NFL Draft (Andrew Luck) and MLB Draft.

But, if the Astros decide on a bat, then they figure to go in the direction of Georgia prep outfielder Byron Buxton, who is considered the best talent in what is believed to be an underwhelming draft.

Although his bat has been a little slow to develop, most think the potential for power is there, as Buxton has wowed scouts during home run competitions at showcases.

A true five-tool talent, Buxton's speed is his biggest asset at the moment, but he has a plus-arm and is a terrific defender in the field. He's been compared to both Arizona outfielder Justin Upton, as well as former Cincinnati great Eric Davis.

The Minnesota Twins will have the second pick, followed by the Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals. The Chicago Cubs select sixth, with the San Diego Padres, Pittsburgh Pirates, Miami Marlins and Colorado Rockies completing the Top 10.

Four clubs have two first-round picks: the Toronto Blue Jays (17th and 22nd), St. Louis Cardinals (19th and 23rd), Boston Red Sox (24th and 31st) and Milwaukee Brewers (27th and 28th). The Cardinals actually have five of the first 59 selections and the Blue Jays hold five of the first 60 picks.

As usual, pitching will dominate the first round with righties Kevin Gausman, Kyle Zimmer, Michael Wacha and Marcus Stroman, as well as lefty Matt Smoral, all expected to go early.

An interesting name to watch will be California prep righty Lucas Giolito, who may have been the top pitcher in this year's draft class, but sprained his ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow in early March and ended his season. He has resumed throwing, but is a wild card at best at the moment.

Once again the draft will take place over three days, but as per the new Basic Agreement, the draft will have 40 rounds rather than 50. The first day will consist of the first 60 picks, including Round 1 and Compensation Round A. There will be five minutes between first-round picks and one minute between all other selections.

On Tuesday, the draft will resume in the second round at noon EDT and will be tentatively scheduled to go through the 15th round. The festivities will then conclude on Wednesday, which will again begin at noon EDT and is set to cover rounds 16-40.

Another new wrinkle in this year's draft will be the way teams are allowed to spend with regards to signing bonuses. While there may not be a hard cap on individual draft slots, as owners initially sought, stricter, enforceable measures were implemented that will limit the total amount that teams can now spend on players signed in both the domestic and international markets.

If teams exceed the imposed limits, they will be subject to significant taxes and even the loss of premium draft picks.

For example, the Astros have been given an allowable limit of $7.2 million for the top pick and can only spend $11.18 million on their 11 picks through the first 10 rounds. Last year, Pittsburgh had the top overall pick and spent a record $8 million to sign No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole and subsequently paid a record $17,005,700 to sign all their draft selections, more than $5 million over the previous mark.

While the restrictive measures were put in place to help curb spending, it also may assure that the best prospects end up with the weakest teams, restoring the original premise of the draft.

The inaugural Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft was held in New York in 1965. The selection rotation is determined by the clubs' reverse order of their won-lost records at the close of the previous regular season, regardless of league.

There will be 40 rounds in the draft and it will finish after all 30 teams have passed on a selection or after the final selection in the 40th round, whichever comes first.

Former No. 1 overall selections include current major league stars Alex Rodriguez (1993), Josh Hamilton (1999), Adrian Gonzalez (2000), Joe Mauer (2001), David Price (2007), Stephen Strasburg (2009) and Bryce Harper (2010).