Astros get firsthand look at Draft prospects
Minute Maid Park hosts final of four workouts for potential picks
HOUSTON -- There might be nothing more intimidating than throwing off the mound with Hall of Fame pitcher and Texas legend Nolan Ryan standing by your side.
That was the day in a nutshell for college pitcher Jake Cosart, who could go as high as the third round in this week's First-Year Player Draft. He was among 20 players the Astros invited to Minute Maid Park on Monday afternoon for the last of the club's four invitation-only workouts.
"He's the best pitcher of all time," said Cosart, the brother of Astros pitcher Jarred Cosart. "He's had a great career."
The Astros have the first pick in the Draft for the third year in a row and held workouts in Atlanta, Orlando, Fla., and Los Angeles prior to Houston to allow more people in the organization to see some of the prospects in a big league environment.
While the club has spent countless man hours sending scouts and crosscheckers all over the country in the past few months to witness top talent, Monday's workout had Astros advisors Ryan, Craig Biggio and Enos Cabell watching the prospects. Astros scouts from all over the country and their Minor League coordinators were also on hand.
"It's very important to our Draft process," scouting director Mike Elias said. "This is something we have done in the past. We put a lot of stock in regional workouts. ... We have meetings at these workouts, but also it's a chance to get up close and personal with some of the top players from the region -- if they make sense with where we pick and they're ready to come, or guys further down the line in the Draft that maybe me or the crosscheckers haven't had a chance to see in person."
The hitters took batting practice with a rim of Astros personnel standing around the cage, and they also threw from their positions in the field so the Astros could grade their arms. The pitchers threw a 25-pitch bullpen on the mound and had radar guns on them.
The players also were interviewed by members of the Astros' analytics staff.
"It's a mishmash of top picks, middle picks, late picks," Elias said. "I think we've drafted at least one player from every one of these workouts the last two years and also going back to our days with the Cardinals. It really bolsters our efforts in the Draft and improves our comfort level with some of the kids at the top of the Draft."
Two of the bigger names at the workout were left-handed pitcher/outfielder Alex Verdugo from Sahuaro High School in Tucson, Ariz., and Bobby Bradley, a first baseman from Harrison Central High School in Gulfport, Miss.
"It's an amazing experience," Bradley said. "You just try to show them all our tools. Show them you can go the other way and your arm strength and speed. Not so much hitting for average, but hitting the gaps."
Bradley has signed with LSU, but is keeping his options open.
"I haven't really thought about that one," he said. "I'm just going to find out when it comes and if it's worth passing up LSU for, I'll go."
Verdugo, who signed with Arizona State, threw for another team Sunday, so he was limited to showing off his batting skills and outfield arm for the Astros.
"I was thrilled they would want me to come out and work out and show my abilities and know me as a person," he said. "I think I can make it to the big leagues as a hitter or a pitcher. It's what the team that is drafting me wants."
Cosart, who like his brother went to Clear Creek High School in League City, Texas, isn't as big as Jarred, but throws nearly as hard. He's picked up velocity within the last year and is sitting at 93-96 mph with his fastball at Seminole State College.
"I want to show them how far I've come in about a year," he said. "I've developed quite a bit and gotten a lot better. I'm showing good fastball velocity and all my secondary pitches [are good], and hopefully they like them."
Cosart was throwing 88-90 mph last year and made huge strides with the help of his college pitching coach, John Updike, his father, Joseph, and, of course, his big brother. Cosart also focused solely on pitching after being a two-way player.
"Maturation physically and mentally also contributed to it," he said.
As far the chance to perhaps play on the same team as Jarred?
"It would be unreal," Jake said. "Someone told me the other day the fact we're down the road [from their hometown] and being in the same rotation or maybe closing out a game, I don't even know if that's happened much in the history of ball. That would be something for the record books."