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06/06/06 5:18 PM ET

Astros take catcher Sapp with first pick

Club excited about youngster's potential behind plate

HOUSTON -- Houston Astros senior director of player personnel and scouting Paul Ricciarini has read the scouting reports on Max Sapp and is unconcerned with the speculation that the 18-year-old from Windemere, Fla., may lack a few raw tools required to be a Major League catcher.

The Astros drafted Sapp as their No. 1 pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft on Tuesday with intentions for him to continue what he did the last two years of his high school career -- catch. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound left-handed hitter from Bishop Moore High School, drafted 23rd overall in this year's draft, worked out a number of times for Astros scouts, mainly Florida-based area scout Jon Bunnell, and the club is excited about Sapp's future as a catcher.

"That was the controversy before the season started," Ricciarini said of the prior reports. "He's been catching two years, but he's got all of the physical skills and the work ethic. He's a good enough athlete. We had worked him out this year as well as last year. I have no problem with this kid developing behind the plate.

"He has tremendous arm strength, he's athletic enough where he'll be able to block balls. He's a 'ballpark rat' as I call it. He's really built to play the position. He's a very durable, strong kid."

Said Sapp: "A lot of people had questions about it, but I showed them I could catch this year in high school. I think I didn't throw out [only] one runner this whole year."

And, he can hit. Sapp batted .572 (40-for-70) with nine homers and 48 RBIs during his senior year.

Sapp also played first base and third base during his high school career. Why catching?

"I want to be a catcher -- it's the quickest way to the Major Leagues," he said.

"He's a left-handed hitter with great makeup, power, arm strength -- the whole package is there," Ricciarini said. "You can never get enough catching, obviously. Anytime you can go up the middle, especially for a left-handed hitter, it's a very attractive commodity."

Sapp impressed Houston manager Phil Garner when he worked out at Minute Maid Park.

"I think our guys are very excited to get him," Garner said. "He looks like he's got a good makeup for catching. He's a good-sized kid. I like his swing. His first 20 or so swings he hit the ball right on the button. He's got a good swing plane."

Because 22 teams were ahead of the Astros in the first round, Ricciarini was somewhat concerned Sapp would not be available when it was their turn to pick. Ricciarini, who calls draft day "Scouting Christmas," breathed a big sigh of relief when Sapp was still on the board when the Astros made their selection. Sapp was pleased as well.

"It's mainly pitching the first round -- they take a lot of pitchers and not a lot of high school hitters," Sapp said. "When I was up there [working out for scouts last week], they said they liked me at 23 and if I was there, they would choose me. Around the 22nd pick, I got a call and they said, 'Congratulations, we're going to take you at 23.'"

"I had a little extra Maalox if I needed it," Ricciarini said. "We were concerned that there were probably two clubs in front that [we thought might draft him]. It looked like it was going to be a heavy pitching-fall up to us, which it was. We were holding our breath."

The next step will be to sign Sapp. Bunnell has no worries that it will be difficult to come to a deal with the catcher.

"I have no concerns," Bunnell said. "He just wants to get out and play and get started right away. We'll give him time to enjoy [being drafted] and talk about that later."

"I'm definitely going to sign with the Astros," Sapp said. "Sign for slot money and I'm on my way to becoming a big leaguer."

In terms of projecting when Sapp will reach the big leagues, Ricciarini declined to give a timetable, explaining that the club expects Sapp to develop on the same pace as most of the club's top prospects.

"We put these artificial timetables on these players," Ricciarini said. "He'll let us know that. With his work ethic and his intangibles -- and this is what we do so much work on -- I have no problem foreseeing him getting there within a reasonable amount of time.

"What that magic time frame is, I don't know. We don't put those time frames on. But he should develop, at least at a normal pace a young high shcool player would, with this kind of talent."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.