6/7/2013 1:10 P.M. ET
Astros make UNC lefty first pick of Day 2
By Chris Abshire / MLB.com
Even with Houston's current crop of starting pitchers performing admirably during the last three weeks, the club appears hungry for more.
On Day 2, a day after spending their top two picks on right-handed starters, the Astros made North Carolina left-hander Kent Emanuel the first player taken in the third round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft.
"I don't know too much about the specifics of the franchise, but I'm sure I will soon," Emanuel said. "I'm going to do my research, that's for sure. I know they're an up-and-coming bunch that wants to win again badly."
As the Friday starter for one of the top-ranked college programs in the country, Emanuel undoubtedly was undoubtedly surrounded by plenty of intrigue entering the Draft. He gets the job done, albeit without overwhelming stuff.
"He's been a fixture in that UNC rotation and dominant in the ACC, which is as good as college baseball gets," said Astros director of amateur scouting Mike Elias. "That's high-level experience he's bringing to the table."
Emanuel's fastball tops out around 91 mph, his breaking stuff is fringy and he has a solid changeup. The lefty said that's his main area of focus for improvement, whether he signs or not.
"Your stuff always needs to be better," Emanuel said. "The velocity on the fastball is getting toward the mid-90s, and the breaking ball could use a little more bite."
Yet what he lacks in pure stuff, Emanuel makes up for with pitchability. He has excellent command and knows how to mix his pitches extremely well, having walked only 27 batters in 120 innings for UNC so far this season.
"My ability to pitch around the edges and attack hitters is my strength," Emanuel said. "I'm grateful the Astros saw those skills in me."
Originally drafted out of high school in the 19th round by the Pirates in 2010, the Woodstock, Ga., native instead honored his commitment to UNC, where he's had a stellar college career. He went 9-1 with a team-best 2.33 ERA as a freshman in 2011 and followed that season up by posting an 8-4 record and a 1.96 ERA in '12. Through the regional round of NCAA Tournament play this season, he has again been outstanding, posting an 11-3 record with a 2.70 ERA to rank among UNC's all-time best in a variety of categories.
A lack of a true out pitch seems to be Emanuel's key limitation, but at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, he's big and strong and understands his craft, giving the Astros hope he'll be a workhorse at the back end of their big league rotation in the future.
"We liked that he's a crafty thrower," Elias said. "He's a pitchability left-hander that spots up his pitches. When you have a competitor like that, it checks off a lot of boxes."
Emanuel is still a junior, and another year could potentially make him millions of dollars if he moves up Draft boards. But Emanuel said he hasn't given much thought to a decision yet.
"We played in Minute Maid Park earlier this year with Carolina [in the College Classic], and the park is really nice," Emanuel said. "It's thrilling that I might get a chance to play there for real, as a big leaguer. Right now, I have no idea whether that'll be any time soon. It's something that will have to wait until after the [College] World Series."
The Astros took a pair of Vanderbilt teammates, first baseman Conrad Gregor and second baseman Tony Kemp, in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively, before nabbing high school catcher Jacob Nottingham in the sixth round.
Outfield became a priority after that, as Houston nabbed a pair of center fielders in South Florida junior James Ramsay and California high schooler Jason Martin in the seventh and eighth rounds, respectively.
Brian Holberton, one of Emanuel's college teammates, could be joining him at the next level; the Astros selected Holberton in the ninth round. Houston completed its Day 2 haul by taking Virginia high school lefty Austin Nicely.
"Big picture, I feel like we executed part of a strategy that dovetails with what we did last year," Elias said. "Last year, we got some very exciting, young, talented high school kids supplemented by polished college players. I think we injected quite a bit of polish in there this year with position players from big schools and big, tested arms. The youth was more sprinkled in this time around."
Chris Abshire is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.