HOUSTON — Heading into the final hour of Monday’s 11:00 p.m. CT deadline to ink remaining unsigned draftees, a total of 23 first-round picks, including eight of the top 10 selections in June’s First-Year Player Draft, had yet to reach a deal with their respective team.
The Houston Astros were in the same boat.
Center fielder George Springer, the Astros’ first-round (11th overall) selection and a University of Connecticut product, as well as right-hander Jack Armstrong Jr., a third-round pick out of Vanderbilt, represented the two highest selections left for Houston to sign.
With the deadline only minutes away, the Astros reached an agreement to sign both Springer and Armstrong — a positive step forward for an organization committed to scouting and player development as a means of improving a once depleted farm system.
An MLB source confirmed to joltleft.com late Monday night that Springer will receive a $2.525 million signing bonus and Armstrong a $750,000 bonus — both exceeding Major League Baseball’s slot recommendation.
“The 2012 Draft has finally begun,” Astros assistant general manager/director of scouting Bobby Heck said. “2011 is now behind us. This was a real continuous day, but we had every intention to add the two prime guys we set out to get the last couple of months in first-rounder George Springer and third-rounder Jack Armstrong.”
Springer, 21, was a NCAA Division I First-Team All-American in 2011 after hitting .343 (84-for-245) with 12 home runs, 77 RBI, 23 doubles and 31 stolen bases in 66 games as a junior this season for a Huskies squad that advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound standout outfielder possesses an elite combination of power, speed and projected five-tool ability.
He has built a strong relationship with the Astros’ scouting department, especially Heck and area scout John Kosciak, over the last few years, and looks forward to joining a first-class organization.
“I’m so proud that the Astros really wanted me,” Springer said. “They’ve been scouting me over the last few years, and I’ve always enjoyed talking with them. I knew they liked me and in the end, I couldn’t be happier with how it worked out. Now, my short-term goal is to advance through the farm system and the long-term goal is to help the Astros with all that I have got.”
Armstrong, 21, went 0-1 with a 2.65 ERA over 17 innings in 13 games during his junior campaign in 2011 at Vanderbilt University.
The 6-foot-7, 225-pound Armstrong, the son of former MLB All-Star right-hander Jack Armstrong, projects to be a likely workhorse and should be able to record outs at the major league level due to his exceptional athleticism and evolving repertoire.
He spent his summer pitching in the Cape Cod League.
Heck indicated the signings of both players were challenging based on the direction the entire process continues to take throughout Major League Baseball, which played a significant role in the Astros — like other teams — bumping up against the deadline.
“At the end of the day, we knew both kids wanted to play,” Heck said. “I think that the process we’re in right now kind of points toward the last hour thing. They were fast … they were more fast than tough, with a lot of waiting to get to the fast part.
“You’re always worried until you hear ‘yes’ on the other side. That’s what we need to do. We have to sign players at this point where we’re at. To add two quality players like this is another step forward.”
The Astros remain hopeful to get Springer and Armstrong’s feet wet in the system, despite the minor league seasons on the verge of ending.
“We’re hopeful at doing that,” Heck said. “George has been off of game activity for a while. From his standpoint, he has been at home working out. He’s been hitting, running and throwing. We’ll have to get his legs under him before we can get him in game action. As far as Jack, he was throwing as recent as last week. Due to the stuff he went through this spring at Vanderbilt, he’s not going to be pressed against inning limitation at this time. We hope to get both of them some time.”
Overall, Houston signed 35 out of 50 Draft picks, including their first 13 selections, over the last two months following the Draft.
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