Korey Lee didn’t project as a first-round pick for most teams in baseball. The Astros, however, felt very differently.
“I can’t speak to what other teams thought of him. We were infatuated with him early in the process,” Astros scouting director Kris Gross said. “He had everything to offer at a premium position and we were in.”
The Astros made Lee, a catcher from California, the final pick of the first round when they selected him No. 32 overall Monday night. Lee had helium late in the draft process, but it was still the biggest surprise selection of the first round.
Hitting behind reigning Golden Spikes Award winner Andrew Vaughn, Lee hit .338 with 15 home runs this season for Cal while throwing out 12 of 27 basestealers from behind the plate.
That combination of power and an arm appealed to the Astros, who had also scouted Lee at Vista (Calif.) HS and had a long track record with him.
“We think he can be an everyday catcher who provides plus defense behind the plate, really be a run-stopper out there,” Gross said. “And we think he can put up above-average power numbers and hit in the middle of the lineup.”
For his part, Lee had no idea he would be a first-round pick. He had struggled to hit his first two years at Cal and, even with breakout junior year and late draft rise, it was no sure thing he’d go as high as he did.
“I didn’t have any idea,” Lee said. “It was a dream come true. It was a total surprise.”
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow highlighted the Astros’ lack of organizational catching depth when discussing the pick, but he was also clear the club didn’t pick Lee just to fill an organizational hole.
They thought he was a clear first-round talent and potential everyday catcher, no matter what else the rest of the industry believed.
“We had a lot of guys on the board,” Luhnow said. “As we looked like who was likely to be there and we looked at all the guys, he stood out for us as the one we wanted.”