Astros have top draft pick for 3rd year in a row

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HOUSTON (AP) The Houston Astros figure they added two players who can be future cornerstones of their franchise with the overall No. 1 pick in the last two Major League Baseball drafts.

On Thursday night, they'll have a chance to add another impact player when they once again have the top selection.

But after three 100-plus loss seasons, they are not interested in having the pick of the draft next season.

''That is our aspiration,'' general manager Jeff Luhnow said.

They used their first No. 1 pick on high school shortstop Carlos Correa and chose Stanford pitcher Mark Appel first last season.

Houston amateur scouting director Mike Elias said earlier this week that they don't know who they'll take with the selection, but that they had narrowed it down to six or seven players.

While it's an exciting process for Luhnow and his staff, he certainly feels the pressure to get it right.

''You need to hit on 1-1,'' Luhnow said. ''It's critical because it's a big investment.''

A few years ago, the Astros had one of the worst farm systems in the majors. The restocking began by trading away their veterans and continued with the draft. Now their minor league system is consistently ranked among the best in baseball.

''I think it's a great opportunity for our organization to continue to take steps in right direction,'' Luhnow said of the draft. ''These players we've taken in the last couple of years of the draft have really bolstered our farm system. They're a big reason why our farm system is one of the best in baseball right now.''

Correa and Appel are Houston's top two prospects and Correa is rated by Baseball America as the seventh prospect in all of baseball. Correa is hitting .328 with five homers and 49 RBIs in Single-A Lancaster. Appel has had some setbacks and is currently in extended spring training in Florida. But Luhnow isn't concerned about Appel's progress and believes he'll be back on track soon.

Luhnow wouldn't tip his hand as to whether they'll take a high school or college player, but his comments seemed to indicate that he likes getting players when they're young.

''Anytime you draft a player out of high school, you have more impact on how they develop, which allows you to customize their development for your benefit,'' Luhnow said. ''There's pros and cons, but we do like being able to shape the development ourselves.''

While Houston certainly has benefited most from the top two overall picks, the farm system has also been improved by lower picks they've acquired in the draft.

Right-hander Lance McCullers, selected with the 41st pick in the 2012 draft, is rated as Houston's fourth-best prospect. Their 10th-rated prospect, third baseman Rio Ruiz, was selected in the fourth round in 2012.

''This organization has done a good job with those first-round picks, but I think what separates the last two drafts from the ones prior to it is the amount of production we get past the first round,'' Luhnow said.

This season, the Astros have three selections in the first 42 picks.

''That's going to add a lot more talent,'' Luhnow said. ''You talk a lot about this first pick, and it's exciting to have it, but you really make your money on the draft in the later rounds.''