In the 2022 MLB draft, the Astros finally had their first and second round selections back. While getting a player in those rounds is extremely big for the system, the larger bonus pool also helps sign talent overslot later in the draft. That is exactly what the Astros did with outfielder Ryan Clifford.
In the baseball draft, teams are awarded a bonus pool based on their selections in the top 10 rounds. They can use the money however they see fit. Teams will often try to sign some guys “underslot” value to go over on players in other rounds.
On day 3 of the 2022 MLB draft, the Astros selected Ryan Clifford with their 11th round pick. A pick that would normally sign for $125,000 if a team doesn’t go overslot. The Astros ended up signing Clifford for a little over $1.2 million, which is second round value. Clifford had a strong commitment to Vanderbilt which scared some teams off but the Astros took the chance and were able to get him in their system, and he is looking like a phenomenal pick one year into his professional career.
Clifford started this year in Fayetteville and made quick work of the Carolina League pitchers. Clifford hit .337 with a .488 OPS in 25 games, which included 25 walks. An impressive number for a young hitter.
“I think I was just selective at the plate early,” Clifford said. “Overall, I think the command wasn’t as good leading to more walks,” he added.
Having a teenager understand that, and understand the strike zone is very important. Sometimes the command is shaky at the lower levels and if hitters don’t have patience and strike zone discipline, it can lead to some bad outs or strikeouts.
Clifford was eventually promoted to High-A Asheville, but he struggled a bit out of the gate going 0-for-15 with 10 strikeouts in his first five games.
“To start I could tell I was just a tick off and trying to do too much,” Clifford said. “I was swinging at the right pitches but just missing pitches I hadn’t missed before,” Clifford added.
Since those first five games, Clifford has gone on a tear. In the 47 games since, he has slashed .287/.382/.563 with 13 HR. That is good for an OPS of .946.
“The adjustments were simple things I’ve done my whole life and just cleaning up movements in my swing,” Clifford said. “Seeing it deep and being short in order to allow me to track pitches better,” he added.
Overall this season, Clifford has a .906 OPS with 14 doubles, 15 homers and 52 runs batted in in 77 games. He has a 152 wRC+, which is very good, especially for a teenager. Only one teenager (Clifford just turned 20 but in age 19 season) in all of full-season minor league baseball has a higher wRC+ than Clifford and that is Jackson Holliday, the #1 overall pick in the 2022 draft.
Clifford is establishing himself as one of the best prospects in the system, maybe even #1, and should be in contention for the top 100 lists by season’s end. A teenager with excellent plate discipline and plus power is hard to come by. Just to give perspective on his age, of his 343 plate appearances to this point in the season, only 7 have been against a pitcher younger than him.
At this point, it appears the Astros got an absolute steal selecting him in the 11th round and getting him signed away from his Vanderbilt commit.