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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Houston Astros' Rebuilding Process Being Helped by Prospects Like Mike Foltynewicz

With a 1962 New York Mets-esque 13-33 record, the Houston Astros have a lot of holes they will need to fill if they want to have any chance of respectability in the future. Fortunately, they have thrown themselves into rebuilding through player development, and have a number of young prospects who are looking like they will be major pieces in the coming years. Among the team’s top young pitchers is Mike Foltynewicz, who is getting closer and closer to a spot in the major league starting rotation.

The big right-handed Foltynewicz was drafted in 2010 by the Astros in the first round (19th overall selection) out of Minooka High School in Illinois. The Astros zeroed in on him after a senior season that saw him go 9-1 with a 0.38 ERA. He had previously signed a letter of intent to play collegiately at the University of Texas, but turned pro after his high draft selection.

At the time, the scouting report on the youngster praised him for his mid-90s fastball and excellent changeup, but noted his need to develop a more consistent breaking pitch. As he has progressed through the Houston system, he has tightened up his stuff and become a more complete pitcher.

Foltynewicz was just a combined 5-14 with 4.74 ERA in his first two professional seasons, but truly blossomed last year. Playing for Single-A Lexington, he went 14-4 with a 3.14 ERA and 125 strikeouts in 27 starts, and was named the Astros’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

He began the 2013 season with High-A Lancaster, but was promoted to Double-A Corpus Christie after the first month. He is off to another excellent start, going a combined 1-0 with a 2.79 ERA in 11 games (seven starts). He is also striking out an impressive 9.86 batters per nine innings, which is the highest mark of his career.

The Astros may be a total mess as things stand today. However, it won’t always be that way, and young players like Foltynewicz will be the reason why the franchise is on its way to turning things around.

Mike Foltynewicz Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: I have to say my favorite players growing up were Mark McGwire, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds. My parents were always Cardinals fans, so I really liked all three of those guys.

How close did you come to attending college and how did you decide to sign with Houston?: I was pretty close to attending college because the University of Texas was my dream school, and me getting a scholarship to go there was amazing. But going higher than I expected in the draft, and wanting to get my professional career started right away, my decision was easy.

Can you describe what your draft day experience was like?: My draft day experience was pretty awesome. We were playing our sectional championship game in Bloomington and we lost a tough game. We were all sad and emotional on the bus ride home, but about 30 minutes into the bus ride I got the call that Houston wanted to take me 19th overall, and I said ‘absolutely.’ All the sadness turned into happiness and laughter and joy. It was an amazing day overall.

How difficult is it to adapt to pitching under pitch counts, constant coach/instructor scrutiny, and attention from Houston fans and front office?: It’s difficult to pitch under pitch counts because I’m used to going all the way in high school and having a 120 pitch count maybe in a game. I’m really competitive and love to compete, but I also understand why they are doing it and what’s best for me.  The constant coach instructing doesn’t bother me at all. They are always finding ways to make me better so I like it. All the attention from the fans doesn’t bother me much. Everyone will have their opinions, either negative or positive, so I just try to go out and pitch the best I can every time and let people think what they want. I know and all the coaches know what I’m capable of.

Which pitches do you throw, and which is your best and which do you believe needs the most work?: I throw a four-seam, two-seam, changeup and curveball. I believe my four-seam is my best pitch, maybe my two-seam also. My two-seam gets a lot of ground ball outs and swing and misses or foul tips and I can throw that in any count. My changeup is coming along great and so is my curveball. But I think my curveball needs the most work, but there is always work for improvement for all my pitches (command).

Have you noticed many changes in the Astros organization since GM Jeff Luhnow took over?: Luhnow has done a great job so far coming in. He’s showing that he is not afraid to make moves, and he’s confident in what he is doing.

What was the most difficult thing to get used to in pro ball other than the travel?: The most difficult thing getting used to in pro ball is playing 140 games, throwing every day, and only having one off-day a month. A full season takes a big toll on your body and your mental toughness. I feel like I have come a long ways and matured a lot from the day I got drafted till now.

When on a road trip, what is your go-to meal of choice?: I don’t really have a go-to place to eat after games; just whatever is open is good enough for me!

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