Goss: Mike Foltynewicz ready to soar in Astros’ system
October 26, 2012 7:28PM
Updated: November 29, 2012 6:31AM
When Houston Astros pitching prospect Mike Foltynewicz played at Minooka, he was dangerous with a bat in his hands.
With the Astros joining the American League in 2013, you might expect him to be disappointed in having fewer opportunities to hit once he reaches the major leagues.
“I don’t know how those guys do it,” Foltynewicz said of hitting big-time pitching. “That ball coming up there 95, 96, 97 (mph) and moving, it seems almost impossible to hit.”
Foltynewicz, of course, is in the business of making life difficult on hitters. The 2010 first-round draft pick of the Astros is coming off his best professional season and could move up a level or two in 2013.
Pitching for low-A Lexington in the South Atlantic League, Foltynewicz finished 14-4 with a 3.14 ERA. The 6-foot-5, 212-pound right-hander made his 27 scheduled starts and worked 152 innings. Had he not allowed 10 earned runs in seven innings over his final two starts, when he admits he was “getting a little tired,” his numbers would have been more impressive.
By the way, he was the starting pitcher for the South Division in the Sally League All-Star Game at Charleston, S.C.
“That was awesome,” Foltynewicz said. “There was a packed house, and that’s a beautiful field in Charleston. One of my goals was to make the All-Star team. Then to be the starting pitcher made it more awesome, and I pitched well, too.”
He struck out four and allowed no hits or walks in two shutout innings.
Foltynewicz turned 21 this month. This was his second season at Lexington, and with the success he enjoyed, a promotion to high-A Lancaster in the California League or Double-A Corpus Christi in the Texas League is logical.
While Lancaster is next in the pecking order, the Astros have had some top draft picks who are pitchers skip that stop because of the prevailing wind blowing out, especially to right field.
“Pop flies go over the fence there,” Foltynewicz said. “You may get better prepared going to other leagues.”
As one Houston scribe wrote, “Lancaster is where pitchers’ dreams go to die.”
Foltynewicz’s improvement this season had much to do with former major league pitcher Dave Borkowski, his pitching coach through all of his pro career so far.
“We finally figured everything out,” Foltynewicz said. “All the parts were clicking. Basically, my pitching coach and I sat down before the season and talked about everything.
“The mental part is big, getting prepared right before a game and getting prepared properly on the days leading up to your next start. We figured it out and I had one heck of a year.”
Good enough, in fact, that Foltynewicz was named the Sally League’s most outstanding pitcher and the Astros’ minor league pitcher of the year while re-establishing himself as one of Houston’s top prospects. That’s significantly different than 2011, when he went 5-11 at Lexington with a 4.97 ERA.
“Last year was my first full season and it took a big toll on me because I didn’t know what to expect,” Foltynewicz said. “This past year I knew what to expect, how to get myself prepared. I had a decent spring training and did pretty well from there.”
In his 152 innings, Foltynewicz struck out 125, walked 62 and allowed 145 hits. Opponents hit .250 against him.
“I threw 139 innings last year and 150 was our goal this year,” he said. “I made every scheduled start and felt great the whole year.”
His three-pitch assortment didn’t change, but the effectiveness improved.
Always a hard thrower, Foltynewicz’s fastball remains his No. 1 pitch.
“I got a lot stronger this year,” he said. “I might touch 97 early, I’m sitting at 94, 95, 96 early and in the middle of games and I hit 100 a couple of times,” he said. “But the big thing is I command it pretty well.”
His No. 2 is the changeup, which he throws with a cirlce-change grip.
“The change has come a long way since I got drafted,” he said. “It gets a lot of swings-and-misses, and popups and groundouts.”
The curveball is No. 3.
“It’s coming along pretty well also,” Foltynewicz said. “We’ve been working on it a ton. That and the change, we want to be able to throw whenever we want.”
Foltynewicz spent time in the instructional league the last two offseasons, but this year the Astros said he had thrown enough innings and sent him home, where he works out, visits family and friends and plays golf. In fact, he recently knocked a 9-iron into the cup for a hole-in-one on the 175-yard fifth hole at Heritage Bluffs.
In February, he said he’s likely to leave for the Astros’ base at Kissimmee, Fla., a couple of weeks early to throw, “instead of throwing indoors.”
According to all reports, the Astros expect their former No. 1 pick to be in the big leagues, whenever that may occur.
“I can’t really put a timetable on it,” he said. “I just want to work hard, have a good spring and let them make the decision where I should be next year, and we’ll go from there.”
Houston will be the ultimate.
“(Astros general manager) Jeff Luhnow is getting rid of veterans and bringing young players in,” Foltynewicz noted. “It’s a great organization to be in. And going to the AL will be a treat.
“I’m excited to see where the Astros are a couple of years from now. I hope they can contend in the next couple of years.”
Maybe they will. Perhaps with Mike Foltynewicz in the rotation.