Top pitching prospect Foltynewicz: 19 years old and loaded with talent.
The Astros’ Major League roster has gotten considerably younger in the last two years, having shaved more than six years off the overall average age since it was deemed the oldest team in the big leagues in 2009.
The Minor League system has also gotten younger in recent years. The organization’s overall philosophy is to take the best player available in the draft, but it’s also clear that the club has leaned heavily toward the high school athlete. In the lower levels of the Minor Leagues, many players are 19 and 20 years old and only a couple of years out of high school.
One of those prospects is right-handed pitcher Mike Foltynewicz, the ace of the Class A Lexington Legends staff whom the Astros are hoping will someday fill the same role at the big league level.
Foltynewicz (pronounced fol-ten-EH-vich) is 19 years old. He’ll turn 20 in October, and by that time he will have two years of pro ball under his belt. He was the club’s second first-round pick (19th overall) in 2010 after starring for his Minooka Community High School in Minooka, Illinois, and he began his career last year for the Rookie League Greeneville team.
Baseball is a game of adjustments, and the 6-foot-4 Foltynewicz felt the challenge of pro ball immediately, when he had to get used to the higher quality of hitters he was facing.
“In high school, I could be it blow them at 90 miles an hour,” he said. “Up here, it’s all about location now. In high school, I was just trying to throw the ball, and hopefully they’d swing. Now you have to work on your command. Off-speed pitches are the key, too. You have to throw all of them for strikes. The hitters are a lot better here.”
Foltynewicz throws three main pitches — a four-seam fastball, curveball and changeup. Under the tutelage of Lexington pitching coach (and former Astros reliever) Dave Borkowski, Foltynewicz removed the two-seam fastball from his repertoire, mainly, according to Borkowski, because he was trying too much to manipulate it — “create it,” if you will — instead of just letting it go and have natural movement.
The changeup is a work in progress, and both Foltynewicz and Borkowski agree it’s becoming a very good pitch for the right-hander. The changeup is largely a mental pitch, with the biggest hurdle simply trusting the grip, letting it go and throwing it like a fastball. Foltynewicz’s approach toward pitching in general – “He’s got that cockiness on the mound that you like to see. It’s my mound, my game, I’m going to take it to you,” said Borkowski — has made learning the changeup a rather seamless process.
“It’s coming along great, actually,” Foltynewicz said. “I didn’t use it in high school a lot. I had the curveball and slider working well so I didn’t need it much. Up here, it’s a great pitch to use. I worked on it a lot during Spring Training and it’s really coming along great since then. I have to get a little better control of it and I’ll be OK.”
Foltynewicz draws comparisons to Jordan Lyles by those who have watched both pitch extensively in the Minor Leagues. Lyles, the club’s supplemental round pick (38th overall) in the 2009 draft, debuted for the Astros earlier this year at the age of 20.
What do the two have most in common? Confidence.
“When you see them, they look like big leaguers,” Legends manager Rodney Linares said. “Not a lot of guys have that.”
Nor do they have Foltynewicz’s fastball, which clocks in regularly in the mid-90s.
“He might be a guy that if he gets it, he might be in the big leagues in a couple years and be a pretty solid starting pitcher,” Linares said. “He’s 19 years old, has a great body, tall…and he’s been durable. He’s pitched a lot and he’s showed he’s durable.”
Linares cautioned against pushing Foltynewicz too quickly, however. In a year when Astros prospects are being fast-tracked to the Majors, Linares hopes the club will exercise restraint when it comes to the club’s top pitching prospect.
“He has all the ability in the world,” Linares said. “Hopefully they take it easy on him and don’t try to jump him so quick. I know Jordan was a bit more mature. Folty’s still a young kid. When you have a chance for a guy to be a No. 1 or No. 2 starter in the big leagues, that’s pretty good. Do your research and go easy on him.”
Still, there are few doubts that Foltynewicz will eventually end up in Houston’s rotation.
“Absolutely,” Borkowski said. “He has a power arm and two above average off-speed pitches that are only going to keep getting better. He wants to learn, he wants to be that guy in the rotation. He’s a hard worker. It’s a lot of fun to watch.”
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