Mike Foltynewicz. | File photo
Updated: March 14, 2012 8:07AM
Mike Foltynewicz does not want to boast, but the fact is, when he pitched at Minooka, he could blow the ball by many of the hitters he faced.
As they say, this is a whole new ballgame.
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound right-hander was the first-round draft pick of the Houston Astros, the 19th overall selection, in 2010. At 20 years old, he has 11/2 years of professional experience under his belt.
The results so far have been mixed, but that’s OK. All the learning he is doing is geared toward a career in the big leagues, whether that comes by 2014, as some have projected, or at some other time.
“Early in games I can hit 96 to 97 (mph),” said Foltynewicz, whose repertoire primarily consists of three-plus pitches, his fastball, curve and chanegup. “In later innings, it’s maybe 92 or 94. But what the gun says doesn’t matter. What they want me to do is maintain my velocity.
“They don’t care as much how hard I throw it, they want me to hit spots. I have become a professional target hitter. I have to be able to hit the outside corner or put the curve in the dirt if I need to. Even when I play catch now, I try to hit the other guy in the chest every time.
“It’s definitely a work in progress.”
Foltynewicz spent last summer, his first full pro season, with the Lexington Legends of the low-A South Atlantic League. He finished 5-11 with a 4.97 ERA. In 134 innings, he allowed 149 hits, walked 51 and struck out 88.
“Last year was my first spring training,” he said. “I went in with an open mind and went about my business.
“It was a big work load for me and I had to be mentally prepared. I had a rough start to the season. But Dave Borkowski, the pitching coach there, went over mechanical and mental stuff with me, and that helped. It was a long year, a tough year, but now I know what to look for in the future.”
A couple of weeks after his season ended, Foltynewicz went to the Astros’ training base in Kissimmee, Fla., and participated in the instructional league. “I worked on my mechanics there,” he said. “That was nice because they don’t care there whether you win or lose, the whole thing is to get better.”
Since then, Foltynewicz has been working on strengthening his back and legs. After a brief hiatus, he resumed his throwing program in preparation for spring training.
“I am taking off for minicamp (Feb. 24),” he said. “They have only seven pitchers going this year as opposed to the 35 pitchers and position players who were there all at once last year. That will be good. They said they may need help with some arms in early big league spring games, so maybe I’ll get a chance to pitch in them a little.”
This year, Foltynewicz said he is anticipating starting the season at Lexington, where former Cubs shortstop and coach Ivan DeJesus recently was named manager, or at Corpus Christi in the Double-A Texas League. He said he has been told Lancaster of the A-Advanced California League probably will not be on his itinerary.
“Lancaster is a bad area for pitchers,” he said. “The wind blows out 40-50 mph at night and a pitcher can get mentally unfocused out there. They tend not to send pitchers there that they drafted high.”
Foltynewicz was No. 5 on the recent rankings of Astros’ top prospects. With his frame, the team likes his potential as a workhorse some day on the major league level.
“We’ll have friends come over to (his parents’) house and say they saw me here or there on the top prospects list,” he said. “It’s nice that they acknowledge it, but I tend not to look at that much. All I want to do is keep getting ready for big league ball.”
Last season, Foltynewicz worked at times with former Providence baseball coach Jaime Garcia, who was the Astros’ minor league pitching coordinator. However, Garcia now supervises the Houston pitching program in the Dominican Republic. He will travel a lot in his new position and also will serve as the pitching coach in the Gulf Coast League.
Houston’s new minor league pitching coordinator is former major league pitcher Jon Matlack, who served in the same capacity last season with the Detroit Tigers.
“Matlack knows me a little, but he really hasn’t seen me throw much yet,” Foltynewicz said.
“We’ve got all new owners, a new pitching coordinator ... In a way, it’s like a fresh start.”
However, the coup de grace for Foltynewicz remains constant: “This is fun. I’m doing something I love.”