The big thing teams worry about with young pitchers approaching their first full professional season is hitting that proverbial wall.
It has felled, or at least stalled, many top prospects in the past. And while it's often just a small stumbling block on the way to a successful Major League career, the hope is always to avoid it.
Astros' right-hander Mike Foltynewicz might have a leg up in doing just that. The second of Houston's two first-round picks in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, the Illinois high school product signed quickly and got in 44 2/3 innings with Greeneville in the rookie-level Appalachian League. Combine that with the 73 innings he threw in high school, and Foltynewicz's 117 2/3 innings pitched in 2010 already gives him an idea of what this season might feel like.
"Last year was a pretty good workload for me," Foltynewicz said. "This might be a little bit longer, everyone's saying. I just have to stay focused. That's what they're looking for from me. If you can stay mentally focused, you can handle anything."
The Astros are hoping he can do that and start to fulfill his potential as a frontline starter. Foltynewicz worked extensively on his mechanics out of the stretch during instructs and the offseason, and he also added some good bulk to his 6-foot-4 frame, which should serve him well down the line. It's been more of the same during his first Spring Training, but it hasn't been anything the 19-year-old has had difficulty handling.
"They like what they see," Foltynewicz said. "My stretch mechanics are good, with my head focused on the plate. I'm throwing strikes with the fastball. I've seen the difference, and I like it.
"A lot of the guys, they had told me it would be pretty hectic. That's what I went in there thinking. I had a lot of advice going into it, so it's been nothing out of the ordinary."
One thing that has been a bit surprising is that the teenager has been working out with the Class A Advanced Lancaster roster in the early stages of the spring. Most feel he'll settle in with Class A Lexington when camp breaks, but for now, working up a level can be nothing but a good thing.
"They say once big league camp breaks up, there's a domino effect," Foltynewicz said. "It's not set in stone yet. I'll wait it out and see where I'm at once big league camp breaks down. We'll see what happens. I was kind of shocked right away, but it's pretty exciting."
Astros' Top 10 Prospects
1. Jordan Lyles, RHP: The No. 31 prospect on MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects list (and No. 10 on the right-handed pitching list), Lyles is just about knocking on the big league door. He has a good three-pitch mix, which plays up because of his good command and feel for pitching. He was throwing pretty well in his competition for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, and even if he goes back to Triple-A, he'll be in Houston at some point in 2011.
2. Delino DeShields, 2B: Much like his dad, DeShields is a speedy, athletic player who should be a dynamic leadoff type down the road. The No. 8 overall pick from last June's Draft, DeShields has plus plus speed, but he's more than just a runner. He's got good bat speed and has more pop than you'd think. Assuming his arrest this offseason was just a blip on the radar, he should hit the ground running with Class A Lexington this year.
WHEN WILL THEY ARRIVE?
4. Mike Foltynewicz, RHP: The Astros' second first-round pick last June, Foltynewicz got a good taste of pro ball last summer and, as a result, is ready for full-season ball. All he needs is experience to refine his stuff, and he has the chance to be a frontline starter in the future, beginning with a full-season assignment in 2011.
5. Jio Mier, SS: The 2009 first-rounder didn't have the best first full season, though Mier did bounce back from a dreadful start to finish strong. He's a plus defender across the board (range, arm, hands), and there's no question he'll be a shortstop, long-term. There are more questions about his bat, though he has good discipline and should have a little pop as he matures. Now with Villar to push him, it will be interesting to see what year No. 2 has to offer.
6. Tanner Bushue, RHP: A 2009 second-rounder, Bushue won't turn 20 until June, and he's ready to make the move to Class A Advanced Lancaster. He'll have to do a better job getting the ball down in that hitting haven, but he has the stuff to do so, with an above-average fastball, a plus curve and a developing changeup. All of his pitches show flashes. Added consistency, and strength, should help him move up the ladder.
7. Ariel Ovando, OF: The Astros set a club record for money given to an amateur when they gave the Dominican phenom $2.6 million over the summer. Ovando has the chance to be the prototypical right fielder, though he's raw in nearly every aspect of the game. He should get to use his considerable raw power, and he has the pure arm strength to make the throws needed. He's just 17, and Astros fans will likely get to see him at a short-season club this summer.
8. J.D. Martinez, OF: A 20th-round pick from the 2009 Draft, Martinez might be the surprise of the system. After hitting .362/.433/.598 over 88 games in the South Atlantic League (he won MVP honors), he got double-jumped to Double-A and hit .302 in 50 games at Corpus Christi. He has a great approach that should allow him to hit for plenty of average, and at least gap power. He doesn't have a set defensive home but can handle either corner. Even if he starts back in Double-A, Martinez could help out in Houston by the end of the season.
9. Jimmy Paredes, 2B: The Astros got the speedy infielder from the Yankees in the Lance Berkman deal last summer, and he becomes another tremendous athlete in the system. Paredes swiped 50 bases in 2010, including going 14-for-15 after joining the Astros system. A switch-hitter, he's largely played second base, but a now-healed shoulder should allow him to play on the left side of the infield in 2011, as he moves up to the California League.
10. Austin Wates, OF: A toolsy college player with polished hitting skills, Wates could move pretty quickly through the Astros' system. He has a good approach at the plate, and should hit for average and get on base. He may not have a ton of power, but his speed should make him a good basestealer. It also should allow him to play a decent center field.
Under the Radar
Brandon Barnes, OF: It's been a slow climb for the 2005 sixth-round draftee. Barnes didn't make his full-season debut until 2008, but in 2009 he got a taste of three different levels and started to tap into his raw power with 18 homers and 30 doubles. He led the Astros system with 28 homers in 2010, though 27 of them came in the Lancaster launching pad. He swings and misses quite a bit, but it will at least be interesting to see if he can keep up the power production as he moves up a level.
Brian Bogusevic, OF: Until 2008, Bogusevic was a left-handed pitching prospect who had reached Double-A but had never really put up good numbers. A two-way star at Tulane, Bogusevic switched to the outfield, and after spending two seasons in Triple-A, he made his big league debut late last year. He runs well (54-for-59 in stolen bases over his career), has a good approach at the plate and can swing the bat. He could be a solid No. 4 outfielder/backup first baseman-type beginning this year.
Hitter of the Year -- Martinez
It will be two straight years for the outfielder, as he'll once again top the organization in batting average and make his Major League debut in September.
Pitcher of the Year -- Foltynewicz
That experience last season will come in handy, allow Foltynewicz to avoid too much of a wall and lead the organization in ERA and strikeouts.