HOUSTON -- Whenever promising right-hander Michael Foltynewicz makes his Major League debut, Astros fans will witness the best fastball they've seen at Minute Maid Park since Billy Wagner was blowing it past hitters more than a decade ago.
Simply put, Foltynewicz brings the heat. The 22-year-old reached 100 mph on several occasions last season, famously registering 103 on the Whataburger Field scoreboard last May while recording a strikeout for the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks.
Foltynewicz, one of the Astros' top pitching prospects, had 124 strikeouts in 129 1/3 innings between Corpus Christi and Class A Lancaster last season, going 6-3 with a 3.06 ERA.
That earned him a trip to his first Major League camp, which begins in two weeks.
"I'm really excited and thankful for the opportunity they're going to give me to go up there with the big guys," Foltynewicz said.
Foltynewicz should spend much of this season in Triple-A, which puts him a phone call away from being one of the team's "big guys." He's one of a bevy of several promising young arms in the system whom the Astros envision making a stacked rotation in the near future.
Jarred Cosart, Brad Peacock and Brett Oberholtzer had solid debuts last season, and now Foltynewicz, Alex White, Mark Appel and Asher Wojciechowski represent the next wave of young, talented arms. Vincent Velasquez, Rudy Owens, Lance McCullers Jr. and Nick Tropeano are on the rise as well.
"Because you have so many good arms in the organization now and a lot of young guys in the big leagues starting to get their opportunities, it's a waiting game for most of us," Foltynewicz said. "It [stinks] that someone tries to take your job, but that's part of the business, and I have to go out there and pitch the best I can. Hopefully, they'll come to the door soon enough."
There's no denying that Foltynewicz, taken with the 19th overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, has a Major League-ready heater. If he's going to be a successful starter in the future, though, he's going to have to refine his secondary pitches.
"It's just a matter of getting more innings for him at the higher levels of the Minor Leagues, because stuff-wise it's dominating," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "He's been working hard on his secondary pitches to where they're Major League average. His fastball is well above average."
With that in mind, Foltynewicz says that his changeup has improved dramatically and that his curveball is making steady progress as well.
"I have to learn to throw the fastball with more command and more consistently in the strike zone," Foltynewicz said. "I don't want to say it was disappointing, but that was the bad part of my game [last year], giving up a lot of walks . I want to get that under control, and if I have to continue to get more groundouts and popups than strikeouts, I'll have to do that. But I want to get in there and see the walks not as high as they usually are."
The closer Foltynewicz gets to Houston -- the more times he touches 100 mph -- the higher the expectations. Making a good impression on manager Bo Porter and pitching coach Brent Strom this spring would be a step in right direction.
"Everybody's goal is to try to make [the big league roster] out of camp, but I want to go in there and continue off what I've been doing the last two years and try to impress the new pitching coach and Bo Porter," Foltynewicz said. "I showed him some of what I could do last year in an exhibition game, but I want to go out there and continue to get guys out and do my job the best I can."
Luhnow believes that Foltynewicz should benefit from facing Major League hitters this spring.
"The future is very bright for him," Luhnow said. "With his stuff, you could imagine him being a top-of-the-rotation, dominant type of power pitcher. We need him to be the pitcher part, and not just a power thrower, because that's how you win at the big league level."