Last spring, I arrived at the Houston Astros' training camp in Kissimmee, Fla., like a kid entering a candy store. Because I write about prospects, I couldn't wait to see the progress of position players like Carlos Correa, George Springer, Jon Singleton and Domingo Santana. Then I got an unexpected treat. I saw right-hander Mike Foltynewicz pitch. Believe me, that was a treat. I sat up in my chair and knew I was seeing someone very special. Special he is. When I returned home, I had to learn how to pronounce Foltynewicz's name properly on every radio segment I did for the next month. I was raving about him to anyone that would listen.
Foltynewicz was born and raised in Illinois and graduated from Minooka High School. Not only was he a high 90s velocity pitcher, he was the team's best hitter. Foltynewicz finished his senior season with a 9-1 record and a 0.58 ERA, including a sectional final game. He hit .393 with eight home runs and 40 RBIs.
Foltynewicz had a potential plan of attending the University of Texas. However, with tremendously supportive parents who threw batting practice to him from the time he was young, he instead saw his life-long dream of becoming a baseball player come true. The Astros selected Foltynewicz in the first round as the 19th player chosen overall in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.
Foltynewicz will be 23 in October. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds with broad shoulders and a thick lower body, he has the frame of a classic power pitcher. Foltynewicz's advanced mound demeanor has helped him fly through Houston's system with a good ceiling and projectable success. However, the Astros may have a decision to make defining his role. Foltynewicz has enough of a pitching repertoire to be an impactful starter and enough velocity and swing and miss pitches to close games. What a terrific dilemma to resolve. First, he must better manage his command and control. Too many walks have been an issue.
Foltynewicz spent parts of five seasons in the Minor Leagues before the Astros promoted him to the big league team, where he made his debut Aug. 2. He is pitching exclusively in relief for the parent club.
In his 562 2/3 innings of Minor League pitching, Foltynewicz started 104 of the 116 games in which he appeared. He has a record of 32-28 with a 3.98 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. Foltynewicz has struck out 478 batters for an average of 7.6 per nine innings. He has walked an average of 3.9 per nine innings. In 2012, Foltynewicz was Houston's Minor League Pitcher Of The Year.
Foltynewicz is No. 4 on the Astros' Top 20 Prospect list. He has to work on throwing strike one, getting ahead in counts and throwing more strikes in general. Particularly with his secondary pitches.
Foltynewicz relies heavily upon a dynamic 96-98 mph fastball that explodes on the hitter. It's very tough to catch up with that pitch. However, if he doesn't keep the pitch down in the zone, he can be hit pretty hard. Foltynewicz also throws a sinker with a bit less velocity. The Astros have controlled that pitch more, fearing wear and tear on his arm. But the sinker induces more ground balls and is an effective pitch for Foltynewicz. I doubt it will be eliminated from his repertoire, but it may be a more selective offering. Especially when Foltynewicz is pitching from the bullpen.
I like Foltynewicz's most dominant secondary pitch, a combination of a slider/curve. The slurve-type pitch has good movement and good depth, and it serves as an alternative to change the eye level and balance of the hitter. He also has a changeup that I haven't seen him use much.
Foltynewicz is still feeling for the "put away" pitch to finish off a hitter. Once his secondary pitches are more refined and he can totally control that wicked fastball, he will likely realize more consistent success. That one dominant pitch remains a bit elusive. Foltynewicz's huge frame should allow him to eat innings. Stamina and good mechanics should also help him pitch himself out of trouble.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.