Teased by taste, McCormick ready for roster

February 25th, 2021

came oh so close to making his Major League debut in the playoffs in 2020. The Astros added the rookie to the rosters for the American League Wild Card and Division Series in October as a pinch-run option, but he was left as a spectator as Houston came within a game of the World Series.

Though he didn’t step onto the field in a game -- McCormick wasn’t on the AL Championship Series roster -- the outfielder soaked up the experience of being with the Astros in the playoffs and tried to learn as much as he could. And now he’s using the tantalization of coming so close to realizing his dream as fuel to help drive him to earn a spot with Houston to start the season.

“I definitely have some unfinished business,” McCormick said. “Obviously, I'm ready to make my debut. I would be upset if I didn't end up making my debut this year. I had a good offseason and good training, so I am really motivated from getting called up last year and not making my debut.”

McCormick, 25, is essentially competing to be the Astros’ fourth outfielder this year behind starters Michael Brantley in left, Kyle Tucker in right and Myles Straw -- for now -- in center. McCormick can play all three spots.

“He’s elevated himself,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Depends on how he plays, but he has a pretty good chance of making this club.”

Houston doesn’t have much outfield depth behind its starters. Non-roster invitee Jose Siri has extensive time in center in the Minors, and fellow NRI Steven Souza Jr. says he can play center, as well. McCormick, Brantley, Straw and Tucker are the only outfielders on the 40-man roster.

“I do feel like I have a legitimate chance to make the [Opening Day] roster,” McCormick said. “I just have to keep playing like I know how to play. I can’t change my mindset or change what I do with my swing or throwing. Honestly, I've just got to listen and play as hard as I possibly can and find a way to contribute. I do want to break with the team out of Spring Training. That’s my No. 1 goal.”

McCormick, a 21st-round Draft pick in 2017, appeared in 110 games in 2019 between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Round Rock, hitting .269 with six doubles, six triples, 14 homers, 66 RBIs and 16 steals. He played seven games in the Dominican Republic this winter but had his season cut short when he sustained a Grade 2 quad strain. Those are the only games McCormick has played since ’19.

In some ways, being in the dugout with the Astros for their playoff run despite not playing was more beneficial than a handful of games in winter ball.

“It was amazing to see those guys play and just watching and observing,” he said. “All you can really do is just learn and grow from those guys. You just kind of watch how they play and how they treat every pitch – pitchers or hitters. And just the coolest thing is the strategy that goes behind it all.”

While McCormick can play anywhere in the outfield, he has spent most of his time in the Minors in right field (131 games). He’s played 85 games in left and just 54 games in center, where the greatest opportunity for playing time in the outfield exists with Houston.

“Personally, I feel more comfortable in the corners, so left and right, that's kind of where I've been playing in the Minor Leagues,” he said. “I’m trying to get some balls out in center field [in drills]. Obviously, center field probably is the most important outfield position out of those three, so center field’s like a bonus. If I can get comfortable in center field and make some good plays out there, I'll be pretty happy about where I'm at.”