HOUSTON -- Yes, it’s a small world. The Astros rolled out two more of their top pitching prospects in the final game of Spring Training on Tuesday afternoon at Minute Maid Park. One of them was right-hander Corbin Martin, who is 80th on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list. He’s 23 years old and very much on a fast track to the big leagues.
He finished a tremendous spring with four hitless innings in a 5-1 loss to the Pirates and was thrilled to be on a Major League mound. He was also somewhat familiar with it, having pitched at Minute Maid both in high school and college while growing up in the Houston suburbs and attending Texas A&M.
“It was really cool,” Martin said. “The last time I was here, I gave up a walk-off grand slam. This one went a little better.”
He paused in a nice comedic touch.
“He’s an intern for the Astros now,” Martin said.
“We both got jobs because of that day,” Martin said.
At the time, Martin was pitching for Texas A&M and Tucker Cascadden was playing for Baylor. Now, Cascadden is a photo intern for the Astros. So a guy takes you yard? Big deal.
“It was more than yard,” Martin said. “I think he hit it through the sign in left field.”
You still remember?
“Trust me, not the best memory.”
That said, this spring was a nice learning experience for the Astros’ top three younger arms. Forrest Whitley, who is MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 pitching prospect, and Martin are off to Triple-A Round Rock while right-hander J.B. Bukauskas, who allowed two runs in four innings on Tuesday, will start the season at Double-A Corpus Christi.
“I learned a lot,” Martin said. “I think I gave myself a chance to get ready for the season. Around this caliber of players, you pick up on a lot of things they do. That’s the biggest thing I’m going to take from this spring.”
Bukauskas allowed baserunners in every inning on Tuesday, and he also threw three wild pitches.
“It was so cool,” he said. “At first, it was pretty surreal being in a big league stadium and facing a big league lineup. I tried to enjoy every minute of it. I’m happy to come out of Spring Training healthy and got some really good experience, including getting to pitch in a big league field.”
He said spending an entire Spring Training around the Astros veteran pitchers was the thing he appreciated most.
“I learned so much this spring being around those guys,” he said. “They’re so awesome and welcoming of the young guys and willing to help us all learn and get better. Lance McCullers and Gerrit Cole really helped me out with a lot of things pitching-wise.”
Manager AJ Hinch called infielder Nick Tanielu “probably our spring MVP.” That’s what a .353 batting average and 1.215 OPS do for a prospect who was previously far under the radar. He so impressed Hinch that even after he’d been sent to the Minors, he was invited to remain in the Major League clubhouse.
“As I told him when I sent him down, he’s got a chance to play in the big leagues,” Hinch said. “It’s just his demeanor. He’s a constant learner. He’s not a guy that has been written about. He just methodically goes through his work. He changed his body a little bit. I love those stories.”
Tanielu is a 14th-round 2014 Draft pick who has risen steadily through the system and after an offseason during which he lost 25 pounds, he has impressed almost everyone around the Astros the last few weeks.
“It’s always a good feeling to hear that kind of stuff,” Tanielu said. “The big leagues is a dream of mine, and it motivates you to keep rolling. My goal this year is to keep pushing along and to help the team win wherever I am.”
Justin Verlander will make his second straight Opening Day start for the Astros and his 11th overall, as Houston begins its quest for a third straight AL West title against the Rays at 3 p.m. CT Thursday at Tropicana Field.