SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Perhaps no player needed Arizona Fall League at-bats more than Astros first baseman Scott Schreiber, who's 27 years old and has played just 103 games in the past three years because of the pandemic and back issues. He's making the most of his plate appearances in the desert.
Schreiber delivered an RBI single and an opposite-field two-run home run Tuesday night, helping the Surprise Saguaros defeat the Scottsdale Scorpions, 9-4. He extended his hitting streak to seven games and improved his AFL slash line to .340/.404/.540 with six extra-base hits and 12 RBIs in 14 games.
The reasons behind his Fall League success aren't complicated.
"I'm just trying to simplify things," Schreiber said. "I'm really making sure I'm working on getting my foot down in time, trying to make sure I'm seeing the ball and letting everything else take care of itself."
Schreiber's carrying tool is his well above-average power from the right side of the plate. He's also quicker and more athletic than a typical 6-foot-3, 230-pounder, so he can steal an occasional base and handle the outfield corners.
A 2018 ninth-rounder from Nebraska, where he earned all-Big Ten Conference recognition three times in four years, Schreiber batted just .227/.295/.380 with a 31 percent strikeout rate in his first two years as a pro. After the Astros helped him reduce his stride at the plate, he responded by batting .293/.355/.527 with a 22 percent whiff rate in 2021.
But Schreiber's back, which he first injured as a freshman with the Cornhuskers in 2015, was getting worse. He finally had surgery this spring, which sidelined him until August. He said he feels healthier than he has in years and appreciates the chance to continue to refine his game in the Fall League.
"The Astros do a really good job of giving you information of what you need to work on to be a big league player, so I just try to take all that information in and become the best player I can," Schreiber said. "It's just consistency with hitting the ball. I've got power, so more consistent barrel contact is something I've been trying to work on. Maybe not trying to hit the ball as far, but just being more consistent at hitting the ball hard."
Schreiber said he enjoyed watching Houston win the World Series and seeing former teammates such as Hunter Brown, David Hensley and Jeremy Peña play a part in the title run. The Astros have relied heavily on homegrown players while playing in six straight American League Championship Series, capturing four pennants and two World Series during that span.
Houston may have an opening at first base next year with Yuli Gurriel a free agent. Schreiber said he isn't thinking about possibly filling that spot, but he appreciates that the Astros repeatedly give their prospects a chance.
"That's all you can ask for as a Minor League baseball player, is getting the opportunity," he said. "It doesn't matter if you're a first-rounder or a free-agent [signing], they're going to give you that shot. As long as you can go out there and perform, they're going to give you that chance."
Third baseman Will Wagner (Astros) capped the scoring for the Saguaros with a three-run homer in the eighth inning off right-hander Nick Richmond (Orioles). The son of seven-time All-Star reliever Billy Wagner is batting .346/.433/.712. His slugging percentage leads the Fall League and his 1.145 OPS trails only Edouard Julien (Twins, 1.231).
Eighth-ranked Rangers prospect Kumar Rocker, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2022 MLB Draft, surrendered three runs on four hits and three walks while striking out five in 3 1/3 innings, the longest of his six starts for Surprise this fall. He overmatched Scottsdale with his mid-80s slider, notching four of his five whiffs and nine of his 11 swings and misses with his breaking ball. He had less success with his 95-96 mph fastball, throwing just 15 of 33 for strikes and eliciting just one swing and miss.
The Saguaros, who already had clinched the AFL's best record and a berth in Saturday's championship game, improved to 18-10 with their fifth straight victory. The Scorpions dropped into a tie with the Javelinas for fourth place at 13-14, putting them a half-game out of qualifying for Friday's play-in game. The winner of that contest will face Surprise for the title.
"It's a great opportunity to play for a championship, great teammates," Schreiber said. "I've had a blast here building relationships with these guys, so it would be great to go out on top."