WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- With general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch watching from the field, top Astros prospect Francis Martes cranked up the heat for his first live batting practice session of the spring Friday morning at the team's complex at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.Martes, a
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- With general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch watching from the field, top Astros prospect Francis Martes cranked up the heat for his first live batting practice session of the spring Friday morning at the team's complex at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
Martes, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound right-hander who's been compared to Johnny Cueto, drew good reviews from hitters Josh Reddick and George Springer, both of whom were facing the hard-throwing Martes for the first time. Norichika Aoki also faced him and slapped a pair of balls into the outfield.
• Spring:Tickets | Ballpark | 40-man roster | NRIs
"Electric," Reddick said of Martes. "He's got a lot of movement, gets on you pretty quick. The last fastball he threw me had a little backdoor cut. He only threw me one slider, something he didn't get on top of, kind of just missed it. He threw one changeup and I fouled it off, really good spot. He seemed to hit most of his spots pretty good today. He's got a lot of life on a lot of pitches."
Martes, ranked as MLB's No. 20 prospect by MLBPipeline.com, struck out 131 in 125 1/3 innings at Double-A Corpus Christi last season, going 9-6 with a 3.30 ERA as the youngest pitcher (20 years old) in the Texas League. He's destined to start the season at Triple-A Fresno, but relished the chance to pitch in front of the big league staff.
"I'm going to take advantage of this opportunity because I know I feel ready, and I want to make sure I'm giving my best," he said.
Martes has been a pet project of former Astros pitching great Roy Oswalt, who's been in camp this week as a guest instructor. Oswalt said the velocity is great, but Martes will have to refine his breaking pitches and his changeup. Oswalt said Martes throws a two-seam changeup but a four-seam fastball, so he wants him to throw a four-seam changeup to throw off the hitters.
"You want to throw something that looks just like it and not make the pitch look different," Oswalt said. "I think, right now, he's thinking more about movement than trying to trick the hitters' eyes. If you trick their eyes, you got them."
While Reddick buys into the Cueto comparisons, Springer offered another comp: Michael Pineda of the Yankees.
"He's got good stuff," Springer said. "He's going to be good. Hopefully he can help us out this year. He throws hard. His ball moves, and it was good to see him for the first time, and I look forward to seeing him in some games."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.