HOUSTON – It’s been a good couple of weeks to be a professional pitcher from Minooka High School.
On July 20, Tony Bucciferro came two outs away from throwing a no-hitter for the White Sox’s High-A Winston-Salem Dash.
That’s good, to be sure. But, now, get this.
On Friday, the Houston Astros called up hard-throwing right-hander Mike Foltynewicz, a 2010 Minooka High School graduate.
Foltynewicz, 22, was 7-7 with a 5.08 ERA this year at Triple-A Oklahoma City with 102 strikeouts in 1022⁄3 innings. The Astros’ No. 4 prospect, taken with the No. 19 overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, will pitch out of the bullpen for the rest of the season.
“He’s had basically four months of pitching in the rotation at Triple-A, and we feel like it’s really been beneficial for him,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “He’s refined his offspeed stuff and has been able to work on a lot of different things. We’re going to pitch him in the bullpen here for the remainder of the year, and that will give him an opportunity to get his feet wet at the Major League level and show us what he’s got. He’ll help us win some games.”
Luhnow envisioned Foltynewicz pitching in the sixth, seventh or eighth and perhaps, working multiple innings.
“We’ll have to see how the manager wants to use him and how effective he is,” Luhnow said. “If he ends up being a guy we can use in those critical late-game situations – we have some good pitchers there now – but if he adds to that depth there, that will be good.”
Foltynewicz was 14-4 with a 3.14 ERA in 27 starts at Class A Lexington in 2012, and last year he was a combined 6-3 with a 3.06 ERA in 30 games between Single-A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi.
Foltynewicz’s high school coach, Jeff Petrovic, was fortunate enough to be able to talk with him Friday before he left for Houston.
“He’s very excited,” Petrovic said. “And I am very happy for him. Some people around here are still in a bit of shock, but he is a very talented kid, and I had no doubt after his junior year of high school that this what he was desitined to do.
“So many kids in high school have different pieces to the puzzle. Some have a good body, some have a good fastball, some can hit a little bit. Mike had the whole package, even in high school.”
Foltynewicz also had something else. The frame of mind that would take him a long way.
“In order to make it as far as he has, you have to have a lot of self-belief,” Petrovic said. “He’s not arrogant, but he knows he’s good. You have to have that confidence when you are on the mound that you are better than the guy at the plate, and Mike has just always had that about him. That will definitely help him as he moves along.
“Of course, in high school, when we sent Mike out there, we always felt a win was coming our way, but it was hard not to see the bigger picture that was coming for him.”
A first-round pick, Foltynewicz has progressed through the Houston farm system quickly. He made headlines and got the internet buzzing last season when a few of his fastballs in Double-A hit 103 on the radar gun. But, Houston wasn’t quite ready for him to make the jump, and he stayed in the minor leagues for a bit more seasoning.
“Mike is not overly patient,” Petrovic said. “It hasn’t been real easy for him this season, when he feels he’s good enough to be up at the next level. But, Houston has been patient with him, and I think that says a lot about what they think of him. It would have been easy for them to throw him into the fire right away, but they wanted to be sure he was ready.
“If they didn’t think so highly of him, they might have rushed him a little more. I think they know they have something special in him and wanted to be sure it was the right time. I think this is just the start of the door opening up for him, and I see great things ahead. He had a great high school career here and has had a great career in the minors. He has been successful at every level he has played at. Plus, his mechanics are very strong and so is his body. He was a big kid, even back in high school, but when he came back to visit over the winter, he has just filled out so much. He is a grown man now. He’s confident, but quiet, and he lets his baseball talk for him.”