What Is Next for Astros RHP Mike Foltynewicz?

Last season, 19-year old RHP Mike Foltynewicz pitched for the LoA Lexington Legends in the South Atlantic League. His record was 5-11 in 26 starts with a respectable, if unspectacular, ERA of 4.97 and WHIP of 1.493. This season, the 20-year old Foltynewicz is a Sally League All-Star with a 7-1 record, a 2.14 ERA and a 1.178 WHIP in 12 starts for Lexington. Batters are hitting only .218 against him (RHB .208/LHB .231).

A little background on “Folty” as he is often called ~ Folty was a first round pick by the Astros in 2010 out of high school in Minooka, Illinois, and was ranked by Jonathan Mayo as the number 5 prospect in the Astros system before the season started. When I talked to Folty in late April, his fastball was hitting 93-94 regularly, sometimes touching 96; he had a 4-seam circle change up that was “coming along real nice;” and a curveball that was night and day from the prior season.

When the season first started, I anticipated that Folty would repeat at LoA Lexington and spend the vast majority, if not all, of the season in that venue. But as I have seen him simply dominate the competition so far this season, I started to wonder whether an earlier promotion might be in the offing for him. He still needs to pitch deeper into games with more regularity and I’d like to see his walk rate tick down, but aside from that, I’m hard-pressed to see anything of significance that he has left to prove at the LoA level in terms of results.

However, what would normally be a fairly straightforward decision for the Astros brass gets a bit complicated because the next level would be HiA Lancaster in the California League. I only half jokingly refer to Lancaster as the place where pitcher’s dreams go to die. Desert winds of 40 mph routinely blow out to right field as demonstrated by Dirk Hayhurst of Bullpen Gospels fame in this video. Unless a pitcher has impeccable command and/or is an extreme groundball pitcher, pitching at Lancaster is not for the faint of heart.

Hence the question becomes, can Folty handle the Lancaster effect without it hurting his development or is he advanced enough to skip HiA altogether and be promoted to AA Corpus Christi in the very tough Texas League? He does have good command and he does have a tendency toward groundball outs (although I certainly wouldn’t classify him as an extreme groundball pitcher) so he might not be fazed by Lancaster. The Texas League, on the other hand, is a very talented league and a direct promotion there would not be easy by any means. Those are the questions. I don’t have the answers.

But in the meantime, I thought that I would go to the source and find out what Foltynewicz thinks he has accomplished so far this season and what he feels he still needs to improve upon to merit a promotion. This is what he told me via email earlier this week.

Season Accomplishments: “I can bear down and get out of jams, and get out of an inning to help my team get a W. Another thing is that I have been throwing my change up a lot more for strikes and an out pitch. I’m also [learning] how to basically attack hitters and read swings from batters, but there is always room to learn and improve and get better. I think I have come a long ways since I got drafted, with help from [Pitching Coach] Dave Borkowski and a lot of others.”

What He Still Needs to Improve Upon: “I need to improve on getting into the later innings, to save the bullpen and work my butt off to get out of the game with my team winning. Also I think I need to be striking more people out and walking less people. But I’ve been working on my fastball command every bullpen, and also trying to make my curveball sharper. But hard work will pay off. And it’s all coming together for me.”

Oh, and about that 93-94 fastball he was throwing in April? He’s getting a little more juice on it. “I don’t really know my velos that well. But some guys have been saying I sit 93-94 and hit 96-98 early innings and sometimes hit 96-97 in the late innings. The catcher from Hickory said I hit 99 that game on their gun, but I don’t know if that is accurate or not. But I’ve been feeling well lately and hope to continue my success.”

There you have it. Mike Foltynewicz is a very good young pitcher. He has the talent. He has the work ethic. He has a plan. He is executing that plan. The Astros brass may need to start figuring out what’s next for Folty because he’ll be ready sooner rather than later.

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