The first time Mike Foltynewicz hit 100 miles per hour on a radar gun he had no idea until someone told him after the game.
Once word got out, Corpus Christi fans last season constantly watched the scoreboard every time Foltynewicz pitched to see if the 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander reached triple digits.
“They really got into it,” Foltynewicz said. “It’s one of those numbers that has its own distinction. In spring training, even a couple of big-league guys were a little surprised to hear I can hit 100.”
Pronounced (FOAL-tuh-nev-itch), the 22-year-old Sterling, Ill., product is the Houston Astros’ No. 3 prospect, ranked No. 59 in the minors by Baseball America magazine.
Some Astros fans were hoping Foltynewicz would start the season in Houston, but he had never pitched above Double-A.
“The future is very bright for him,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said at spring training. “With his stuff, you could imagine him being a top-of-the-rotation, dominant type power pitcher. We need him to be the pitcher part, and not just a power thrower.”
The Astros’ first-round pick four years ago and the 19th overall selection, Foltynewicz notched 124 strikeouts with a 6-3 record and 3.06 ERA last season.
RedHawks pitching coach Steve Webber said Foltynewicz has a bright future, but off-speed pitches are vital to prevent hitters from sitting on his fastball.
“His secondary stuff is good, but that’s the thing the organization wants him to hone in on,” Webber said. “The curveball probably is ahead of the change-up, but I’ve seen him do both very well. They’re both above average pitches when he’s on.”
A laser-beam fastball is a cherished commodity, but it doesn’t guarantee success. Foltynewicz issued 128 walks in 281 innings the past two years in A and Double-A.
“I’ve got to get to where I can throw my curveball and change in any count for strikes,” Foltynewicz said. “You’ve got to work hard at it because big-league guys can destroy you. I feel they’re coming along great. I’ve just to keep working on them.”
Foltynewicz owns a deceptive 5.85 ERA after surrendering one run on four hits in five innings against Nashville on Thursday night at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. His ERA was 11.57 after his first three outings, but he’s posted a 2.08 ERA in his past three games.
“I have no idea why, but my entire professional career the first two or three outings aren’t very pretty,” Foltynewicz said. “I’ll pitch well in the spring, but those first few have always been a little bit of a struggle.
“The key for me is I need to slow things down. If I start going too fast, my mechanics can get a little sloppy. I’ve pitched with a fast tempo my entire life. Slowing down is something I’m working on.”
Reaching 96 mph in high school, Foltynewicz first hit 100 mph his second year in professional baseball, at age 20, at Class A Lexington.
“When the scouts told my coach, I really didn’t know what to say. Ever since it’s been pretty cool,” Foltynewicz said. “Now people come up to me and say, ‘You’re going to get (to the majors).’”
RedHawks fans will get to see the flame-thrower Monday night in the opener of a four-game series against Round Rock. Foltynewicz will pitch out of the bullpen in that game as part of the RedHawks’ eight-man rotation piggyback system.
“When they see it on the scoreboard fans kind of ooh and ah,” Foltynewicz said of hitting triple digits. “It gets me pumped up.”