The Oklahoma City RedHawks have three pitchers on their roster who were first-round draft picks. But it was Nick Tropeano who was selected to the Pacific Coast League All-Star Game.
Selected in the fifth round three years ago out of Stony Brook (N.Y.), Tropeano is showing the Astros that their No. 15-ranked prospect might be more prepared to pitch in the majors than some of Houston’s higher rated prospects.
“Getting selected to the All-Star Game is such an honor,” Tropeano said. “My parents, friends and family members, they all texted me. Everyone was so excited.”
Tropeano, who is currently on the seven-day minor league disabled list, was projected to pitch in the upcoming home series against Round Rock. After he threw a simulated game Saturday at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, the team decided to play it safe.
Tropeano now is projected to rejoin the rotation later this week when the RedHawks leave for a road trip that begins Friday in Nashville.
The minor injury — tightness in the forearm — prevented Tropeano from pitching against the International Leagues in the Triple-A All-Star Game, but he’s encouraged by how he’s pitched.
“It started when I got invited to big league camp and was then sent to Triple-A,” Tropeano said. “I felt I opened some eyes, turned some heads. I just wanted to start off the year strong and keep running with it.”
Tropeano is 6-4 with a 2.38 ERA. His most impressive stat: He’s held opposing hitters to a .197 average, surrendering only 61 hits in 87 innings.
“The key for me is being aggressive, go right after hitters,” Tropeano said. “One of my goals is to get them out with one of the first three pitches. I’m a pitch-to-contact guy, but later in the count I sometimes try to put them away depending on the situation.”
RedHawks teammate Alex White was selected 15th overall. Michael Foltynewicz was selected 19th, and Asher Wojciechowski was taken 41st overall.
Tropeano was the 160th overall pick.
“He mixes up his pitches, but what really stands out is he’s extremely competitive,” said RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco. “He will battle you, which helps him get out of some tough jams.”
Tropeano’s fastball is clocked between 90 and 93 mph but has the reputation of “pitching,” moving the ball in and out, hitting his spots. He uses all four pitches — fastball, change-up, slider and a curve.
“The game speeds up a little at every level,” Tropeano said. “At this level, the hitters are more consistent. It makes you work hard every pitch.”
The West Islip, N.Y., product pitched well in the Cape Cod summer league following his sophomore year at Stony Brook. Tropeano followed with a dominating year (12-1, 1.84 ERA, 119 strikeouts) for the Seawolves.
He signed quickly after the draft, notching a 2.36 ERA in 53 innings for Tri-City of the New York-Penn League. Two years ago, he was a combined 12-7 with a 3.02 ERA for the Astros’ two Class A teams.
Tropeano was inconsistent last season in Double-A, but he said part of the issue was the Astros use eight-man rotations in the minors, which forced Tropeano to make eight relief appearances last season. This season, he’s back in his normal routine of pitching every five days.
“I take every year step by step,” Tropeano said. “You try to learn from previous years and get better the next year. I feel this year I’ve taken all the strides in the right direction. I’ve just got to keep working hard.”
Tropeano has pitched well enough that he could make his Major League debut soon after his 23rd birthday next month. He said he owes a lot to his parents, Paul and Debra.
“Growing up in New York, you play a lot of baseball in the cold,” Tropeano said. “They were always there to support me, drive from football practice to baseball. They’re big reasons why I’ve been able to do something like make a Triple-A All-Star team.”
Has he thought about possibly making his Major League debut later this season?
“That would be very emotional,” Tropeano said. “Obviously I haven’t got to experience that, yet. But I can tell you it’s going to be a little surreal; a dream come true.”