August 2, 2014
The Situation: In order to manage his innings workload and give him a well earned taste of the majors, the Astros promoted Mike Foltynewicz from Triple-A and will use the flamethrower out of the bullpen.
Background: Foltynewicz was selected 19th overall in the 2010 draft, a horrid first-round class—save for Harper, Machado, Harvey and Sale—that featured far more bust than boom (Colon, Loux, DeShields, McGuire, Skole, Simpson, Josh Sale, Vitek, Wimmers, Deglan). You get the point. The class was bad.
From jump street, Foltynewicz has been an absolute workhorse, making 104 minor-league starts and logging over 560 innings so far in his brief minor-league career, suggesting that health isn’t something that should be raising any red flags. The results have been mixed—which clouds his ultimate role—but the big righty has a respectable sample of taking the ball when it's handed to him and doing his job, quite the accomplishment in the modern era of pampered arms and disabled list frequency.
The Scouting: The body is everything you want in an innings eater, as the 22-year-old righty stands every bit of 6'4’’ and has a strong, muscular build in the 225 lbs. range. Along with his prototypical power size, the fastball is at the epicenter of his report, an 80-grade potential heart to his pitching machine. The velocity is overpowering, often sitting in the upper ranges of the 90s and touching over 100 with greater frequency than most would consider possible for a starting pitcher. The control far exceeds his command, but most minor-league bats can’t square elite velocity—especially when its elevated—so he’s been able to miss a lot of bats along the way, despite not being able to locate the pitch with any consistency.
On the outskirts of his report lives the secondary arsenal, an often dysfunctional group of pitches that will tease you with a flash one start and leave you with a bad taste the next time around. Foltynewicz will show multiple breaking ball looks, and at times the slider will receive positive reviews, with some seeing a future above-average offering that will play nicely with the overpowering fastball. The changeup has taken steps forward in recent years, but he still has a tendency to overthrow the pitch and lose action, basically making it a fringe fastball that arrives straight. In other words, a hitter’s delight. I can see the temptation to label Folty a future bullpen arm because of the lack of a true wipeout secondary offering or sharp command, and its not hard to encourage intense salivation at the thought of his fastball in bursts, a pitch that has the potential to define his status on its own individual merit. But I still see the innings-eating donkey horsey the body and professional sample suggest, and with more developmental time the secondary arsenal should refine to the point of sustainable utility, likely playing up because of the power of the fastball. I see a 200-innings no. 4 starter, one capable of dominance when the command is sharp and capable of flameout when the fastball velocity is the only attribute worth mentioning. He’s going to be erratic, but I see more value in the rotation.
Immediate Impact: He’s going to throw very hard out of the bullpen and people will appreciate the velocity and it will give people in Houston something worth watching, assuming it's available for them to watch, and the bullpen move should hide some of his existing rotation warts and provide him with valuable major-league exposure. But it will also limit his development as a starter, at least in the short term, and as I mentioned, I think Folty has more value in the pitching out of rotation than at the back of a bullpen. But I guess his ultimate role is still in his hands, as he will likely get a shot to win a rotation spot in 2015. —Jason Parks
Fantasy Impact: Foltynewicz’s calling card is a huge fastball and a breaking ball that flashes from time to time. There have been concerns about the ultimate role with Foltynewicz; a reliever future is a popular opinion among talent evaluators and dynasty owners alike and he will get an audition in that role for his initial call up for the Astros.
One of the more surprising outcomes of this season for Houston revolves around the resurgence of Chad Qualls, who’s been effective enough to lock down the closer job after a rocky start. Injuries to Jesse Crain and Matt Albers, along with the general ineffectiveness of Josh Fields, destabilized the Houston bullpen for a moment, but Qualls solidified it with a run of solid pitching performances. All of this is to say that it’ll be difficult for Foltynewicz to get save opportunities and his short-term fantasy impact looks to be limited, as he’s likely on the Carlos Martinez track. Even if Qualls stumbles there are a few names ahead of Foltynewicz who would earn a shot at closing before him. There are even rumors that Jesse Crain has a pulse and might return later on in the year.
The long term is a bit trickier with Foltynewicz, as the frame suggests he can survive in a rotation. I think the Astros are going to at least try and see if Foltynewicz can start in the big leagues when 2015 rolls around. He’s likely a fantasy three or four starter. If he ends up in the bullpen then a future as a dominant closer is in play.
For now, I expect the fantasy impact to be blunted by the lack of closer job to grab, but it’ll be fun to watch. —Mauricio Rubio
Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @ProfessorParks