Make no mistake about it. The Houston Astros may have lost 111 games in 2013 but they are definitely a franchise on the rise. Led by an overhauled front office and an impressive farm system that has been getting better by the year, the team will be back in contention in short order.
One of the young players who appears to have a bright future with the club is right-handed pitcher Lance McCullers. Having just completed his second professional season, he is still a ways away from the big leagues, but with his talent and pedigree he should make it there in short order.
If the 20-year-old’s name sounds familiar, that’s because it should. His father, also named Lance McCullers, was a major league pitcher for seven years for the San Diego Padres, New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers. From 1985-1992, he compiled a 28-31 record with a 3.25 ERA and 39 saves in 306 games (all but nine in relief).
Clearly baseball is in the McCullers’ genes. The younger Lance starred for Jesuit High School in Tampa, Florida. According to the Tampa Bay Times’ Laura Keeley, he was a perfect 13-0 with a 0.18 ERA as a senior, winning the Gatorade Player of the Year and developing a major reputation as a national prospect. He struck out 140 of the 310 batters he faced that year, and had fielded scholarship offers from major schools for years leading up to that point.
McCullers wound up being drafted by the Astros with the 41st overall pick (supplemental round) in 2012. Ironically, it was the exact same spot his father had been drafted in 1982 by the Philadelphia Phillies.
During his first two seasons, the younger McCullers has done nothing to tarnish his reputation as a top prospect. Pitching across three levels, he has combined to go 6-9 with a 3.24 ERA in 33 games (27 starts). Flashing a powerful arsenal, his 146 strikeouts in 130.2 innings are a good sign of his future ability to be an excellent major league starter.
During this offseason, McCullers answered some questions about his career. Make sure to read on to find out more about this important piece of the Astros future. Also, give him a follow on Twitter to keep up with him as he prepares for another season and another opportunity to get closer to the big leagues.
Lance McCullers Jr. Interview:
Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite player was Mariano [Rivera]. I had such a deep respect, like many others do, for the way he handled himself. He was a superstar through and through but was so humble and professional about his game. He is someone I idolize as a player and a person.
How did having a dad who played major league baseball impact you?: Tremendously. He helped me in ways I don't even know yet. I think baseball is in my veins. I love the game and have a deep appreciation for it. It's unlike any other sport, and my father, from a young age, taught me how to always respect the game.
How did you first find out that the Astros were interested in you?: I had a pre-draft meeting with the club and knew they were at a couple of my games, but the Astros came out of nowhere on draft day and scooped me up.
What pitches do you throw and which do you think you need to work on the most?: I throw both a four-seam and two-seam fastball. I also throw a power curveball and a four-seam and two-seam changeup.
As a ball player, especially a pitcher, you are always working hard and trying to find ways to reinvent/improve your game. I think I just need to work on trusting all of my pitches and being as consistent as possible with them in all counts and situations.
What do you consider to be the primary strengths of the Houston organization?: Depth. Everywhere I look I see big league talent.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?: To battle every inning and throw every pitch as if it were your last because once the game passes you by, you are going to want it all back.
What are your personal goals for 2014?: Stay healthy and carry a heavier work/innings load. I will work on attacking the zone, forcing early contact and going deep into starts.
If you could go toe to toe with any major league hitter, past or present, who would it be and why? How would you pitch to him?: Pete Rose. He is the Hit King, plain and simple. I would come in hard, maybe brush him back a little. Then, come back with a good curveball for a strike. Then I would challenge him with a fastball or two on the outer half and hopefully he was out by then.
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