Houston Astros: Myles Straw and Blake Taylor making a big impression

Houston Astros outfielder Myles Straw (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Houston Astros outfielder Myles Straw (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Though the Houston Astros seem to face concerns, Myles Straw and Blake Taylor appear to be playing like future All-Stars. Read on to get the latest.

Roughly 20 games into spring training, the Houston Astros feature an unremarkably mediocre record. However, in the Astros‘ defense, preseason games do not count; and it remains a better strategy to test higher-end minor leaguers against established major leaguers in-game situations than to play only major league starters in an effort to win meaningless matches.

The Houston Astros’ record—hovering around .500 in the Grapefruit League standings—remains nothing to write home about, but it only tells part of the story concerning the team’s frustrations in Florida. Recent reports indicate that ace Justin Verlander is experiencing a setback, George Springer is enduring visible dissatisfaction at the plate, and the question concerning which lefty—or lefties—the Houston Astros will add to the opening day 26-man roster remains to be answered.

Nonetheless, several players’ performances have been exceptional. Not yet halfway through March, utility outfielder/middle infielder, Myles Straw, and lefty relief specialist, Blake Taylor, have shined brightly.

Straw’s strong start

Everyone knew Straw could steal bases. In two seasons at Triple-A, he stole 54, getting caught only 7 times. And at the major league level, Straw boasts 10 steals in 11 attempts, good for nearly a 91-percent success rate. But recently it has been Straw’s bat that has excited the Astros about his potential ceiling.

Entering Tuesday’s game against the New York Mets, Straw’s batting average hit .450 after his second plate appearance when he was 2-for-2; though he wound up finishing the day at a slightly lower, but still blisteringly hot .389. Perhaps most surprisingly, Straw—who has homered only once in an MLB regular-season game over 117 career at-bats—has left the yard three times so far this year in spring training.

Straw stands 5-foot-10 and may very well lack the vertical leaping ability of his Houston Astros’ predecessor, Jake Marisnick, whose 6-foot-4 frame assisted the elite defender on a number of spectacular catches in center field. Nonetheless, the 25-year-old Straw, who has been playing at an incredibly high level during spring training, compensates for his shorter arms and legs by his natural ability to run—and run faster than just about anyone else in the majors, including Marisnick.

Meanwhile, Marisnick, who is in camp with the New York Mets, entered Tuesday’s matchup against the Astros hitting 4-for-19, with only two extra-base hits, good for a .211 average.

The former Astro’s sprinting speed peaks at 29.2 feet per second, while Straw can cover 30.1 feet per second. Fractions of a second count not only when hitters must visually read a pitch and swing a bat, but when fielders must sprint over a given distance to catch live baseballs.

Many people do not know that when baseball players are being evaluated for speed, scouts elect to utilize the 60-yard dash for several reasons. For one, many scouts feel that the sprinting distance of 60 yards, or 180 feet, best represents the length from home plate to first base coupled with the length from first base to second base. Of course, in an actual game, players run in a circular motion around the bases, as opposed to perfectly straight lines.

Also, multiple scouts prefer the 60-yard dash—compared to a shorter run like a 30- or 40-yard dash to evaluate players’ speed—because it allows teams to gauge if athletes have the potential quickness to run down balls put into play. For example, each inch of distance that an outfielder’s top speed can cover in a finite amount of seconds can represent a critical, game-changing difference between a ball being caught, a hit being fielded before it rolls closer to the fence, or—worst of all—an uncaught hit that ultimately scores a go-ahead run for the opposing team.

Before being drafted by the Astros in 2015, Straw achieved a rare feat by clocking in with a blazing 6.25-second 60-yard dash, allegedly around a tenth to a fifth of a second faster than Angels center fielder Mike Trout’s time to complete the test in years previous.

Blake Taylor might be the real deal

Don’t look now but Blake Taylor—a beneficiary of successful Tommy John surgery on his pitching arm half a decade ago—has comfortably hit 96 miles-per-hour on the radar gun this spring training, according to Astros broadcaster Steve Sparks. The 24-year-old has allowed no earned runs in five appearances for the Astros. Entering Tuesday’s contest against the New York Mets, Taylor boasted a 0.00 ERA and featured seven strikeouts in seven innings of work, having allowed just four hits.

The only minor blemish to Taylor’s production has been surrendering five walks, taboo for Astros’

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front office brass looking for lefties to make batters earn their way on base with hits. But to Taylor’s credit, none of the five batters who walked scored an earned run against the 2013 second-round draft pick.

Taylor’s top-notch performance likely is putting pressure on Houston Astros manager, Dusty Baker, to consider allowing the lefty to earn a spot on the opening day roster. Doing so would represent quite an accomplishment as Taylor features just one career appearance in Triple-A to cap his 2019 campaign as a Mets minor-leaguer who dominated Double-A last season.

So far, Taylor’s chief competition for a lefty relief specialist in the bullpen, Cionel Pérez, features a respectable 2.45 ERA, but has only pitched 3.1 innings. In my estimation, Framber Valdez, who has not given up a run in 6.1 innings of work this spring still stands the best chance of any Houston Astros left-hander of securing a fourth or fifth spot in the starting rotation.

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It still remains early. A lot more of the pre-season needs to play out before roster decisions are finalized, and the Astros have their work cut out for them to once again fire on all cylinders.

Nevertheless, one thing is for certain: spring is in the air.