‘Folty’ has 100-mph fastball, aims for Braves rotation spot

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Mike Foltynewicz was a first-round pick by the Astros in 2010, a big-time prospect with a $1.3 million signing bonus and a 100-mph fastball. The kind of pitcher a developing team like Houston would typically build its rotation plans around, not trade.

But he’s a Brave now, the most coveted of three prospects they got from the Astros in a January trade for slugger Evan Gattis. Now, “Folty” hopes this new chapter in his career includes a spot on Atlanta’s opening-day roster. He was rated the Astros’ No. 3 prospect before the deal, and is rated as high as No. 2 among Braves prospects.

“I’m just out here getting ready to play some baseball,” said Foltynewicz, 23, who will compete in spring training with three others – veterans Eric Stults and left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, and prospect Manny Banuelos – for the fifth-starter spot, the only opening in the rotation.

If he can show improved command of his pitches, including that devastating fastball and a good breaking ball, the rangy, 6-foot-4 right-hander might have the best chance of beating out Stults.

“I think that’s anybody’s goal is to try to break camp with any team, and obviously that’s going to be one of mine,” Foltynewicz said. “So I’m just going to go out here and try to get the best out of my ability. I know what I can do.”

Considered one of the best power arms in the minors, Foltynewicz got his first taste of the big leagues when called up by in August. Pitching out of the bullpen, he had a 5.30 ERA with 14 strikeouts and seven walks in 19 innings (16 games).

“I’d never relieved before in my life, and to do it at the big league level is a whole nother world,” he said. “I think I handled that well. I think it helped me a lot, just the (major league) lifestyle and the hitters and strike zones, all the mental part of the game as well. I really feel like that helped me coming into this year with a whole new mindset.”

He remains a work-in-progress after three seasons of pro ball, including 32-28 record, 3.98 ERA and 478 strikeouts with 246 walks in 563 innings in 116 minor league games (104 starts).

At the least, he can be a flamethrowing reliever. But the Braves see him as a potential future dominant starter.

Second-base candidates: Braves position players other than catchers aren't due to report until Wednesday, but many are already in camp including three infield starters — Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson, Andrelton Simmons – and two, Jace Peterson and non-roster invitee Eric Young Jr., who could compete for part-time duties at second base.

Assuming top prospect Jose Peraza doesn’t force his way onto the roster as opening-day second baseman – at this point, that seems unlikely — the Braves could use veteran Alberto Callaspo as their primary second baseman to begin the season. But the versatile former A’s infielder might also get some starts at third base against right-handers.

The speedy Young can play all three outfield positions, but came up as a second baseman. He only played five games at second in the past two seasons, but always took ground balls before games at second and other positions. Still, he seems more likely to make the roster as a fourth or fifth outfielder, perhaps in a left-field platoon with Jonny Gomes.

Peterson, 24, was a largely overlooked part of the four-prospect package the Braves got from San Diego for Justin Upton. The line-drive-hitting Louisiana native is comfortable at second base, shortstop and third base, and before getting 58 plate appearances in the majors last season he sizzled in the high minors, batting .307 with a .402 OBP in 86 games with 33 extra-base hits (six triples, three homers) and 16 stolen bases in Double-A and Triple-A.

“Have you shook his hand?” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez asked a reporter, who had. Peterson has a grip like a vice.

Another Braves believer: Count the rookie Foltynewicz among the many Braves who've expressed a far different view of their team than what they're hearing from most media members and others including many of their own fans.

“We might be young and all that, but you’ve still got veteran guys that know what they’re doing,” he said. “If I’m up there or not up there, they’re going to be good for a long time. They’ve got some dudes that can play ball.”