Power-armed Foltynewicz competing 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 former Padres pitcher Stults for the final spot in the rotation. He has work to do on his change-up.

“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. I’m going to try to show the coaches what I can do, and just go from there.”

Considered one of the best power arms in the minor leagues, Foltynewicz got his first taste of the majors when called up by the Astros in early August. He had been almost exclusively a starter before spending the last two months of the season pitching out of Houston’s bullpen, posting a 5.30 ERA with 14 strikeouts and seven walks in 19 innings (16 games).

He said the experience helped him get acclimated to life in the big leagues.

“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. A lot of the veterans guys helped me out over in Houston, to get the wheels going. But other than that 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 of how to go about things.”

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, Foltynewicz could be a flamethrowing reliever in the majors. But the Braves view him as a potential future cornerstone of the rotation. He figures to make his first major league start this season, it’s more a question of whether that’ll be in early April or later in the summer.

Foltynewicz enters camp with a rested arm and body that’s as healthy and strong as it’s ever been.

“Everything’s good,” he said. “It’s probably the best I’ve felt in a long time, in the past couple of years. I’m just going to go out there and get the arm going, throw some bullpens over the next couple of weeks, then get in some games and get after it.”