Interview with Houston Astros prospect James Hoyt.
The Houston Astros obtained a pitcher in the Evan Gattis trade that was considered by some as a throw in player. The Astros GM Jeff Luhnow was actually hoping that the Braves had no idea what they had in James Hoyt, so Luhnow tried to bring up his name as someone who he might be interested in if they included a specific player in the trade. Hoyt was pitching in winter ball at the time of the trade, and some expert had written something on Hoyt excelling in the Dominican league.
Luhnow told us at the Bloggers Roundtable at 2015 Astros fanfest that he wish that writer had not written that piece, because he really wanted Hoyt. Despite the extra attention, the Braves included Hoyt in the deal. Hoyt was impressive with the Astros in 2015 spring training, but spent the entire season with the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies. In fact, some could point to the 29-year-olds leadership in the bullpen as part of the National Title Championships winning Grizzlies.
James Hoyt’s stats
0-1/ 3.49 ERA/ 66 strikeouts in 49 innings
What does the 6’5” relief pitcher have to say about the trade, his time in international play, and his thoughts on the crowded bullpen for the 2016 season? Continue reading or click the link below to listen to Alex Bregman and Hoyt’s interview. Houston Astros: Talking Stros with Alex Bregman (Interview).
CTH/TSR: You had quite a welcome to the Astros organization winning the Triple-A championship, how was the ride?
Hoyt: It was great, the organization was new to me, I was just trying to get my name out there and show them what I could do. The fact that we were a good team was awesome, we kept rolling all season. It was the PCL championship, then we won the national championship. It was fun.
CTH/TSR: How does it feel to be attending your second MLB camp with the Astros?
Hoyt: It’s not really new news, I figured after the way I pitched last season, I earned the chance to make to get the chance to make the team, so I was prepared to come to MLB camp this year.
CTH/TSR: I think you earned it, you had 66 strikeouts in 49 innings, which is impressive. I think you should be in the Astros bullpen, but there are many bodies in the pen already. How do you feel about the depth of the bullpen?
Hoyt: I don’t really look at it, last year they had an awesome bullpen and they were doing the job. I’m not sitting down at Triple-A all bitter about not getting a call-up, I’m focused on one thing, that’s doing my job wherever I am at. Doesn’t matter where I play, I’m going to do my best. I’m not looking that much into the future, if I am in Fresno again, I will continue to progress as a pitcher. I just got back from Venezuela, I was there for a reason, I wanted to keep progressing as a pitcher. Hopefully, there is an opportunity here to show these guys up in Houston what I can do.
CTH/TSR: You only had 11 walks this year, was that a focus for you to improve your rate?
Hoyt: Ever since my first year with the Braves, this was my third full season in affiliated ball, I had two with the Braves. I had good strikeout rates with them, but I think my walks were high, it’s just something I have worked on, simplifying my mechanics. I have worked around the strike zone more often, it was a goal for me and I carried it into winter ball as well. Throwing strikes, using the defense, and putting hitters away when I am ahead.
CTH/TSR: Are you mostly a fastball/slider guy?
Hoyt: I’m actually fastball/slider/split, I threw a little split-fingered pitches towards the end of the season, in Triple-A, not much in the playoffs. I mostly use the split versus the lefties, going down to Venezuela, that was one of my checkmarks was to work on my split and really mastering it. I had great success down there with it, as of now, that’s my go-to pitch.
CTH/TSR: Anyone help you with that split?
Hoyt: It’s been a feel pitch for me, I worked with Brett Strom last year in camp on it. We worked together and he really liked it, I just didn’t have much feel for it in the Spring. Tony D was putting me in during big roles during games and I didn’t want to throw a pitch that I wasn’t 100% confident in, at that time it was the slider. I worked on the split down south and I am excited to bring it to camp and show these guys what I have now.
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CTH/TSR: Everyone says good things about Strom, what do you think of him?
Hoyt: I worked with him during spring training and have stayed in contact since and even when I was in Venezuela, he’s great, look forward to working with him in the spring.
CTH/TSR: You grew up in Boise, Idaho, did you spend a lot of time hunting and skiing up there?
Hoyt: Yeah, I grew up in the outdoors, fishing and hunting. Baseball wasn’t really a big thing up there, wasn’t a big part of my life, especially when you can’t play all 12 months in a year.
CTH/TSR: You have a little story about how you got to affiliated ball, can you share it?
Hoyt: I had some family in San Diego, which is where I went to college. I motored my way through college, more for education than sports, I ended up getting a little more interested in baseball, I walked onto a junior college team. I then ended up get a scholarship to go play at a small Division 1 school in Louisiana, played one year there. Then I started to learn how to pitch a little, but then my senior year I got hurt, and nothing really happened. I think I talked to one scout, I just closed the book on the game, then I moved back to San Diego. For two years, I was a college graduate working day jobs, I wasn’t playing ball at all.
Next thing I know, my good buddy became a high school baseball coach, I was helping him out here and there. One thing lead to another thing, I ended up trying out for an independent team, ever since then, it just kind of kick started. I told myself, let me see where this goes. Everyone always wants to know what I was doing, I was working on a sailboat. It was very unconventional, but right now I am very satisfied where I am.
CTH/TSR: Do you feel like you know a lot of people all over the world now and do you have any cool nicknames?
Hoyt: In Venezuela, they started calling me ‘Grilled Cheese,’ I think they thought I looked like Jason Grilli, I don’t know why. I guess maybe I let my hair go a little, but I made some good contacts, I even had some interest from Japan this year.
CTH/TSR: You were more than just a throw in, how do you feel that Luhnow actually sought after you?
Hoyt: When I got the news, I was in the Dominican going to the championship. Jeff gave me a call and let me know; it made me feel like a valuable player at the time, especially with the winter ball I was having. I like to think of myself as more than a throw in, but I also don’t look that far into things.
CTH/TSR: Give us a little scouting report on your velocity of your pitches, especially with your spliter because ex-Astros legend Shane Reynolds.
Hoyt: It’s changed a little bit honestly, when I was with the Braves, I was mostly a fastball-slider guy. I can run my fastball up there in the mid-90’s and I throw that slider off that fastball. I had the split in college, just wasn’t comfortable with it in my first two years, but now I finally have the confidence in it. I have gone to the split more recently than the slider, I’m looking for that to take off. No matter what, you have to locate your fastball, then work off that with the split and slider.
CTH/TSR: You have been pretty much the older guy on the teams that you have played on in the minors, do the other guys pick on you and call you grandpa?
Hoyt: Yeah, you hear all that stuff, I don’t mind, I got a late start. Yes, I’m the older guy, but I don’t even have 200 innings in minor league baseball, so I consider myself having a younger arm at least.
CTH/TSR: Was it hard last year after a good spring training, that you didn’t get the call?
Hoyt: There is always emotions, but we were coming off the Triple-A championship, I felt like I turned it up in the second half. From what I saw up there, the guys were doing their job all year. That stuff is out of my control, when the time is right, it’s gonna happen.
CTH/TSR: The AFL is more team request, are the international leagues more player option or team requests?
Hoyt: It’s different for everyone, if it’s a younger guy and the team wants to give them a little different atmosphere, they would choose to send them. For me, it’s just something that I have always done, it helps me become a better pitcher, I contact the team myself to ask, or they might contact me halfway through the year, it depends on the player or the organization. I told Houston I was going to Venezuela, they were okay with that, just asked me to be safe. There are less teams sending players down to Venezuela because it’s more dangerous, which it is, but you can find danger anyway.
CTH/TSR: Which MLB players did you play with in Venezuela?
Hoyt: Yes, our second baseman was Cesar Izturis and the center fielder was Paulo Orlando, so yes, there are established players playing in that league. They are still playing right now, it was tough for me to come home early, but the second half of international play is something most people have never experienced before. Players are constantly changing in and out, I think at least 50% of the lineup are big league players. It was tough to come home, but I needed to get some rest, come into camp strong.
CTH/TSR: We hope you come in strong, we need someone like you with the strikeout ability in the bullpen.
Hoyt: Thanks man
You can listen to the full show in the link above.
Thanks to James Hoyt for taking the time to call into Talking Stros, good luck to him in the upcoming spring training. Let’s hope he makes his debut before he is 30, because he could still have a bright future with the Astros.