Asher Wojciechowski and George Springer are a couple of the prospects the Astros are counting on to be a part of a brighter future. The reasons why were on display Saturday night in Corpus Christi.
Wojciechowski allowed one hit and struck out seven over five shutout innings as the Double-A Hooks beat the Springfield Cardinals, 5-2.
The Astros' No. 15 prospect walked one batter and gave up only a one-out double to Thomas Pham in the second inning. Wojciechowski (1-0) retired the final 11 batters he faced, throwing 55 of 77 pitches for strikes.
"I think I was just locating my fastball well and throwing and locating my slider well," Wojciechowski said. "I was just making quality strikes and quality pitches when I needed to."
The 24-year-old right-hander came over from the Blue Jays organization last July 20 in the trade that sent southpaw J.A. Happ to Toronto. He made the jump to Double-A right after the trade, going 2-2 with a 2.06 ERA in eight starts for Corpus Christi. That brief glimpse of the Texas League helped prepare the product of The Citadel for 2013.
"I would say so, in knowing how things work here and how I pitched last year and taking it into this year and staying on that roll," Wojciechowski said. "I'm definitely comfortable here and am looking to get better each day."
Wojciechowski is one of many Astros pitching prospects who are taking part in the piggyback system the organization has devised. After starting on Saturday, he'll appear out of the bullpen on Thursday. The experience will help make him a better pitcher in the long run, he believes.
"Nothing really changes with my routine or mentality," Wojciechowski said. "I fill up the zone, throw strikes and go after hitters. The only thing that changes is the time of the game you come in. You're doing that for three or four innings or so. A lot of times as a starter you go six or seven innings and you don't get to see the ninth inning.
"With this, coming out of the bullpen, being able to pitch well and go into the ninth, it gives us experience. The game, it does change in the back end, it's a bit more high-pressure, and that's a good experience for us, to pitch in the back half of games."
Springer, the Astros' third-ranked prospect, homered for the second time in three games, walked and scored twice.
"[It's] just getting a good pitch to hit and don't miss it," Springer said of the early power surge. "I know that gets said a lot, but it's all about getting a good pitch to drive, and if you do, you've got to hit it."
Including Wojciechowski and Springer, the Corpus Christi roster features five of Houston's top 20 prospects -- right-hander Nick Tropeano (No. 9), outfielder Domingo Santana (No. 13) and catcher Carlos Perez (No. 20). But reaching the Majors sooner rather than later is not something on which Springer dwells.
"It's my ultimate dream to get up there, but right now I'm with the Hooks and I'm going to play hard for the 25 guys here," the Connecticut native said. "You have to go out there and respect the game, respect the big league club and go out and play."
Santana, who slugged 23 homers last year for Class A Advanced Lancaster, added a two-run shot, his first at Double-A.
"He's a fantastic player, you can say he flies under the radar a bit," Springer said. "He knows how to hit, he knows how to play the outfield. He's a special player and it's one of those things where he's going to get to Houston one of these days and he's going to put himself on the map. He's a fantastic teammate, and that goes a long way."
David Martinez took over for Wojchiechowski, allowing two runs on four hits over 2 2/3 innings. Alex Sogard gave up one hit while recording the final four outs for his first save.
Xavier Scruggs and Adam Melker drove in a run apiece for the Cardinals.