Astros rookie Alex Bregman drawing rave reviews from teammates
HOUSTON – Sitting side-by-side at their lockers, Astros stars Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa began gushing about their new teammate Alex Bregman, unsolicited.
“Write it down – he will get 200 hits next year,” Altuve said.
“One of the best swings I've ever seen,” Correa added.
Bregman, 22, only joined the Astros on July 25. He started his career 1-for-34. But he was at it again Saturday at Minute Maid Park, hitting an opposite-field home run off veteran right-hander John Lackey to help the Astros to a 2-1 victory over the Cubs.
Never mind that Bregman was 8 when Lackey won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series for the Angels. The kids come quickly now, quicker than ever before, and it will be fascinating to see which of the first arrivals from the 2015 draft proves the best player — Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, who went No. 1 overall; Bregman, who went No. 2; or Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi, who went No. 7.
Bregman draws the same kinds of raves as Swanson for his intangibles, and at least at this early stage might be the superior hitter — he's batting .329 with eight homers and a .991 OPS in 160 plate appearances since his 1-for-34 start (Swanson is not exactly struggling, batting .314 with two homers and an .807 OPS in 77 PAs).
The serious comps can wait — that Altuve and Correa couldn't wait to tell me about Bregman speaks volumes already. The Astros gave Correa practically a hero's welcome when he joined the team last season. But established players, even young ones such as Altuve, 26, and Correa, 21, are not always welcoming to the next big thing.
Bregman, though, is different.
Different because of his talent. Different because of his makeup. Different because he seems hellbent on being great.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch already calls Bregman “a glue guy,” the kind of description normally reserved for veteran clubhouse leaders.
It helps that Bregman speaks Spanish, increasing his accessibility to every corner of the clubhouse. It also helps that he has superior work habits, impressing the Astros' veterans with his diligence.
At one point during Bregman's initial slump, Hinch turned to the rookie in the dugout and told him that he was going to move him up to second in the Astros' order — in only his sixth major-league game.
“You're one of our best hitters,” Hinch said.
“I know I am,” Bregman replied.
“Then go get some hits,” Hinch commanded.
Bregman went 1-for-15 in his first three days in the No. 2 spot, but has now reached base in 24 straight games.
When I asked him to identify the most unusual thing about his whirlwind season, Bregman did not say it was it learning to play third base and left field after getting drafted as a shortstop, or jumping from Double A to Triple A to the majors.
No, Bregman said, the most unusual thing was seeing “beach balls” the whole year and then starting his major-league career the way he did. He was not accustomed to that kind of failure, not in the minors, not at LSU.
He adjusted his hand path — he had started dropping his hands rather than moving them forward as he began his swing. And he adjusted his mindset, realizing that while he was hitting some balls hard, it wasn't good enough.
“If you want to get hits in the big leagues, you've got to hit a LOT of balls hard,” Bregman said. “They play where you hit it. If you want to be successful, you've got to hit the ball hard every single time. Altuve's hitting .350 because he's hitting three balls hard a game.”
Great hitters are greedy like that, and Bregman looks like a great hitter (actually, Bregman at 6-feet, 180 pounds and Benintendi at 5-foot-11, 170 look more like fresh-faced kids out of college than future MVP candidates).
Oh, and drafting Bregman with Correa already at short was nothing short of an inspired move by Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, scouting director Mike Elias and their staff; Bregman is outstanding defensively, and the Astros likely will keep him at third base next season, with Yuli Gurriel moving to first or left field.
Bregman's teammates love him. His manager loves him. Everyone loves him.
“He has an infectious draw to him,” Hinch said. “I really like his approach to the game — humble but confident enough. Real baseball player.”
And just getting started.