One of the great beauties of the game of baseball is that big league contributors truly come from everywhere. While many of the game’s stars do come from high pedigree backgrounds, just as many fight their way up from obscurity, not getting interest from pro clubs until well into their college days. Astros prospect Myles Straw took the latter path. After a nondescript high school career in Florida, he had no material interest from teams at the next level, be they college or pro, and walked onto the team at St. John’s River College, a junior college in his home state.
In the JUCO ranks, Straw began to make a name for himself. He immediately showed a skillset centered on speed, arm strength and contact ability, and in his second college season hit .413/.472/.490 with more walks than strikeouts. It wasn’t until this point that decision makers at higher levels began to show real interest in Straw, and he accepted a scholarship to South Alabama to continue his college career at the NCAA level. His plans changed, however, when the Astros decided to pop him in the 12th round of the 2015 draft, and Straw decided to make the jump to pro ball, signing for a $100k bonus.
It became apparent very early in Straw’s pro career that the Astros had come away with an outstanding day three find. The 5’10” outfielder caught eyes immediately at the minor league level with his blazing speed and surprisingly deft outfield arm, and showed a patient approach to boot. In 2016, building off of a strong debut in the Appalachian League with the now-defunct Greeneville Astros, Straw took his offensive game to a new level in full-season ball. He opened the campaign with a 68 game run for Quad Cities, hitting .374/.432/.470 to earn himself a midseason promotion to Lancaster in the Cal League, where he continued his torrid pace to the tune of a .303/.393/.395 slash line in a nineteen game trial.
While power was still absent from his game, the 2016 season was a massive boon for Straw’s stock, as he demonstrated that his funky, opposite field-heavy approach worked swimmingly against low-minors pitching, and his defensive acumen continued to draw raves. One blemish on his performance to this point in his pro career was his poor stolen base rate, as between 2015 and 2016 he was caught on 21 out of 64 attempts, a disappointing average for a player as fast as Straw.
The Astros sent Straw back to the High-A level in 2017, but the team’s affiliate had moved from the Cal League to the Carolina League, a much more difficult environment for offense. Nonetheless Straw continued to perform, hitting .295/.412/.373 over 114 games, and saw his stolen base rate improve considerably, succeeding on 36 out of 45 attempts with Buies Creek. His efforts earned him a late season promotion to Corpus Christi, where he went .239/.340/.239 with two more swipes.
Continuing a steady climb in 2018, Straw exceeded expectations at the Double-A level and hit .327/.414/.390 while going 35 for 41 on stolen base attempts in 65 games. His success pushed the Astros to promote him to Triple-A Fresno midway through the year, and while his contact took a step back, he continued to steal bases at an exceptional pace, collecting another 35 steals in just 38 tries to bring his season total to 70. His massive year earned him a brief look last September in the big leagues, where he got several firsts out of the way including his first big league hit, steal and home run in just nine plate appearances.
In many organizations, Straw would’ve opened the 2019 season as a starting outfielder. However, with the Astros embarrassment of depth in the outfield, there was no obvious big league role for Straw that could get him a healthy complement of at-bats. Recognizing this, the Astros instead decided to experiment with new defensive homes for Straw. While he had no prior experience in the infield at the pro level, he was immediately thrust into the fire as a Triple-A shortstop, and has played roughly half of his 2019 contests at that spot. While reports indicate that he’s still a bit rough around the edges there, Straw has the athletic profile to play the position with incredibly quick feet and a laser arm, and the fact that the Astros have stuck with the experiment this long is telling in and of itself.
While there’s still no true outfield opening for him in Houston, circumstances have necessitated his call up to big club now. Now down three up the middle infielders in Jose Altuve, Aledmys Diaz and Carlos Correa, who was placed on the IL with a cracked rib today, the Astros opted to call up Straw rather than a pure bat like Yordan Alvarez or an infield body like Alex De Goti and Nick Tanielu, who most likely top out as bench players. Straw was the one option who could potentially help the Astros replace both the up the middle defense and offensive contributions that they are currently missing.
This likely won’t be a permanent stay for Straw- while it’s not impossible, when the team is at full strength, carrying both Straw and Tony Kemp feels redundant- but based on his track record thus far, it does appear that at some point he will be in the big leagues to stay. Straw’s speed and arm allow him to project immediately to any outfield spot, and while he has a strange approach at the plate that involves slapping more or less everything the other way, pro pitchers haven’t been able to exploit it to this point. Further, while Straw has hit everything the other way to this point in pro ball, on occasion he has shown the ability to drive balls to the pull side and it’s not impossible to envision him getting into a little bit of power. With a combination of defensive versatility and prowess, on base skills and plus-plus running ability, Straw appears to have narrowed his range of probable outcomes to utility man to starting outfielder who can impact the game in all facets. Far from a cup of coffee, Straw is being called upon a bit ahead of schedule to provide a much-needed spark to the lineup in the midst of an injury crunch, and no one should be surprised if he runs with the opportunity.