Column: Straw's stunning shift to shortstop with the Astros

You can’t compare Myles Straw, the Houston Astros rookie out of St. Johns River State College, to middle infielders like Edwin Correa or 2017 American League MVP Jose Altuve or to outfielders like All-Star George Springer.

But then, you can’t compare them to Straw.

“Last week, he started one day in left field, the next day in center, the next day in right and the next day at shortstop,” said Ross Jones, Straw’s coach in 2014-15 at SJR State. “Those guys aren’t able to do what Myles can do. Myles can go here and here and here and here.”

Straw entered the Astros’ game at shortstop in the 10th inning of a 14-inning marathon Tuesday night in Seattle. He had a 3-for-3 game last week against Oakland, scoring three runs and stealing three bases – joining Altuve and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio among only five Astros to do so. He’s batting .250 in his first full season in the majors – and the first time he’s ever played shortstop.

Straw walked on to SJR State as an outfielder from Bradenton’s Braden River High School in the fall of 2013. He quickly earned the center field and leadoff positions and in the process, a scholarship. He started on two Mid-Florida Conference championship teams, batting .413 as a sophomore before the Astros selected him in the 12th round of the 2015 draft. 

The Vikings gave Straw a look as a potential emergency second baseman but were well set at shortstop with Shawn Sanders and Kyle Hann, the latter a future Oklahoma State signee.

“We tinkered with him playing at second base, but never at shortstop. We had so much depth at the time,” Jones said. “It was a question of what would we do if we got into the 16th inning and needed a second baseman. It was never about taking him out of center field.”

Straw’s rapid rise through the Astros system led them to find a way to keep him with the big club, so after bringing him up as an outfielder in September 2018 – he played in the American League Championship Series – Straw began to get offseason work at short. He started at shortstop for the first time in his life April 6 with the Astros’ AAA Pacific Coast League club in Round Rock, Texas.

“Not many guys go from outfield to shortstop in the major leagues,” Jones said. But Straw has.

A year after the Astros drafted Straw, the San Diego Padres took University of Florida center fielder Buddy Reed, who at 6-foot-4 towers over the smallish Straw, in the second round. He’s still not in the bigs and Jones, a onetime UF assistant, can’t resist drawing comparisons.

“I told every scout that if Myles Straw had ‘Gators’ across his chest, he’d be starting ahead of Buddy Reed. Instead, he had ‘Vikings’ across his chest and was taken in the 12th round or whatever,” Jones said.

Jones and Straw have spoken only a couple of times since the Astros brought him up from Round Rock, but they text frequently.

“He’s loving it. He’s in the big leagues,” Jones said. “Myles had a great experience here. The weekend before he went to spring training he and Nate Lowe came here to work out with the guys and watch them play. Myles appreciates everything he has ever gotten. He drove four and a half hours to be here. Our guys aren’t five-star prospects out of high school. You give them a T-shirt and they hug you.”

n A slugging first baseman and the 2015 state player of the year, Lowe went to Mississippi State before he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays, who have had him in the majors a couple of times this year. He’s with the AAA Durham Bulls now and will probably stay with them until major league rosters expand in September. Were the Rays to bring him up a third time and send him back down, Jones said, Lowe would have to clear waivers.

“That means anybody can take him. He wouldn’t last three minutes. The Rays will not do that,” Jones said.

Three other ex-Vikings have signed with the clubs that drafted them last week – reliever Zach Greene as an eighth-round pick of the New York Yankees, outfielder Kerry Carpenter as a 19th-round pick of the Detroit Tigers and third baseman Josh Broughton as a 25th-round pick of the Kansas City Royals. Greene and Broughton had completed their college careers at South Alabama and Valdosta State, respectively, and the Tigers were able to entice Carpenter out of the year’s eligibility he had remaining at Virginia Tech.

Greene, who struck out 70 and walked only eight en route to a school-record 13 saves this season at South Alabama, was recently named to the Collegiate Baseball Writers of America’s All-America second team.

Andy Hall is sports editor of the Palatka Daily News.

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