Astros' third-rounder follows father's footsteps
Vanderbilt right-hander battled back, elbow injuries this year
HOUSTON -- Astros third-round pick Jack Armstrong's surname is not deceiving.
The 6-foot-7 junior right-hander from Vanderbilt shares a name with his father, who pitched in the Major Leagues for seven seasons. The younger Armstrong fought back and elbow issues early this season to build his fastball up to nearly 100 mph.
"Knock on wood I'm 100 percent," Armstrong said. "Last outing was 96-99 velocity on my two-seamer. So pretty healthy there. I haven't thrown that hard in a while. Everything's actually going upward."
Armstrong's father pitched for the Reds, Indians and Marlins before ending his Major League career with the Rangers.
If Armstrong signs and remains with the Astros, the 99th pick of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft could start his big league career in the same state his father finished.
"I definitely think I have an advantage in that aspect, him being through the ups and downs of professional baseball," Armstrong said. "I feel really lucky to have him in the household. He's got some certain aspects, specifically mentally, of how to approach the game that not everyone can say they've experienced. I definitely learned a lot from him on how to pursue my whole baseball career."
The younger Armstrong is a Jupiter, Fla., native, who has pitched 17 innings in 13 relief appearances for the Commodores in 2011 and is 0-1 with a 2.65 ERA. He has allowed six hits and six runs, while striking out 17, walking 18 and holding opponents to a .111 batting average. Vanderbilt will host Oregon State on Friday night in the Super Regionals of the NCAA Tournament after winning its first three NCAA Regional games by a combined score of 26-3.
Armstrong served as a typical weekend starter for Vanderbilt during his sophomore season, going 7-4 with a 4.71 ERA in 16 starts.
Armstrong said he is currently focused only on vying for a national championship for Vanderbilt. He said he will let his dad handle his contract negotiations with the Astros, and he is unsure about whether he will sign.
"I haven't even given it two thoughts," Armstrong said. "My dad doesn't want me to [focus on signing] and neither do I. It's just a way to kind of focus on the task at hand, what we've got ahead of us. We've got plenty of time after the season's finished to negotiate all that stuff and find the right path for me."
Armstrong is the second of the top-three Houston Draft choices whose college team remains in contention for the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. Connecticut outfielder George Springer was taken with the 11th pick in the first round; the Huskies will face the University of South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday night in their Super Regional.
Six Vanderbilt players -- including four pitchers -- were selected in the first 120 picks (three rounds) this year.
"We're hanging out together by the pool just enjoying life right now," Armstrong said. "It's a nice day, just talking about possible futures, playing with one another. It is kind of special how many guys are drafted together on the same club, specifically pitchers, so it's been really neat. We'll see what happens."
Armstrong said he plans on pitching in the Cape Cod League in the summer to display how healthy his arm is.
"There's a pretty good chance I'm probably going to go to Cape," he said. "I'm pretty sure Houston knows that's going to be the deal. And they probably want to see me some more, anyway, to see where I fit in. I want to show them I'm healthy again and get some more reps in before I start my professional career, potentially."
Astros assistant general manager and director of scouting Bobby Heck said the Astros won't miss many of Armstrong's starts if the righty pitches in the Cape Cod League, and the club intends to sign Armstrong before the end of the summer.
"We've seen him the last few weeks healthy," Heck said. "That was probably part of his slide. Going into this year, he was one of the better prospects in the Draft, and that's obviously his reason for going up to the Cape and reproving his worth."
Armstrong said he's thrilled for an opportunity to showcase his skills in postseason play. He pitched one scoreless inning in the NCAA Regionals, allowing one hit and a walk with two strikeouts in a 10-0 victory against Belmont.
"When I get a chance to pitch here in Super Regionals, and hopefully Omaha, I just have to make the most of it and do my thing."
Rowan Kavner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.