Astros’ Alex Bregman, a former LSU star, a glue-guy in the making
HOUSTON A couple of years ago, after LSU baseball got bounced from the College World Series, one of the first thoughts from Tigers coach Paul Mainieri involved the imminent departure of his junior shortstop, who had been selected second overall in the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft just 10 days prior.
“I don’t even want to think about life without Alex Bregman,” Mainieri said.
A.J. Hinch is beginning to understand.
Despite reaping the benefit of Bregman for just more than one season, the Houston Astros skipper hopes he doesn’t have to think about life without the five-tool talent anytime soon.
“He’s a part of our story that can get overlooked,” said Hinch, whose team owns a 2-0 lead against the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. “He’s a real baseball player, real baseball rat, baseball enthusiast, does everything well. He’s one of the most prepared guys that we have, and he has no fear at all of any competition, of any pitcher-hitter confrontation. He doesn’t fear failure; he believes in himself more than anybody believes in him.”
Sounds like Bregman is a heralded “glue guy” in the making.
The Albuquerque, New Mexico, native weathered a position change and followed a highly successful full-season debut in the big leagues with a notice to Astros fans, his teammates and the competition in his first playoff game.
On Oct. 5, in his first postseason at-bat, the 6-foot, 180-pounder clubbed a first-inning home run against Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale in Game 1 of an American League Division Series. In Game 4, Bregman sparked a series-clinching rally with another homer off Sale.
“It was a fun moment,” said Bregman, who was the fourth player in Astros history to homer in his first playoff plate appearance. “You grow up as a little kid wanting to play in the postseason and we were facing a great pitcher.”
Like Mainieri, Tigers fans feared baseball without the kid who started 196 games in purple and gold over three seasons. Thankfully, given Houston’s proximity to Tigers Nation, getting a Bregman fix isn’t difficult. One Lafayette woman, with purple streaks in her hair, showed off a homemade “Geaux Bregman” sign outside Minute Maid Park prior to Game 1 against the Yankees on Friday.
“Since I was very little I loved this game,” Bregman said. “I put my heart and soul into it every single day, to go out there and try and win games for the Astros.”
There’s little doubt Bregman’s a winner. He captured a state title in high school, made two trips to the College World Series with LSU and advanced to the postseason in his first stint as a full-time major leaguer.
“Some people will call that a chip on the shoulder, some people will call that a competitive edge, but he’s a gamer through and through – he’s a winning player,” Hinch said. “When we needed him this season, which was virtually all six months at different positions or different parts of the batting order, he was pretty exceptional.”
According to Greg Rajan of the Houston Chronicle, Bregman needed just his first 118 games of the 2017 campaign to become the fourth player in Astros history (Jimmy Wynn, Carlos Correa, Cesar Cedeno-twice) to collect at least 30 doubles and 15 home runs in a season prior to the age of 24.
Bregman wound up as the third player in American League history with 39 doubles, 19 homers, five triples, 17 steals and 55 walks at 23 or younger.
It’s easy to forget the joy of being drafted second overall was quickly tempered by a look at the Astros’ organizational depth chart, where shortstop 23-year-old Correa (the AL Rookie of the Year in 2015) and second baseman Jose Altuve, a 27-year-old MVP candidate reside.
“My first reaction was that they already had had a really good shortstop, so I didn’t know where I was going to play,” he said. “And then they told me to play short in the minor leagues and then move to third base.”
The stats say he was unfazed by the move.
This year, FanGraphs ranked Bregman second to Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez among American League third baseman in WAR (wins above replacement). He was third among American League third basemen in OPS (on-base percentage-.352, plus slugging percentage-.475) .827, behind Josh Donaldson (.990) and Mike Moustakas (.858) and topped American League third basemen with a .970 fielding percentage as the Astros (101-61) captured the AL West.
Bregman credits Houston veterans like Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Josh Reddick for the success he’s found early in his professional career.
“Before the playoffs started, we had two practices here and I asked (Beltran), ‘How do you have so much success in the postseason? What do you think made you so successful throughout your career in the postseason?’ He said he just stuck to his approach.’”
Big at-bats followed, and the boos from the 0-for-18 (and 2-for-32) start to his major-league career – after his call-up in July of 2016 — have long dissipated.
“One of the best things about this team is that everybody is so unselfish and they just want to go out and win and compete,” said Bregman, originally drafted (2012) by the Red Sox in the 29th round (901st overall). “It makes it fun. Everybody in there loves the game of baseball, everybody loves playing the game hard and competing and works extremely hard at it. Whether it’s in the video room or actually on the field, everybody is putting in the hours so we get success on the field.”
As Hinch stated, fear isn’t an option for Bregman – whether it was an 0-for-8 performance in the 2013 College World Series (he hit .538 in LSU’s next trip in 2015), a position change due to the young star power up the middle for the Astros, or the nasty slump after he got the call to bigs.
“He stepped up when we had injuries, and Correa was on the DL, and (Russ) Springer was on the DL, Bregman became a little bit more central part of our order,” Hinch said. “He’s the type of guy that’s like a magnet. Players are attracted to him. Whether it’s poking fun at him which happens a lot behind those doors, or whether it’s encouraging. He will compete every single day. To watch him mature from such a high draft pick, race through the minors, get up here last year, and then into this season where he’s very much a primary player on our team, it’s a good story. It’s good to watch him stand up tall amongst a group of veteran guys and maybe bigger names or more accomplished players and say, ‘Hey, I can have a big moment, too.’ And it’s because of how he goes about it.”
And this is just the beginning.
“They give me a hard time. I’m a rookie, but it’s fun,” Bregman said. “We have a great clubhouse. We’re always loose and having a good time, playing music, dancing, laughing, making fun of each other, and it’s fun. You have fun in the clubhouse, you go out and compete, and then you come back in and do it again.”
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