Former Pittsfield Sun pitching in Tri-City after drafted by Houston Astros

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TROY, N.Y. — Austin Hansen said he figured he would get drafted by somebody in this spring's Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He just wasn't expecting a call from the World Series champions.

"Honestly, no. Houston wasn't one of the teams I thought was going to pick me," the former Pittsfield Suns pitcher said. "I'm really thankful to be picked by the team that won the World Series."

Hansen, who was the closer for the University of Oklahoma this past season, was taken by the World Series champion Astros in the eighth round of the draft last month. After signing he was assigned to Houston's affiliate in the Short-Season Class A New York-Penn League. That team just happens to play in Troy, N.Y. So Hansen is a member of the Tri-City ValleyCats, a team run by Pittsfield's Rick Murphy.

"It was kind of cool," to be back in the area, Hansen said. "I know when I talked to my mom and I said I think this is really close to Pittsfield. It makes it easier for me, because I've been in this area before. So it's not a whole new scene for me to jump into."

Hansen was a starter for Tom Conley's Suns in 2016, going 0-4 with a 6.20 earned-run average. But he struck out 52 in 45 innings, and had four quality starts that did not produce a decision. In 2017, he pitched for the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod League.

Hansen more than put himself on the radar of MLB teams after his stellar junior season.

"I thought it [might be] the White Sox, the Rockies, the Diamondbacks, the Twins and then the Royals and the Cardinals," he said during a pre-game interview Friday night at Joe Bruno Stadium. "It was kind of a shock."

Hansen said he was in his Norman, Okla., house on draft day. His family drove down from Lexena, Kansas, and he was there with his roommates — all of whom also got calls from MLB teams. Pitcher Jake Irvin was taken in the fourth round by Washington, while outfielder Cade Harris was a 10th-round pick by Colorado.

"We watched every pick in the draft," Hansen said. "It was kind of a cool day that we got to experience it, that we all got to watch each other go through it was kind of cool."

According to the Draft Tracker on MLB.com, the bonus slot value for Hansen in the eighth round was $156,800, which the site reports that is what he received.

"It's awesome" being in Troy, he said. "It's a stepping stone to reach your goal, to make it to the big leagues. But it's awesome being around these guys, because we're all chasing the same dream."

The right-hander was a reliever on the Big 12 Conference's baseball all-league first team. He finished the season 2-3 with a 3.29 ERA. Hansen pitched in 34 games, most of any pitcher in the Big 12. He was third in the conference with nine saves. he struck out 52 and walked only 15 in 38 1/3 innings. Opposing batters hit .199 against him.

Since signing his contract, Hansen has appeared in three games for the ValleyCats, all in relief. He has pitched five scoreless innings.

Friday night, he was the third pitcher of the night for Tri-City. Hansen threw two shutout innings, giving up two hits, a walk and he struck out three. Hansen gave up a two-out single to Hudson Valley's Ford Proctor in the seventh inning. The reliever then had to pitch out of a jam in the eighth.

He issued a leadoff walk to the Renegade's Tyler Frank and a single to Chris Betts. After getting two outs, Hansen wild pitched Frank to third —his first wild pitch of the season. Then, with a 2-2 count to Hudson Valley's Marvin Malone, the Renegades tried a double steal. Hansen looked the runner at first back then started the rundown with a throw to ValleyCats shortstop Jeremy Pena. By the time the play was done, Frank was out at home 1-6-3-2.

It might have been one of Hansen's final relief outings, as he said the Astros are looking to stretch him back out to make him a starter.

The ValleyCats media material reports that Hansen's fastball runs 93-95 miles an hour, with an 80-84 mph curve, an 83-87 mph slider, and a changeup that runs 84-86. That's all good enough to start.

"It was just my senior year [at Oklahoma] that I was a reliever. But now [the Astros] are turning me back" into a starter, he said. "The rumor is I'm starting July 4, but I'm not sure. With our pitchers, we're going 3-3-3, so we're not abusing our arms. We just got done playing 65 games in college, and now we have to play [78] more here. It would be a lot to have to go out and throw seven innings every fifth day."

Hansen was 3-1 in eight starts and 12 appearances during his sophomore year at Oklahoma. Opposing hitters batted only .194 against him that year.

"I love being on the mound. It doesn't matter what role it is," he said. "I don't know what my role will be in the future, but being a starter, you have more time to work on your pitches and develop more. In college, you throw your best pitches as a closer to try and win the game. You don't have time to really work on anything."

Hansen said that if he makes it to the Major Leagues, he makes it. He won't think about any kind of timetable.

But he did say that playing for the ValleyCats is extra-special because of the uniform.

"It means a lot," Hansen said. "The defending World Champions. It's kind of cool to have that logo on your arm."

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, on Twitter @howardherman, or 413-496-6253.


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