Thursday, May 10, 2018

Getting to Know Astros/Hooks SS Alex De Goti

There are certain players that one will see for the first time and one's gut reaction is, "Now that's a baseball player!" I am hard-pressed to put into words what I mean by that statement, but I think fans of baseball can relate. That was my first reaction when I met Alex De Goti two years ago in Tri-City. When I recently asked De Goti what a scout might say about him, the first words out of his mouth were, "I think first and foremost when scouts look at me, not only scouts but coaches on other teams, they see a baseball player." I was not surprised by that self-assessment.

Alex De Goti - April 2018
Photo by Jayne Hansen

I recently caught up with De Goti in Corpus Christi where he has been manning short for the Corpus Christi Hooks AA team. Last season he played at short and third, but his most frequent position was second base where he provided 428 innings of errorless defense. De Goti is a strong defensive player and solid offensively, but he cares less about his numbers than he does about helping his team and his teammates. Going back to that scouting report, De Goti said, "Watching me play, you're not going to go out there and say, 'Wow! This guy's a superstar.' Not all my tools are going to pop out and wow you, per se. But when you go out to the game and you watch me play, you'll say, if you understand the game of baseball and what happens between the lines, you'll see the baseball player in me and how my instincts work, my positioning on the field, and the leader in me as well."

De Goti continued, "Just helping my teammates out and always trying to get them better, not necessarily just for the team, but so that they can get better in their overall game which ultimately helps our team out. On the basepaths, same thing. I'm not the fastest guy either, but I understand and I do my homework on pitchers. I understand their tendencies and what they do and what they tip so that if I'm going to steal a bag, I know what I'm looking for and I can get the best opportunity to take the bag. Not only that, but just running the bases, that's huge in this organization and in baseball. You've got to be able to run the bases well, be able to take the extra bag when they give it to you. And then, at the plate, same thing. If you look at the overall stats, they don't look like an All-Star or any of that stuff up until this point, but if you show up to games and you understand what key situations pop out and how to get the runners over and how to get them in and do things for the team, that's ultimately what I'm going to do at the plate. And as I get older, all those other things will come ... power, hitting for a little more average ... those things will come with at-bats."

Hooks Manager Omar Lopez was De Goti's manager in High A Buies Creek in 2017. Lopez challenged De Goti to work on his conditioning over the offseason in order to become leaner and stronger, and Lopez was pleased with what he saw when De Goti reported to Spring Training. "It's going to help him to move better laterally. I told him about a lot of quickness programs that will help him on his first step quickness, to move laterally better and improve his range according to the shift position that we have. His range was limited last year. It's much better this year because he put the work in on the offseason. He's more lean. He's more athletic. Right now, the only thing that I think he needs to put together is his approach at the plate -- find the approach, the swing path, in order to be more consistent at the plate. His plate discipline will have to improve as well in order to succeed on the offensive side. If he does well this year, if he makes the improvements, I think he's a pretty interesting guy," said Lopez.

And the Astros must have liked what they saw from De Goti as well because he was afforded the opportunity to work and play with the Astros major league players during Spring Training and into the Exhibition Games at Minute Maid Park. De Goti embraced that opportunity. "It was a great experience being able to play with a bunch of our big leaguers and trying to learn how they go about their business every day, definitely a great experience to pick their brains. And also get at-bats against big league arms."

One Spring Training at-bat that stood out for him was against the Mets. "I was facing the closer, A.J. Ramos. I got to watch him growing up because I'm from Miami and he was with the Marlins before. He hung me a slider and I took him deep. It's kind of funny because then I found out a couple weeks later that A.J. Ramos is friends with one of my brother's high school buddies and I guess after I hit that home run, he texted him, 'Hey, my buddy just hit a home run off you.' And [Ramos] started laughing, 'Yeah, I hung him a slider.'"

I asked De Goti about the very talented Hooks team and he was off and running. Much of our conversation centered around the players on the team, "There's a lot of guys on this team that are fun to watch sometimes when you're not in the lineup and you get to actually watch a game and see things happen. We have a lot of talented guys on this team. On the mound, it's fun to watch Josh James. I'd never seen him pitch up until this year. He can throw the ball. It's pretty impressive to watch him pitch it, especially his fastball just explodes out of his hand. His offspeed's good and he's just a competitor." James was recently promoted to Fresno.

We went on to talk about some of the Cuban players on the team. When I remarked about the work ethic I'd seen from Yoanys Quiala and last year from Rogelio Armenteros, De Goti said, "I understand where they're coming from. My parents are Cuban. I come from a Cuban (family) so I understand the Cuban background and that's how it is. I work with a bunch of Cubans in the offseason and you see it every day, how they work, how they go about their business. It's impressive."

De Goti also talked at length about 1B Taylor Jones, "The guy can swing it. He's starting to understand himself too. He's going to be a big leaguer and I know it because the guy just does everything the right way. Defensively, he's a magician over there. He's the best first baseman I've ever seen. For being that tall too, he's so agile, picks every ball, knows how to move his feet around the bag, just does things right. And at the plate -- I know it's early in the season, but if you understand this game and you're watching him hit, you understand that he not only has power which is obvious, but he understands the strike zone. He understands what pitches are doing to him and he makes pitch to pitch adjustments which is impressive to see. That's what big leaguers do," he said.

Of Jones's hot start to the season, De Goti said, "It's always been in there. This game's hard. This game's not easy, especially in the minor leagues when you're starting to really understand who you are as a person, a player, day in and day out. In college, you played three times a week, four times. You don't play every single day. You don't make all these crazy bus trips, stay in hotels, host families. It's tough, being away from family. Maybe you weren't fortunate enough to get a lot of money in the draft. All of those things play into it. It takes time. And that's why there are so many levels in baseball. That's the difference between football and basketball. Basketball has a D League but most of these sports, you go straight into the show because you don't need time to really develop. You can just go out there and play and kind of figure it out. It's not like that here because it's such a tough sport to play. And that's why those are the best of the best in the big leagues."

De Goti continued on down the roster, "You've got Ryne Birk. He's starting to swing the bat like I know he can because he's shown it in the past. Guys at second base and third base, Tanny [Nick Tanielu] and Randy [Cesar] are both great hitters. Those guys can hit. And they will hit. Even though they're showing it now, they're still going to continue to hit because those guys know how to hit at the plate. There's a difference between guys that get off to quick starts and could be just timing and stuff like that, but then there are the guys that are just hitters. They can go on a slump -- like Altuve told me in Spring Training, the guys that hit .300 are the guys that can get themselves out of funks quicker. Because everybody's going to get in a funk, right? It's how can you get yourself out of the funk and how you recognize why you're in a funk. Sometimes you're getting a couple of hits here and there and everything might be good in your perspective, but you're not doing things right. The players that have that mental capacity to understand when it's time to really tap into what you're doing and figure out ways to either continue to do something that you've been doing that's working good or (you've) got to change something to get (yourself) back on track."

And then on to the outfield De Goti went, "In left field, you've got big donkey Yordan [Alvarez]. That guy hits the ball as hard as I've ever seen. The guy just hits. He can hit. Another Cuban guy who swings it. Myles Straw, fun player to watch. He can do it all. Plays great defense. Can run, gets on base, steals. I wouldn't be surprised if he's in the big leagues this year in September. He's impressive, impressive to watch. And then right field, you've got Stephen Wrenn and Carmen [Benedetti], both guys that are all around players. That's what I like about this team. Both of them can run."

When I told De Goti that I hadn't seen as much of Wrenn as I had of Benedetti, he was eager to fill in the blanks for me, "Stephen's another guy that has the opportunity to be really, really special -- runs really good, can play outfield, good arm, power. Surprisingly, it doesn't look like it in his body at times because he looks wiry, lanky but there's a ton of power in his bat. He just needs time to develop and to get better. It's going to come. That's what's great about this organization. They have a lot of guys, coaches, a lot of research to back up the information that they're giving us which I think is going to help in the long run."

De Goti's enthusiasm for his teammates was infectious, but I finally got him back to the subject at hand, asking what he was focusing on at this point in his development. "Obviously, I'm just trying to get better every day but I think if you break it down to specific goals of what I'm trying to work on --  at the plate, just be more consistent. Consistent ABs, just putting together quality ABs. At the end of the day if I'm putting together quality ABs, the power's going to come, extra base hits, RBIs. All those things come if you just focus on putting together a quality AB. I don't tap into, 'Oh, I've got to hit more homers, I've got to hit more doubles.' Then I start getting into funks, start trying to do too much. I'm just trying to tap into more consistent ABs," said De Goti.

He continued, "And defensively, just continue to do what I'm doing. Catch the ball and make an out. I think one of the biggest things I'm trying to work on this year is my first steps. I worked in Spring Training a bunch on that and I think just focusing on what I'm doing out there each pitch is key because a lot of times (when) you're playing defense, you're going through the motions. And then there's that one ballgame that (the ball) gets through the infield and nobody notices, but that can be the deciding factor in winning or losing a ballgame. And all it comes down to is focus, being ready for that pitch. Because if you're ready for that pitch, you going to get a first step, you'll get to that ball and you'll have a chance to get the guy out. Just focus more into my pre-pitch routine."

I couldn't resist asking De Goti about watching the Astros play in the World Series in 2017. He told me, "It's crazy. Every year, you're watching the World Series and you're like, 'Wow, this is like the best World Series I've ever seen,' but this one was obviously a little more special because it's the team I'm playing for. Just full of excitement. The players on both sides were unique players. They can do it all. You've got the 9 hitter hitting home runs, hitting doubles. You've got guys all over the field making spectacular plays. It just felt like it was one thing after another. They scored one run and the next team came in and scored two runs ... back and forth, back and forth."

If you've read any of my interviews, you know that I try to sum up my impression of the player I've talked with. With De Goti, the impression is of a ballplayer, and a very intuitive player at that, a student of the game, a coach's dream player. He wants to understand every aspect of the game, he wants to help his teammates and he wants to help his team. His ego doesn't enter into the conversation. He would rather talk about his teammates than himself. De Goti told me that his favorite thing is simply to help people. "I really enjoy helping other people. I really get joy out of helping, whether it's baseball, off the field. It doesn't really matter. I always try to help people out. I like to see other people succeed as well." No one can predict how long Alex's playing career will last. But with his insight, his love of the game and his sincere desire to help each and every teammate be the best they can be, I am willing to put money on one thing. Once his playing days are over, De Goti is going to make one helluva baseball coach. He just gets it.

Thank you for your time, Alex, and the best of luck as the season continues to unfold.

1 comment:

  1. Great interview Jayne as always. Alex appears to be a great teammate and a nice young man. I really love these interviews please keep them coming. I will definitely be rooting for Mr. De Goti