With their season not quite three weeks old, the Lexington Legends have given fans something to get excited about.
Unlike the 2007 and 2008 Legends, both of which set franchise records for losses, the new Legends are well armed.
The starting rotation of Ross Seaton, Brad Dydalewicz, Robert Bono, Kyle Greenwalt and Jordan Lyles is both good (fourth in the league with a 2.84 ERA through Sunday) and young (ages 18-20).
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The best of the bunch, according to Baseball America's rankings of Houston Astros prospects, is Seaton.
A 6-foot,4, 190-pound right-hander, Seaton is rated as the Astros' third-best prospect. Jason Castro, a catcher and first-round draft pick last year, is No. 1, followed by former Legends right-hander Bud Norris.
Seaton, 19, is scheduled to start Tuesday's game against the Rome Braves. He brings a combination of physical tools and mental toughness that belies his age.
"Ross has got unbelievable talent. I mean, he's big, he's strong, he's got a good fastball, he's got a good breaking ball. That's pretty apparent when you see him pitch," said Ricky Bennett, assistant general manager and director of player personnel for the Astros. "One thing that separates Ross from some of the other guys is his maturity. He's a mature high school kid.
"He understands what we're trying to teach him. He wants to get better. He's got great aptitude. And his work ethic is unbelievable. When you put all those things together, you've got a pretty good prospect."
Born in Oklahoma and raised in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land, Seaton was drafted by the Astros last June.
As Baseball America tells it: "Seaton was relatively unheralded at the beginning of his senior year. But then he touched 96 mph in the spring, rocketing up the draft boards, and landed as the top pitcher in the Texas prep ranks. He graduated as his high school's valedictorian and signed for $700,000 as a third-round supplemental pick."
Seaton throws a changeup and the "best curveball" among Astros prospects, according to Baseball America.
"And then, the fastball, I throw a sinker," Seaton said. "And that's my favorite pitch — throw a low sinker in there."
Seaton didn't sign with the Astros until late July. Thus, he made only three appearances — four innings total — for Greeneville last summer. He had no decisions and an unimpressive 13.50 ERA.
This season, though, he has shown why the Astros are so high on him.
Over three starts, Seaton is 2-1, with a 1.62 ERA. He has struck out 12 and walked three over 162⁄3 innings.
His first professional win came in the Legends' second game of the season, 6-3 at West Virginia. He gave up two runs, one earned, with two strikeouts and two walks over five innings.
"I left a couple pitches where I didn't want them but, for the most part, I was pretty pleased with it," Seaton said. "But I've continuously got to get better. Always."
That's maturity and mental toughness talking.
As a youngster, Seaton looked up to Astros ace Roy Oswalt. Seaton loved the way Oswalt worked — quickly — and dominated with his fastball.
This year, Seaton found himself at the same spring training complex as Oswalt. The two did not cross paths, but Seaton found a valuable mentor in another Astros right-hander: Doug Brocail.
"That man has helped me out a ton. A ton," Seaton said. "He's a wealth of information, and he's willing to give it out to the younger guys. And I'm really appreciative of that."
What type of information?
"I actually talked to him last night, and he was basically reinforcing that a pitcher can never say the word 'never, not, can't, won't' on the mound," Seaton said. "Everything is, 'I'm going to do this, I will do this, I can do this.' And then you go out and do it. It's all positive reinforcement."
Travis Driskill, filling in for Charley Taylor as Legends pitching coach, also stresses the mental part of the game.
"I had to deal with (the mental part) just in my trek to the major leagues that took 10 years," Driskill said. "So I should be able to pass on a lot of that stuff, the mental part."
Driskill says one of Seaton's challenges in 2009 is to gain experience while surviving the grind of his first full season. Seaton will need to work on "command" of his pitches, throwing the ball where he wants and when he wants.
Seaton said he's excited about his first full season "because, pending rain and all that good stuff, I'll get to pitch in 28 games this year. I haven't had one of those before, so it's going to be a lot of fun."
Seaton and Federico Hernandez, the Legends catcher and the No. 20 prospect in the Astros system, gained familiarity with each other during spring training. Then, they shared a 12-hour ride from Florida to Lexington. The topic of conversation, of course, was baseball.
"It was an experience," Hernandez said. "I learned how to call (his) pitches — game management and all that stuff. And he just helps to prepare my mind before the game and during the game."
How fast Seaton, Hernandez and the rest of the Legends battery prospects move up in the Astros organization is undetermined. But Bennett offered an overview that sounds like good news for the Legends.
"We really felt that it was important to try to get them to a point where they can develop together and move through the system as a group," Bennett said. "I think, now, they're off to a good start. They're starting to feed off one another, and that's what you want. We want to try to create that throughout our system. This young group has a chance to be special."